I Am DB

April 24, 2016

Game Without Frontiers

Filed under: Books,TV — DB @ 2:00 pm
Tags: , , , ,

This post is intended for those who are up-to-date on Game of Thrones. If you have yet to start watching the series or are not caught up, fly away to safety like Drogon flew from the Sons of the Harpy.

The arrival of every new Game of Thrones season is highly anticipated, but my guess is that none of have been more eagerly awaited than tonight’s kick-off of Season Six, thanks to the downer of a cliffhanger we were left with last June: the death of Jon Snow. In the 10 months that have elapsed, speculation of Jon’s fate has been a constant presence on the internet. I don’t think a single day went by in all that time when I didn’t see something about it online. So this premiere should bring with it an especially acute wave of relief. And lest we forget about all the other big developments awaiting resolution — or at least exciting continuation — here’s my annual stroll down memory lane to catch us up on where things stood when last we danced with the dragons.

Many characters were in particularly interesting places last time we saw them, beginning of course with Jon Snow. He was dead. That’s pretty interesting. He was murdered by a band of Night’s Watch brothers that included his nemesis Ser Alliser Thorne and his squire Olly, for what they deemed the betrayal of making peace with the wildlings and allowing them to pass through Castle Black into Westeros. He wasn’t inspired by generosity, of course, but rather the recognition that only by fighting alongside the wildlings would they stand any chance against the growing army of White Walkers — a lesson crystallized when the Walkers attacked the wildling base at Hardhome and added huge numbers to their Army of the Dead.

Still in the North, but a bit further south, Stannis Baratheon is also dead, having met his end after a series of bad luck and bad decisions. Challenging weather conditions, along with a calculated strike on Stannis’ camp by Ramsay Bolton and a small group of his men, left Stannis significantly handicapped in his mission to defeat the Boltons at Winterfell. At Melisandre’s convincing, he made the harrowing decision to sacrifice his daughter Shireen to the Lord of Light, burning her at the stake in front of his full army. Although the weather turned more cooperative after this, Stannis’ wife Selyse hung herself, and half of his army abandoned him, taking all the horses with them. Stunned by this turn of events that contradicted her supposed visions, Melisandre quietly slipped away. Stannis pressed on all the same, but his reduced army was roundly defeated outside Winterfell by Team Bolton. Badly wounded, Stannis himself was killed not by Ramsay or his men, but by Brienne, who had long awaited her moment of vengeance for Stannis’ murder of Renly.

Brienne had been just outside Winterfell, keeping watch on the highest tower for a lit candle in the window — a sign that Sansa needed help. Moments after Brienne learned that Stannis was approaching Winterfell and went off to find him, that candle was finally lit. On her way back to her room, Sansa encountered Theon, along with Ramsay’s paramour Myranda, who nearly shot an arrow into her until Theon finally stepped up and shoved her ass over the balcony wall. Myranda plunged to her death in the courtyard below, just as Ramsay and his men were returning from their victory against Stannis. With the die cast, Theon and Sansa jumped over the outer battlement to escape…though it looked like a deadly jump.

Further south still, the power structure in King’s Landing had been turned upside down. Cersei mobilized an order of religious fanatics known as the Faith Militant and granted power to their leader, the soft-spoken, seemingly incorruptible High Sparrow, hoping she could use them to deal with her enemies. It worked for a while; she managed to get both Loras and Margaery thrown in jail, where they remain as they await trial for their sins — Loras for engaging in intimate acts with men and lying about it at a hearing before the Gods, and Margaery for lying about her knowledge of his behavior. But a similar fate awaited Cersei, when confessions to the High Sparrow by her cousin Lancel — now a Brother in the Militant — implicated her in murder, incest and adultery. King Tommen, kind but weak, proved ineffectual against the Faith Militant and withdrew to his chambers after the arrests of his wife and his mother. Cersei finally confessed to incest, but denied the other charges against her, including sleeping with Jaime. (She admitted only to bedding Lancel.) The High Sparrow allowed her to return to the Red Keep while she awaited trial, but as her atonement, she had to walk there from the Sept of Baelor, naked, through streets packed with less-than-admiring citizens. Upon her arrival back at the Keep, she was greeted by her uncle Kevan, Maester Pycelle and Qyburn, who covered her with a blanket and introduced her to The Mountain 2.0, disguised as a member of the Kingsguard. As the hulking zombie carried her off for cleaning and treatment, Cersei’s expression hardened into what could only be described as Sweet Vengeance Will Be Mine, Motherfuckers.

Sadly — or not, depending on your feelings for her — things are going to get worse for Cersei before they get better. Jaime is on his way back from Dorne, but Myrcella is dead, victim of a poisoned kiss by another vengeance-minded lady of power, Oberyn’s lover Ellaria Sand. Accompanied by Bronn, Jaime had gone to Dorne to save Myrcella after a threat on her life was sent to Cersei. Doran Martell, Oberyn’s brother and the ruler of Dorne, had no intention of going to war with the Lannisters, and struck a peaceful resolution with Jaime that would see his son Trystane — Myrcella’s intended — return to King’s Landing with her and take a place on the Small Council. When Cersei learns that Myrcella is dead, Doran’s intentions may well be rendered moot.

Across the Narrow Sea, on the continent of Essos, the third Lannister child has been tasked with keeping the peace in the divided city of Meereen. Tyrion was accepted into Daenarys’ circle of advisors, but they have had little time together so far. At the Great Games of Meereen, the insurgent force known as Sons of the Harpy staged an audacious attack, which Dany escaped by flying away on Drogon. Wounded in the arena attack, the dragon settled down to rest in a patch of rolling green hills far from the desert city. Exploring on her own, Dany encountered a Dothraki Khalasar, and those hardcore warriors weren’t about to let her continue wandering alone and free. Back in Meereen, Daario Naharis took charge, assigning Tyrion to draw on his skills and past experience to govern the city along with Missandei and Grey Worm, who was still recovering from an earlier attack by the Sons of the Harpy that left Barristan Selmy dead. Tyrion has an additional ally as well, now that Varys finally made it to Meereen. Meanwhile, Daario and Jorah — who has been accepted back into Dany’s good faith after saving her life in the arena — set off to find her. Unfortunately, Jorah is now contending with an affliction of Greyscale, which he contracted when he and Tyrion were attacked by Stone Men while passing through the ruined city of Valyria.

For now, Jorah’s condition doesn’t seem much of a hindrance. Doubtful we’ll be able to say the same for Arya, who faces a new handicap of her own. When she discovered that Meryn Trant was in Braavos, she abandoned the mission that had been assigned to her by Jaqen H’ghar and instead tracked the movements of the Gold Cloak who killed her beloved dancing master Syrio Forel. She stole an identity from the Hall of Faces and exacted a brutal revenge killing on Trant. But the cost of her disobedience was the loss her eyesight.

Hmmm…who else? Prior to Jon’s murder, he granted Sam permission to leave Castle Black with Gilly and journey to the Citadel to begin his training as a Maester. But Jon wasn’t completely without friends at this time of his death. Ser Davos had been sent by Stannis to seek supplies from the Night’s Watch, so he is currently at Castle Black, as is Melisandre, who returned there after leaving Stannis to defeat. She took quite the liking to Jon, and she may have the power to bring him back to life.

Last but never least, there’s Littlefinger. The last time we saw him was in King’s Landing, meeting in secret with Lady Olenna Tyrell, with whom he had conspired to kill Joffrey. What exactly he was promising Lady Olenna was not clear. He had met with Cersei earlier, prior to her incarceration, and revealed that Sansa was in Winterfell, about to be married to Ramsay. It’s hard to say at this point whether he has any genuine desire to protect Sansa, after leaving her to be Ramsay’s plaything…though he claimed to not know much about Ramsay, and therefore might not be aware of his psychotic predilections…even if it seems unlikely that anything so significant could elude Littlefinger. Still, I have to assume that revealing Sansa’s location to Cersei and promising to deliver the girl in exchange for being named Warden of the North is yet another example of him playing his own game that isn’t what it seems on the surface.

Oh, and there’s one more story thread yet to be mentioned, but we have to jump back to Season Four to pick it up. That, of course, is Bran. The crippled Stark child, along with his companions Hodor (Hodor) and Meera Reed, finally made it to the Three-Eyed Raven, where apparently he has spent the time covered during Season Five learning how to control and harness his powers. He’ll be back, and hopefully with a big impact on events to come.

LET IT SNOW
Whatever those events are, non-book readers are no longer the only ones in the dark. The show has now caught up with George R.R. Martin’s novels, so we are in completely uncharted territory as Season Six gets underway. Things are said to pick up right where we left off last year, which means Jon Snow is lying in the courtyard of Castle Black in a pool of his own blood. Ever since Season Five ended, the question that’s been asked ad nauseum is if Jon Snow is dead. Which has always been the wrong question. Of course he’s dead! The guy was stabbed in his chest and abdomen six times, and that final blow from Olly was, if not in the heart, pretty damn close. Jon Snow is dead. The question should be, does he stay dead? The season was barely over before Kit Harrington was seen at Wimbledon still sporting his Jon Snow locks and facial hair, and it wasn’t long after that when he was spotted around the Ireland locations where portions of the series shoot. In this day and age, there was little-to-no chance that Harrington could have been on set without evidence getting out, but considering the desire for proof of his return, it’s impressive that no one managed to ever get a shot of him in costume or to provide any concrete, irrefutable proof that he was filming. At this point, we know that he was on set and in costume, if for no other reason than to play Jon’s corpse, which has been seen in trailers for the new season. An article after the recent Season Six premiere event in Hollywood confirmed that Harrington’s name appears in the first episode’s opening credits, though the same was true of Charles Dance and Jack Gleeson — Tywin and Joffrey, respectively — when they appeared as dead bodies in the episodes following the demise of their characters.

In November, HBO made the rare move of unveiling an early teaser poster for the new season, and they put Jon Snow and the question of his survival front and center.

Teaser Poster

 

The network just recently released the log line for the first episode: “Jon Snow is dead. Daenarys meets a strong man. Cersei sees her daughter again.” (Interestingly, the description I see on DirecTV is slightly different; it says, “The fate of Jon Snow is revealed.”) That official word on Jon from HBO sent The Internet into a tizzy, as if the mystery had been addressed at long last. But again, “Is Jon Snow dead?” was never the right question. The question is what happens after he dies? There’s the theory that he turns into one of the White Walker’s wights and joins the Army of the Dead. There’s the theory that he suddenly developed warg-like abilities akin to Bran’s, and that his consciousness was transferred into his direwolf, Ghost. But the prevailing theory — and the most likely and logical — is that he will be restored to life by Melisandre, who will call upon the Lord of Light just as fellow priest Thoros of Myr did the six times he brought Beric Dondarrion back to life. (See my previous Thrones post for clips of one such resurrection, and of Thoros explaining the circumstances of these revivals to Melisandre.)

One thing the latter scene makes clear is that Melisandre has never done this herself, so if she does attempt to revive Jon, it will be a first for her. Assuming she does, will it go smoothly? Her faith is clearly shaken with everything having gone wrong for Stannis. She wasn’t looking like her usual confident self when she returned to Castle Black. Will her more fragile state impact a possible attempt to bring Jon back? Or will she pull it off and be reinvigorated by her success? What are the potential side effects to Jon? Beric stated that each time he’s been brought back, he’s a bit “less” than he was before. Jon could surely be revived once and still be the badass fighter he was, but are there other unknown risks to Melisandre attempting to bring him back to life? Is timing an issue? I’m not sure how long a body can be dead before the Lord of Light can revive it. When we saw Beric Dondarrion cut down by The Hound, Thoros sprang quickly into action to try and bring him back. It doesn’t appear that a potential revival of Jon will happen that fast.

I just hope we know by the hour’s end whether Jon is alive again or not, and that we aren’t left with his possible return still to come in a subsequent episode. The premiere is titled, “The Red Woman,” so we can assume that Melisandre factors in prominently, and the trailers have already suggested that Davos is right up in the thick of this as well. Whatever awaits Jon, it can’t be dragged out too long. The Night’s Watch brothers who stabbed him will surely be looking to handle the body and move on with their business, and they might not be so keen on the continued occupancy of Davos and Melisandre. (Is that why Davos is seen drawing Jon’s sword at the end of the first full trailer?) So I’m highly curious to see what awaits not just Jon, but also Alliser Thorne and Olly. And speaking of Olly, the biggest clue to Jon’s fate may have been out there in the open all this time, teased by the writers in the scene from “Hardhome” when Olly talks to Sam about Jon’s mission to make peace with the wildlings. “Try not to worry, Olly,” Sam says. “I’ve been worrying about Jon for years. He always comes back.”

THE ODD COUPLES
Sansa’s storyline in Season Five was tough to endure. The internet certainly lost its collective shit when Ramsay bent her over and took her on their wedding night. But to be fair, the internet loses its collective shit whenever Taylor Swift makes a veiled allusion to an ex-boyfriend, or the latest in-production comic book movie reveals the design of its hero’s costume. So that’s not the most reliable gauge. (It was legitimately controversial though, with critical reactions coming from more than just angry bloggers. Bryan Cogman, a producer on the show who wrote the episode, addresses it on the DVD commentary.) When Littlefinger first tells her that he’s bringing her to Winterfell to wed Ramsay, she is livid and refuses, but he implores her to see it as an opportunity. “You’ve been a bystander to tragedy from the day they executed your father,” he tells her. “Stop being a bystander, do you hear me? Stop running. There’s no justice in the world, not unless we make it. You loved your family. Avenge them.” We saw, toward the end of Season Four, how Littlefinger’s cunning was rubbing off on Sansa and how she was starting to show some savvy. She seemed to cross a threshold and was poised to continue down that path, emboldened and clever.

Thing is though, the story didn’t follow through on that. Upon her arrival at Winterfell and her marriage to Ramsay, she became passive again; a victim of the very kind that Littlfefinger said she’d been all along. I suppose she did what she could, trying to light that candle in the tallest tower, which an ally had told her to do if she needed help. But was that really her only card to play? We wanted to see her put Littlefinger’s tutelage to use and take steps to ruin the Boltons. Littlefinger, before returning to King’s Landing after a summon from Cersei, spoke to Sansa in the Winterfell crypts, and told her she could wrap Ramsay around her finger and make him hers, though she said she doesn’t know how to do that. Fair enough. Using her sexuality as weapon, like Melisandre does, probably doesn’t make sense to someone who’s never experienced sex. But Sansa better figure out pretty soon what her way is, because to watch her storyline backslide so jarringly after the progress it seemed to make was a shame. It’s hard to see what there is to be gained, story-wise or character arc-wise, by putting her in this situation. As if things haven’t been bad enough for her, do we really want to see Sansa impregnated by Ramsay, something that’s bound to happen if he’s raping her every night? As I noted in my previous Thrones post — and as Cogman mentions in that DVD commentary — this is not Sansa’s storyline in the books. Ramsay marries Sansa’s childhood friend, and these events play out with her while Sansa remains back in The Eyrie. Knowing this, I assume that showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss will ultimately bring her story to the same conclusion that George R.R. Martin intends. Benioff and Weiss can kill supporting characters like Mance Rayder and Barristan Selmy who are still alive in the books, but I gotta think that with the main players, they’re going to follow Martin’s lead. So that’s why I ask what is gained by these events. Why is this a good story for Sansa, if Martin is getting her to the same endgame by other, non-rapey means? Let’s hope that Benioff and Weiss’ long-term plan justifies this problematic detour.

As for Ramsay’s part in all of this, even considering what a vicious asshole he is, it doesn’t seem that making life so miserable for her can be good for him. He’s not Warden of the North yet. His father still holds the title, and may have a true born son on the way. Isn’t it in Ramsay’s interest to handle Sansa a little more carefully? Or is he just too much of a raging sadistic psychopath to help himself from torturing her? And why does Roose allow it? He must have some sense of what’s going on, especially if Sansa spends her days locked in her room, and shows up with fresh bruises whenever she is seen outside. Roose is repeatedly chastising Ramsay for his aggressive behavior, and he understands — even if Ramsay doesn’t — how crucial Sansa is to the Bolton’s position in the North. You’d think he would step in and bring Ramsay into line.

The biggest question mark in this thread is Littlefinger. He’s always the biggest question mark, isn’t he? We never really know what angle he’s playing, and that’s never been more true than in this particular scenario. In that Winterfell crypt scene, he says that he’s betting on Stannis to defeat the Boltons. Presumably, the plans he makes from there depend on that outcome. Or do they? He later tells Cersei to let Stannis and the Boltons fight each other, and then to attack whichever one wins. He volunteers the Knights of the Vale as the fighting force, and in return asks to be named Warden of the North if they prove victorious. He also promises to deliver Sansa to Cersei, who still believes her to be a co-conspirator in Joffrey’s death. Later still, in that aforementioned secret meeting with Olenna Tyrell — now at odds with Cersei over the arrests of Loras and Margaery — Littlefinger promises her a gift. “The same kind of gift I gave Cersei,” he says. “A handsome young man.” This was the last we saw of Littlefinger or Lady Olenna for the season. And I have no idea what he’s talking about. What handsome young man? Ramsay? Robyn Arryn, and more accurately the fighting force he now technically commands? Or someone else? The new season’s trailers have offered only glimpses of Littlefinger, in snow-covered forests that suggest he’s back in the North. How will the games he’s playing with the Lannisters, the Tyrells, the Boltons and Sansa Stark all pan out?

STATE OF THE UNION
That’s all I have regarding where the story stands. What about where the show stands? For a while now, there’s been no question that the show will conclude before Martin has completed his books, but there was some hope last summer that his sixth book, The Winds of Winter, would make an early 2016 release, in time for fans to catch up before the show returned. But that was not to be, and Martin posted a message about it on his blog in January, explaining earnestly where things stand and apologizing to those disappointed by the slow progress. I felt bad that Martin felt so bad, and that he felt the need not just to update, but to apologize. He began A Song of Ice and Fire years ago, and should be allowed to complete it at his own pace without having to endure the vocal frustrations of fans, most of whom have no idea what it takes to seriously write anything, let alone write an epic tale of a wholly imagined world. Sure, it’s unfortunate that the show will finish before the books, and that Martin will have many of his plot resolutions revealed by Benioff and Weiss before he gets the chance to reveal them in his own way, but as he talks about near the end of his post, he seems to have a good attitude about that, and about the pleasures of both reading a novel and watching its adaptation, no matter the order in which they are consumed. And if Benioff and Weiss are to be believed, the show is going its own way even more now than it already has, and it’s gone its own way quite a bit of late. The two showrunners, along with Martin, all seem in sync that when fans finally do get to read the last two books, there will be plenty of surprises in store that will not have occurred on the show.

Another timing question that has cropped up often in the past couple of years is how much longer the show will air, and sadly, it looks like the end is in sight. Benioff and Weiss recently speculated that after Season Six, there are probably about 13 more hours of story to tell. They concede that nothing is set in stone, and HBO certainly wants to clarify that talks are still ongoing. (The network has already renewed the show for another season.) Thrones always runs 10 episodes per season, but the idea would be that the remaining 13 — if that is indeed the number that sticks — would be told over two shortened runs, with more time being spent on each episode. As Benioff and Weiss explain, at this point the show — already a massive logistical undertaking that films with multiple crews on multiple continents — is more on the scale of a mid-size movie than even a typical high-quality episode of television. The behind-the-scenes scope of the show is daunting, and necessitates that directors helm two consecutive episodes in order for the production to run efficiently. To give a sense of the complexity involved: one of this year’s directors is Jack Bender, whose long list of credits includes being Lost‘s most frequent man behind the camera. This will be Bender’s first experience with Thrones, and his two hours of story required him to be on location for over four months.

But I digress. Whenever the show ends, whenever the books end, the focus for now is on Season Six, which arrives as the reigning Emmy Award winner for Best Drama Series. In fact, the show set a record at last year’s Emmys when it captured 12 awards — the most ever for a drama series in a single year. It nearly swept the main categories in which it was nominated, with wins for Best Directing and Best Writing (both for season finale “Mother’s Mercy”), and a second Best Supporting Actor win for Peter Dinklage. It’s other eight wins came in the Creative Arts categories for achievements such as Production Design, Editing and Casting. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I had slightly mixed feelings about the Emmy victories. I’ve been waiting since the beginning for the show to win the top award, and yet I couldn’t help being a little disappointed that when it finally happened, it was for the show’s most problematic season. I loved Season Five overall, but as I detailed in my previous Thrones post, there were a few storylines that stood on shaky ground. I wish the show had triumphed for a year in which, to my mind, no such problems existed. And while it was great to see a win for Best Directing, it was for the wrong episode. How was “Hardhome” — one of the best and most spectacularly directed episodes in the history of the show — not nominated in that category??

But again with the digressing. Back to Season Six. HBO usually sends the first two-to-four episodes of the season to critics in advance so they can write their reviews, but this time, no episodes were provided ahead of time (except to President Obama, apparently.) There was a premiere in Hollywood a few weeks ago, with a large number of the show’s cast members in attendance…but not Kit Harrington. Some members of the press were there as well, and while they all swore not to reveal any details (only the first episode was shown), the reactions were extremely positive, with word circulating that the episode is full of shocks and surprises. The screening was followed by a new trailer showing what’s to come. Among the clip’s most intriguing images are the return of Red Wedding co-orchestrator Walder Frey, not seen since the Season Three aftermath of that slaughter; Podrick being grabbed from behind; several shots of the Night’s King and the White Walkers; and a new Red Priestess visiting Tyrion and Varys in Meereen. (This will be interesting. The usually confident Varys has a look of concern on his face as this new character walks away, and he has previously expressed his loathing for those who practice the sort of dark magic that a servant to the Lord of Light could conjure. See: Melisandre and her crazy, Renly-killing Shadow Baby.)

We also get a quick glimpse of the great Max von Sydow, who joins the cast as Bran’s mentor, the Three-Eyed Raven. I love that von Sydow is joining the show; hopefully he’ll be better utilized than he was in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, where his brief role in the opening sequence made little use of his talent, presence and all-around awesomeness. (von Sydow was previously heard, but not seen, as the narrator of the season’s first teaser trailer, which highlighted such prominent past incidents as the deaths of Ned, Robb, Joffrey, and Jojen; the massacre at Hardhome; Jaime’s behanding; and perhaps most out of place and therefore most telling (?), Littlefinger kissing Sansa. Past events were also recalled in a subsequent teaser trailer, set in the Hall of Faces.) Other notable actors who will appear this year in undisclosed roles are Ian McShane and Richard E. Grant, and the new characters we’ll meet include Theon’s uncle, Euron Greyjoy, as well as Sam’s entire family. How will the Tarly clan factor into his Citadel storyline, I wonder?

All will be answered soon enough. Need some things to tide you over in these remaining minutes I’ve left you? Here’s something from the special features of Season Four’s DVD: a roundtable conversation with actors whose characters were killed off that year: Pedro Pascal (Oberyn), Charles Dance (Tywin), Jack Gleeson (Joffrey), Sibel Kekilli (Shae), Rose Leslie (Ygritte), Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Jojen Reed) and Mark Stanley (Grenn).

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If you prefer focusing on beginnings rather than ends, here’s a compilation of moments from the cast’s audition reels. I’d have hired Kristofer Hivju (Tormund) on the spot.

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In this clip, members of the cast try to differentiate between the names of GoT swords and 80’s metal bands. No easy task…

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And here’s another amusing trivia game to test your knowledge of the show. It’s called, “Why is Sansa Frowning?” (To be fair to our put-upon red-headed Stark, those aren’t all frowns…but it’s still a good reminder of things Sansa has gone through.)

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Here’s something crazy: a guy who makes snow art, and offered up this massive salute to the Starks. Must be seen to be believed.

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And finally, in tribute to the character who gives tonight’s episode its title, here’s what happens when Melisandre attends a baby shower.

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With that, there’s nothing left to do but wait for the witching hour. Whatever happens, at least we can be grateful that we no longer have to endure any more questions about whether Jon Snow is dead. Seriously…every day for the last 10 months.

 

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July 3, 2015

“When You Play the Game of Thrones, You Win or You Die” (But Mostly You Die)

Filed under: Books,TV — DB @ 9:00 am
Tags: , , , ,

This post is intended for those who are up-to-date on Game of Thrones. If you have yet to start watching the series or are not caught up, turn away, for this post is dark and full of terrors.

It’s always hard to reach the end of a Game of Thrones season, knowing that you face a ten month wait for the show to return. But this season’s finale was especially hard, as it concluded with such a devastating scene. None of the previous finales have ended on such a down beat. Consider each year’s final shot. Season One: Daenarys arising from the ashes of a funeral pyre with three baby dragons. Season Two: Sam hiding behind a rock as an army of White Walkers marches past. Season Three: Daenarys being lifted and embraced by a horde of slaves she has just freed from bondage. And Season Four: Arya sailing for Braavos. In a world as notoriously bleak as the one presented in Game of Thrones, three of those are downright hopeful. The fourth, while not the most pleasant note to end on, is at least exciting, and the beloved character depicted is safe despite his proximity to danger.

THE SNOW MUST GO ON?
Season Five’s final moments did not send us so gentle in that good night, any more than they did the character enduring them. Having arrived at the difficult decision to make peace with the wildlings and offer them passage into Westeros through the gates of Castle Black, all because he knew the threat of the White Walkers would require the combined efforts of all the living — whichever side of The Wall and wherever in the Seven Kingdoms they were — Jon Snow was betrayed by a band of his own men, stabbed repeatedly à la Julius Caesar, each of his killers repeating, “For the Watch” as they plunged their daggers into his torso.

There was no last minute savior, no Ghost to intervene and protect his keeper. (In fact, I wondered if the mutinous brothers also harmed Ghost, to ensure the direwolf wouldn’t be a problem?) The attack was made worse by having to watch Jon’s long-time nemesis Ser Aliser Thorne get the better of him, and because Jon’s squire Olly delivered the final blow. A lot of attention had been paid to Olly this season, particularly to his displeasure with Jon’s decision, given that his entire village was cut down in a wildling attack led by Tormund and Ygritte. Olly talked with Sam a few episodes before the finale, and Sam explained Jon’s actions by saying that sometimes men have to do what they believe is right even if no one else can see it. I could tell at the end of that scene that Olly took away the wrong message. There was something palpably ominous about his reaction to Sam, and I was sure that Sam’s words would motivate Olly toward some ill-advised action, though I didn’t know what, and couldn’t imagine it would be participating in Jon’s murder. (He wasn’t just one of the attackers, after all; he was the one who lured Jon outside and into the trap.) Of course, I couldn’t imagine that Jon would die at all. Not yet, certainly. No death since Ned’s felt as shockingly premature as Jon’s. But Ned’s death did much to set the tone for what the series was, and once we had a chance to absorb it, we could understand it. Making sense of Jon’s death is more difficult. So much so, that few people (if any) actually believe that Jon will remain dead, despite the morbid finality of the season’s closing image.

I admit that in the shock of the moment, such ideas didn’t enter my mind. There was no part of me that watched Jon fall and thought, “No, we’re not done with him.” I took what I saw at face value, and it was like a kick to the gut. Then right after the closing credits, the friend I watched with all season shared his theory with me. Maybe some of this would have occurred to me once I got over my grief and had more time to think about it. Maybe not. But his theory is one that I’ve since read in several places, and it seems entirely plausible. With Stannis defeated and presumed dead, Melisandre returned to Castle Black, clearly distressed by her king’s loss. This hasn’t been discussed much on the show — it’s more explored in the books, I think — but Melisandre believed Stannis to be Azor Ahai reborn. According to R’hllor — the foreign religion she brought to Westeros — Azor was a storied warrior who, thousands of years earlier, led a defeat against The Others — a.k.a. the White Walkers — by driving them out of Westeros and into the far north. Prophecies foretold the return of The Others, however, as well as the rebirth of Azor, who would lead a final war against the enemy that would decide the fate of the world. Now there’s a lot more to all this, and I don’t want to go too deep here, but that’s enough to address where Season Five left us. Melisandre now knows that her faith in Stannis had been misplaced, and we know that she took an interest in Jon. We also know that another priest of R’hllor — Thoros of Myr — has summoned his deity’s power to revive his friend Beric Dondarrion. Six times Beric has died, and six times Thoros has brought him back, crediting R’hllor, a.k.a. the Lord of Light.

And we know that Melisandre knows this. (Skip to the 2:40 mark.)

All of this is to say that we’ve seen the Lord of Light’s power to revive the dead. Melisandre is at Castle Black, Melisandre sees something in Jon Snow, and Melisandre will now be searching for a new embodiment of Azor Ahai. My understanding is that her interest in Jon, and his possible connection to Ahai, is given more attention in the books than in the show. This may or may not be telling. The show is deviating from the books more and more, with several incidents this season — including certain deaths — playing out differently or not at all in the novels. Jon’s death is the closing scene of George R.R. Martin’s fifth and most recent novel, A Dance with Dragons, just as it was the closing scene of the season, so what happens from here is pure speculation on the part of book readers and non-book readers alike. Co-showrunner D.B. Weiss and finale director David Nutter have stated that Jon is really dead, as has actor Kit Harington, explaining that he has been told he’s done and not returning to the show. But doth they protest too much? No other death on the show has led to so much reassurance from the cast and crew that the death is final. Yet no other death on the show has necessitated such emphasis. Even if we had a hard time emotionally accepting the deaths of Ned, Robb, Catelyn, Tywin or whichever characters you were sad to see go, we readily accepted them as part of the story, without questioning whether there was an open door. Not so with Jon’s death. Fans have long speculated that Martin’s story would build to Jon and Daenarys coming together to defeat the White Walkers. After all, his saga is called A Song of Ice and Fire, and Jon and Dany are considered the embodiments of those two elements.

Plus, it’s widely known that when Weiss and David Benioff approached Martin about obtaining the rights to adapt his novels for television, he tested them with the question, “Who is Jon Snow’s real mother?” Indeed, the question of Jon’s true parentage is maybe the most discussed topic in Martin’s fandom, and for Jon to die now would seemingly render all that talk moot. I suppose Jon’s lineage could prove important somehow even if he’s no longer around, but that seems like a stretch. He has no children, no full siblings (or so we assume, based on what we currently know of his family and what the prevalent theory entails), so what impact on the larger story could the answer have if Jon isn’t around to receive it? Maybe Martin has just been screwing with us, and the question about Jon’s mother has been a massive red herring all along, goaded by the author himself. Seeing how merciless he is with his characters, you couldn’t put it past him. And yet…it just doesn’t seem probable, does it? None of the characters we’ve lost to date, no matter how impactful they were to the show, feel as necessary to its ultimate destination as Jon. You could argue for Tywin, perhaps, but his death fuels the story arcs of Tyrion, Cersei and Jaime, and perhaps for an eventual collapse of House Lannister. Every other death, no matter how major the character, was understandable for the plot points and/or character development it set in motion. To be fair, other deaths may have seemed abrupt or premature at the time, without the advantage of hindsight, but I would argue that when a character dies, you can consider then and there how it could fuel other storylines. Jon’s death, if it sticks, could fit that pattern too, but it’s a more difficult path to envision.

So if there’s any truth to the rumors, what else can Harington, Weiss, Nutter and everyone else with the show say other than “Jon is dead,” “Kit is off the show,” etc.? The death is certainly presented as if it’s definitive, so if the character is to be revived and Harington is coming back, they clearly need to conceal that until the moment of revelation comes. That will pose quite a challenge to the production, ensuring that no leaked set photos hit the internet. And unless they want his return to be included in previews, like Gandalf’s was in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, it means omitting Jon from all trailers and marketing materials next year, and keeping Harington away from all pre-season press.

Some final thoughts on this before moving on. The idea of Melisandre reviving Jon is the one I’ve seen most frequently over the past couple of weeks, but other speculation — drawing from Martin’s description of Jon’s murder — is that he could be a warg who somehow sends his consciousness into Ghost. His half-brother Bran is a warg — and then some — but while the books may have hinted at a connection between Jon and his wolf, the show certainly hasn’t played that card. Again, the show is breaking away from the books more frequently and more substantially, but if Martin intends Jon to be important to his series endgame, I don’t imagine Benioff and Weiss would stray too far from that. For all the time I’ve already spent on this topic, there’s so much more to be found out there — more details to the theories I’ve mentioned, alternate versions of those theories, and other theories altogether — about how Jon could come back, or why Jon is definitely dead, or how Jon could come back but not played by Kit Harington. Other clues from the show, other clues from the books…it’s all a bit overwhelming, frankly, so I’ll leave you to prowl the internet for clues on your own. You probably have already, considering that this post comes nearly three weeks after the finale. I’ll close the topic with this: after my friend shared his theory with me in the immediate aftermath of the episode, I did become hopeful that we haven’t seen the last of Kit Harington’s Jon Snow, even if the rest of my night remained shrouded in the kind of faux-yet-real depression that can only come from the death of a beloved fictional character. But the reading I’ve done since then has left me more uncertain that there’s a happy ending to this situation. Whatever happens, watching Jon’s murder was among the show’s most devastating moments to date for me, ending the season on an upsetting note that will make the wait for new episodes even harsher than usual.

CASUALTIES OF WAR
Alright, enough of this morbid, Jon Snow-death talk. We have entirely different morbid death talk to get to. Jon wasn’t the only casualty of the finale, so let’s talk about Stannis. It was a big season for the man who would be king, as he plotted his path to the Iron Throne despite the fact that the whole reason he went to The Wall in the first place was because Davos and Melisandre realized that the threat of the White Walkers was more urgent than securing his crown. Unfortunately, things did not go well for Stannis, whose fate seemed sealed when he made the decision — difficult though it was — to sacrifice his daughter Shireen to Melisandre’s Lord of Light (our buddy R’hllor, discussed earlier). That choice didn’t sit well with his men. It cost him half his army, and the life of his wife Seleyse, who hung herself. Realizing hope was truly lost and that her flame visions of Stannis’ success had been snuffed out, Melisandre deserted him, leaving Stannis and his ragged, reduced army to make a futile stand outside Winterfell against Team Bolton. But after that inevitable defeat, it was Brienne who came upon the wounded Stannis, to exact the revenge she had desired ever since Stannis and Melisandre’s shadow baby killed Renly. Given all the build-up, their encounter — and Stannis’ entire unraveling — felt a little hasty and anti-climactic. This was my main problem with the finale: there was so much plot to get through that we didn’t get many of the character moments that felt so necessary. Brienne came to execute Stannis, but there was an abrupt, jarring cutaway as she swung the sword. Did she even do it? Is Stannis dead? Or did she maybe see some vulnerability in his final moments that gave her pause? That doesn’t seem likely, and yet the fact that we don’t see Stannis’ body or linger with Brienne casts a shadowbaby of a doubt. Assuming she does kill him, it would have been nice to stay with her for a few moments after finally carrying out that long-desired vengeance. How did she feel about it? We didn’t need to see a brutal image of the kill, nor did we need Podrick to show up and talk to Brienne about her feelings. But it would have been nice to see her face after that, to watch her take in the emotion and see what she did next, even if that was just turning around and walking back to her Sansa-watching perch.

And how about Sansa? Unwilling to bide her time any longer under Ramsay’s thumb, she stood up to Myranda even as she was threatened at arrowpoint. Thankfully, Theon finally stepped up, pushing Myranda over the wall to her death. With nowhere else to go as Ramsay and his men were returning from their defeat of Stannis’ army, Sansa took Theon’s hand and the two leaped over an outer castle wall. We didn’t see them land, nor did we revisit them, but the brief glimpse down over the wall we got reveals an awfully long drop, with no discernible soft or easy landing. It appears they’re jumping onto solid — albeit snowcovered — ground from an extreme height; as high, if not higher, than Myranda fell. So what did we miss? How are we supposed to believe they survived that jump? It won’t be long before Ramsay realizes they’re gone. Where can they go for safety before he can catch up with them? Will Brienne find and help them?  The cliffhanger was as frustrating as Sansa’s entire storyline this year. After spending so much time with Littlefinger last season, Sansa finally started to play the game with some smarts, and this season began with the promise of where that would go. Unfortunately, it went into the sick, twisted hands of Ramsay, where she became a victim all over again, even more so than she’d been in Joffrey’s court. Obviously we don’t know where Benioff and Weiss are taking this (Sansa does not marry Ramsay in the novels; she’s still in The Eyrie), and ultimately I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt since I recognize that we’re still in the middle of an unfolding story. But it was disappointing to see Sansa’s arc move backwards. Whatever happens, I would have liked to see Ramsay — high on his victory over Stannis — be jolted by the sight of Myranda’s bloody, broken body and the absence of Sansa and Theon. Another character moment that would have been great to witness.

But back to the pile o’corpses. Let us not forget Myrcella, who died in Jaime’s arms after a sweet moment in which they happily acknowledged each other as father and daughter for the first time. Ellaria Sand’s about-face in the previous episode, when she talked to Jaime about his relationship with Cersei and then admitted that Myrcella and Jaime were innocent of Oberyn’s death, felt like it was a step too far toward healing and reconciliation, considering how single-minded she had been in her desire to punish the Lannisters…even though Oberyn was not murdered. (I wish she would have addressed that fact at some point and actually explained her viewpoint, since interpreting his death as “murdered by the Lannisters” was so clearly off-base.) When she delivered Myrcella a goodbye kiss on the lips, I suspected there was poison involved, and so there was. Myrcella’s death doesn’t have much of an emotional impact on us since we spent so little time with her, but obviously it will have major ripple effects on Cersei, Jaime and everyone in Dorne. Cersei is already in a revenge frame of mind (we’ll get to that) but when she finds out her only daughter is dead, that dial is gonna crank to 11.

Then there was Ser Meryn Trant — a minor character, but one whose death was among the most brutal the show has ever presented. Seriously, Arya killed the fuck outta that guy. Trant’s death was so hideous and horrible that it actually felt disproportionate to the crime for which Arya had so long uttered his name — that being his role in wiping out the Starks at King’s Landing, and especially killing Arya’s dancing master Syrio Forel. Trant’s prediliction toward young girls was a new reveal, and one that made his demise a bit more satisfying, but still…the brutality of it felt more like the kind of death we wanted to see for Joffrey, or that we hope will befall Ramsay. Not that I wasn’t cheering and clapping when Arya butchered him, just because it was the first person she really went to town on and for so long now I’ve wanted that for her. Alas, I should have known Martin wouldn’t let her off the hook for disobeying Jaqen’s instructions and abandoning her assignment to kill the corrupt Thin Man. Any pleasure we derived from seeing her extract her revenge was short-lived, with Jaqen informing her that she stole a life from the Red God and would have to pay a price. I admit things got a bit confusing for me here, but it appears the girl who had sort of been Arya’s keeper at The House of Black and White died for Arya’s offense, and then Arya herself went blind. Is that permanent, or can the Red God restore her eyesight if she makes the proper penance? I don’t know, but it was a blow to see Arya debilitated in such a major way.

There were plenty of other deaths throughout the season, and we can’t linger on all of them. I mentioned Stannis’ wife, and of course his daughter Shireen. Burning that sweet little girl at the stake was just the worst, but it was just the kind of bold storytelling we’ve come to expect from this series. Ser Barristan Selmy’s death was a tough one for me; he’s been one of my favorite secondary characters from day one. Janos Slynt, the former Gold Cloak turned cowardly brother of the Night’s Watch, was decapitated after insulting the newly elected Lord Commander. It was great to see Jon step up and behead that prick. A less welcome death among the Watch was Maester Aemon, one of the few characters we’ve seen die of natural causes. And don’t forget all the way back in the first episode when Stannis executed Mance Rayder. I thought Mance’s role would expand this season, but that was not to be. Too bad. A good character, played by the terrific Ciarán Hinds.

BUMPS IN THE ROAD
Reflecting on the season, I have to keep it 100 and say there were some problems that needled at me. Let’s start with Dorne. When Season 4 ended, one of the earliest pieces of intel we heard about what lay ahead was that we would visit Oberyn’s homeland and meet his daughters, collectively known as the Sand Snakes. The introduction of Dorne was hyped up bigtime as the season approached. Unfortunately, the show largely failed to deliver. Considering all the buildup, there weren’t actually many scenes there, those we got were too spaced out across the season, and they weren’t that well executed from a storytelling point of view. It all seemed like a bit of an afterthought…except for the scene with Bronn and the Sand Snakes in jail. That was great, and not just for…well…obvious reasons. (I was worried for Bronn from the moment Jaime approached him about going to Dorne, but I was so happy that he was not among the season’s fatalities.) With Myrcella’s murder hanging in the air, I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of Dorne and its new set of characters, but I hope they are better handled going forward.

The rise of the Faith Militant was another of the season’s awkward subplots. Where did they come from, and how did they exert so much power so quickly? I loved the way Lancel Lannister was reintroduced as this newly pious zealot, and the High Sparrow was an excellent addition to the show. But the Militant as a whole and the way they were able to run unchecked played false to me. I know Tommen isn’t a strong ruler, but I just didn’t buy that he would be so impotent in dealing with them. If you’re a 12 year-old boy, or however old he is, and you’ve just gotten laid for the first time — with no less a sex goddess than Margaery Tyrell, who is now your wife and queen — you’ll do whatever you have to do so that your woman stays happy and you can continue getting laid. He’s the king, with an army at his disposal, and it was hard to believe that he wouldn’t unleash that force when Margaery was arrested, and then Cersei on top of that. So the meteoric rise to power of the High Sparrow’s flock, and their ability to retain their might, felt problematic from the start. The Sparrow himself was great, but the story around him could have fared better.

Something else which sat ill with me when a friend pointed it out (I didn’t think about it initially) was the apparent skill of Meereen’s mystery rebels, the Sons of the Harpy…especially when pitted against the Unsullied, who are supposed to be one of the best armies in the world. We don’t know who the Sons of the Harpy are, but our initial assumption was that they were members of Meereen’s wealthy class; slave owners who lost their slaves when Dany came to town. So as my friend pointed out after the episode in which the SOTH killed Barristan Selmy and badly wounded Grey Worm, slaughtering several Unsullied as well: how do a group of rich fat-cats display not just the fighting prowess but also the attack strategy that made the SOTH such an effective force? Wanting to play devil’s advocate and defend the show, I countered that they might not be rich Meereenese at all, but perhaps an outside army brought in to deal with Dany by those who oppose her. Yet they do seem like an insurgent force, don’t they? Perhaps that’s what they are, but not from Meereen. Maybe they’re from Yunkai or Astapor, the slave cities Dany freed before coming to Meereen. If they were outsiders, that might explain why their attack in the huge arena saw them killing indiscriminately, murdering even Meereen’s wealthy. Why would the rich in Meereen kill their own, after all? You may recall a scene from Season 3 in which a representative of Yunkai’s slavers met with Dany in her camp and told her that if she pursued an attack on the city, she would run afoul of their “powerful friends who would take great pleasure in destroying you.” Those powerful friends turned out to be the Second Sons, an army of sellswords who counted Daario Naharis among their leaders. Daario and the Second Sons now fight for Dany of course, but perhaps Yunkai had other powerful friends. Or perhaps some of the Second Sons have broken ranks.

Even if we assume that the SOTH are not just a bunch of wealthy rebels but rather a skilled fighting force with plenty of experience on their side, there’s still the question of why the Unsullied proved so ineffectual. Sure, in the alleyway attack that would be Barristan’s last stand, the Unsullied were outnumbered, and they put up a good fight. But from everything we’ve heard about them, shouldn’t they be more of a match for the SOTH? What about that aforementioned surprise attack in the arena? Jorah spots a SOTH assassin from the middle of the arena and hurls a spear to impale the attacker, but we could see Unsullied soldiers posted behind Dany’s coterie. Why did none of them, so much closer than Jorah, spot the would-be killer? And given their massive numbers, shouldn’t they have been able to overwhelm the SOTH? There are like, 8,000 Unsullied, aren’t there? Minus those who’ve died along the way, but still, they must outnumber this enemy, right? So it’s hard to accept the Sons of the Harpy inflicting the level of damage they did given the fighting force Dany has in her corner.

Shifting elsewhere in Essos, Arya’s experience at The House of Black and White posed one problem for me. Back when she and Jaqen parted ways at the end of Season 2, he invited her to come with him to Braavos and learn to be a Faceless Man. “A girl has many names on her lips,” he said to her. “Joffrey, Cersei, Tywin Lannister, Ilyn Payne, The Hound…names to offer up to the Red God. She could offer them all, one by one.” He said this after killing at least two Lannister guards in order to help her escape from Harrenhal, and those two men exceeded the three he had offered to kill for her in exchange for saving his life and two others back at the caravan. So once Arya makes it to Braavos and comes under Jaqen’s tutelage, why is she constantly told that she has to let go of being Arya Stark and become no one? He encouraged her with the promise of being able to sacrifice her enemies. When she takes action — prematurely, granted; she had another assignment and she cast it aside — she is punished for it. Back at The House of Black and White, Jaqen says, “That man’s life was not yours to take. A girl stole from the Many Faced God. Now a debt is owed. Only death can pay for life.” Did he owe a debt when he killed those soldiers at Harrenhal? Why is she not able to carry out the revenge with which he tempted her? Why would killing her assigned target have been an acceptable murder to the Many Faced God while Meryn Trant’s was not?

The combination of these issues made Season 5 a little less satisfying than the others…but only a little. Don’t think my confidence in the show has been shaken in any fundamental way. It remains my current pop culture obsession, and if I could fast forward to next April right now, pausing only for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I would do so without hesitation. No discussion of the season would be complete without talking about the epic awesomeness that was Episode 8: Hardhome. The Army of the Dead attack on the wildling camp was not only a highlight of this year, but one of the best sequences in the show’s history. For me, much of what made it so impactful was the complete shock of it. It wasn’t something that happened in the books, so no contingent of viewers was waiting for it. It had the thrill and tension of the Red Wedding, without the potential for being spoiled, hinted at or telegraphed. More importantly, none of the previews or commercials for the season revealed it. The initial trailers for the season showed some quick shots of a battle in the snow, but if we made out anything from that, it was assumed to be a skirmish between the wildlngs and the Watch. And personally, none of those shots were on my mind during the scenes where Jon made his case to the wildlings to accept his offer and come south of The Wall. Those scenes were engrossing enough, so when the attack began, it carried the thrill of surprise. Then the escalation, the intensity…I don’t want to spout clichés, but it was literally heart-pounding, edge-of-your-seat stuff. Under the direction of Miguel Sapochnik, it was executed supremely well, right through to the final staredown between Jon and the Night’s King, and the quiet, unsettling sound effects — sans music score — over the end credits. (That silent yet loaded exchange between the two commanders, and indeed Jon’s entire performance at Hardhome, is one of the many reasons that his death feels so unlikely. Those two have to meet again, don’t they?)

Another of this season’s highlights, though it was brief, was the meeting of Tyrion and Daenarys. In fact, their two meaty scenes together came in Hardhome, helping to make that episode a standout this season. While a massive action sequence like the one at Hardhome has the ability to rock us, most of Game of Thrones best scenes involve characters talking. Tyrion and Dany are among the show’s more eloquent speakers, so their conversations were bound to be good, and then of course what Emilia Clarke and especially Peter Dinklage bring to them elevates the already fine material. Seriously, how great is Peter Dinklage?

The actor behind Tyrion is the cast’s standard bearer at the Emmy awards, and assuming he earns another nomination this year, it’s possible he’ll be joined by Lena Headey. She had a lot to work this this season as Cersei, culminating in that humbling Walk of Shame. When Cersei went to visit Margaery in her cell, playing the concerned ally, Margaery was having none of it. “Lies come easily to you, everyone knows that,” she said to Cersei. “But innocence, decency, concern — you’re not very good at those, I’m afraid.” It was those traits Cersei tried to access when confessing to the High Sparrow, and though her lack of true remorse or desire to repent was obvious, the High Sparrow agreed to let her return to the Red Keep. Little did she know what it would cost her. That long, dreadful walk — wisely and powerfully presented in its entirety — brought Cersei to a low she’s never experienced, but genuine piety is not in her toolbox. With Qyburn’s introduction of FrankenMountain, the look of steely resolve returned to Cersei’s eyes, and it’s safe to assume that her wrath will be more fiery than ever. (By the way, why no Littlefinger at the Red Keep awaiting Cersei’s return along with Qyburn, Pycelle and her uncle Kevan? He’s still in King’s Landing, as far as we know, and he’s still a member of the Small Council. Seems odd that such a skilled player wouldn’t make the calculated move of being there with a show of support — emphasis on “show” — for Cersei.)

A DANCE WITH DEADLINES
No one knows what her next move will be, or what anyone’s next move will be, since we’ve pretty much reached the end of Martin’s published material. He is hard at work on Book 6, The Winds of Winter, and has even suggested that it could be published early next year, potentially offering time for readers to consume it before Season 6 premieres. That’s his hope, at least. “Maybe I’m being overly optimistic about how quickly I can finish,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “But I canceled two convention appearances, I’m turning down a lot more interviews—anything I can do to clear my decks and get this done.” That said, he also knows that his number one obligation is to the quality of the books, not to the ticking clock imposed by the show. Speaking at the U.S. premiere of Season 5 in April, he said, “There is more pressure every year. The main thing is to make the book as good as I can possibly make it. Fifty years from now nobody is going to care how frequently the books came out. They will care if the books are as good as they can possibly be, if the books stand the test of time. That’s what I struggle with as I write.”

During a talk at Oxford Union, Benioff addressed the crossroads that everyone connected to Thrones has reached, from Martin all the way down to the fans.

Luckily, we’ve been talking about this with George for a long time, ever since we saw this could happen, and we know where things are heading. So we’ll eventually basically meet up at pretty much the same place where George is going [in Book 7, A Dream of Spring]. There might be a few deviations along the route, but we’re heading towards the same destination. I kind of wish there were some things we didn’t have to spoil in terms of the books, but we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. So the show must go on.

He added, “[A]t the same time, George has his process. And if it takes him 20 years to finish the series, that’s what it should take him. He’s writing, to my mind, the great fantasy epic of our time. So we can’t rush him and I wouldn’t want to rush him. [But] at the same time, we can’t put the show on hiatus.” Benioff also pointed out — as this season made abundantly clear for those who’ve read the books — that the degree of deviation from the source material which is now occurring on the show ensures that Martin doesn’t lose readers just because the show will finish before he does:

I think the thing that’s kind of fun for George is the idea that he can still have surprises for people even once they’ve watched the show through to the conclusion. There are certain things that are going to happen in the books that are different from the show, and I think people who love the show and want more — want to know more about the characters, want to know more about the different characters who might not have made the cut for the show — will be able to turn to the books.

Martin reinforced this in the same Entertainment Weekly interview mentioned above, wherein he talked excitedly about a new plot development he has devised for one of his characters that the show can’t replicate because of other choices that have already been made:

I’m still weighing whether to go that direction or not. It’s a great twist. It’s easy to do things that are shocking or unexpected, but they have to grow out of characters. They have to grow out of situations. Otherwise, it’s just being shocking for being shocking. But this is something that seems very organic and natural, and I could see how it would happen. And with the various three, four characters involved… it all makes sense. But it’s nothing I’ve ever thought of before. And it’s nothing they can do in the show, because the show has already — on this particular character — made a couple decisions that will preclude it, where in my case I have not made those decisions.

I would add that given how long it takes Martin to write the books, by the time he gets around to finishing A Dream of Spring it will probably be at least a few years after the show ends, allowing for a renewed excitement about returning to the world and characters he created after we’ll have missed them for a prolonged stretch.

And with that, let us ease the difficulty of another season gone with a new round of Fun with Thrones. All this talk of Martin finishing the books makes me think of this Robot Chicken segment, depicting the horror facing the author everytime he has to leave the house.

Anyone who enjoyed the bizarre web phenomenon Too Many Cooks last year might enjoy this GoT version of the mega-meme. I can’t say for sure, since I have yet to go down the Too Many Cooks rabbit hole myself.

The highest profile bit of Thrones comedy this year was probably from Red Nose Day, a charity event that aired on NBC recently and which, despite a reasonable amount of promotion, left me utterly clueless as to the cause for which it was raising money. Whatever it was, the powers behind it managed to draw a large number of GoT stars to participate in a segment about Coldplay attempting to create a Game of Thrones musical. Seeing is believing.

On a slightly more serious note — okay, a significantly more serious note, but still kinda fun — I stumbled upon this short animated examination about the economics of Westeros. This is surprisingly enjoyable.

Artist Mike Wrobel has continued his series of GoT characters dressed in 80s/90s garb

…and the Beautiful Death series lives on as well, as the mounting body count inspires more excellent work from artist Robert Ball. These can be seen at the Beautiful Death website, or on Ball’s personal site, where the images are a bit bigger. The little details of these are great, so bigger is better. (Note the third image below, by the way. It represents Stannis’ death…but again, no body. And there was no Beautiful Death art for Jon. That would be an unbelievable oversight, if he’s really dead. Just sayin’…)

Comic-Con comes a few weeks early this year — next week, in fact — and there will once again be a Game of Thrones panel, though for the first time, Benioff and Weiss are not attending. I’ve read some speculation that they’re skipping in order to avoid those tricky Jon Snow questions. Who knows. The panel will be mainly cast members, as well as an HBO executive. Without any key behind the scenes personnel, I don’t know if we’ll get any decent hints about what to expect next year, but maybe they’ll throw us a few bones. Emmy nominations will land shortly after Comic-Con wraps, and hopefully Thrones will be represented. I don’t see the show taking Best Drama this year — an award it has yet to win, but hopefully will before the end – but certainly Miguel Sapochnik deserves a directing nomination and arguably a win for Hardhome. Looking further ahead to early next year, we’ll see if Martin and Bantam Press can get The Winds of Winter out before April. And I really hope that the show returns to IMAX venues. The last week of this past January, Game of Thrones became the first TV series to be shown in IMAX theaters. The last two episodes of Season 4, which included the wildling attack at Castle Black, were converted into the large-screen format and presented at several IMAX locations around the country for a limited engagement. Just a week, I think. It didn’t sound worth it to me when I first read about it, but a friend wanted to go, so I figured sure, why not. And it was fantastic. The image quality was superb. Despite being filmed for a television screens, the visuals completely stood up to the demands of a giant screen. The episodes looked and sounded excellent, and the experience was totally worth the ticket price. It turned out be substantially more successful than either HBO or IMAX expected, and Benioff and Weiss were impressed with the results, so I’m hopeful it will happen again. The obvious choices for Season 5 would be episodes 8 and 9, rather than 9 and 10. I mean, Hardhome on IMAX will be phenomenal, and the following episode offers the arena sequence in Meereen that climaxes with Drogon’s arrival and Dany’s flight. I have to think all parties involved will make this happen. They’d better. I’ll need every bit of Thrones I can get to hold me over until the show comes back and Jon Snow rises from the dead…hopefully in better shape than these poor bastards.

April 11, 2015

Let the Game Begin

Filed under: TV — DB @ 5:30 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

This post is intended for those who are up-to-date on Game of Thrones. If you have yet to start watching the series or are not caught up, steer clear. There are more Season 1-4 spoilers to come than there were pots of Wildfire stored in King’s Landing.

So…where were we?

This game’s board continues to broaden, but before tomorrow night’s Season Five premiere, let’s see if we can catch up with where things stand for its many players. Before we begin, a statement of intention: there are many recaps available around the web, and most of them are probably more succinct than this one. But as I talk to people who are excited about the return of the show, I’m stunned by how few of them can even name the major characters. I hear things like, “Yeah, the chick with the dragons,” or “What’s his name, the brother whose hand got cut off, or “You know the one, oh, what’s his name, kid with the broken legs who can possess the giant.” I don’t understand how someone can be invested in a show, watch it week after week — even if only for ten weeks out of the year — and not know the names of the characters. I admit that I have a good memory for characters, story details, etc. (a knack which helped make me an effective recapper of Lost, thank you very much), but I don’t expect people to know the name of every Lannister soldier. Really though, you can’t name Dany or Cersei or Arya right off the top of your head? If that’s you, then you probably need a recap as detailed as the one I’m about to dish out. It may not be as entertaining as, say, this one…

…or as elegant as this one…

…but it will better prepare you for the new season. That I promise.

Having been accused of killing Joffrey (the title of Bill O’Reilly’s next book, FYI), Tyrion opted for a trial by combat rather than let dear daddy Tywin determine his fate. Wanting to ensure her brother’s death once and for all, Cersei chose as her champion the enormous Gregor Clegane, aka The Mountain Who Rides, aka The Mountain, aka That Crazy Motherfucker Who Chopped His Horse’s Head Off After Losing a Joust – a man who Tyrion’s sellsword pal Bronn would accurately describe as “freakish big and freakish strong.”  With Jaime unable to fight due to the loss of his hand, and Bronn unwilling to put his life on the line against The Mountain, Tyrion found a surprise champion in Dornish prince Oberyn Martell, who had journeyed to King’s Landing with his special ladyfriend Ellaria Sand for Joffrey’s wedding. Oberyn’s sister Elia had been married to the Mad King’s son Rhaegar Targaryen, but he left her for Ned Stark’s sister Lyanna, even though she was betrothed to Robert Baratheon. When Tywin and his army — allied with a rebelling Robert — stormed King’s Landing right around the time Jaime was earning the nickname “Kingslayer,” The Mountain killed Elia’s children and then raped her before killing her too. Oberyn has long sought vengeance on The Mountain, and on Tywin, who he is convinced gave the order. So Oberyn fought for Tyrion and appeared to mortally wound The Mountain, only to find his massive opponent had a few moves left…like the move where he crushed Oberyn’s head to a pulp with his bare fucking hands. Tyrion was condemned to death, but Jaime and Varys plotted his escape. Jaime got him out of his cell, and on his way to meet Varys, Tyrion couldn’t help but take a detour. He went to Tywin’s chambers and found his ex-lover Shae in his father’s bed. She went on the defensive and tried to kill him, but he choked her to death. Then he found Tywin sitting on the toilet, and put two arrows in him. By the time Varys got him to the ship that would carry him across the Narrow Sea to exile and maybe safety, the toll of bells signaled that Tywin’s death had been discovered. Varys knew he could not return to court, so he took a place on the boat alongside Tyrion.

In other King’s Landing news, Joffrey has been succeeded by his brother Tommen, a sweet, decent kid who is almost certainly doomed and who doesn’t to deserve to die the horrible death that will probably befall him eventually as the competitors for the Iron Throne close in. For the time being though, Tommen is king, and with Tywin dead, Cersei is now the true power in King’s Landing, answering to nobody. Margaery Tyrell, who was married to Joffrey for all of a few hours before he was gloriously poisoned — by her grandmother, the supremely awesome Olenna Tyrell, as it turned out — is now set to wed the much younger Tommen. This puts Cersei in a difficult position, since she detests Margaery…though in point of fact, Cersei detests almost everyone who isn’t a Lannister. And almost everyone who is a Lannister, really. But she also seems to recognize the need for an alliance with the Tyrells, the wealthiest family in the kingdoms second to her own.

Olenna’s murder of Joffrey was conducted in cahoots with Westeros’ schemer extraordinaire, Lord Petyr Baelish, aka Littlefinger. He arranged to have Sansa Stark unwittingly wear a poison-laced necklace to the wedding, where Olenna would have access. As Joffrey gasped his last breaths, Littlefinger had an accomplice whisk Sansa away and deliver her to Littlfinger’s ship anchored in the mists of the bay. The two sailed to the Vale and made for the fortress of the Eyrie, where Littlefinger married Sansa’s aunt Lysa Arryn, sister of her late mother Catelyn Stark. Lysa has always been a little crazy, however, and was convinced that Littlefinger had romantic designs on Sansa. She might have been right; he’s always been creepy, but the way he looks at her takes it to a whole other level. With Lysa unhinged by jealousy, Littlefinger decided the best thing for everyone would be if she weren’t alive anymore, so he pushed her ass out the moon door. Under Littlefinger’s tutelage, Sansa finally began to display some cunning, spinning a story to a small tribunal that held Littlefinger responsible for Lady Arryn’s death. Sansa convinced them that Lysa had killed herself, and that Littlefinger was her kind, brave savior and protector who rescued her from Joffrey’s clutches. Recognizing the creepy fixation he has on her — perhaps because she’s the daughter of his lifelong object of desire — Sansa began to use his feelings to her advantage. Considering the revelation that Littlefinger convinced Lysa to poison her husband — an act which set the whole game in motion back in the very first episode — it will be fun to see if Sansa can get him to lower his guard…and if she can play his own game better than he can.

Meanwhile, north of The Wall, Bran Stark continued his journey to find the three-eyed raven, accompanied by siblings Jojen and Meera Reed as well as faithful Hodor (Hodor.) Bran’s visions revealed their destination to be a weirwood tree, which they finally reached after a few setbacks — the last of which was an attack, just feet from their destination, by a band of wights — reanimated corpses with a connection to the White Walkers. They received help from a mysterious being who looked like a young girl — though she was probably something else entirely — but Jojen didn’t survive the attack. Once safely inside the tree, Bran, Meera and Hodor meet the raven in his human form…or human-like; I’m not really sure what this dude is, all gnarled up and looking as though he’s growing out of the tree’s branches. He tells Bran that he’s been waiting for him a long time, and that although he will never walk again, he will fly. So there’s that.

At Castle Black, a badly outnumbered Night’s Watch made a valiant stand against the first attack from wildling leader Mance Rayder’s army. Jon Snow further demonstrated his leadership by taking command when Ser Alliser Thorne was injured by fierce wildling Tormund Giantsbane, who was eventually captured. The Night’s Watch won the day but suffered heavy losses, including Jon’s friends Pyp and Grenn, and of course his wildling lover Ygritte, who died in his arms after taking an arrow from a young boy whose father she’d killed in an earlier village raid. Silver lining: Jon’s best bud Samwell Tarly survived, and was reunited with Gilly, the object of his affection. Knowing that the Watch will not be able to hold off another wildling assault, Jon ventured beyond The Wall to Mance’s camp, hoping to either kill the leader and thereby scatter his army, or perhaps reach some kind of agreement. Their talk was interrupted when a large army appeared out of nowhere and rode on Mance’s ranks. Wanting to avoid more bloodshed among his group, Mance surrendered to the new arrivals: Stannis Baratheon, accompanied by Davos Seaworth.

Stannis had been back on his rocky island of Dragonstone trying to figure out his next move after his loss to the Lannisters at Blackwater Bay (all the way back in Season Two, people). That defeat heavily depleted his resources, but he finally made some headway when, at Davos’ behest, he sailed across the Narrow Sea to visit the Iron Bank of Braavos. The Iron Bank had been funding the Lannisters as far back as Robert Baratheon’s rebellion, and funded the crown in the War of the Five Kings as well. The crown and the Lannisters — if the two are even considered separate entities at this point — are deep in debt to the bank, and when its representatives initially decline Stannis’s request for a considerable loan, Davos convinced them that backing Tywin Lannister is not a profitable move. Now armed with the funds necessary to reinvigorate his forces, Stannis has arrived beyond The Wall, where he and Davos meet Jon and Mance. This move is a such a big one for Stannis that he’s even brought along his priestess Melisandre, his wife Selyse and his daughter Shireen. There’s no Westeros Disney World, so I suppose The Wall is as good a place as any for a family trip.

With me so far? Cause we ain’t done yet. Ramsay Snow — the bastard son of Stark bannerman-turned-Robb Stark murderer-turned Warden of the North, Roose Bolton — completed a total physical and psychological breakdown of his prisoner Theon Greyjoy, reinventing him as a loyal servant called Reek. So loyal that when Theon’s sister Yara led a mission to rescue him, he refused to go with her. Roose tasked Ramsay with capturing Moat Cailin, a ruined but strategically necessary fortress that was occupied by Ironborn soldiers fighting for Theon’s father, Balon. Fucking with his plaything’s head even further, Ramsay had Reek pretend to be Theon Greyjoy and enter Moat Cailin with terms of surrender on behalf of Bolton. The weary Ironborn accepted, and were promptly killed by Ramsay’s forces. As a reward for his success, Roose stripped away the bastard surname of Snow from Ramsay and allowed his son to take the Bolton name. Theon went back to being Reek, because the only reward he ever gets these days is a warm bath.

There were some other duos making their way across Westeros who were more endearing than vicious Ramsay and tragic Theon. Jaime sent Brienne in search of Sansa, intending to honor his promise to Catelyn Stark that her daughters would be returned to her in exchange for his freedom. Lady Stark is dead of course, but Brienne is sent to find Sansa anyway and protect her. Accompanying her is Tyrion’s squire Podrick Payne, who the imprisioned Tyrion released from his service and sent away from King’s Landing to save him from any harm that might befall him for being associated with Joffrey’s accused killer. Brienne had little patience for Podrick at first, but the loyal boy started to grow on her, and proved knowledgeable about things such as family connections throughout the kingdoms. This led him to suggest that Sansa might be in the Eyrie with her aunt Lysa, so off they went. Before that, however, they stopped to eat at an inn — the same inn that purchased Arya’s former traveling companion Hot Pie from the Brotherhood Without Banners. When Brienne told him of their search for Sansa Stark, Hot Pie confided that he knew an Arya Stark and had been in her company not so long ago. He tells them where she was headed when they parted ways, and that her traveling companions included The Hound. As Brienne and Pod get close to the Eyrie, who do they encounter but that very pair.

After barely missing the Red Wedding at Walder Frey’s stronghold The Twins, they too had been journeying to the Eyrie. The Hound hoped to sell Arya to her aunt, but they arrived three days after Lysa’s death. They were making their way back across the Vale with no clear destination when they met Brienne and Pod, who recognized The Hound, allowing Brienne to realize that she’d stumbled upon the elusive Arya. She told Arya of the promise she made to Catelyn, but with The Hound interjecting, her story didn’t come off so clearly. Brienne and The Hound launched into an epic fight that ended with The Hound bloodied and broken. Arya hid herself, so Brienne and Pod ran off in the hopes of finding her again. When they were gone, Arya approached The Hound, with whom she had shared a reluctant bond. But as he begged her to finish him off and take him out of his misery, she merely regarded him with indifference, finally stealing his money and leaving him to die. She made her way to a port where she found a ship bound for Braavos. In a moment I’ve been waiting for since the end of Season Two, she offered the Braavosi coin given to her by Jaqen H’ghar to the ship’s captain, securing herself passage across the Narrow Sea in the hopes of finding H’ghar, the assassin who once offered to train her in his art. (Unfortunately, if she does hook back up with Jaqen, his transformation means he can probably no longer be played by the awesome Tom Wlaschiha, who was so good in the part. I just hope they aren’t stuck with that goofy looking guy from the end of the clip. I hate his stupid face.)

Which brings us to our final set of major players on the board. Daenarys’ invasion of Westeros continued to take a backseat to her insistence on freeing every single goddamn slave on the continent of Essos. After liberating the city of Meereen, she learned that other cities she had freed along the way were not faring so well once she’d moved on. She decided to earn her right to the Iron Throne by spending time first ruling in Meereen. It wasn’t without its challenges. Not all the slavers were the monsters she painted them as, and not all the slaves felt victimized by their situations. As she grappled with the subtleties of the slave city dynamics, she also had to face the fact that her growing dragons were beyond her control, terrorizing the countryside. She finally had to put them in chains and lock them in a large, windowless chamber…though she was only able to do this to two of them, as the third was off on an adventure somewhere, maybe getting domesticated by a scrawny, clever Viking kid. Still, having to lock up her dragons wasn’t the biggest setback Dany suffered. She learned — through the machinations of Tywin Lannister — that her closest friend and adviser Ser Jorah Mormont had been spying on her in the early days of their relationship, reporting on her to Robert Baratheon, who wanted her killed before she could try and re-take the Iron Throne for the Targaryens. Though Jorah had committed himself to her before too long, even stopping her from drinking poisoned wine, she could not forgive him for this initial betrayal, particularly the fact that he had informed her enemies she was pregnant with Khal Drogo’s child. She banished him from the city and told him she would have him killed if she laid eyes on him again. But it wasn’t all depressing news for Team Targaryen. With no small degree of bemusement, Dany finally gave into the romantic overtures of Daario Naharis, the captain of the Second Sons, a sellsword company now backing her along with the massive Unsullied army. Grey Worm, the commander of the Unsullied, has taken an interest in Dany’s translator Missandei. Although his castration as a child would seemingly curb any stirrings of desire, he is clearly enamored of her, and she appears to be receptive to his attention.

So…that’s where we were. And now we arrive at Season Five.

Some fine teasing on display in those trailers, and as the new episodes begin there are plenty of questions about what’s to come for those like me who haven’t read the books. Cersei’s no dummy; will she figure that Jaime helped Tyrion escape, and how will that affect their relationship? After being rather cold to him throughout most of last season, she came around at the end, even coming clean to Tywin with the truth that his twins’ incestuous relationship was no rumor. Granted, throwing herself at Jaime surely had the ulterior motive of getting him to choose her over Tyrion, but he didn’t put one before the other. So where will that leave them?

Is there more to come with The Mountain? He was barely alive after his fight with Oberyn, but Cersei allowed Qyburn to perform some sort of vague treatment on him. Qyburn is the former Maester — like Pycelle or Aemon or Luwin — who was expelled from The Citadel for his radical ideas and experimental techniques. He treated Jaime’s wrist after the hand was cut off, and helped Cersei with some undisclosed issues as well. I only bring up his attempts to save The Mountain because the show seemed to place suspicious emphasis on what would seem a minor story point. He ominously tells Cersei that even if The Mountain can be saved, the process “may change him…somewhat,” also indicating with barely contained delight that whatever happens, he won’t be weakened. I don’t know what Qyburn’s deal is, but after this scene, you know that dude is just a few imprisoned rapists away from inventing the first human centipede. So something tells me this is going somewhere.

When last we saw Sansa, Littlefinger and Lysa’s oddball son Robyn, they were embarking on a tour of the Vale. I thought and hoped they might cross paths with Arya and The Hound, but might they still stumble upon the latter? We didn’t actually see him die, and while there’s zero hope he could survive, maybe the travelers will come upon his body, causing them to wonder what brought him to the Vale.

Seeing Jon’s world collide with Stannis’ should make for some great material. There was a loaded moment in last season’s finale when Melisandre locked eyes with Jon across a burning pile of corpses. Is the Red Priestess going to bust a move on Jon? How will Stannis exert his power at The Wall? How will Mance deal with this turn of events? And will we see more from the White Walkers? One of last season’s most chilling events was when the last baby boy born to Craster was taken by a White Walker into what some kind of ceremonial tableau, where a Walker with a different look from the others we’ve seen so far touched an icy fingernail to the baby’s cheek and turned him into…well, into a White Crawler I guess. This scene garnered a lot of attention for being a significant plot development that had not been part of the books.

One of the impressive things about this saga is how it expands even as it contracts. Tyrion, Varys and Arya are now on the same continent as Dany, Jorah and Ser Barristan, and you can bet that some of those characters will cross paths eventually. And with the Jon and Stannis stories now intertwined, the world of the show could be seen as getting smaller. But then we’ll visit a new locale this season: the late Prince Oberyn’s home of Dorne. There, we’ll catch up with Cersei’s daughter Myrcella, who was sent there back in Season Two, and meet a number of new characters, including Oberyn’s older brother Doran, and three of his daughters. The vengeful girls are known as the Sand Snakes, and word is they will not take the news of their father’s death with peaceful acceptance. We’ll also get to better know the Sand Snakes’ mother Ellaria, whose part last season was smallish. But the move to Dorne and the aftermath of Oberyn’s death should provide her more to do. As the show’s co-creator D.B. Weiss says about actress Indira Varma, “Once you have someone of her caliber, you want to double down on that casting strength.” (Incidentally, with the enlarging of Myrcella’s role, a new actress has been cast in the part, just as Tommen was recast last season. The actress who played the role in Seasons One and Two took the news with a sense of humor.)

Just as the world simultaneously expands and contracts by means of locations and merging storylines, so too does this occur through character additions and deletions. Many die, but new ones get introduced. Along with all of these Dornish figures we’ll soon meet, another key arrival to the story will be a King’s Landing-based religious figure known as The High Sparrow, who could make life difficult for Cersei and Tommen. Whatever he does, he should be intriguing to watch as played by the veteran character actor Jonathan Pryce, who starred in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and had major roles in such movies as Glengarry Glen Ross, the Pirates of the Caribbean series, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Evita and Tomorrow Never Dies.

And as we get to know these new arrivals, let’s not forget all the characters that are still out there, out of sight, but not out of mind. Not out of mine, anyway. The youngest Stark, Rickon, and his wildling protector Osha; Brotherhood Without Banners leaders Thoros of Myr and Beric Dondarrion; Robert Baratheon’s bastard son Gendry; Catelyn’s uncle Bryndyn “The Blackfish” Tully, who escaped the Red Wedding; Cat’s brother Edmure, who was the groom at that wedding and is apparently imprisoned by his now-father-in-law Walder Frey; Walder Frey himself, that treacherous lecher; and Benjen Stark, Ned’s brother, a ranger of the Night’s Watch who went beyond The Wall in Season One and hasn’t been seen since. Will any of these characters show up again this season? You can can be sure that at least some of them still have a part to play in the game, but when will they make their move?

One major character we won’t be seeing this year? Bran. In a bold move by showrunners Weiss and David Benioff, the clairvoyant Stark child, along with his companions Hodor (Hodor) and Meera Reed, has been benched for this entire season. One reason is that at this point, the show has apparently caught up with Bran’s storyline in the books, and from a standpoint of chronology, continuing would move beyond the timeframe that all of the other characters occupy. It may be worth noting here that Martin’s fourth and fifth books — A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons — take place concurrently and do not both feature each and every major character. Crows follows one group of characters, while Dragons follows another group during the same time period. While each season of the TV show thus far has roughly corresponded to a book — with the third novel A Clash of Kings serving as the basis for Seasons Three and Four of the show — this hasn’t been an exact science. Benioff and Weiss have introduced some elements into the show earlier than they appear in the books, and other elements later. As such, they must have jumped ahead with Bran’s storyline and drawn from book four or five (whichever one he appeared in; I’m not sure). They have still made it clear that by and large, Season Five is based on Crows and Dragons. So again, pushing ahead with Bran’s story would move him too far beyond the other story threads chronologically. (I’m left to assume that his events in book four or five weren’t too far ahead of other characters’ events in book three, allowing them to avoid the issue of timing last season that they’re encountering now.)

To complicate things further, I’ve heard that Sansa’s storyline had also pretty much caught up to the books by the end of last season, yet she and Littlefinger are not getting sidelined like Bran. Now maybe I’ve been misinformed and there is still more Sansa action in the published books. But it could also be that the gap between Sansa’s story in Crows/Dragons and wherever it picks up in the next book is easier to bridge than the same gap for Bran. To that point — perhaps — Benioff and Weiss have further justified holding off on the Bran story by explaining that he’s about to enter a period of training, learning from the Three-Eyed Raven how to use his powers. Benioff puts it in terms of Star Wars: “It would be far less interesting, after The Empire Strikes Back to have an hour-long movie in between Empire and Return of the Jedi where Luke is training. It’s so much cooler to cut from end of Empire to beginning of Return, where he’s become the Jedi.” He elaborates, “It made sense to stop where we did. He’s now entering a training period which is going to take quite some time, much of which isn’t particularly cinematic. So rather than being stuck in a cave for a year, we figured it would be interesting to leave him out for a little bit, so when you see him again…”

I have to disagree on this point. I’ll bet that if Thrones wanted to devote an hour-long episode to Bran’s experience tapping into his abilities, they could make it pretty dramatic and compelling. I think it would be interesting to watch him grow and learn about his gifts. Surely they could draw enough from this premise to visit it periodically over the course of a ten-hour season. But Benioff mentions “being stuck in a cave for a year.” So if that isn’t just a random time period he’s tossing out there, but rather the actual amount of time in the story it will take Bran to do what he’s got to do, I can go with the Chronology Explanation, as it’s a more valid argument to me. Such a training period would  believably be prolonged enough that it might move Bran too far ahead in time than the other characters.

Whatever the case, it will be a shock when Bran returns in Season Six having grown another few inches and looking like a young man far removed from the adorable boy who got thrown from a window by Jaime Lannister. Of all the young actors on the show, Isaac Hempstead-Wright is already the one whose appearance has altered most dramatically with age. By the time we see him again, it will be a jarring sight.

This all brings us to another much-discussed element of the new season: diversion from the books. It was confirmed a few months ago that the sixth book, The Winds of Winter, will not be published in 2015. This news seemed to erroneously give way to the idea that starting now, the show will be carving its own path almost entirely. I’m not sure where this notion came from. As mentioned above, this season is primarily based on books four and five — Benioff and Weiss confirmed this in an interview at the recent premiere event in San Francisco — with the understanding that yes, as always, there will be differences. Asked about taking detours from the books, Benioff replied:

I think every season has been a little bit more. The first season was extremely faithful. The next season had a few more deviations. Each season has had to go a little more. If we were to remain entirely faithful to A Feast for Crows, half the characters — the most popular characters — would be absent from the screen this season. It’s always been about adapting the series as a whole and following the map George laid out for us and hitting the major milestones, but not necessarily each of the stops along the way. It’s an adaptation, it will have to adapt in order to survive. There are always going to be some people who want everything to remain exactly as in the books. For us, it was never a choice.

Producer Bryan Cogman added, “This is the riskiest season, from a storytelling perspective, and certainly the most difficult. We were faced with adapting two huge books and following up on arcs and themes that — while certainly inspired by the books — were a little more our own thing.” Those differences between the books and the show will include some deaths, as Martin stated that there will be characters who die on the show this year but are still alive in the books. However he also explained more recently that the death of a character on the show can carry a different weight than the death of that same character on the page, since the show has fewer main characters to work with than the book does. When it comes to deviations between the source material and the adaptation, we also have to keep in mind that Martin has told Benioff and Weiss the broad strokes of how the story ends, and we don’t always know if things from the show that aren’t in the books — like that White Walker ritual with the baby, for example — were invented by Benioff and Weiss, or are in fact things that Martin is planning but hasn’t gotten to yet. And all of this of course bleeds into the issue of the show catching up to and overtaking the books. There are new comments on that too, from all parties involved, but I think it makes more sense to save those for our post-season check-in…though I will add that for the first time, Martin did not write the script for one of this season’s episodes, choosing instead to devote his time to the The Winds of Winter. I think he made the right call.

Now…on to the fun stuff. Being the cultural phenomenon that it is, there’s always plenty of Thrones-centric fodder in the pop culture stratosphere, and here are the latest additions to my collection. First, how about this interactive map of Westeros and beyond, which not only serves the basic need of helping clarify the geography, but even allows you to trace the paths of various characters — in either their book journey or their TV journey — and even follow them only up to the point you’ve seen if you’re not caught up yet. I haven’t played around with that more advanced functionality yet, but this was helpful of late as I wanted to see where Braavos was in relation to Pentos.

As a fan of visual effects, I always enjoy seeing breakdowns like this one, which show all the ways that effects are used to enhance the scenery and make the entire world of the show believable. This reel is put together quite nicely.

Nerdist offered up this parody of the Taylor Swift song “Blank Space” called “Blank Page,” in which George R.R. Martin sings of his tendency to kill characters. The song’s amusing, but really I just enjoy the guy playing Martin. I wasn’t familiar with Swift’s tune, but it’s worth a listen for a better appreciation of what the parody is riffing on.

And this…this was just begging to happen. I’m surprised it took this long. [Note: It didn’t take this long, as it turns out. Several hours after this post went live, I realized that I actually included a similar but different GoT/Princess Bride mashup in another post a couple of years ago. It’s not inconceivable that there are others out there too. Oh well. This is still good.] 

Plenty of other amusing videos have made the rounds. Things can get awfully grim on the show, and most of the characters don’t like each other very much, so it’s nice to see some moments of levity on the set. The bloopers here are more amusing than hilarious; mostly flubbed lines. But it’s still nice to see them all having fun. Earlier this week, Seth Meyers offered a look at what Jon Snow might be like as a dinner guest. Answer: not great. There was also this Sesame Street clip that wasn’t as funny as some other TV show parodies they’ve done, but still worth a look. Because it’s Sesame Street. Doing Game of Thrones. Oh, and after the requisite Thrones-inspired couch gag a few years ago, The Simpsons dipped into the Westeros well again this year in an episode when Homer is given the opportunity to be the new face of Duff Beer.

The Simpsons, Sesame Street…there’s nothing like some good pop culture cross-pollination, and these minimalist Thrones-style house sigils, courtesy of artist Miguel Lokia, are another fine example. The Starks have “Winter is Coming,” the Targaryens have “Fire and Blood,” and the Greyjoys have “We Do Not Sow.” But what about these prominent families? (See here for others.)


Also in the Art of Thrones files, illustrators Peter and Radu came up with these travel posters that almost make you want to visit Westeros. Almost. (See here for larger versions, plus additional posters inspired by Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings.)

Finally, I came across an interesting story a while back that Martin has plans to republish a children’s story he wrote years ago called The Ice Dragon, which is set in the same world as his Song of Ice and Fire. If you’re anything like me, your reaction to that is something like, “George R.R. Martin wrote a children’s story???” Apparently so. In fact, now he’s even adapted Game of Thrones for kids.

And with that, I think I’d best go and emotionally prepare myself for the brutality, the distress and the bloodshed that shall begin anew tomorrow night. Gods, I love it.

June 29, 2014

Sunday Mourning (A Lament for Game of Thrones)

Filed under: TV — DB @ 10:00 am
Tags: , , , , ,

This post is intended for those who are up-to-date on Game of Thrones. If you have yet to start watching the series or are not caught up, make like a heart tree — you know, the kind with the faces of the Gods carved on them  and leave.

It never gets easier. Another season of Game of Thrones ends, and the impact of the loss doesn’t really hit until a week after the finale, when there is no new episode to watch. Then you start to think about the 40 or so more weeks that you have to get through before the show will be back, and you try to get excited about True Blood, and sure it’s good to see Lafayette and Eric and Jessica again, but nothing can fill that hole. Here we are two weeks later, and still I can’t let go. Perhaps getting all of this out of my system will help.

BRING OUT YOUR DEAD
If last year’s Red Wedding seemed like an untoppable twist of fate, that notion was dispelled early in the season with the first of what would be many high profile deaths this year. The only disappointment about Joffrey’s inevitable demise is that we no longer get to root for Joffrey’s inevitable demise. That, and we had to bid farewell to Jack Gleeson, who brought him to such brilliantly bratty life. George R.R. Martin and showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss all said in interviews that they hoped watching Joffrey’s desperate gasps for breath would make people feel a little bit of pity for him, perhaps recognizing that at the end of the day he’s just a kid who’d been living out a grossly inflated sense of entitlement. If that was their goal, I’m sorry to say they failed. I don’t think anyone felt sympathy for this devil. He beheaded Ned Stark, endlessly tormented Sansa, abused prostitutes, pumped Ros full of arrows, ordered the murder of every dark-haired bastard in King’s Landing, respected nothing and nobody, ridiculed everyone around him from Tyrion to The Hound to Jaime to Tywin…he was a loathsome little fucker and the only thing people seemed to regret about his death was that it was neither painful nor prolonged enough. To that end, Vulture asked several of the cast members how they would have killed Joffrey, collecting a range of colorful answers…none of which go further than what one friend of mine suggested in an email:

Not good enough.  I wanted to see his flesh boiled away while he watched his mom penetrated by that knife dildo from Seven. After their nails were pulled out along with their teeth. After hungry pigs fed on their hands and feet. After they ate shit that spewed directly from a donkeys anus that had just eaten another donkey’s shit.

After the entire kingdom got to urinate on him.

Still glad to see him die though!

And of course, social media had plenty of fun reactions, several of which were supposedly tweeted by characters on the show, including Joffrey himself. In the end, as loathsome as he is on paper, a significant chunk of our feelings about Joffrey are due to Gleeson’s spot-on portrayal. Both he and the character will be missed, and if you’d like to bid a final farewell to the actor as he really is, here’s a 30 minute Q&A he did last fall at University College Dublin.

Joffrey’s death so early in the season was definitely among Thrones’ best surprises to date, but the most shocking moment I’ve witnessed on the show came with the eye-popping defeat of Oberyn Martell. Despite being a new addition to the story this year, Oberyn — so wonderfully played by Pedro Pascal — quickly earned everyone’s affection and seemed like a character destined to be around for a while, especially once he tied his fate to Tyrion’s. Even though Martin has proven that no one is safe in his stories, you kinda figure that some people are pretty safe…at least until the series gets closer to ending. I just didn’t believe that Tyrion was going to die, and so it stands to reason that going into his trial by combat, Oberyn was bound to prevail over Gregor Clegane, The Mountain Who Rides. But I should have known by now that if something seems so obvious, Martin will find another way. Even as The Mountain was gouging out Oberyn’s eyes, I was thinking, “Okay — he’s gonna stab The Mountain in the head and crawl out from underneath, and the cost of his revenge will be the loss of his eyes.” Nope! Martin took it further and had The Mountain pop Oberyn’s entire head like a watermelon at a Gallagher show. I will NEVER unsee that sight.

It was such a crushing loss (no pun intended, really), as Oberyn went into the fight brimming with confidence. His victory — again, given the Tyrion factor if nothing else — seemed a foregone conclusion. And although the headbusting is a demise I’ll not soon forget, I think the moment before that was the one that is truly seared in my brain – The Mountain pressing his thumbs into Oberyn’s eyes, blood seeping from around the edges as Oberyn wails in pain he was so certain he would not experience that day. I imagine that for most who haven’t read the books, Oberyn’s death doesn’t top the Red Wedding as far as killer twists go, but perhaps because I pretty much knew the Red Wedding was coming, the loss of Oberyn hit me even harder. Well…no — losing Robb, Catelyn and Talisa all at once like that hit me harder as a story point. But the grisly specifics of Oberyn’s death — that’s what I was referring to when I called it the most shocking moment I’ve seen on the show. Even the pregnant Talisa getting stabbed repeatedly in the abdomen didn’t get to me as much as this did.

It amused me that in interviews following the episode in question, Pascal (and maybe Benioff and Weiss, I can’t remember) pointed out that Oberyn’s Inigo Montoya-like prodding did in fact result in The Mountain confessing his crimes. I appreciate the attempt to find a silver lining, but I suspect the pressure one feels when their eyes are getting liquified and their skull is getting crushed would be too much of a distraction to really hear a confession, let alone take any satisfaction in it.

Though his time on the show was brief, Oberyn emerged as one of my favorite characters. I took his loss hard. While this is little consolation, I enjoyed seeing Pascal riff about how Oberyn’s funeral should play out, while illustrators for Vanity Fair transferred his description to paper.

The only problem with that drawing? There’s still a head on the body.

Joffrey and Oberyn are just the tip of the broadsword, of course. This season was a goddamn bloodbath. We lost so many characters — some major, some minor, but all essential parts of the fabric that make the show what it is. Jon Snow’s Night’s Watch brothers Grenn and Pyp may not have been key characters, but they were there with him at Castle Black since day one, and I was sad to lose them. Locke, the man who cut off Jaime’s hand, was a great character who met a rough end when his neck was snapped by a Bran-controlled Hodor. (Hodor.) We lost Ygritte and crazy Lysa Arryn along the way, and then came the season finale, knocking four primary players permanently off the board.

Of these, the one that most fans will probably be least troubled by is Bran’s spiritual guide and fellow warg, Jojen Reed, but I’ll miss him. He didn’t appear until Season Three, and even with two years on the show we didn’t get to spend as much time with him as I would have liked. In my previous GoT post, I wondered whether Bran’s gift would allow him to eventually discover the identity of Jon Snow’s mother — a question that is bound to be important down the line — because I was under the impression that everyone who might know the answer is dead. But someone reminded me that Jojen and Meera’s father, Howland Reed, was a close friend to Ned Stark who was with him during Robert’s rebellion and might well know the truth about Jon’s lineage. Though we haven’t met him yet, Howland Reed is alive and well in the north. With Jojen now gone, Meera lives on (for now, at least) to potentially help connect those dots. (Speaking of Jon’s mystery mother, Kit Harington recently weighed in on the subject, but read at your own risk: this article reveals the prevailing theory, and touches on a few other Snow-related theories that could be considered slightly spoiler-ish.)

Tyrion lived to see another day, but the same can’t be said for Shae or Tywin. Finding Shae in his father’s bed must have been an even bigger heartbreaker for Tyrion than when she lied about him at the trial. Now he’s fleeing Westeros for the free cities, something that Shae repeatedly begged him to do ever since his near-murder at the Battle of Blackwater. Their love story dissolved so tragically this season, from him cruelly dismissing her early on in an effort to save her life, to her lies about him at the trial, to that final violent encounter. Poor Tyrion. Even killing Tywin was surely a conflicted act, given that no matter what an asshole his father was, Tyrion always sought his love and approval. He might have even settled for grudging respect, which Tywin tried to sell him while sitting on the loo, but it was too late.

Losing Tywin is rough. He’s easily one of the show’s strongest characters, as fascinating to watch when he’s silently writing a letter as when he’s confidently manipulating everything and everyone around him. Charles Dance has nailed this guy so perfectly, right from his first appearance back in Season One when he was skinning a stag and lecturing Jaime. I guess it goes back to no one being safe. As Weiss said in Entertainment Weekly‘s March cover story, “There are several characters whose loss would [hurt the show]. But that doesn’t mean they won’t die.” Tywin is one of many we’ve lost who proves that point. Let’s take a moment to enjoy him in this deleted scene from Season Three, shall we? (I love this because it also pays off that great non sequitur gag from the Season One finale in which Grand Maester Pycelle reveals his true self.)

The last death in the finale is also a hard one to take, and who would have thought back in the show’s early days that The Hound would emerge as such a vital presence? But over the past season and a half in particular, he’s become a standout. Pairing him with Arya was a stroke of genius, and their scenes together have been dependable highlights of the show. Rory McCann really stepped up to the demands of the role, as the normally monotone, stoic warrior showed his vulnerable side, talking to Arya about his childhood burning at the hands of his brother, and ultimately begging her to end his suffering. His fight with Brienne was a heartstopper — not just physically intense, but emotionally as well since both characters are so great that no matter who wins, we lose. I suppose there’s a chance we could still see him next season — perhaps Littlefinger, Sansa and Robin Arryn will come upon him while exploring the Vale. But even if we see him again, survival is hard to imagine.

HURTS SO GOOD
As if all of these deaths weren’t bad enough, the show found other ways to break my heart this season, starting with Daenarys and Jorah. From the beginning, Jorah has been one of my favorite characters, so to see the spying he did on Daenarys in their early days together catch up with him now, after he’s been such a loyal adviser, kinda devastated me. It’s a significant plot development, and I think the show could have emphasized it a little more. I wanted Jorah to make more of a case for himself, and I wanted Dany to consider all the support he’s given her. How the scene plays out in the books I can’t say, but it felt like the impact should have been bigger. Regardless, seeing those two “break up” breaks me up. I stumbled upon a small spoiler about what the future holds for Jorah, and I’m definitely intrigued, but it doesn’t indicate much. I can only hope that he and Dany will eventually reconcile. After she dismissed him, I imagined a few seasons down the road, Dany is finally in Westeros, she’s in the throes of a battle for the Iron Throne, and just as an opponent is about to attack her, Jorah steps in and saves her life, having been tracking her movements and continuing to fight for her from afar. It’s a totally clichéd, “hero” moment…and therefore something Martin would never do. I’m sure he’ll come up with something much more interesting. I just worry that it will be interesting and soul-crushing instead of interesting and redemptive.

Also bumming me out? The likelihood that we’ve seen the last of Tyrion’s sellsword pal Bronn. He didn’t die, so I can be thankful for that at least, but he no longer seems to have a role to play in the story now that he’s marrying some King’s Landing noblewoman and Tyrion is sailing across the Narrow Sea. Perhaps he’ll show up again down the line, but at the moment there doesn’t seem to be a place for him. Now I have to add him to the list of characters who have departed the story for now and who I can only hope will return someday, like Gendry, Thoros of Myr, Bryndyn “The Blackfish” Tully and as of earlier this season, Olenna Tyrell, Littlefinger’s co-conspirator in taking out Joffrey. Love her.

Another of the season’s most notable events was the revelation that Jon Arryn’s murder — which set this whole game of thrones in motion from the very first episode — was committed by his wife Lysa, at the behest of Littlefinger. (Lysa wrote to Catelyn claiming the Lannisters were responsible.) Even knowing what a cunning player Littlefinger is, I could not believe that he had been pulling the strings from the beginning. If there was any doubt that his name belongs on Arya’s list, this clinches it.

THERE WILL BE BLOOD
So what’s next? Books Four and Five of Martin’s saga take place concurrently, covering different sets of characters, so both will serve as source material for the coming season. These books are considered to be less eventful that the previous three, but I’m expecting plenty of juicy developments nonetheless, considering that the board is so shaken up at the end of this season. Season One concluded with nearly every main character positioned in an exciting way, and this season accomplished the same. Arya is off to Braavos, where she will hopefully hook back up with Jaqen H’ghar; Tyrion and Varys are headed across the sea as well, and whatever that duo gets up to, you know it will be terrific. I loved Stannis and Davos meeting up with Jon Snow, and can’t wait to see where that storyline goes. Did you note that loaded stare exchanged between Jon and Melisandre? We should also be getting more of Mance Rayder now that he’s Stannis’ prisoner. Bran will finally start learning about his destiny and how his special gifts will serve him; and Dany is going to be pretty lonely with her dragons locked up, Jorah banished, and Grey Worm and Missandei getting lost in each other’s eyes. Ser Barristan is good company, but the Khaleesi is fast becoming acquainted with the challenges — and the isolation — of leadership.

Oh, and can we talk about Sansa for a minute? She always gets a bad rap, but sometimes playing the game means being smart enough to keep quiet and not ruffle any feathers. (This solid piece from TV Guide makes a strong case for the eldest Stark daughter.) You may remember back in Season Two when Joffrey was tormenting Sansa in the throne room, ordering Ser Meryn to beat her and tear her clothes off while onlookers stood and watched. Tyrion came to her rescue, and while he escorted her out of the room, he asked quietly if she wanted out of her arranged marriage. Sansa composed herself and replied that she was loyal to her beloved Joffrey. As he watched her walk away, Tyrion remarked to himself that Sansa might survive them yet. If she manages to wrap Littlefinger around her little finger, Tyrion’s assessment may prove correct. Littlefinger’s interest in Sansa grows ever more creepy. There is a mentor/student-like quality to their relationship, but he also appears to have some sketchy romantic intentions toward her, likely seeing traces of his beloved Catelyn when he looks at her. Sansa seems wise to his interest, and now appears to be playing it to her own benefit, as evidenced by her detailed lie about Lysa’s death and the mature confidence that she’s suddenly wearing along with her decidedly more daring new outfit. Can a player of Littlefinger’s stature be played, and by a novice like Sansa at that? Time will tell.

Lastly, let’s not forget the shitstorm that awaits at King’s Landing. Tyrion’s escape will have Cersei seeing red just as Tywin’s death returns her to a position of considerable power. Surely she’ll have no doubt that Jaime helped Tyrion escape, which should lead to some damning repercussions. Their relationship was already tenuous this past season, and even though she reignited their flame in the finale, I am dubious of her true intentions. As Tyrion said to Oberyn, “Making honest feelings do dishonest work is one of her many gifts.” Maybe her renewed affection toward Jaime was genuine, but it was also a power play against Tywin, coming immediately after she made it clear to her legacy-obsessed father that the rumors about her and Jaime were true. Her subsequent moves on Jaime could be a calculated effort to keep him in check. Not that it worked — even after their romp on the table he still helped Tyrion flee. With Tommen still too young to take the throne, Cersei will once again be flexing her power. Who will be the new Hand of the King? Where will this leave Margaery? Her planned marriage to Tommen, like her marriage to Joffrey, was an alliance of Tywin’s design. But Cersei is no fan of Margaery — I believe “doe-eyed little whore” was one description she used — and without Tywin there, who will stop Cersei from making whatever arrangements she wants?

By the way, how much does it suck to be the kid who played Tommen in the first three seasons? He barely gets to say two words, and then when things start to get interesting for the character, they re-cast the part! Imagine you’re Tommen, and Margaery Tyrell sneaks into your bedroom at night wanting to share secrets with you and talk of your future wedding. You would probably experience the entirety of puberty right at that moment. Now imagine you’re the actor playing Tommen, doing that scene with Natalie Dormer. The result would probably be about the same.

Even the storylines that are less shaken up at the moment promise to remain interesting. What kind of leadership will Roose and Ramsay Bolton impose on the North, and where will Theon Reek fit in? What’s the next move for Theon’s father and sister? After letting Arya slip away, will Brienne and Podrick (another of the story’s inspired, unexpected, sitcom-worthy pairings) have better luck finding Sansa? And even if they do, what then?

How about new characters and locations? The show is supposed to travel to Oberyn’s homeland of Dorne next season, where we can expect to meet at least some of Oberyn’s daughters, plus reconnect with Cersei’s daughter Myrcella. Maybe Oberyn’s special ladyfriend Ellaria Sand will be featured more prominently. She didn’t have much to do this season, but with no reason to stick around King’s Landing, she would presumably head back to Dorne.

A DILEMMA WITH DRAGONS
I gather that the show has started to diverge from the books with greater frequency and has even started moving beyond the books, a point which garnered a lot of attention midway through the season when a White Walker took one of Craster’s last sons, carried him into some sort of ritualistic setting, touched an icy fingertip to the baby’s forehead and turned him into a blue-eyed, frost-lipped MiniMe. It was chilling…and not just because of those sub-zero northern temperatures. This scene was called out as a major spoiler, but I think you have to be keeping up with the books to understand why. For those of us just watching the show, I don’t see what’s been spoiled.

Yet it does reinforce that the show is on the precipice of not just catching up to the books, but moving beyond them. “The locomotive is coming up behind me and I’m still laying the tracks,” Martin told EW.com at Comic-Con last year. He is still working on The Winds of Winter, the sixth book of his planned seven, and I don’t think anyone expects it to be published before Season Five of the show hits next spring. Then again, just this week he offered some hints — which I haven’t read — about what readers can expect, so who knows. Maybe the tease is meant to suggest that he’s further along than we realize. And just recently there was buzz about Martin needing eight books to finish his story, though that sounded more like wishful thinking on the part of his editor than anything to which Martin has lent genuine credence.

When it comes to the show, Benioff and Weiss have stated this year that seven seasons is their current trajectory, which means we’re now more than halfway through, with two full books yet to be completed. On the other hand, this article — which says that the showrunners spent a week with Martin last year learning about his plans for the final books so that they can guide the show accordingly — mentions eight seasons total and the possibility of multiple seasons once again covering one book, just as Seasons Three and Four were both based on Book Three. Yet I’ve read other comments from them that contradict that. In other words, nobody knows how this timeline will shake out. While I haven’t read beyond Book Two and so have no idea what’s coming in Books Four and Five let alone after that, three more seasons doesn’t feel like it will be enough. Martin doesn’t think so either, and whatever the number works out to be, he has understandable concerns about the conclusion of the series being depicted on the show before he gets to write it. He’s suggested that once the show catches up to him, it should go on hiatus until he completes the last book, and then wrap up with a movie, adding that a feature film budget might be required to visualize the scope of his endgame. “Those dragons get real big,” he said (and from this picture, which he says accurately represents his vision of a full grown firebreather, he ain’t kidding).

THE WORLD OF ICE AND FIRE - Aegon_on_Black_Dread_J.Gonzalez

A movie is not a bad idea, but the usual season of TV would be preferable for HBO, and unless there’s a big time jump to come, the show’s kids — those that survive up to that point — aren’t going to be kids anymore. Hell, look at how young they are in that picture below from a 2009 book signing with Martin. That was posted two years before the pilot aired. That kid in the glasses is Jon Snow! And none of them are showing their age more than Isaac “Bran” Hempstead-Wright. If for no other reason than all of this dramatic growth, the show needs to conclude sooner than later. Everyone involved — not least of all Martin — wants to see the story wrap up on the page, his way, before it’s exposed on television. Martin, Benioff, Weiss and HBO have been considering these scenarios for over a year now, addressing all of these points in an interview after Season Three’s finale (which I think I included in my corresponding post last year.) But with the passing of another season, the concerns grow more acute.

The irony of all this is that the show has probably slowed down Martin’s progress on the books considerably. His fame has blown up since the show began, and though he only writes one episode per season, there are premieres and events to attend, press interviews to give throughout each season, talk shows to guest on and other related activities and appearances. If the guy could be left alone to write, he might be well into A Dream of Spring, the seventh (and if plans hold, final) book by now, instead of still at work on Book Six.

THE IRON BANK OF HOLLYWOOD
The Emmy nominations will hit in a few weeks, and hopefully Thrones will be well-represented in the top categories. It was certainly a strong, compelling season. For Best Drama Series it will likely be up against the final batch of Breaking Bad episodes, a well-received run of Mad Men, the breakout True Detective and possibly The Good Wife, which had a lot of positive attention this year. House of Cards, Homeland, Downton Abbey, Boardwalk Empire, Scandal, The Newsroom and Masters of Sex will also be jockeying for the six available slots, but I have to think Thrones will make the cut. But can it finally win?

Peter Dinklage is also a safe bet to earn his fourth nomination, and just might be able to win again this year, for the first time since Season One. His trial episode gave him some showy moments, and everyone assumes that will the one he submits for Emmy consideration. But I think he did even stronger work in the following episode, which featured three lengthy scenes in Tyrion’s prison cell: one with Jaime, one with Bronn and one with Oberyn which instantly took its place among the series finest scenes ever. Between the three, he found unexpected moments of humor in Tyrion’s dark hours, and did some of the best reacting he’s done yet on a show where his reacting is never less than perfection.

Not sure what to expect beyond that. The acting roster is certainly full of deserving nominees, but few ever break through. Emilia Clarke was nominated last year, but if I could only pick one cast member aside from Dinklage to represent the ensemble, it would be Maisie Williams, who is a ceaseless wonder as Arya. Unfortunately, the Emmys almost never nominate child actors. Only one episode, meanwhile — season finale “The Children” — was submitted for writing consideration, and it would be really nice to finally see the show earn directing nomination, which hasn’t happened since the pilot. Nothing for Season Two’s “Blackwater,” nothing for Season Three’s “The Rains of Castamere.” Maybe “The Watchers on the Wall” can break in this year. Any episode would be fine, really. It’s a spectacularly well-directed show, week in and week out. (Here are this season’s submissions for Emmy consideration in the acting, writing and directing categories.) Fantasy and sci-fi always face an uphill battle winning top awards from these voting bodies, but Thrones has undoubtedly proven its worth. Hopefully the big wins it deserves will come to pass. Bran, any visions?

FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME
As usual, I’m pleased to share some of my favorite Thrones-inspired creations from around the internet, beginning with the continuation of the stunning Beautiful Death series, which had plenty of fodder this season. I’ve reduced the size of these, but you really need to check out the larger versions via the link above to appreciate the details. Fantastic.

Geekdom ambassador Wil Wheaton applied The Brady Bunch credits to the twisted relationships of Westeros, resulting in this amusing mash-up.

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Those who wish the show was more family friendly so they could share the joy with their kids can at least indulge in the make-believe of Walt Disney Pictures’ Game of Thrones, as some artists have been doing. In addition to the selections in that link, there’s Bran and Hodor (Hodor), Arya and The Hound, and a White Walker. A Google Images search will reveal plenty more Disney/Thrones mash-ups, but these are my favorites. The collection by Anderson Mahanski and Fernando Mendonça hits the nail on the head. I hope they keep adding more to their gallery.

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Getting back to R-rated territory, have you heard of Gay of Thrones? Jonathan Van Ness is a hairstylist in L.A.’s upscale Westwood neighborhood who recaps each episode for his clients in this hilarious Funny or Die series. Here’s his take on the season finale, which includes an amusing cameo near the end. Before you watch it though, it may help to review this handy guide that covers some of his nicknames for the characters. (Cersei = Blonde Cher, Melisandre = Stevie Nicks Red Riding Hood or Evil Gloria Estefan and Grey Worm = Baby Barack Obama). The list isn’t even complete, so the video still holds some surprises. His character names alone make the recaps worth watching. (The link also includes embeds of two earlier episodes, including one featuring Alfie “Theon” Allen as Jonathan’s customer.)

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For the mathematically inclined among you, Vulture examines the show through charts and graphs such as these.

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Those who appreciated all those YouTube videos last year of viewer reactions to the Red Wedding should relate to College Humor’s Watching Game of Thrones with People Who Haven’t Read the Books.

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Did you hear that Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip visited the Thrones set in Belfast last week? I don’t know if this took place simply because the show is such a popular export from her kingdom, or if it was because the Queen of England and her husband are fans, holing up in Buckingham Palace on Sunday nights to watch just like the rest of us commoners. Naturally, that’s what I prefer to think. Who wouldn’t love the idea of the Queen watching Littlefinger instruct a pair of his whores as they practice the art of oral pleasure on one another, or Oberyn get his head smushed, or Theon get castrated? While some fans were disappointed she didn’t sit on the Iron Throne, I’m just utterly charmed by the fact that she was even there.

There’s actually a 47 minute video of the entire visit online, which includes the Royal entourage meeting Benioff and Weiss in the parking lot before going into one set to view a display of the show’s props and costumes, then the throne room set, where cast members Maisie Williams (Arya), Sophie Turner (Sansa), Rose Leslie (Ygritte), Kit Harington (Jon), Conleth Hill (Varys) and Lena Headey (Cersei) were on hand. You can’t hear any of the conversation unfortunately — how I would love to know what they all talked about — but it still fascinates me to see some of the interaction. (Skip ahead to the 22 minute mark for the Queen’s arrival; the video inexplicably begins with 20 minutes of mostly static Iron Throne footage.) I can only assume that from here, she was off to visit the Crawleys at Downton Abbey.

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And finally, this. Because there’s nothing better I could leave you with than this. Not even the Queen of England admiring the Iron Throne from a rather wise, cautious distance. I posted this to my Facebook page when I discovered it in May, but if you missed it, or just need another taste, click the picture. Seriously. Click the picture.

With that, I leave you to endure the long winter in your own way. May we all find peace of mind as we wait for the game to resume in 10 months. 10 long, torturous, meaningless, empty months. Valar dohaeris.

April 6, 2014

Game On

Filed under: TV — DB @ 2:31 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

This post is intended for those who are up-to-date on Game of Thrones. If you have yet to start watching the series or are not caught up, sprint away like a direwolf and don’t look back.

Sweet relief! Game of Thrones is about to return.

People seemed to appreciate my attempt last year to provide a reminder of where things stood at the end of the previous year, so let me try that again. Or you can watch this 25 minute HBO special recapping the season, which would be much cooler and only slightly less time-consuming.

Obviously the effects of the infamous Red Wedding will be felt as the season begins. Robb Stark, his wife Talisa and his mother Catelyn are all dead, killed in an ambush orchestrated by Walder Frey with the backing of Tywin Lannister and the assistance of Roose Bolton, a Stark bannerman who turned against the house to which he owed his allegiance. In addition to his hand in this slaughter of the Stark army, Tywin Lannister made other moves to assure his family’s continued stranglehold on the Seven Kingdoms. He orchestrated the marriage of Tyrion to Sansa Stark, and blackmailed Lady Olenna Tyrell into betrothing Loras to Cersei. Joffrey and Margaery’s wedding approaches, and the queen-to-be is proving a much more cunning political player than the naive Sansa. Tyrion is being as decent as he can to his reluctant bride, while trying to hold onto his secret relationship with Shae, who continues to pose as Sansa’s handmaiden.

Jaime finally made it back to King’s Landing after an arduous journey on the road that saw him first antagonize and then later bare his soul to Brienne of Tarth, sharing with her the true story behind his murder of the Mad King that long ago earned him the derisive label “Kingslayer.” His vulnerable confession came after his sword hand was chopped off by Locke, a solider of House Bolton who captured Jaime and Brienne after they had been sent to King’s Landing by Catelyn Stark. And speaking of House Bolton, the sociopath who took such pleasure in fucking with Theon Greyjoy, torturing him physically, emotionally and psychologically, and ultimately cutting off his manhood, turned out to be Bolton’s bastard Ramsay Snow. So…nice gene pool.

Jon Snow, a much more likable bastard of the north, who went undercover with Mance Rayder’s wildlings, scaled The Wall but was forced to reveal his true loyalties when his fellow travelers wanted to murder an innocent farmer. Jon killed the antagonistic Orell before nearly being killed himself by Ygritte, who shot him with three arrows before he managed to ride out of range. He barely made it back to Castle Black alive. He was found there by Pyp (unseen since Season One) and Sam, who made it back to The Wall not long before, having endured his own harrowing series of events. He escaped a revolt plotted by some unsavory brothers of the Night’s Watch, who killed their host Craster as well as Lord Commander Mormont. Sam fled with Craster’s daughter Gilly and her newborn son, leading her to Castle Black and discovering along the way that an arrow carved from obsidian could destroy the White Walkers.

Upon reaching The Wall, Sam and Gilly crossed paths with Bran Stark and his companions Hodor (“Hodor”) and siblings Meera and Jojen Reed. The Reeds, from a family loyal to the Starks, sought Bran out so that Jojen could help Bran understand and develop his newfound gift of “sight” — an ability to see future, past and present that the two young men share. Their talent also allows them to enter the minds of animals and control them, but Bran discovered he could take that gift even further when he entered the head of Hodor (“Hodor!”) and briefly controlled him too, an ability which Jojen has never heard of before. Bran and company are headed beyond the wall on a vision quest to find the three-eyed raven (get out of my dreams, get into my wheelbarrow). Bran sent his younger brother Rickon to seek safety with Stark bannermen the Umbers, under the protection of Osha, the wildling girl turned caretaker of the Stark boys. And then there’s the remaining Stark sibling Arya, who had been so close to reuniting with Robb and Catelyn before their murder, and who now remains in the company of The Hound. When last we saw her, she was handling the Braavossi coin given to her by Jaqen H’ghar, who had offered to help her follow in his footsteps and become a deadly assassin who can travel unseen and literally change his face. God, I hope she does it.

gendryOver on Dragonstone, Stannis Baratheon continues to plot his next move against Joffrey. Melisandre attempted to help by delivering Stannis’ nephew — Robert’s bastard son Gendry — who she intended as a sacrifice for the power of his king’s blood. But Stannis’ advisor Davos Seaworth helped Gendry escape, and then convinced Stannis and Melisandre not to execute him for treason by sharing news from The Night’s Watch: that an army of White Walkers is amassing north of the wall and moving south. Even Melisandre admitted that this threat was real, and more important than the ongoing struggle for the Iron Throne.

Finally, Daenerys’ quest to reach the Seven Kingdoms and reclaim the Iron Throne for the Targaryen family continues to be delayed, more recently because she insists on freeing the slaves of every city she comes across. She now has three growing dragons, the enormous, highly skilled army of Unsullied under her command, and the loyalty of Missandei (the C-3PO of the Seven Kingdoms and beyond…because she can speak, like, every language), Jorah Mormont, Barristan Selmy and now Daario Naharis, a warrior for an army called the Second Sons, who has pledged his loyalty — and his heart — to the former Khaleesi. What will she do with all these slaves she keeps freeing, and how many more cities will she liberate before crossing the Narrow Sea?

Did I say finally? Don’t forget about Littlefinger, who sailed away from King’s Landing en route to the Eyrie, where he is expected to marry Catelyn’s sister Lysa Arryn, last seen fuming when Tyrion managed to win his freedom from her with the help of Bronn’s skillful swordplay. Before leaving the capital, Littlefinger disposed of Ros, the prostitute who had become his business associate but was reporting to Varys behind his back. Varys, meanwhile, unsuccessfully tried to convince Shae to leave Westeros so that she would not continue to be a complication for Tyrion, who he believes is one of the few people in the kingdoms who could bring peace and stability. She seemed to think that Tyrion had asked Varys to make this proposal on his behalf, though I don’t think that’s true. Will we ever learn about Shae’s past? If you recall the drinking game she played with Tyrion and Bronn in Season One, she clearly doesn’t fit the profile of the typical Westerosian whore. What’s her story?

The show’s ability to juggle all of these characters and storylines is among its most impressive feats. And while more will surely die this year, others will arrive. The most notable new addition set to join the cast is a character named Oberyn Martell, from the kingdom of Dorne (where Tyrion sent Cersei’s daughter Myrcella for protection). Known by the badass nickname The Red Viper, Oberyn is expected to stir up some serious shit with the Lannisters.

As we enter the new season, many of my curiosities center around supporting characters and their fates. With such a vast and complex story, I worry for some reason that figures on the periphery might disappear. Catelyn’s uncle Brynden (The Blackfish) managed to escape the Red Wedding and will presumably be headed for the Eyrie, so perhaps he’ll be back in play when Littlefinger arrives. Catelyn’s brother Edmure, meanwhile — the guy whose marriage put the “wedding” in Red Wedding – is in the dungeons at the Twins, where he is newly tied to the worst in-laws e-v-e-r. Will he be forgotten, or does his story continue? Will we see Gendry again, or is his fate irrelevant now that Melisandre seems to see the battle north of the Wall as more pressing than the quest for the Iron Throne? What about Rickon and Osha? How important is the youngest and heretofore most narratively undeveloped Stark child? Will we see more from the Brotherhood Without Banners, that underground rabble led by seven-times killed, seven-times revived Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr, the Red Priest with a fondness for alcohol, who has served as the Red God’s vessel for those seven resuscitations? And what happened to the rest of the Night’s Watch? In the chaos of the mêlée at Craster’s Keep, it wasn’t clear what happened to the ones who were not part of the rebellion. Did Grenn and Doleful Edd make it out alive? What’s in store for Rast, the surly brother who killed Commander Mormont and has it out for Sam? It looks like he appears briefly in the first trailer for the new season, laying a baby down in the snow.

I’m sure that all of these characters will be revisited eventually, even if not this season. I’m encouraged on that point by a glimpse of Alliser Thorne in the trailer above. Not seen since Season One, Thorne is the veteran Night’s Watchman who butted heads with Jon and was eventually sent to King’s Landing by Mormont in order to warn King Joffrey and his advisors of the White Walkers and wights — reanimated dead, impervious only to fire. (In a rare bit of failed continuity, Cersei and the Small Council learned of this news by other means; it was not delivered by Thorne.) He’s back now, just as Barristan Selmy returned last season as protector to Daenarys after being dismissed from Joffrey’s Kingsguard in Season One. So I’m optimistic that these other supporting characters’ storylines will continue.

What’s interesting about the series’ enormous roster of characters is that it came about almost by accident. Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have said in interviews, including this one last year from Deadline, that when they were putting together the first season, their inexperience with television led to most of the episodes being too short, sometimes by 10 to 12 minutes. So they had a brief period of time in which to write and shoot several new scenes that would be primarily dialogue driven, since there was no budget left for battles or other expensive setpieces. This led to great scenes that didn’t exist in the books, like the lengthy, almost warm conversation between King Robert and Cersei after Robert has dismissed Ned as Hand of the King for opposing his plan to have Daenarys murdered.

That six-minute scene of two people talking is still among the series’ best ever, and it was born as an afterthought of sorts. It provided depth to characters who weren’t much more than ciphers in George R.R. Martin’s books. That’s not meant to be a slight against the source material. Martin’s approach is to focus on a select group of characters, of which neither Cersei nor Robert were included. They and many others are developed only in the context of their relationship to and interactions with Martin’s chosen few. But Benioff and Weiss were forced to create such scenes, and therefore able to develop more characters more richly. I’ve assumed that many of the great scenes between Varys and Littlefinger came about for the same reason, since neither one is a “point of view” character in the books.

So what’s in store when the saga resumes? Plenty of questions are on my mind. How is Littlefinger going to feel about the death of his beloved Catelyn? Will he feel the need to exact his own revenge, or will he continue to play his role and serve Joffrey and the Lannisters in order to climb to power? (“The climb is all there is.”)

What consequences await Jon now that he’s back with the Night’s Watch at Castle Black? He killed his brother Qhorin Halfhand in order to gain the trust of the wildlings — though it was Qhorin’s idea, and he all but forced Jon to kill him — and then he broke his vow of celibacy by getting steamy in a hot springs cave with Ygritte. And he gave away a few Night’s Watch secrets along the way. Even if Maester Aemon absolves him, Ygritte and charismatic wildling Tormund Giantsbane are still out for his blood. Assuming Ygritte really does want him dead. Does she love him enough to spare him? She did shoot him full of arrows, but at least she seemed conflicted about it. In Westeros, that could pass for an expression of love most true.

What will happen to Theon now that he’s been castrated and psychologically broken? Ramsay Snow sent Theon’s father Balon his boy’s appendage, and Balon immediately wrote his son off. But Theon’s sister Yara took a crew of her best men and left to rescue her brother. To which I  say, that’s nice…but fuck you Yara. Instead of being an asshole to your brother from the moment he returned home to Pyke, humiliating him and treating him like shit, you could have stood in solidarity with him against your father’s cruelty. I’m glad you’re going to get him now, but your sudden loyalty is too little too late. I look forward to eventually watching you and father die.

Will Cersei’s marriage to Loras come to pass? She told Tyrion with confidence in the season finale that she would not be marrying him. Tywin certainly intends otherwise, so how might she avoid it? Does she have something dastardly in store for the Knight of Flowers? How will Jaime’s return affect the plans? And how will Tywin look at his eldest son now that he’s lost his hand and with it his greatest asset? I’m excited to see Jaime and Tyrion together again, as Jaime is the only Lannister who actually loves his brother.

What will Stannis be up to? Have the concerns about what’s happening north of The Wall completely eclipsed his desire to unseat Joffrey and take the Iron Throne, or is the threat of the White Walkers still too remote to deter him from another attack on King’s Landing? Are we to accept that Melisandre’s Red God really is the great power that she claims? We’ve now seen her birth the creature that killed Renly. We’ve seen Thoros revive Beric after The Hound sliced his body in half. We’ve seen Robb die after Stannis cast three leeches that had drawn blood from Gendry into the fire, naming Robb, Joffrey and Balon Greyjoy as each bloodsucking worm shriveled in the flames. Is Robb’s death really the work of the Red God? If so, Balon and Joffrey should follow. But how soon, and by what means?

What’s in store for Bran beyond The Wall? What will his abilities allow him to accomplish? And why is he seeking the three-eyed raven there? When they met in Bran’s dream early in season three, Jojen said of the bird, “You can’t kill it you know…the raven is you.” So if the raven is Bran, why is he going beyond the Wall to find the raven? There’s got to be a more hospitable location for some soul-searching. In the longer term, will Bran’s gift allow him to learn the truth of Jon Snow’s lineage? The identity of Jon’s mother might not seem important, but when Benioff and Weiss first approached Martin about adapting his books for television, the question he posed to them to test their grasp on the material was about Jon’s mother. They offered their thoughts, and Martin was obviously satisfied. I’m guessing that their theory is widely held among fans of the story, and if it’s true, I don’t see how anyone alive in Westeros or beyond could possibly know the truth. Which means if it is to eventually come out, it would take someone with Bran’s abilities to discover it. But I’m sure we’re talking Season Six or Seven material now, so I shouldn’t get ahead of myself.

Over the past two days, HBO has been running marathons of the series starting from the beginning, so I’ve been catching snippets here and there. Revisiting past episodes isn’t just a treat because the show has been so good from day one, but because the evolution of this stunningly rich story has been so carefully crafted. I re-watched the scene when Robb says goodbye to Bran before departing Winterfell with his army. Just after he leaves Bran’s room, Rickon enters, upset about everyone leaving. Bran assures him that Robb will return with their father, and that Catelyn will soon be back too. “No they won’t,” Rickon answers with eerie certainty. Early onset cynicism, or does Rickon have insights of his own into the future? When Bran dreamed of his father’s death, he discovered that Rickon had experienced the same dream. Moments later, Bran learned the news of Ned’s beheading. So what’s the deal with the youngest Stark?

Another of my favorite scenes from the series that I caught again is the one in which Renly tries to convince Ned to move swiftly against the Lannisters. It kills me. Everything he says is right, but Ned will have none of it because it conflicts with his code of honor…even though you can see in his eyes that he recognizes the truth in Renly’s argument. So much tragedy could be avoided if Ned does the smart thing instead of the honorable thing, but that’s not Ned…and so the die is cast.

Yes yes, I know things couldn’t have gone any other way. As I wrote at the conclusion of Season Three about the heartbreak of the Red Wedding and how it might have been avoided, “what if” scenarios are futile. Whatever we may want characters to do in order to avoid such painful ends, the story wouldn’t be as thrilling if it didn’t play out exactly as it does. Valar Morghulis, or All Men Must Die, as the new season’s slogan prominently declares. Rewatching Season Three in its entirety over the past several weeks, I was also reminded how beautifully the show has planted its seeds, which also came to mind over the last two days as I looked back even further into Seasons One and Two. In the same post-Season Three piece mentioned above, I pointed to how the song “The Rains of Castamere” was used earlier in the season to foreshadow the Red Wedding, and it turns out there were even more examples that I missed. Thoros was singing the song when he and his Brotherhood compatriots first encountered Arya and Gendry. And later in the season, an instrumental version played over the end credits of the episode “The Bear and the Maiden Fair.” There was also that wonderful scene before Tyrion and Sansa’s wedding when Cersei told Margaery the story of House Castamere’s fall. This kind of intricate storytelling makes looking back just as enjoyable as looking forward.

And so in these final hours —or at this rate, minutes — of looking forward, I once again use these posts as an opportunity to collect some of my favorite Game of Thrones material that the internets have offered since last June.

This chart came from a piece in Vulture that created infographics for several Pixar movies.

Anyone who has attempted to explain the series to the uninitiated in the hopes that they might jump on the bandwagon knows what a daunting task it is. From his Basic Instructions series, artist Scott Meyer offers some help.

I always say that the highest pop culture honor possible is not an Oscar or a Pulitzer, but an homage on The Simpsons. Game of Thrones achieved this a couple of years ago when its opening credits served as inspiration for a Simpsons couch gag, which I referenced at the time. This more recent recognition is unofficial, but still pretty cool.

Simpsonsized(Click here for larger version)

South Park got in on the action last November, skewering Game of Thrones, the madness of Black Friday, the Playstation vs. Xbox console wars and more in an epic three-episode arc that was a typically inspired affair from Trey Parker and Matt Stone. And Vulture had some fun cross-pollinating Thrones with a few other TV shows to create pictures like this reimagining of Arrested Development.

Arrested

The guys behind Parks and Recreation are huge Game of Thrones fans, and have bequeathed their love of the show to Adam Scott’s character Ben. This clip from a recent episode is their latest tribute.

There’s also an extended clip if you, like Ben, can’t get enough.

As cool as the Iron Throne is, George R.R. Martin said on his blog last year that he envisioned something even more grand and twisted, which just wouldn’t be possible on the show. But check out artist Marc Simonetti’s painting of the throne as imagined by Martin.

That is fucking badass.

Thrones continues to be a rich source of inspiration for artists. The pictures I use along the top and bottom of these posts are usually taken from the Cast a Large Shadow tumblr, which spotlights an ever-growing collection of art based on the show. Some of the work that has appeared there recently comes from a spinoff tumblr called Beautiful Death, for which artists have created incredibly cool, stylized posters representing every significant death the show has delivered since it began. Here are a few of my favorites, but these are all amazing and there’s more on the site, broken down by episode.

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Banner-Death2

This rendering of The Wall on a London sidewalk is amazing for its illusion of depth, and check out the larger versions of these four posters, which have some nice details relating to four of the show’s strong women.

My favorite recontextualization of Game of Thrones to date has got be this series by Toyko-based artist Mike Wrobel, who placed the characters into 1980’s/1990’s wardrobe. See them all here. They’re mixed in with some other work, but this was the best venue I could find for seeing all 22 in one place. I love these.

Banner-80s-90s

For anyone interested in some audio appreciation of Thrones, here’s an entire album’s worth of rap songs inspired by the show. Common and Big Boi are among the contributors, and though I haven’t heard of the rest of these guys, there’s some good stuff here.

And finally, to provide a bit of light before the darkness arrives, here are some photos from the red carpet of the Season Four premiere, with the actors looking decidedly happier, chummier and cleaner than they do on the show. It’s really weird seeing Kristofer Hivju — aka Tormund Giantsbane — in a suit. And here are some videos taken during the photo shoot for the show’s current Vanity Fair cover story.


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Two others are available as well — one in which the actors consider what advice they’d give their characters, and another about who they think should sit on the Iron Throne.

Okay, since I was unable to get this post done yesterday as I’d intended, you’re now left with about 10 minutes before the new season begins if you’re on the east coast. So that’s enough from me. See you in Westeros…hopefully not at a wedding.

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