Review: Game of Thrones Ep. 10 “Fire and Blood”


[spoilers within!]

“You should get some sleep. It’s going to be a long war.” – Jaime “Kingslayer” Lannister

We’ve finally reached the season finale of what’s been an excellent first season of Game of Thrones. When news that HBO was adapting George R.R. Martin’s epic medieval fantasy (it’s a fantasy of the historical medieval event known as “The War of the Roses”) there was much rejoicing from fans of the Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire Saga” then once the news had settled came the trepidation. How would showrunners Weiss and Benioff be able to adapt the first book (titled A Game of Thrones) faithfully without trimming away so much to fit almost 1000-pages of story into a 10-episode first season.

When the season premiere came and went most of the book’s fans trepidation were assuaged and with each new episode only the most nitpicky and intractable hardcore fans of the book even complained about changes from book to screen. HBO’s Game of Thrones has been one excellent piece of long form TV storytelling with characters people have grown to love, accept and mourn over (really go through the 5 Stages of Grief after Episode 9). We last left the show with the show’s face having sold out his honor in an attempt to save his daughters. Ned Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North, was a great soldier and a loyal friend to the departed King Robert Baratheon, but he was never fit to play “the game of thrones” as he wasn’t able to compromise his sense of duty and honor to win a game where such virtues were really more of detriments to winning. So, newly crowned Joffrey (Bieber) Baratheon decides to ignore his mother’s advice and goes to show he’s his own man and, a ruthless one at that, demands for Ned’s head and gets it. The scream of NOOOOO! and WTF?! from across the world once that final scene hit could be heard around the internet and beyond. I wouldn’t be surprised if alien races passing by the system picks up those tweets and blog posts reacting over Ned Stark’s death.

The season finale begins soon after that final scene of episode 9. Ned Stark’s head gets picked up by Ser Ilyn Payne (Joffrey’s executioner) as Arya gets taken away by Yoren of the Night’s Watch to try to save her from Joffrey and the Lannisters bound to continue searching for her. This scene showed just how much Arya seems to be one of the few Starks who has learned the need to survive when surrounded by enemies. Once again it’s been a joy to witness Maisie Williams in the role of Arya Stark. Child actors are usually hit or miss when given big roles in film or tv, but Maisie Williams seem to have taken to the role of the tomboy Arya with gusto which has made her a fan favorite of the show.

“Fire and Blood” explores through much of it’s running time the reaction by the show’s many players and factions to the death of Ned Stark by the command of King Joffrey. It doesn’t matter which faction the episode focused on the reaction seemed universal: Joffrey was stupid to have executed Ned Stark. From the grief and anger by Robb Stark and his mother Catelyn who promised her grieving son that once the Stark girls have been retaken and safe then “they will kill all of them”. It’s not strictly implied if she meant just the Lannisters or everyone who has had a hand in the Stark travails or failed to help. It helps lay a seed for a new storyline for the upcoming second season as war truly breaks out in Westeros. We now have Robb Stark anointed by Lord Greatjon Umber as King of the North with the rest of the Stark bannermen following suit. Then we hear news from the Lannister war council that Renly and Stannis Baratheon have amassed their own armies to force their own individual claims to the Iron Throne.

The time spent in the Lannister camp shows Tyrion (and Peter Dinklage always at his best) not just gaining the trust and respect of his father Tywin, the Lion of Lannister, but being given the title of Hand of the King. His dumbstruck expression at becoming the second most powerful man in the Seven Kingdoms (after Tywin) was priceless as was his decision to bring Shae the prostitute along as the Hand’s Lady even though it meant disobeying his father’s explicit orders that he not do so. It’s been great to see Tyrion always unsure of his footing when dealing with his father, but never letting that keep him from still trying to rebel against the person who had shunned and ridiculed him all his life. This is another seed that should bear very interesting fruit for season 2 especially now that war will soon come for the Lions of Casterly Rock and King’s Landing.

But the episode is all about Jon Snow at The Wall and Daenerys Targaryen at Vaes Dothrak across the Narrow Sea. While the Starks, Lannisters and Baratheon houses with their respective bannermens and allies make their plans to either carve out their own nation or seize the Iron Throne at King’s Landing, from The Wall and across the Narrow Sea two groups make gamechanging decisions that will affect the Seven Kingdoms for season two and beyond as it has in the books.

Jon Snow still decides to leave Castle Black and break his oath to the Night’s Watch in order to rejoin his brother Robb and his army on their march south against the Lannister’s. This decision doesn’t sit well with Sam Gamg…I mean Samwell Tarly who continues to remind Jon of his oath and the consequences of breaking it. The first season really highlights one thing which fans of the book really never got to see. Jon Snow, as dreamy as might be to some, is really quite an immature young man who thinks his decision to run back to his family as they go off to war is not just his duty but honorable. Then when everyone around him, from rivals, mentors and friends, disagrees with him Jon begins to stamp his feet and pout like a little boy who has been told he can’t have his dessert before supper. It’s why I’m glad that Sam has been written in the show to be less a sidekick to Jon, but the logic and common sense voice always making sure Jon understands where his try duty lies.

The scene in the woods were Sam and the rest of the Night’s Watch brothers who forms Jon Snow’s little entourage catches up to Jon and recite the Night’s Watch oath one at a time then together to re-forge the bond they will all need. They will need to rely on each other as Lord Commander Jeor Mormont has decided to take the Night’s Watch north of the wall to find not just Jon’s uncle, Benjen Stark, but to find out once and for all why the wildling tribes have been fleeing south and if the White Walkers are truly back and on the move. The use of a military-variant of the show’s main title theme music score’s the men of the Night’s Watch moving out of Castle Black and into the wilderness north of the wall. It was an inspired scene that promises not just action, but hopefully more signs and encounters with the boogeymen north of the Wall.

Once we leave the snow confines of The Wall and the North we switch to the sunny plains of Vaes Dothrak where Daenerys finally learns the consequence of showing mercy to the people she saw as helpless and in need of her protection from the ravages of Khal Drogo and his khalasar. Dany learns the hard way through the stillborn birth of her son, Rhaego, and the mindless state Drogo has come to under the ministrations of her witch-woman, Mirri Maz Duur. To say that this latest life lesson continues to add to Dany’s growing sense of becoming the warrior queen she was meant to be would be an understatement.

She shares a final tender night’s moment with her husband, Khal Drogo, knowing that his mind has left his body. She reminisces the times they both shared in their short time together before finally releasing Drogo from his state through a mercy killing. If the final moments of this episode will say anything about Dany it’s that she has learned her lesson about mercy and the consequences of when not to give it.

Emilia Clarke has been great in the show as Daenerys. We’ve seen her grow from the meek younger sister of the deluded Viserys to being the wife and growing equal of Khal Drogo to the final moments of “Fire and Blood” where we finally learn the true meaning of her having the blood of the dragon. This was a scene that fans of the books were very wary of. HBO is one of the premiere cable channels, but they still operate under budgets that doesn’t match those of epic fantasy films like Lord of the Rings. Would the producers and the channel be able to pull off the reveal in the end. We see Dany walk into the blazing funeral pyre made for Drogo and where she has sentenced Mirri Maz Suur to burn, but will the morning after be able to satisfy not just the fans of the books but also new fans who have stayed with the show even after Ned Stark’s surprising death. I am happy to say that seeing Dany rising up from the ashes of Drogo’s pyre unharmed with three new additions to her own khalasar should satisfy everyone.

It’s a great way to end the first season which really plays out more like a prologue to the true story that season 2 will tackle. We see the dragon eggs have hatched overnight and bear witness to the most powerful things in the world of the Game of Thrones. Dany doesn’t need the Dothraki who have abandoned her when she now has Rhaegal, Drogon and Viserion to be her firepower to conquer a new army to take back to Westeros and reclaim the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms. I love how the last thing we hear as the episode fades to black is the loud, defiant screech of one of her newly hatched dragons signalling the return of the true Targaryen’s to the story the show has told, so far.

Season 1 has done all it could to stay true to George R.R. Martin’s writing and has done so well even when the show’s writers saw it fit to change some minor things in the narrative to fit the tv format and also add in a couple new characters. “Fire and Blood” wasn’t as shocking as episode 9’s “Baelor”, but what it lacked in surprise it more than made up with a cliffhanger that should leave fans of the books and the show wanting for season 2 to arrive now instead of the Spring of 2012.

Game of Thrones has whetted the appetite of new and old fans alike and, barring any sudden change of heart at HBO, the show should only get better from here on out. All the main characters have been introduced with just a few more to make their arrival known in season 2. The game of thrones itself has now fully engulfed the Seven Kingdoms with Dany in the east and winter coming from the north waiting to sweep down to take everyone at any time. This season also ended with the show finally embracing the long-forgotten magic which characters in the show has mentioned but we’ve never really seen. Here’s to hoping that Spring 2012 arrives as soon as space-time continuum as possible. A ten month wait for the next season will be torture with only the first season dvd/blu-ray set to assuage that long wait.

A few highlights from “Fire and Blood”

  • Sansa finally seeing Joffrey for the little douchebag monster that he was when forced by him to looked at her father’s head on a spike and threats of having her older brother’s head on another one for his rebellion. Sansa still seems the weakest of the Stark children, but the realization of not just the real Joffrey, her fantasy life as queen and how much of a fool she has been was a strong sequence. Seeing Sandor “The Hound” Clegane stopping her from tossing Joffrey off the bridge and showing a semblance of compassion toward’s her should make for very interesting scenes between Sansa and The Hound in seasons to come.
  • Catelyn Stark confronting Jamie Lannister at the Stark camp really showed some new layers of complexity to the character of the Kingslayer. At once we see his usual cavalier attitude towards his rivals and the situation he finds himself in, but we also see a hint of regret for what he and his sister have begun. There’s a reason why the Kingslayer in the novels have become such a favorite amongst fans. He’s a character who also has a certain sense of honor and duty like Ned Stark, but  sees love of family (not just figuratively but literally) as first and foremost before honor. It will be interesting to see how the writers continue to develop Jaime for season 2 and how they’ll figure out to give him more scenes since Jaime wasn’t in A Clash of Kings as much as the initial novel.
  • The relationship between Tyrion and Shae continues to grow in a much more interesting way in the series than it had in the books. Whoever decided to cast Sibel Kekilli as Shae should be commended. The show could’ve easily went with an actress who was ridiculously hot, but instead went for exotic and added fire and brains to the character to better match wits with Tyrion who is growing to see Shae not just as a bed companion, but one who may be his equal. Here’s to hoping the writers continue on this path for the Tyrion/Shae pairing.
  • We finally see the final Stark direwolf. Shaggydog, Rickon Stark’s (youngest of the Stark brood) direwolf, shows up and scares the living daylights and shit out of Tonks…I mean Osha and Bran as they tour the Stark crypts. Even though it’s only for a brief moment we start to see how even the youngest Stark has begun to change in personality as winter is definitely coming and war ravages Westeros.
  • We get another great scene with just Varys and Littlefinger testing each other out in the throne room. Despite knowing that both have their own agendas and probably don’t ever see each other becoming fast friends they do respect each other’s abilities to stick to the roles they’ve learned to play in the “game of thrones”. These two just highlight how they will never see themselves as heroes, but do see themselves as the smartest people in the room, thus the ones who have the best chance of surviving the games these wanna-be kings hope to play and win. Even seeing Grand Maester Pycelle really being more than he appears to the many further shows that the principals of the game really do not know just how much they’re being manipulated by those they see as being weaker and cowardly. Varys and Littlefinger is like the Seven Kingdom’s version of Mad Magazine‘s Spy vs Spy.
  • Seeing for the first time that Cersei’s more than sisterly love and affection toward’s her twin brother Jaime may not be an accident of those two’s close bond as twins. It looks like Cersei has found a temporary replacement for Jaime in the form of her younger cousin Lancel Lannister. While Jaime is the image of martial beauty and confidence who probably didn’t fall for Cersei’s manipulative wiles as much as she’d want it looks like Lancel is going to be much more pliant in the living arms of Cersei. This scene just continues to build on just how screwed up House Lannister really seems to be and how Tywin and Tyrion seem to be the only ones who has kept the intellect in the family.
  • Finally, the addition of two new musical pieces by the show’s composer Ramin Djawadi. First, the version of the main title theme but with a martial tone to it as the Night’s Watch marches north of The Wall to sees exactly what’s going on with the wildlings and if the White Walkers are really on the move. The second being the rousing, but ominous version which scores the arrival of Daenerys as the true heir of the Targaryen and the birth of her three children in Rhaegal, Viserion and Drogon.

Feel free to comment and discuss what you thought of this season finale episode and the season as whole below….

….Season 2 in ten months and Winter is still coming….

Review: Game of Thrones Ep. 07 “You Win Or You Die”


HBO was kind enough to allow people who registered for their HBOGO.COM service to watch this seventh episode of Game of Thrones a full week before it aired. I wasn’t planning on watching it ahead of time, but since I already was signed up I decided to just go ahead and watch it. I must say that this latest episode continues to build on what has been a very strong first season for the tv adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s popular and critically-acclaimed medieval fantasy novel series of “A Song of Ice and Fire”.

The last episode was a major turning point for some of the characters in this series. “A Golden Crown” saw Daenerys Targaryen finally become her own woman in the face of her older siblings buffonery and childish tantrums. Behavior which finally got him the “golden crown” he deserved from Khal Drogo (and one which Daenerys seems to approve of). Tyrion Lannister using his wit and cunning mind to get himself extricated from the craziness that was Lysa Arryn and her court in the Eyrie of the Vale. The episode also brings together all the clues and evidence Ned Stark had been gathering about the death of the previous Hand of the King.

One would think that nothing could top all the pivotal events of episode six’s “A Golden Crown”, but this seventh episode surely tops that one with some building on the revelations of the previous episode. It’s really a major testament to showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss at how they’re able to not just stay true to the source material but also condense some of the minor threads of subplots and backstory into an hour episode that’s thrilling, engaging and not pandering to it’s audience.

This episode was aptly titled, “You Win Or You Die” as the fight for the throne of the Seven Kingdoms finally begins. We see the introduction of the Lannister patriarch who has loomed over the series as some unseen Sword of Damocles who holds King Robert’s tenuous hold on his kingdom. It was a treat to see veteran British actor Charles Dance as Tywin Lannister and see him playing the character as a no-nonsense, pragmatic but ruthless leader of his House. His brief time in this episode told us all we needed to know about Tywin. He’s so unlike his three children and this fact has become such a burden to him that he’s willing to take whatever virtue from the one child he sees as his most capable heir in Jamie that he’s willing to forgo all the faults. The scene of him butchering and dressing the stag while talking down (and propping up) Jamie for his foolishness with challenging Ned in episode five was very prophetic.

The episode also sees the return of Jon Snow and his part of the series’ story as he finally gets formally inducted into the Night’s Watch with Sam and the rest of the new recruits. What should’ve been a momentous occasion has been tempered by the sudden news of his uncle Benjen’s disappearance north of the Wall. It also shows Jon at his most petulant. What he saw as punishment from the Night’s Watch trainer and resident asshole in Ser Allister when he gets assigned as the Commander’s squire and steward was seen by his friend Sam as Jon being groomed for future command. For those who have been quite tough on chubby and cowardly Samwell should really have second thoughts about just how useless he is. He is surely becoming the voice of reason and logic to Jon’s more impetuous and “act now, think later” mentality. We also see the return of one of the direwolves as Jon’s (aptly named Ghost) brings him a gruesome gift once he has taken his vows.

The third major event in this episode before we get to it’s climactic finish brings us back to Vaes Dothrak and to Daenerys and Khal Drogo. With Viserys now out of the picture we see Daenerys begin to assert herself on Khal Drogo. While her brother’s dreams of becoming the ruler of the Seven Kingdoms have been dashed with a golden, metallic clang her own ambitions have not. She now sees herself as the true Dragon and still wishes to have the Iron Throne for her unborn son, Rhaego. While Khal Drogo still doesn’t see such things as important for him and his people an event in a marketplace which puts his khaleesi and son in danger finally convinces him of the danger the Seven Kingdoms poses.

This all leads us to the beginning of the “game of thrones”. Ned now fully knows why his predecessor was killed as the secret of Joffrey “Bieber” Baratheon’s lineage becomes quite clear. While more crafty and politically adept individuals would keep the secret from Cersei this is Ned Stark we’re talking about and he confronts his Queen with the news. To say that Cersei wasn’t flustered would be an understatement. This episode showed Lena Headey in full control of the Cersei character as we see her play the role with more iron and spine than what was shown in the novel.

“You Win Or You Die” finally sees an ignominious end to King Robert and his whoring and drinking. What was suppose to be a boar-hunt to help alleviate the stress he has been getting from both the Lannisters and the Starks finally gets him gored by the very boar he’s trying to hunt (though there’s suspicion that his inattentiveness during the hunt may have had some help). Mark Addy does a great job as Robert on his deathbed as he confesses his failings not just as a ruler but as a husband and as a father to the Seven Kingdoms, Cersei and Joffrey respectively. He appoints Ned to become the Regent of the Kingdoms until Joffrey is of age and does so officially with a sealed document.

One would think this final and dying declaration from a dying ruler would be enough to give Ned the power he requires to put the kingdom into order from the coming chaos but that would be selling all the characters with something to gain short. Robert’s not even cold when his younger brother Renly approaches Ned about plans to seize the throne from Cersei, but Ned being the honorable type refuses. Whatever ally he might’ve had to help him leaves the city as he confronts Cersei and Joffrey about the plans of succession. This is where the episode finally explodes into the conflict that’s been building since the very episode.

Some might say that this episode seems quite full of subplots and story threads and might not devote enough time for each. In fact, I was surprised at how much the writers were able to cram into this episode and still make each storyline have the time to make their events important to the series as a whole. While the episode ends with the the “game of thrones” in full swing in King’s Landing, the episode could also mean that things in the Wall and north of it has finally sunk into Jon and his fellow recruits as being truly serious. He and his new brothers must win or die. It’s as simple as that. Even Daenerys’ situation across the Narrow Sea fits the episode title well. With her now the bearer of the Targaryen line and her husband the leader of a powerful army she must also win or die.

Everyone in this episode seems to know the rules of the game their playing except the one person who seemed to be the one who had the most to win or lose. This episode showed Ned at his most intractable and honorable self, but it also showed just how much ill-prepared he is to fight in a battlefield where he doesn’t know who to trust and the very people who he shouldn’t trust might be his only allies. The final scene of the episode really highlight’s this dilemma for Ned and was such a great cliffhanger for the final three episodes to come before the series end’s it’s first season.

For fans of the books this episode shouldn’t disappoint and for new fans it should excite and really pull them in deeper into the world of Martin’s creation. Next week should continue the events we’re left to process as this latest episode ended. Will war finally break out between the two major houses of Lannister and Stark? Will Drogo finally bring his Dothraki horde into the Seven Kingdoms to gift his wife the Iron Throne she covets? What agenda does Littlefinger have and will it be the downfall of one of the houses?

There’s so much to be answered but seeing how this series just seems to get better with each successive episode I don’t doubt that episode eight will drop the ball and disappoint us with the answer (or will more questions arise) to those very questions.

Review: Game of Thrones Ep. 05 “The Wolf and The Lion”


For those bemoaning the fact that the last couple episodes of Game of Thrones had been lacking in the action department and had veered into exposition territory should be sated by the events of the fifth episode simply titled, “The Wolf and The Lion”. This episode still retains much of the excellent writing and storytelling done by showrunner David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, but it also brings to the forefront the violent conflict that will soon engulf the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.

George R.R. Martin’s books of which this show’s based on never lacked for brutality and medieval violence on a scale not seen often in fantasy. “The Wolf and The Lion” finally brings to this series the two lead houses which becomes the spark for the show’s upcoming conflict. The episode adds more intrigue to the proceedings even as it begins a hard boil into the climactic end that should make the second half of this series to finally and fully hooked it’s viewers.

We see Lady Catelyn and her entourage on the road as they travel to her sister’s realm at the Vale to conduct a trial of Tyrion Lannister who she has accused of conspiring to assassinate her young son Bran. It’s while on the road we see a hint at how violent this show can get as brigands from the hill tribes on the road to the Eyrie in the Vale ambushes her group. Blood flows and even Tyrion gets a chance to prove his martial prowess in defense of the very woman who has accused and planning to pass judgment on him. I must say that his scene with the kite shield and the head of a hill tribesman probably brought more than a golf-clap and courtesy cheer from fans of Peter Dinklage.

This episode also continues the show’s growing habit of inserting more backstory to supporting characters like Theon Greyjoy who we see visiting his favorite redhead Ros outside of Winterfell. This scene may seem out of left field for those who have never read the book, but for those who have it’s a nice touch seeing the seed of doubt enter Theon’s mind about his relationship with House Stark and his role as a noble son of House Greyjoy of the Iron Islands. Though I must say I think I became temporarily blinded when the camera failed to pan up and audiences were shown Greyjoy junk flapping in the breeze.

The rest of the episode really centers on the Wolf, the Lion and the Stag. The wolf would be Ned Stark who continues his investigation on the true reason why the former King’s Hand was killed. Each question answered brings up new ones and we begin to see Ned finally begin to notice that he is definitely out of his element. Intrigues, schemes and shadow-games surround him and for a man used to fighting enemies he knows and sees this revelation really knocks him back. The final nail in his growing fear that he made a mistake coming south is brought to bear by his friend and king.

A council meeting conducted by Robert himself brings the question of what to do with the newly pregnant Daenarys Targaryen. While Daenarys doesn’t appear in this episode her presence still looms large over the episode’s many subplots and threads. She’s deemed a danger to the Seven Kingdoms and Robert is willing to do the unthinkable (in the mind of Ned, at least) to make sure Daenarys never crosses the Narrow Sea with an army of 40,000 Dothraki horsemen and the might Khal Drogo to take back the Iron Throne. It’s this decision by Robert and his council to expedite Daenarys with extreme prejudice that finally convinces Ned that it’s time to go back North where the real danger to the Seven Kingdoms lie waiting for winter to arrive.

I won’t spoil the rest of the episode. Especially the last five minutes which really amps the action for this series. For fans of the books this sequence should be a delight. The show has been readily accepted by the book’s fans despite some changes in how certain characters have been introduced and allowed to grow. While these very fans understand the nature of adapting a novel of over 800 pages into a 10-episode series of an hour per they still worry that too much cutting and trimming will occur to fit the first novel into this season. I’m happy to say that the series and the book have met pretty much in the same place in terms of storytelling and further trepidations about how the showrunners ar ehandling the adaptation should really go away by now. If one is a fan of the book and has stayed with this series up to it’s halfway mark then complaining about changes and tweaks to characters and storylines is just nitpicking. For those who are new to the work of George R.R. Martin then this episode should whet their appetites even more for more action, intrigue and, of course, sex as the show moves inexoribly towards a boiling point and the explosion of war and violence when it finally occurs.

It will be interesting to see the second half of the first season of Game of Thrones play out as we finally begin to see battle lines being drawn. House Stark and it’s allies on one side and House Lannister and the lesser houses and bannerman loyal to them in the other. Then there’s the King Robert himself stuck in the middle trying to keep the Seven Kingdoms from imploding as the threat of a Targaryen with an army of Dothraki horsemen looms dangerously on Westeros across the Narrow Sea. This episode didn’t even mention anything about the problems at The Wall and what lies beyond it to the north. Not once did this episode mention anything about “winter is coming” yet that unspoken warning also looms like a shadow over everyone.

It’s going to be a very long wait til the next episode and, for those who have HBOGO, the next two episodes. Up next week will see the return of Daenarys and her idiot brother Viserys in the sixth episode titled, “A Golden Crown”.

Review: Game of Thrones Ep. 04 “Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things”


We’ve now come to the fourth episode of HBO’s very ambitious and expensive medieval fantasy series based on author George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” saga of which the first  book make’s up the first season. The first three episodes have done a great job at not just setting up the rules which govern this fantasy world of Martin’s but has deftly handled the many characters both main and supporting. It’s always been one of the many trepidations by fans of the books that the show may dumb down and simplify all these personalities both big and small for the tv screen. Luckily, for both fans and non-fans of the book the writers of the show have kept much of these characters intact.

“Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things” is quite an apt title for this latest episode as it deals with exactly just that. The show explores those three subjects. We begin with both cripple and bastard finding a common ground as Tyrion (Peter Dinklage in what could only be an Emmy-winning performance as the Lannister Imp) shows compassion instead of pity to the crippled Bran Stark despite his very own suspicion as to the cause of Bran’s fall. It’s also in these scene where we see the appearance of fan favorite Hodor (Kristian Nairn). Hodor’s introduction is one of several instances which has allayed my concerns that such minor characters would be trimmed from the book as it makes its way onto the show. While I’m sure the show will not introduce every name from the book at least they’ve taken a deep understanding as to which of the supporting cast in the book must remain even if they are quite minor.

The rest of this episode really deals with the “Broke Things” of the title. We see just how broken the situation has become not just in Castle Black with the Night’s Watch but all across the Seven Realms of Westeros. The king’s insistence in holding a tourney for his newest Hand has led to more debt as more people flood into King’s Landing to witness this event. We see the broken relationships between family members in the houses of Stark, Lannister and Targaryen. It’s these cracks which has led to corruption and intrigue which could only lead to tragedy for the current holder of the Iron Throne and for all of the Westeros.

Even some of the characters themselves show signs of being broken things with the most visible being Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) whose cocky and self-absorbed personality shows hints of humanity. He sees what his king has been doing to hurt not just the kingdom he serves but to his sister Cersei whom he loves. There’s a brief hint in his expression as he stands guard outside Robert’s bedroom as whores attend his brother-in-law knowing he cannot do anything to fix it without living up once more to his infamous moniker of Kingslayer.

This episode introduces several new characters that should have some impact in the coming weeks as the show leads to it’s climactic season finale. One character which should please fans and make non-fans of the book lean with interest is the “Mountain”. Gregor Clegane is aptly named and comes in as Sandor “The Hound” Clegane’s (Joffrey Bieber’s personal guard with the half0burned face) older and much more brutal brother. We don’t hear him speak, but his entrance and what he does during the jousting tournament looms large in that sequence. It helps that Petyr Baelish (Aidan Gillen great in the role) gives Sansa a brief tale concerning the “Mountain” and the “Hound” which adds some mystery to the two siblings which the writers will hopefully explore further as the series moves along this season and the next.

The other new character that gets some major time in this episode was one of the stronger ones in terms of portrayal. Samwell Tarly (John Bradley-West sticking the role almost perfectly) is the latest recruit to don the black of the Night’s Watch and he’s as far from the ideal candidate for the black as any this show has shown. He’s fat, cowardly and almost effeminate in his behavior, but the character comes in as a broken thing. He’s forced to join the only thing he knows would accept him despite his shortcomings and the only haven from the suffering he has endured from his own family. At first it seems like pity that forces Jon Snow to take Sam under his wing for protection, but as he learns more of Sam’s background from Sam himself the more he sees similarities between the two of them. Only the turn of the fate having put Jon in the compassionate care of Eddard Stark has made him into the young man he is and becoming. It’s this growing rapport between Jon and Sam which really governs the Night’s Watch part of Game of Thrones.

But the show is not all about cripples, bastards and broken things. We see the beginning of the inner fires in both Daenerys Targaryen and Catelyn Stark in this episode. With the former we see how much she continues to grown into the role of Khaleesi of the Dothraki Horde. The confrontation between her and her older brother Viserys should begin to allay fears fans have had about how the writers have been handling the Daenerys character. Yes, the first three episodes haven’t really shown Daenerys being strong and kickass, but even in the book she wasn’t written to be such a character right from the onset. In both book and show her growing confidence still takes time. It just happens that the show just made her quite pliable and weak to start off with. I think that by the time this season ends Daenerys will grow into the confident character fans have been waiting to see.

With Catelyn Stark the situation has been a bit more complex as her character has been given several more layers of complexities with her book counterpart didn’t have. In the book she’s almost Ned Stark’s equal in almost everything, but lost in that was an emotional core which the show has given her. It’s this emotional layer which has added a loving motherly aspect to the character. It sometimes came off as helplessness in the previous episodes, but what mother wouldn’t feel so frozen with worry and inaction for the tragedy to have struck one of her sons. The fire that fans have been waiting for begins to fan as Catelyn sees herself confronting one of the very Lannister’s who she believes had a hand in the assassination attempt on her crippled son, Bran. Her reciting the many different bannermen who are loyal to her house and to her husband’s house was very inspiring and just a hint of what will come next as a storm of swords and a clash of kings loom over the horizon of Westeros.

Overall, “Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things” continues a streak of excellent episodes in the premiere season for Game of Thrones. We see more intrigue and machiavellian machinations than action, but it’s entertaining and thrilling nonetheless. This show has shown that fantasy, especially on TV, doesn’t have to be always about battles and bloodshed (though the spearing of the knight at the joust was done bloody well enough). It’s the political maneuverings and intrigues which will ultimately drive this show towards the very battles and bloodshed fans of these type of shows end up craving for.

Next week’s episode will be “The Wolf and The Lion”.


PS: It was great to see Jon Snow’s direwolf finally appear in its grown form. We’ve already it as an albino pop, but not grown like we’ve already seen with Summer, Nymeria and Lady. Ghost will soon become a favorite with the show’s fans the more he appears. The only one’s we haven’t seen are Robb Stark’s Grey Wind and Rickon Stark’s Shaggydog.

Review: Game of Thrones Ep. 01 “Winter Is Coming”


[some spoilers]

George R.R. Martin’s historical fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire, has been decades in the making and has gained such a massive and loyal following that when news arrived several years back that HBO will adapt the first book in the series, A Game of Thrones, the news was welcome with cheers and some trepidation. Cheers because finally one of the most beloved fantasy novels of the last couple decades was finally getting a live-action treatment it’s fans were clamoring for. The trepidation came from these very same fans hoping that those involved in adapting the book didn’t screw things up and ruin something very precious to them.

Showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss have adapted what some consider a very complex and dense fantasy novel and came up with something that stays true to the source material while still keeping things from becoming too overly complicated. The first episode is aptly titled, “Winter Is Coming” and we see the show begin with an impressive panoramic scene showing the Wall in all its imposing grandeur as several member’s of it’s Nightwatch Brotherhood venture north of it into the snow-covered, icy wasteland in search of the nomadic wildlings. Their search find them not just a tribe of wildlings (not in a condition one would consider living) and something else which their Brotherhood were created to protect the rest of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros south of the wall from. The Others make a brief and chilling appearance in the first ten minutes of the episode to give a glimpse as to the true danger poised to strike down on Westeros.

The episode soon moves to the kingdom who stands guard just south of the Wall and whose lord, Eddard Stark, stands to be one of the first line of defense against the winter that is coming and the dangers it brings. Lord Eddard “Ned” Stark is the sort of noble, uncompromising lord that stories of chivalry have taught readers for hundreds of years, but who really is the rare gem in a sea of rough and flawed stones that make up the other lords and knights of the Seven Kingdoms. We see him tending to his castle-fortress of Winterfell as he oversees not just his growing sons and daughters, but the sudden news that his old friend and liege, King Robert Baratheon (played with gluttonous glee by Mark Addy), will be arriving with his entourage to Winterfell.

The episode is slighty a few minutes above an hour in running time and in that time Benioff and Weiss were able to introduce a multitude of characters both large and small which would remain important throughout this series’ 10-episode run. We meet the rest of the Stark clan from Ned’s loyal and down-to-earth wife Catelyn (from House Tully) to his sons, Robb, Bran, Rickon and Jon Snow (Ned’s bastard son hence the “Snow” surname). Then there are his two daughters who are sun and moon in difference with Sansa the older and more social-conscious daughter to Arya the tomboy younger sister who wishes nothing more than to learn how to be a knight. Maisie Williams as Arya Stark is a joy to watch in her brief scenes in the episode. She fully embodies the spirit of Arya which has made the character such a fan favorite since she was first introduced by Martin to readers everywhere in August 1996.

Other fine performances of note in the episode were the ones put forth by Peter Dinklage as the dwarf Lannister brother to the gleaming beauties of his twin siblings, Queen Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey in a haughty performance so similar to her Gorgo role in 300, but minus the nobility inherent in the title) and Jaime “Kingslayer” Lannister (Nicolas Coster-Waldau playing the role as a bon vivant, pretty boy knight). It doesn’t take long to see Dinklage not as a dwarf actor playing a dwarf role, but just as Tyrion the bitter, world-weary son who knows his place in the scheme of things and have accepted them thus making him one of the most honest characters in this episode to date outside of Ned Stark.

The cinematography for this first episode was stunning to say the least. From the frozen forests and domain north of the Wall shot in such stark white and blues to the lush and earthy look given to the tropical domain of the Dothraki where the surviving children of the former king of Westeros now reside looking to find allies to retake their rightful place as ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. Even Winterfell is given such loving detail in how its shot to allow it to gain a semblance of personality. A personality of a kingdom harsh and one to brook the foolhardy and soft. Winterfell looks like a place that produces hardy, fatalistic, but able men willing to do that which must be done.

For fans of the book this episode shouldn’t be too difficult to follow despite all the characters being introduced. In fact, for a first episode it really packs in the details that set’s up what will become the many different plot strands that will begin to weave itself into complex tapestry of a tale that will take audiences from the stark realm of the The Wall and Winterfell to the lush seat of power at King’s Landing to the tropical and savannah flatlands for the Dothraki realm. It’s this attention to detail that may lose some non-fans of the books as it could be too much too handle right away. But I think viewers of HBO drama series of the past should be well-versed in juggling such amounts of details right from the get-go. If loyal fans of the Wire, Oz, Deadwood, True Blood and The Sopranos can attest to it’s learning how to handle such details in stride and just let the story take them away.

“Winter Is Coming” goes a long way towards quieting any lasting trepidations fans of the novels may have of this live-action adaptation. All the hype and media ad blitz HBO has created to push this series had given it a high bar to reach before an episode had even aired, but now that the first one has aired I’m happy to say that it more than reached that high bar and looks to surpass it with each coming new episode. If there was ever a scent that should truly sell this show to fans and non-fans alike it is the final three minutes. As lurid and licentious a sequence as it may be it is also one that sets the wheels turning for the rest of the series and show that Game of Thrones is not your typical fantasy drama on TV.

As an aside, the second viewing of this episode I ended up muting the early intro sequence and just listened to German power metal band’s song about Game of Thrones…it actually fit in well according to my fantasy nerd sensibilities.