I Am DB

April 11, 2015

Let the Game Begin

Filed under: TV — DB @ 5:30 pm
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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.

June 16, 2013

And Now My Watch Has Ended, And Now My Withdrawal Begins

Filed under: TV — DB @ 9:45 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 from here like a raven, fast as you can.

I’m not a doctor, but I might be able to diagnose that emptiness you’re feeling. It’s the absence of Game of Thrones from this weekend’s HBO schedule. In what seems the blink of an eye, another season of the best show currently on TV has come and gone. Maybe that’s not a fair thing to say, since I don’t watch every show on TV…and we are clearly living through a fantastic period for dramatic television. But at the moment, what’s better? Breaking Bad, maybe. Perhaps Mad Men. Beyond that, I doubt anything else can compete, because I’m not aware of anything else that breaks the rules and takes the dramatic chances that this show does. It’s the most ambitious production on television, yet the narrative remains nimble even under the weight of the show’s scale, with an ability to surprise that is second to none. In fact, as I see ads in magazines and online touting the return of shows like Falling Skies and True Blood, I feel a little sad for them. Cause it must kinda suck to be any show other than Game of Thrones right now and know that no matter what you do, it just won’t be as good.

Game of Thrones‘ latest run consisted of ten terrific hours of television, but it was about ten minutes during the ninth hour that defined the season. Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have been talking about this scene since season one, referring to it only by its initials, RW. The event looms so large in the Song of Ice and Fire universe that HBO.com, in addition to providing their usual weekly Inside the Episode featurette, created a special behind the scenes piece dedicated specifically to the Red Wedding.

In the episode’s aftermath, Game of Thrones was all over the web, as fans expressed their shock and sadness. It was a predictably hot topic on Twitter; io9 compiled their 100 favorite tweets about what went down. Other outlets collected online reactions as well. Many fans took to Facebook to share their devastation. My contribution:

When I logged back in the next day—after a notably poor night of sleep—the top several posts in my feed were about what had unspooled the previous evening. Many people who had read the books and knew what was coming had the foresight to film the reactions of their unsuspecting friends, resulting in a lot of hilarious and relatable YouTube posts, some of which were compiled here.

EW.com was at the ready, posting interviews with the key players involved, starting with George R.R. Martin on why he wrote such an unexpected plot twist in the first place. A few days after the episode aired, Martin was a guest on Conan, and I loved how he talked about meeting certain cast members at the premiere party for the third season, knowing that eventually their counterparts would be killed.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves by worrying which of our favorite characters will be offered up to the Red God next. We’re still in mourning, both for the recently departed characters and for another completed season that leaves us wanting until April 2014 rolls around. Even though I knew heading into this season that a large-scale tragedy was in store, and went into the fateful episode having deduced what was likely to happen, watching it unfold was no less upsetting or stunning. Sure, I wish I had gone into it totally unprepared, but still my reaction looked pretty much like the ones in that video above. It was heartbreaking, but also exhilarating. Not because it was violent, but because it was so against the rules of what we’ve been conditioned to expect from stories of good and evil, heroes and villains, right and wrong. Martin talks in those interviews about wanting to keep his audience in suspense, and with this event, he’s doubled down on that commitment. And that’s exciting. The boldness of the Red Wedding is something to be admired. Like many of the show’s diehard fans, I’m amused by the people who say they’re walking away from it permanently because of what happened, as if they’ve been personally betrayed. Maybe some of them really will, but if anything, the attention that Thrones garnered online as a result of the Red Wedding is likely to bring new viewers to the show. People said they were giving up on it after Ned Stark was beheaded (hell, some said they were giving up on it after the second episode concluded with Ned reluctantly killing Sansa’s direwolf, Lady). But the ratings have shown that Thrones is thriving, and the audience keeps growing. The show’s increasing popularity can be partly attributed to the kind of narrative boldness encapsulated by the Red Wedding. It’s thrilling storytelling, pure and simple. I both hate and love that it happened.

On a purely emotional level, I’m infuriated by the indignity of Joffrey continuing to draw breath while House Stark has just been decimated. (Yeah, the younger kids are still alive, but how long before any of them are able to take the reins in any meaningful way?) And Arya…God, poor Arya. SO close. Wallowing in my post-episode funk, my dream was for Arya to turn in her Braavosi coin (“Valar morghulis”), find Jaqen H’ghar and paraphrase Luke Skywalker: “I want to come with you to Braavos. There’s nothing for me here now. I want to learn the ways of the Faceless Men and become a badass assassin like you.” Then she disappears. She’s totally off the show for a season or two. Then she comes back, older, steeled, and just finds them one by one and brings the fucking pain. Joffrey, Cersei, Tywin, Walder Frey, Roose Bolton (if they’re still alive), even those deserting Karstark fuckers. If they hadn’t ditched, Robb never would have had to approach Walder Frey in the first place. (Based on what happened in the final episode, some version of this Arya fantasy may be just what happens.)

Of course, it’s pointless to play “what if” games. A reckoning with Walder Frey was inevitable, and in hindsight, the groundwork for the Red Wedding was being laid long before the knives were drawn and crossbows loaded. Before Robb beheaded him, Rickard Karstark told him that he’d lost the war the moment he married Talisa. And at Sansa and Tyrion’s wedding, Cersei recounted to Margaery the story behind the song “The Rains of Castamere,” foreshadowing the performance of the song that so unnerved Catelyn in Walder Frey’s hall. Observant fans recognized the song from season two’s battle episode Blackwater, when it was sung by Bronn and the Lannister soldiers, and then played again over the end credits (performed by The National). The most blatant (and chilling) foreshadowing of the Red Wedding never made it to the screen. As my friend Ryan reminded me earlier this week, it came in the second book, when Daenerys visits the House of the Undying to retrieve her dragons. On the show, Dany’s wanderings in the strange tower of the warlocks revealed the ruined throne room in the Red Keep, and a tent where Khal Drogo and her son await her. In the book, Dany’s experience in the House of the Undying is more elaborate, and includes this haunting image:

Farther on she came upon a feast of corpses. Savagely slaughtered, the feasters lay strewn across overturned chairs and hacked trestle tables, asprawl in pools of congealing blood. Some had lost limbs, even heads. Savaged limbs clutched bloody cups, wooden spoons, roast fowl, heels of bread. On a throne above them sat a dead man with the head of a wolf. He wore an iron crown and held a leg of lamb in one hand as a king might hold a sceptre, and his eyes followed Dany with mute appeal. (A Clash of Kings, Page 700)
A dead man with the head of a wolf. And indeed, the sting of the Red Wedding lingered as the final hour of the season began with the continuing slaughter of the Stark army and Arya bearing witness to Robb’s body being paraded around with Grey Wolf’s decapitated head in place of his own. Oh, and for what it’s worth, Dany’s trip through the House of the Undying in Martin’s original text includes other intriguing visions, suggesting battles, betrayals and other happenings that have not yet come to pass…and one that has, it seems:
Ten thousand slaves lifted bloodstained hands as she raced by on her silver, riding like the wind. “Mother!” they cried. “Mother, mother!” They were touching her, tugging at her cloak, the hem of her skirt, her foot her leg, her breast. They wanted her, needed her, the fire, the life, and Dany gasped and opened her arms to give herself to them… (A Clash of Kings, Page 707)

Did we not see a version of that in the final moment of the season?

While we’re talking about the books, it’s nice to know that readers who have been anticipating the Red Wedding ever since reading about it as far back as 13 years ago seem to be satisfied with how it was depicted on film. Vulture assembled a panel of Westerosi experts—a.k.a. the webmasters from four Ice and Fire fan sites—to discuss the sequence (beware of book spoilers – there are some differences in what happened), and the consensus seems to be that while the book more successfully captured the building sense of dread (something a friend also told me), the show’s depiction was not a disappointment to the readership that had so long been anticipating it. They even conceded that the scene held some shock value for readers too, given the changes made to the story around Robb’s wife. (Talisa is a creation of the show; in the books, Robb’s wife is another woman altogether, and she is not present at Edmure’s wedding.) Her particularly brutal and cruel death gave readers a jolt during an otherwise familiar event. Without having read book three or beyond, but knowing a little about who Robb’s wife is on the page, my guess is that changing her to the new character of Talisa was a way for Benioff and Weiss to streamline a story thread that would have taken on additional complications had they left it alone. With so many characters and stories to juggle, the need to abridge for the TV show is understandable. Had the show followed the books more closely regarding Robb’s wife, the character and story would probably have endured for a few seasons to come, at least. Now the showrunners can lay the Red Wedding to rest and move on more efficiently. But again, I’m just speculating.

As I said at the start, the Red Wedding may be the defining event of season three, but let’s not forget everything that preceded it. The shocking fall of the House of Stark should not render Jaime’s behanding or the Night’s Watch revolt at Craster’s—resulting in Lord Commander Mormont’s death—any less significant. How about the cowardly Samwell Tarly stepping up to successfully protect Gilly (so far) and do the seemingly impossible: take down a friggin’ White Walker!! There was Jon and the wildlings’ harrowing climb up the Wall.  Tyrion and Bronn learning that Tyrion’s squire Podrick is apparently the most impressive lover in King’s Landing, perhaps even the whole of the kingdoms. And of course, the ass-kicking finale of the fourth episode, in which Dany unleashed her mad tactical skills on the chump slavers of Astapor, was one of the series’ most brilliantly executed sequences to date. Some of the season’s highlights came in quieter scenes as well, most notably Jaime’s monologue to Brienne about the day he killed the Mad King Aerys. It was backstory I’d been craving from day one, without ever knowing if it would come.

The show had a lot of weight to carry this season, with dozens of characters and many splintered storylines. Moments of extremity like the Red Wedding would be meaningless if the show failed to engage us with the more mundane goings on. Game of Thrones consistently offers scenes of simple character interactions that are as charged, powerful and memorable as any action scene or unexpected plot twist. Think of Varys recounting the story of his castration to Tyrion, culminating with the reveal that the man who cut him is trapped in a crate in Varys’ chambers; Joffrey gleefully showing Margaery around the Sept of Baelor, telling stories of torture and death, while she in turn learns how to manipulate him; Stannis visiting Davos in the dungeons, playing out the struggle between his ambition and his conscience; or almost any scene with Arya, who continues to demonstrate strength in the face of adults who repeatedly let her down one action at a time as the world kills her innocence.

Another example: the season was bookended by two thrilling, loaded exchanges between Tywin and Tyrion, with the Lannister patriarch making it painfully clear what little regard he has for the “ill-made, spiteful little creature” he is forced to call his son. Like Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion, Charles Dance’s Tywin has become one of those characters who rocks it every time he appears onscreen. I can’t get enough of him. Ditto to new addition Diana Rigg as Lady Olenna Tyrell, who also anchored some of the season’s best dialogue-driven scenes, whether sizing up Sansa, trading barbs with Varys or bartering with Tywin. I hope there’s more of her next season. Other new characters to whom I took a shine were Thoros of Myr, the Brotherhood Without Banners’ kindly priest; badass wildling Tormund Giantsbane; and Jojen Reed, Bran’s eerily calm ally and guide in the mysterious art of warging. One of my few issues with the season was that Bran’s storyline was so scarcely visited. The Reed siblings showed up out of nowhere, and beyond learning that their father was fiercely loyal to Ned Stark, we didn’t learn much else about them. I suspect this bothers readers even more, since the Reed’s introduction into the show was delayed to begin with. They were initially introduced in the second novel, when they arrive at Winterfell to attend a feast and stay on afterwards, befriending Bran and sharing stories of Jojen’s prophetic visions in exchange for Bran talking about his own unusual dreams. I thought we could have spent a little less time on Theon this season, since his storyline is somewhat stagnant, in exchange for more time with Bran and company. (Interestingly, Theon’s post-Winterfell fate isn’t revealed until the fifth book, but Benioff and Weiss moved it into this season because they wanted to continue working with actor Alfie Allen, who did such great work during season two. I think it was the right decision to keep his story going, but since it’s kind of stuck in one place for the foreseeable future—both in terms of location and momentum—I would have preferred some of that time been devoted to Bran’s path. (Based on where things are after the season finale, I’d guess that both stories will be a big part of season four.)

And what does the next season hold in store? It will continue the adaptation of book three, A Storm of Swords (while likely drawing from other books as well, as it did with Theon), so I’m curious if we’ll have the usual influx of fresh characters that a new season of any show typically brings. Not that Thrones doesn’t have a full slate of characters to serve. Even with the departures of Robb, Catelyn, Talisa and Mormont, as well as supporting characters Craster, Orell the wildling and Ros—whose spying on Littlefinger for Varys earned her an unfortunate end at the hands of Joffrey and his crossbow (too bad — she was a great character, worthy of further development)—the show is still dealing with a huge number of people to serve. Considering that, I think the writers do a stellar job of moving between stories and serving the full roster. Some, like Bran and his entourage, may get the short end of the stick from one season to the next, but given the challenges of this adaptation, Benioff, Weiss and their writing team are performing admirably. It was nice to see expanded roles for Roose Bolton (even if he revealed himself to be a treacherous asshole) and Gendry, and I hope their parts will continue to grow in the season to come (I’d hate to think we’re done with Gendry now that he has escaped from Dragonstone). I also have to say that I was thrilled by the return of Ser Barristan Selmy, one of my favorite supporting characters from the first season.

So where will season four take us? For those interested in teases and possible directions, articles from Vulture and The Atlantic Wire offer some speculation (I haven’t read them, hoping to avoid spoilers). One thing I did hear is that we may soon be paying our first visit to Dorne, one of the southernmost regions in Westeros. The non-readers among us may recall that Dorne is where Tyrion sent Princess Myrcella last season, brokering a marriage with that kingdom’s prince and, in the process, incurring Cersei’s wrath for sending away her daughter.

This season’s end leaves me with plenty of questions. Will Arya indeed reconnect with Jaqen H’ghar for Stealthy Assassinations 101? Will Jon recover from the three arrow hits he took from Ygritte? Will we see more from the Brotherhood Without Banners? How will Littlefinger react to the death of his beloved Catelyn? Will Joffrey’s marriage to Margaery reveal the perversions or sexual hang-ups that have been strongly hinted at but not yet made clear? Will Dany get it on with her chiseled new warrior, Dario Naharis? And how in the seven hells is she ever going to get to Westeros if she keeps liberating the slave populations of huge cities along the way? How will a newly humbled Jaime be welcomed back to King’s Landing? He only shared a brief moment with Cersei in the season finale, and it was tough to read her reaction to seeing his stump. Will Tywin think less of him now? What will happen to Brienne? And what of Cersei’s marriage to Loras Tyrell? In the finale, during an excellent scene with Tyrion, she said with curious certainty that she would not be marrying Loras. What does she have up her sleeve that makes her so sure? How will Tyrion’s marriage to Sansa progress, and where will Shae fit it? Will Stannis put his quest for the Iron Throne completely on hold to deal with the looming threat of the White Walkers? Will the concern over that danger extend as far south as King’s Landing? Could Tywin and Stannis have to temporarily unite in the face of it? What about Mance Rayder’s army of wildlings, the other force amassing north of the Wall? Will we find out what happens to Rickon and Osha after they split from Bran, or is Rickon’s story irrelevant? Will someone please, please, pretty please slap Joffrey across the face again? (I’d love to see Tywin do it, but he’s probably too buttoned-down, even if there’s no way he’d be punished for it. Then again, I’m not sure how much longer Joffrey will submit to Tywin’s authority before he tries to assert himself…and I am dying for a moment where the tension between those two runneth over.

Answers to these questions and more are ten months away. I wonder if, in the meantime, the attention earned this year will translate into awards and accolades. If the series ever has a shot at winning the Emmy for Best Drama Series, this year might be the one. Plenty of shows have had major watercooler moments before; that doesn’t guarantee an award. But the show has been good enough to win from day one; if the violence, sex and general “fantasy” factor isn’t a put-off to voters, the sheer audacity of the Red Wedding and the way it permeated the cultural conversation could push it over the top. I would hope for some writing and directing nominations, and there are certainly actors worthy of attention. With Emmy nominations for acting being based on single episodes rather than entire seasons, a show like Thrones—lacking a lead character and doling out its story in small pieces—can be at a disadvantage. Peter Dinklage did earn a win after the first season, and a nomination for the second. Can he make the cut again? Others are deserving too. Charles Dance would be a welcome addition, and Jaime’s arc this season—bolstered by his aforementioned confessional monologue—could put Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in the conversation (he was recently nominated for a Critics Choice Award by the Broadcast Television Journalist’s Association, and the show itself tied with Breaking Bad for the Best Drama Series win. It’s also been nominated by the Television Critics Association). Diana Rigg could be among the Emmy nominees for Best Guest Actress in a Drama, and Michelle Fairley is a possible Supporting Actress nominee on the strength of her devastating moments during the Red Wedding (Catelyn’s role was small this season overall, but she did have some meaty moments throughout, from her story about Jon Snow to the scene with her uncle Brynden when she mourns her father’s death and breaks down over the presumed death of Bran and Rickon). I’m not betting it will happen, but a nomination for Fairley would be a nice, earned surprise. When the Screen Actor’s Guild awards come around next winter, it would be nice to see a Best Ensemble nomination as well. The show inexplicably missed out on that recognition after season two, which was kinda preposterous. The talent pool on Thrones runs deep. Large roles and small, I can’t think of a weak link in the chain. An exceptional ensemble of actors that demands to be recognized.

Okay, winding down….I’ve gotten used to including some random “Fun with Game of Thrones” links and embeds in these pre and post season write-ups, so here are a few more. This site displays the work of an artist who makes small, polymer clay caricatures based on Thrones. Cool stuff. And then there’s this fake demo for an old school Game of Thrones video game, courtesy of College Humor. I love this.

Here are some menus from a Brooklyn pizzeria that is obviously run by some serious Thrones fans, resulting in such offerings as the Lanni-Stir-Fry and the Cheddard Stark. For any music fans out there who are as impressed with the show’s score as I am, here’s an interview from The Hollywood Reporter with the composer, Ramin Djawadi. And as a known devotee of the Harry Potter series, I enjoyed this picture of Sansa Stark and Neville Longbottom (a.k.a. Sophie Turner and Matthew Lewis) that was making the rounds on Twitter recently.

I also liked these post-Red Wedding selections from Someecards, the latest additions to their line of Thrones-themed cards.

And finally, here’s the song that played in the first trailer for this season of the show. As I mentioned in my pre-season piece, it’s called “Bones” and is performed by MS MR. It has a haunting quality that really does capture this season for me. Dark twisted fantasy indeed…

See you next year, Westeros.

March 31, 2013

Game Day

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

The game is again afoot. After a 10 month gap gap—standard practice for a TV series these days, but torturous even though we’ve grown accustomed to it—Game of Thrones returns for its third season on HBO tonight. Game is my favorite current show, and as there has been a lot on my mind about what this season will bring, I thought I’d share a few of my curiosities with others who are also traveling the Kingsroad. Those who haven’t read the books may have some of the same questions I do, while those who have are most likely laughing at us because they know what’s about to happen. For those totally uninitiated into the books or the show, you should stop reading now, because things are about to get spoiled.

When we last left the Seven Kingdoms (and beyond), Stannis Baratheon’s invasion of King’s Landing had been thwarted by the well-timed arrival of reinforcements led by Tywin Lannister and Loras Tyrell. Stannis somehow (I’m not sure how) made it back to Dragonstone and the swirling red cape of Melisandre, who assured him that his victory was still destined. The alliance between the Lannisters and Tyrells, brokered by Littlefinger, was set to grow even stronger as Joffrey agreed to cast aside Sansa and marry Margaery Tyrell. Tyrion was left with a massive scar along his face after nearly being murdered during the battle by one of his own men, on instructions from Cersei. Shae urged him to run away with her, leaving the kingdoms and his god awful family behind, but he couldn’t bring himself to go. She remained with him, and is still serving as a maiden to Sansa. Bronn was removed as head of the Gold Cloaks, but we don’t know much more than that about his status. Varys reached out to Ros with a vague proposition that seems to involve informing on Littlefinger…but to what end?

Elsewhere in Westeros, Robb secretly married Talisa, while Arya, Gendry and Hot Pie escaped servitude at Harrenhal thanks to help from supercool mystery man Jaqen H’ghar. Winterfell was left burned and deserted after an ill-advised invasion by Theon, who betrayed Robb after being shamed by his asshole father and sister. He was knocked unconscious by his own men after the castle was surrounded by loyal northmen, but that was the last we saw of him. Bran, Rickon, Osha and Hodor left the ruined Winterfell to head north toward The Wall, on the instructions of the dying Maester Luwin. Beyond the Wall, Jon Snow and Qhorin Halfhand were taken prisoner by wildlings after Jon couldn’t bring himself to kill the captive redhead Ygritte. Quorin sacrificed himself by loudly accusing Jon of being a traitor and dueling with him until Jon killed him—a ploy to gain the trust of wildling leader Mance Rayder and infiltrate his camp. Samwell had the bad luck of coming across a massive army of White Walkers, though they seemed unconcerned with him as he hid in terror behind a rock. And across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys ventured into the House of the Undying and reclaimed her kidnapped dragons from the über-creepy warlock Pyat Pree.

Let’s see, what else…Catelyn released Jaime and entrusted Brienne with escorting him back to King’s Landing in the hopes of trading him for Sansa and Arya, after Littlefinger lied and told her that both girls were there. For going behind Robb’s back, Catelyn is being held under guard. Stannis’ advisor Davos Seaworth was blown off his ship and into the waters of Blackwater Bay when the wildfire attack was unleashed by Tyrion. Whether he lived or died, we don’t know. The Hound walked away from the battle and told Joffrey he could go fuck himself. He then suggested to Sansa that he was headed north, though she declined his offer to take her back to Winterfell.

That covers most of the main characters, I think. And since the second season ended last June, there had been little buzz or activity to whet our appetite for what’s next. Casting additions for the third season were announced last summer as they came in, and a video introduction with most of the new actors was presented in July at Comic-Con. It didn’t offer a lot, and meant less to people like me who haven’t read the books ahead of the show than it likely did to those who have, but hey, it was something.

Most of those actors are unfamiliar to me, but there are a few I recognize. Mackenzie Crook (Orell) appeared in the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, and of course starred as Gareth on the British version of The Office (Gareth = Dwight). Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Jojen Reed) was the lovesick little drummer boy from Love Actually who suggested that he and his stepdad (Liam Neeson) go “get the shit kicked out of us by love.” And there’s Dame Diana Rigg, best known to some as Emma Peel, heroine of 1960’s British spy series The Avengers, or perhaps as Tracy, the woman who wins James Bond’s love (as opposed to the normal Bond girl romp in the sack) in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. To me, though, Rigg will always be Lady Holiday from The Great Muppet Caper.

One character who had not yet been cast at the time of that video was Mance Rayder, but soon enough we learned the part would be played by the great Ciarán Hinds, who comes with the solid HBO experience of having played Julius Caesar on Rome. Another alumni of that underseen HBO series also joined the cast: Tobias Menzies, who played Brutus to Hinds’ Caesar, will be on hand as Catelyn’s brother Edmure Tully. Rigg and Hinds, in particular, are impressive additions to an ensemble of actors that’s as strong as it is large, and Benioff and Weiss shared their thoughts on landing the veteran performers with EW.com

Other than these casting announcements, we didn’t have much to quench our thirst during the hiatus. All’s been quiet on the Westeros front, save for a couple of brief behind the scenes glimpses and teaser spots on HBO with voiceover but no new footage. The first true teaser—with actual scenes!—didn’t premiere until last month on Jimmy Kimmel Live. (This is actually an extended version of the one that first appeared.)

The featured song got immediately stuck in my head, and I mistook it for another Florence + The Machine track, as their song “Seven Devils” was used for one of season two’s previews. Turns out it’s by a group called MS MR, and is called “Bones.”

Anyway, the late February premiere of that preview marked the end of an unusually long wait to see any new material. Usually HBO begins hyping new seasons of its shows with actual trailers a couple of months before they premiere, but this time they dragged their feet like Dany’s khalasar dragged that poor wine vendor behind her horse. Ever since then, however, the hype machine has gone into overdrive. It seemed there was a new spot every day. I was especially partial to this one…

Lions and dragons and bears, oh my…

As evidenced by those trailers, there’s been a lot of tantalizing footage. The word is that this season is going to be pretty amazing…and devastating. Apparently there are some particularly shocking events ahead. In their cover story, Entertainment Weekly described A Storm of Swords—the third book in George R.R. Martin’s series—as GoT‘s Empire Strikes Back…a promising comparison in that Empire is the best of the Star Wars movies, and a worrisome one in that the good guys kinda get their asses kicked in Empire. The series proved early on that it wasn’t afraid to eliminate major characters, dispatching Ned, Robert, Viserys and Drogo all in the first season. Last year’s run was lighter on major character deaths, with Renly and Maester Luwin being the only substantial characters to meet their maker. And some might say Ser Rodrik Cassel. I don’t think Davos is dead, so I’m not including him. But as season two began, I expected fewer major characters to survive. I thought that between Joffrey, Robb, Jaime and Cersei, at least one would die. I now feel like Cersei is safe for a while, but the other three remain vulnerable…along with nearly every other character. And if I’m correctly interpreting the pre-season vibe, this year’s run of episodes will claim a few more significant figures.

Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have said from the beginning that their goal was to reach season three. If the show lasted long enough that they could get to events that will occur this season, they would be happy. No problem there. The show’s huge ratings left little doubt that they would make it to this point, and over the next 10 weeks, we’ll see what they’ve been so excited about. They referred early on to an event which they called only the RW scene, saying that to use the actual words instead of just the initials would constitute a spoiler. I accidentally found out what RW stands for, but I’m not sure how much of a spoiler it is, since at this point I still have no idea what it means or suggests. In my naive eyes, the words could be interpreted in a variety of ways. But given how eager Benioff and Weiss have been to depict it on the show, it’s gotta be major. They’ve also hinted about at least one upcoming scene so hard to take that even the crew choked up during filming. Is it this RW scene they’re referring to? In the aforementioned Entertainment Weeky cover story, they won’t even use the initials anymore to describe it. (They must have forgotten that they already used them in past interviews…unless there’s another infamous scene coming up that can be abbreviated for non-spoiler conversations). Whatever this mystery event is, if everyone is being so protective of it and the crew is getting teary-eyed while filming, it probably forebodes death for at least one favorite character.

A Storm of Swords is so densely plotted that this season of the show will only cover roughly half of the book. Benioff and Weiss have said before that they see the show as an adaptation of Martin’s entire A Song of Ice and Fire series rather than a book-by-book take, so the seasons do not perfectly match the books. They do sync up pretty well, but for example, the scenes late in season two involving Brienne transporting Jaime to King’s Landing don’t occur in the second book. When we last see Jaime in the novel, he’s still in his cell, and Catelyn is standing over him and asking Brienne for a sword. Tackling the third book over the course of two seasons will not only allow Benioff and Weiss to take their time and give the rich plot the attention it deserves, but it increases the chances that the show won’t catch up to the books before Martin finishes them. He has two more entries in the series to deliver, and just this week he expressed confidence that he’ll finish the books before the show gets ahead of him. And he’s right that if the timing doesn’t quite pan out, the show can always take a longer-than-usual hiatus. The Sopranos, Mad Men and Breaking Bad have all done it. Sure, fans will be pulling their hair out in anticipation, but we’ve survived such droughts before. Of course, Martin does have to buckle down and stay focused on finishing the series. When HBO announced in February that they had signed a deal with him to develop additional programming, I know I wasn’t the only fan who thought, “Well that’s nice and all….but George, you need to keep your priorities straight and finish these damn books.” One rumored possibility is that Martin and HBO will adapt a series of prequel novellas he’s written. We’ll see if anything comes of it. Deals like this are signed all the time, but they don’t necessarily yield anything, and HBO orders plenty of promising pilots that they then decide not to produce further.

I’m running a bit wild here, so let me bring it back around to the season at hand and what we can expect. I’m of course wondering what will become of Theon. He seems primed to be one of the first casualties, but how will it happen, if it does? The previews above show a quick glimpse of his sister Yara, but there’s been no sign of Theon in any of the commercials. Will he be brought back to Robb, and will Robb be able to go through with killing him?

What about Davos? Where and how will he resurface? I’m also excited to see what unfolds for The Hound. Walking out on Joffrey was an unexpected move, and I’ve noticed that for a minor-major character, he’s been a prominent part of season three’s marketing campaign. His appearance in this teaser, and the fact that he got his own character poster—the kind of privileged exposure usually reserved for the major characters—suggests to me that his story will be an important one this season.

What lies in store for Tyrion? When his father sent him to King’s Landing to fill in as Hand of the King, it seemed to mark a possible new appreciation for the dwarf’s intelligence and skill for strategy. Will that appreciation continue to blossom, or will Tywin resume treating him like the “lowest of the Lannisters”?  Halfman or not, Tyrion stood tall during the Battle of Blackwater, and he deserves credit for keeping the fight against Stannis going as long as it did. What are the chances Tywin will recognize that? And speaking of Tywin, why is he assuming his duties as Hand instead of continuing the fight against Robb? Who will be leading the Lannister forces now, with Jaime still captive and Tywin in King’s Landing?

The previews have shown that Daenerys finally gets hold of an army, and a ship. Will she actually get to Westeros this season and begin integrating into those storylines, or is that still a ways off? And here’s something I’ve been wondering about, though I doubt we’ll get an answer (and it probably isn’t even important): remember that masked woman in Qarth who knew Jorah by name and warned him to protect Daenerys from those who would want her dragons? Yeah…who was that chick, and what’s her story? She seems to correspond to a character from the book name Quaithe, but who is she? How does she know Jorah? Will she eventually play a more important role, or is she a minor character who, like others in Qarth, just seems to know shit?

And what of Robb’s vow to marry one of Walder Frey’s daughters? I can’t blame the guy for choosing Talisa over any of the Frey girls, but it’s been stressed that the promise is not to be thrown off lightly. The Stark/Frey marriage wasn’t supposed to take place until the war was over, but will the repercussions of Robb’s union with Talisa be seen this season?

There was also a scene last year in which Samwell, Grenn and Edd discovered a care package buried in the snow: rare arrowheads made of obsidian, wrapped in a Knight’s Watch cloak beneath a shield. There’s got to be something up with that, yeah?

Soon I’ll know the answers to most of these questions, and I’m sure that this season will fly by as fast as the previous two have. There are only 10 episodes per season, which Benioff and Weiss say is the most they can handle per year for a series that has such demanding scope, with its feature film-quality production design, costumes, visual effects and complicated shooting schedule that spans multiple countries and features such an enormous cast. The episodes will each run a few minutes longer this year than in the past, so by the end of the season we’ll have had almost an extra episode’s worth of material. It ain’t much, but I’ll take it.

In these final hours before the premiere, you can amuse yourself with this Game of Thrones death generator (completely random—it doesn’t require your middle name or the street you grew up on to determine your doom—but still worth a chuckle). Then there’s this video that dares to replace the show’s excellent opening credits sequence with the version that might have been used if it were on network TV in the mid 80’s. (The clip says 1995, but I think this is more 80’s than 90’s).

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And it was only a matter of time: a Game of Thrones/Princess Bride mash-up.

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Last but not least, there’s this. Because lightsabers make everything cooler.

With that, please join me in praying to the old gods and the new, and even to the Lord of Light, that Joffrey will soon die a slow, excruciatingly painful death, and that Tyrion will bitchslap him at least one more time before it happens.

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