“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….