Review: Game of Thrones S2E08 “The Prince of Winterfell”


“One game at a time my good friend.” — Tyrion Lannister

The second season of HBO’s Game of Thrones has been quite similar to the first season in that for every great episode we get one not so great, but still one that’s needed to help further the season’s narrative to it’s conclusion. This season it’s the effect that the War of the Five Kings has had one everyone from those vying for the Iron Throne to the lowly peasant who must endure the war that has engulfed Westeros. Even the lands of Essos across the Narrow Sea has felt the ripple effect of this war as we see Daenerys Targaryen struggle in her attempts to gain allies in a land content to see the kingdoms of Westeros fight each other into disunity.

Tonight’s eight episode of the season, “The Prince of Winterfell”, was not a great episode but it was crucial in further fleshing out some of the main characters who continues to have an effect on the war. The title itself as meaning one of the Stark sons, but in this episode this label could mean so many characters.

It could mean Theon Greyjoy who has made himself the new Lord of Winterfell as he and his score of Ironborn have forcibly taken the capital of the North a couple episodes back. We’ve seen him play the role of lord, or more like play-act the role, since taking Winterfell, but his decisions since then has made him even more petty than we’ve ever seen him through all of season 1. His behavior is a constant reminder that while he spent most of his life amongst the Starks — as part of his father’s punishment for rebelling against Robert Baratheon — he never picked up the concept of honor fom Ned Stark or through the actions of Ned’s boys. He’s like a spoiled young boy trying to please everyone and show them that he’s worthy of praise when what he’s done just makes him look more and more pathetic to those he’s trying to impress.

The scene between Theon and his sister Yara was quite illuminating in how the former went against his father’s orders and his people’s method of warfare because he envies the sort of respect and influence his sister has over the Ironborn men. Influence that goes against everything Theon thinks how a woman should be and that’s naked and subservient to him, or at least to men. Yara doesn’t resent her brother and actually cares for him in her own fashion. She even understands why he does what he does and how their shared experiences with their father, Balon Greyjoy, binds them closer than Theon would like to think.

Theon has been given chances and opportunities to think things more logically and with a keen mind, but he has squandered all these chances (one even coming from the sister he thinks doesn’t respect him) and just continues to dig the proverbial grave he might just find himself in. He may be the Lord and Prince of Winterfell now, but only he seems to believe that to be true.

On the other hand, we have Robb Stark down south, King of the North by his bannermen’s acclaim, but still just a Prince of Winterfell who would like nothing but to return to his birthplace and take up the duties now given onto him by the death of his father. He would rather return to guarding the North and supporting the Night’s Watch aat the Wall than continue to fight a war that he has lost much desire to fight. But he knows he must continue his campaign against King Joffrey and the Lannisters. Too much blood has been spilt by men under his banner and the honor and duty he learned from his father means he must set aside sentimental things (like running back North to retake Winterfell and free his younger brothers). The fact that he understands the damage Catelyn’s actions in regards to the Kingslayer and his orders to have her guarded like a prisoner means he has learned to set aside familial feelings for the greater good.

Robb Stark has learned much to be like his father and while much of it has been to his advantage in prosecuting the war and keeping his alliance of bannermen together he has also picked up his father’s flaw of allowing his heart to dictate an action that may just jeopardize everything he has gained since the war began. Even knowing that he’s arranged to marry one of the Frey daughters as price to move his army down south his feelings for Talisa (the camp chirurgeon and a lady of Volantis herself) finally overrides his reason and duty. For those who have read the book this scene was both touching and maddening. For those who have never read the book this scene will still be touching in that Robb followed his heart, but also maddening in that he puts in danger the alliances with the important House of Frey to satisfy his heart.

The rest of “The Prince of Winterfell” was more about moving the pieces on the board closer to that inevitable clash between the armies of Joffrey at King’s Landing and Stannis Baratheon with his fleet bearing down on the capital. All these build-up scenes added to subplots that has grown since the beginning of the season. If there was one sequence that seemed very out of place and felt like just spinning wheels in place it would be with Daenerys at Qarth as she once again agonizes about her kidnapped “babies” and how she must get them back. Now that she knows that the warocks of Qarth have the dragonlings sequestered in the Tower of the Undying one would think she would have tried to get them back, but instead we get more scenes of her and Jorah debating on the need to have the dragon’s back. While this part of the season doesn’t come close to being the “Sophia in the Barn” frustrating it’s getting close.

We now have two more episodes left in the season and it looks like the Battle of Blackwater Pass from the novels may just arrive with the next episode. Will Tyrion be able to beat back Stannis’ siege of King’s Landing? Will Theon survive the season as Lord of Winterfell? Will Robb’s actions with Talisa destroy everything he has built since the war began? There’s so much questions and with two episodes left it will be quite the juggling act for the show’s writers to answer them all without having them seemed rushed.

Review: Game of Thrones S2E06 “The Old Gods and the New”


“Gods help you Theon Greyjoy. Now you’re truly lost.” — Ser Rodrik Cassel

Tonight we saw season 2 of HBO’s Game of Thrones series hit it’s second half running towards what could only be a climactic season ender of epic proportions. The show took a sort of misstep with an wheel’s turning previous episode that was mostly set-up. The show has been that way from the very start of the season, but last week’s entry was even moreso. Tonight’s sixth episode was titled “The Old Gods and the New” and it was a theme of faith that ran throughout the episode.

When I say faith I don’t mean of the religious kind but the faith one puts into the actions of others. Whether that faith is deserving or not is irrelevant. We see the youngest characters of the series with their faith tested from beginning to end. While it was mostly the Stark kids both legitimate and illegitimate who had to suffer in tonight’s episode we also got to see Daenerys Stormborn tested as her stay in the city-state of Qarth begins to turn for the worst and her inability to think with her mind instead of her heart has put her in a precarious situation.

The episode begins with Bran’s dream from last week finally coming into fruition as the seas has come to Winterfell and gone over the walls. It’s Theon Greyjoy and his merry band of Ironborn reavers who have taken advantage of a defenseless Winterfell. Any lingering doubts as to which house his loyalty lies now ends with his taking of Winterfell and imposing himself as it’s lord. Theon has bought into his biological father’s Ironborn way of life as he’s taken his own lordship through the “iron price” and not gold. Yet, this part of the episode also show’s that Theon has much to learn about being a ruler as some of his petty behavior comes to the forefront in his treatment of Rodrick Casell and being fooled by the wildling Osha. Just like Renly Baratheon before him, Theon likes to play at being a lord and someone who thinks they have power over the people when it’s all just in his head.

The same goes for King Joffrey over at King’s Landing who witness first-hand that his maniacal, iron-fisted rule of the realm has weakened what had been a strong realm and which is now ripe for all-out rebellion from within the city’s walls and not just from without. A riot of his own making doesn’t end even with his shouts to his Kingsguard and the Gold Cloaks to kill everyone when they’re outnumbered despite their armor and weapons. Joffrey begins to see what his Hand has seen and that’s the people of King’s Landing don’t see him as their rightful ruler and would rip the city and those who follow him apart (like the poor Maester who got the zombie feeding frenzy treatment) even if they die doing so.

For a moment Sansa Stark doesn’t understand why the people hate her as much as Joffrey and season 1 Sansa petulantly peeks out after her close brush with rape and death at the hands of the mob. It takes some wise counsel from her handmaiden Shae to educate her as to why they hate her so. Whether Sansa will learn from tonight’s events or not will show whether her character has grown from the shallow, fashion plate and status obsessed young teen or season 1 to the more savvy and leery young lady who has been quite adept at steering through the maze that makes up the game of thrones within the castle walls. One thing for sure is that she seems to have gained herself a protector in The Hound.

Over and north of the Wall we find Jon Snow and the small band of Rangers led by Qhorin Halfhand doing a sort of long-range recon patrol deeper into wildling territory to find out just exactly what’s going on with the wildlings and their self-proclaimed king Mance Rayder. We see Jon get a lesson in the importance of being a Crow delivered not so delicately by the veteran Qhorin who also seem to see something important about Jon, but who also sees an idealist who may not survive the Wall if he continues to think like someone who lives South of the Wall instead of on and North of it. It’s easy to say that Jon learns his lesson, but as we see after a successful ambush of a wildling patrol Jon still hangs onto too much of the chivalry and nobility of the the southern realms instead of the reality of the Wall and the North. He’s been a frustrating character since the first season and his steadfast “Ned Stark-ness” almost gets him killed and has saddled him with a pretty, wild redhead who may just be the death of him before he reaches his potential.

We now come to the Arya and Daenaerys portion of tonight’s episode. These are two young girls who have been thrust into situations not of their making and trying to make the best of it.

At Harrenhal we see Arya continue her indentured servitude to Tywin Lannister who seem to treat her with more respect than he does his own commanders. Whether he suspects who Arya truly is he does seem to treat her less a servant and more like an unofficial sounding board. The conflict of emotions this treatment from Tywin was quite evident in Arya’s face as she smiles behind Tywin and his council’s back when he compliments her and berates one his generals. Her situation gets really precarious as one Littlefinger appears in Harrenhal to talk shop with Tywin. This scene was masterfully done by veteran tv director David Nutter who milks the tension Arya feels at the prospect of being found out by the duplicitous, but observant Littlefinger. Her faith in the enigmatic Jaqen H’ghar seems well-deserved as she gives him a second name and sees that name given over to Death as Jaqen has promised. With each day in Harrenhal it looks like Arya looks to be the one of the all the youngsters in Game of Thrones who has begun to see the reality of the world instead of the ideals she has been taught growing up.

Far across the Narrow Sea we come to Daenaerys who is still trying to fend off the advances of Xaro Xhoan Daxos and the other merchant lords of Qarth who wish to put their hooks into her if she ever wants their help in getting across to Westeros to take back the Iron Throne she sees as rightfully hers. Where Arya has learned to think with her head instead of her heart to put herself into situations to her advantage the same cannot be said about Daenerys who still believes that her rightful claim to the Iron Throne and being the Mother of Dragons would make everyone bow at her young feet and give her everything she needs to get what she wants. When diplomacy doesn’t get her what she wants she reverts back to threats and actually sounding more and more like her dead brother Viserys who also used too much empty threats to try and get what he thinks was due to him. The episode sees her with even less retainers than what she had going into Qarth and worst yet minus the three dragonlings.

While “The Old Gods and the New” was still a set-up episode it also contained much character growth for the young cast. We see them learn the hard way that being a ruler of a realm and of men doesn’t come easy or come across as a game without consequences. Idealism gets tested and for most of the episode comes off less a virtue and more of a near-fatal flaw that cannot survive in the war-torn lands of Westeros let alone the intrigues of the city-states of Essos across the Narrow Sea. Faith has been tested as Bran sees firsthand as he sees what he thought was a brother to him and his family turn against them in a fit of pettiness and need to prove himself to his biological sire.

With more pieces being moved across the board it’s getting much clearer now that the war for the Iron Throne is close to being decided, but it doesn’t mean peace will come to Westeros. While the elders fight the wars begun by a child and being won by another it looks like tonight’s episode also shows that no matter how things turn out this season it’s the children of the series who have been forced to grow up by the war who will have to pick up the pieces. Tonight we see that some look ready to do so while most still look ill-equipped to survive it.

Review: Game of Thrones S2E05 “The Ghost of Harrenhal”


“Anyone can be killed.” — Arya Stark

The first four episodes of the second season of Game of Thrones has been consistently good to great despite the addition of a large number of new characters to a cast already considered massive by tv standards. Last week’s “Garden of Bones” was the weakest of the four and worked more like a set-up episode for the rest of the season. With tonight’s fifth episode in “The Ghost of Harrenhal” we get another set-up episode that looks to be the weakest entry in this new season.

The episode’s title comes from the novel and what Arya calls herself during her stay in Harrenhal. She becomes the ghost of the title as she takes the offer made to her by the engimatic Jaqen H’ghar. But before we get to Arya and her adventures within the cursed halls of Harrenhal we start the episode back at the Renly Baratheon camp where the younger Barantheon entertains Catelyn Stark with an offer to take back to her son Robb in the North. Before the armies of Renly and Robb could come together to fight against their common enemy that the shadowy thing from the end of last week’s episode finally make it’s appearance to end the fight between the Baratheon brothers once and for all.

As Arya comments to Tywin in Harrenhal thus Renly’s fate early in the episode prove her words correct. Anyone can be killed and it would seem anywhere.

The rest of the episode from then on is all about setting up what I can only guess would be the two set piece events for the season. There’s the planned amphibious invasion of King’s landing being planned by Stannis Baratheon with his reinforced army now that Renly’s bannermen has flocked to him after their former liege’s assassination. Then there’s the stuff brewing up north of the Wall with the entire Night’s Watch searching for and preparing for the massive wildling army being formed by former Night’s Watch brother and self-proclaimed “King Beyond the Wall”.

Most of the dynamic writing for tonight’s episode occur down at King’s Landing and Harrenhal where we see both Tyrion and Arya adjusting to the ever-shifting status in both places. With Tyrion he must now contend with an older sister in Cersei who seem to be waking up to the fact that she cannot bully the current Hand of the King and realizes that she too can play the manipulative game as her deformed younger sibling. The fact that a weapon of mass destruction has been in production for quite sometime without his knowing and put into motion by his sister has put the usually cocky and confident Tyrion on his heels. But as we’ve seen since this show began airing the dwarf Lannister is very quick to adjust his footing. It’s going to be interesting how the writers will keep the personal battles between Tyrion and Cersei for control of King’s Landing to not feel like wheel’s spinning in place. Sooner or later one of them will find the chink in the other’s personal armor and make the “killing” stroke.

Further up north we see Arya do her own dance around the shifting circumstance she finds herself in as the personal cupbearer for the man who heads the house she despises and blames for the death of her father. The back and forth between her and Tywin was one of the highlight’s of tonight’s episode even though it didn’t move the story forward, but did add another layer of character growth on the youngest Stark daughter. Maisie Williams as Arya continues to impress in the role. She looked like she belonged in the scene with the older veteran actor in Charles Dance. It’s a small wonder that she’s become one of the show’s favorite characters.

With tonight’s episode we hit the halfway mark of the season and even though there’s still another half to go so much stuff occurred with tonight’s episode that it’ll be a surprise if the season finale gives all of them a satisfying resolution. I haven’t even mentioned the scenes with Theon trying to find his footing with his crew before setting off to raid the coastline near Winterfell as his father has ordered him to do.

If there was ever a weak point in this season it’s that we seem to get a new subplot introduced with each new episode and tonight’s episode was a perfect example. Not saying that tonight was poorly written and acted. Everyone seemed to be in top form, but instead of streamlining what is already turning out to be a season with an ever-growing number of storylines we get more. It’s going to be a wonder how the show’s writers will be able to juggle everything as the season enters it’s second half. Maybe they won’t find a resolution for every thread introduced this season and I’m betting that is how it’s going to pan out, but that could also mean delaying some of these threads for next season.

If there’s one thing people should know about George R.R. Martin’s novels it’s that plots, subplots and side stories only continue to pile on each other even when some past ones get a resolution. Sooner or later the showrunners will have to make a tough decision to abandon certain storylines from the novel even if it means angering and alienating the fans of the books who are already grumbling about some of the changes the show has already made in adapting the series to television.

I’m all for fidelity to the source material, but as Arya said in tonight’s episode, “Anyone can be killed”, and I say the same thing should go in how the show moves on into the second half and beyond. Any storyline can be cut and I’m all for it if it keeps the series from becoming a narrative bloated mess.

Notes

  • Looks like Renly Baratheon will not be able to play at war again.
  • Brienne is not a woman that any man should anger if what she did in Renly’s tent was any indication.
  • Littlefinger and Margaery Tyrell would make for quite a formidable couple if these two manipulative kids ever decide to get together.
  • We don’t see it happen often but Tyrion definitely looks like he’s not in control of the situation during his conversation with Cersei and then later on with Lancel and his talk of wildfire.
  • For all his work to try and protect the people from Joffrey’s madness Tyrion still ends up on the short end of the stick.
  • Stannis is turning out to be quite a conundrum. One second he’s willing to use underhanded tactics to win over his younger brother’s bannermen to his army, then turns around and becomes his rigid self once again. It’s a wonder that he still has Ser Davos’ loyalty.
  • Tywin at Harrenhal with his war council is a major change from the novel, but it makes sense now that we get a sort of confrontation between the Lannister patriarch and Arya Stark.
  • Highlight of the episode has to be Jaqen and Arya making an arrangement where the former shall repay his life-debt to the latter with the deaths of three names Arya will give the enigmatic soldier.
  • Tyrion finally gets his footing on solid ground again as he takes control of the wildfire production from his sister. I’m thinking King’s Landing would be better served to have the volatile wildfire in the hands of Tyrion than his more equally volatile sister and her insane son.
  • Daenerys gets another lesson in the cutthroat world of diplomacy as she gets a tempting offer from Xaro Xhoan Daxos.
  • Her next lesson on how to be a capable ruler comes from her trusted knight and advisor Ser Jorah who thinks Daxos’ offer will contain strings that she may not be able to cut once accepted.
  • Bran’s dreams seem to portent the coming Ironborns and the former ward and friend in Theon leading them.
  • Rickon Stark looks like he’s becoming wilder and wilder with each appearance.
  • A surprise for the lack of any sort of sexposition or even nudity. Might be a first for this show.
  • One down and two to go.

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.