The Films of 2020: Artemis Fowl (dir by Kenneth Branagh)


What exactly is Artemis Fowl about?

Basically, it opens with news reports about the home of millionaire businessman Artemis Fowl (Colin Farrell) being raided by the police and the discovery that Fowl has apparently been stealing ancient artifacts from across the world.  A bearded man named Mulch Diggums (Josh Gad) is arrested at the house and is interrogated by …. someone.  I guess he’s being interrogated by an intelligence agency, I don’t know.  Mulch explains that he’s a dwarf and that he’s about to tell a story that will prove that magic exists which …. okay, I guess.

The story is about Artemis Fowl’s 12 year-old son, who is also named Artemis Fowl (Ferdia Shaw).  The younger Artemis Foul is a criminal mastermind, just like his father, and he wears a suit and dark glasses and basically, he looks like a 12 year-old who dressed up like one of the Men In Black for Halloween.  Artemis Fowl the younger is investigating the disappearance of Artemis Fowl the older which leads to a search for a missing magical object.  Somehow, it all involves faeries and other magical figures. Judi Dench pops up a few times, looking stern.  There’s a lot of chase scenes and a few fight scenes, none of which really make much of an impression.

The plot of Artemis Fowl is pretty much impossible to follow, especially if you haven’t read (or, in my case, recently reread) the books on which the film is based.  A huge part of the problem is that the film itself doesn’t really develop any sort of individual personality.  For a film about a 12 year-old wearing a suit and concocting criminal schemes, Artemis Fowl is surprisingly bland.  It feels like a collection of scenes from other YA adaptations.  We get the slow motion fight scenes.  We get the magical scenes that feel as if they were lifted from a lesser entry from the Harry Potter series.  Indeed, a huge chunk of the film seems to be made up of discarded scenes from director Kenneth Branagh’s previous excursion into the world of fantasy and vaguely defined magic, Thor.  The film moves quickly but since nothing interesting or unusual is happening, you find yourself wishing that maybe the film would slow down for a just a minute or two and spend a bit of time exploring the world in which the two Artemis Fowls live.  It’s a remarkably undetailed fantasy world that Artemis Fowl presents us with.  I spent the majority of the movie wondering whether Judi Dench was supposed to be an elf or a faerie.  One of the great actress, Dench spends the entire film wearing pointed ears and looking rather annoyed.

Much like Dolittle, Artemis Fowl ends with the promise of more cinematic adventures, though it’s doubtful that promise will actually be fulfilled.  Also — and again like Dolittle — it’s hard not to feel that Artemis Fowl would have worked much better as an animated film than as a live action spectacular.  Unfortunately, Artemis Fowl is just too bland and borderline incoherent to really make much of a lasting impression.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #110: Atonement (dir by Joe Wright)


Atonement_UK_posterWhenever I think back on the 2007 best picture nominee Atonement, my first thought is usually, “Oh my God!  Benedict Cumberbatch is in this movie!”

And, indeed, he is.  However, I’m kind of glad that I didn’t know who Benedict was when I first saw this film because, if I had, I doubt I would have ever been able to look at him in quite the same way again.  (Fortunately, I had somehow forgotten that I had previously seen him in Atonement when I first saw Benedict in Sherlock.)  Benedict’s role in Atonement is not a large one but it is pivotal to the film’s plot.  He plays Paul Marshall, a man who has made a fortune as a chocolate manufacturer in pre-World War II England.  Paul is handsome, charming, and rich.  After all, he’s played by Benedict Cumberbatch.  He’s also a rapist who, later in the film, marries one of his victims specifically to make it impossible for her to ever testify against him in court.

Atonement is one of those films where the British upper class meets the lower class and forbidden love and tragedy follow.  Cecilia Tallis (Keira Knightley) is the oldest of the Tallis sisters.  Her family is rich but she’s in love with Robbie Turner (James McAvoy), the son of the housekeeper.  One night, Robbie attempts to write a love note to Cecilia and, growing frustrated with his inability to come up with right words, he writes an over-the-top, sexually explicit letter as a joke.  (And the audience gaps, “Oh my God!  They used that word in the 30s!?”)  He then goes on to write a more standard love note.  However, when he asks Cicilia’s younger sister, 13 year-old Briony (Saorise Ronan) to deliver the note to Cecilia, he accidentally gives her the wrong note.  Briony reads it to her cousin Lola (Juno Temple) and, already jealous of Robbie and Cecilia’s flirtation, she decides that Robbie must be a “sex maniac.”

Briony, who writes plays in her spare time, later spies on Robbie and Cecilia as they have sex for the first time.  Briony, who has a crush on Robbie, grows more and more jealous.  Later that night, while looking for Lola’s twin brothers, Briony sees a man running through the woods.  When she goes to investigate, Briony discovers that the man has raped Lola.  When asked by the police, Briony lies and says that Robbie was the man running in the woods.  She also shows everyone the “joke” letter that Robbie wrote, proving, in their eyes, that Robbie is guilty.  Robbie is sent to prison.  Of the Tallises, only Cecilia believes that Robbie is innocent.  Angered over their quickness to accuse Robbie, Cecilia cuts off all contact with her family.

As the years pass, Briony comes to realize that Paul was the rapist and she struggles to deal with her guilt.  When World War II breaks out, Robbie is released from prison on the condition that he join the army.  Meanwhile, Briony volunteers as a nurse and tries to come up with a way to bring Cecilia and Robbie back together.

I didn’t really appreciate the film the first time that I saw it but, with subsequent viewings, I came to appreciate Atonement as an intelligent and well-acted look at guilt, forgiveness, and redemption.  James McAvoy and Keira Knightley both have amazing chemistry and Saoirse Ronan is amazing in her film debut.  You can see why Atonement‘s director, Joe Wright, subsequently cast her in Hanna.  Compared to the other films nominated for best picture of 2007 — No Country For Old Men, Juno, There Will Be Blood, and Michael ClaytonAtonement is definitely a low-key film.  But it definitely more than deserved its nomination.

Trailer: Ender’s Game


EndersGame

It’s finally going to happen. A film adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s sci-fi novel Ender’s Game is going to be on the bigscreen. This was a property that was often talked about becoming a film, but years upon years of talk never amounted to much other than fan casting and never getting past the concept stage.

I knew that the film adaptation had gotten the greenlight over a year ago, but I just assumed that something will derail it once again and leave Ender’s Game as another case of film vaporware. The fact that there’s now a trailer released by Summit Entertainment means that the film will come out. Now whether the film adaptation satisfies the book’s legion of fans and still entertain those who never read a word of Card’s novels still to be determined.

Ender’s Game is set for a November 1, 2013 release date.

Review: Game of Thrones S2E10 “Valar Morghulis”


“We are the watchers on the Wall.” — Qhorin Halfhand

[spoilers within]

With last week’s explosive ninth episode, “Blackwater”, it was going to take much to make tonight’s season finale to really stand out. Just like the first season’s finale we get an episode that deals with the aftermath of the previous episode and also goes a long way into setting up events for the upcoming third season.

“Valar Morghulis” is the title of tonight’s episode and it’s spoken by Jaqen H’ghar to Arya as the two part ways. It’s a saying in Essos from ancient High Valyrian (a Roman Epire-like civilization which perished centuries before the series’ timeline) that translated means “All men must die”. Jaqen sees potential in Arya in becoming like him, a Faceless Man, assassins who follow the teaching of the so-called Many-Faced Gods. While Arya seems intrigued by the offer her need to re-connect with her family takes precedence over everything else. As the two part ways Jaqen imparts to Arya a coin that should she ever need passage to Braavos to start her journey into becoming a Faceless Man. In another instance that this series still has magic in it’s DNA we finally see why Jaqen is a Faceless Man as he walks away from Arya and her group wearing a new face.

Tonight’s episode lays the foundation that next season magic and sorcery may become more common place than the first two season of the series. We see Daenerys finally make her way into the House of the Undying to retrieve her dragonlings from the warlocks of Qarth. It’s a sequence that’s akin to spirit journey for the Targaryen Queen-to-be and Mother of Dragons as she walks the darkened halls and corridors of the House of Undying until an egress suddenly takes her North of the Wall to find a Dothraki tent where she discovers the two most precious things she has lost since coming to Essos. In what I could only see as a surprise that was kept by showrunners Benioff and Weiss from the press and bloggers (a feat nowadays) Daenerys sees her husband Khal Drogo and who could only be their son both alive and waiting for her.

Her reaction to this event was both poignant and tragic in that she finally has a chance to be with those she loves most but must give up the quest to retake Westeros with her dragons. Her decision to leave the tent and leave behind those she loves comes as her character finally realizing that sentimentality and the needs of her heart must take a back seat and wait. Daenerys comes out the other side a more confident ruler and one whose magic really is stronger than those warlocks who scheme to keep her and her dragons captive for themselves. It really sets up the Daenerys character on a much stronger footing for next season just like last season’s finale did. For all the moping around Daenerys did for most of season 2 the pay off in the end goes a long way into forgiving the show’s writers in their inability to write her character’s motivations consistently. Most likely the naive young girl being used by others for their own agendas and ends would be seen less and less next season while the Mother of Dragons reasserts her authority.

The same can’t be said for one of the five kings vying for control of Westeros. For those who have read the third novel the scenes with King Robb Stark were full of sentimentality but lacking in the cold-hearted logic that rulers must use in order to play the game of thrones successfully. Even his mother, Catelyn Stark, sees danger in Robb’s actions with the Volanti healer Talisa Maegyr. Catelyn knows well enough that Robb could destroy everything he has won and worked for since war begun because he has thought with his heart and not with his head. In what could almost be seen as more doom coming for the House of Stark, Robb cements his relationship with Talisa in secret even though we’ve come to learn through two season of this show that nothing ever remains secret for long.

Back in King’s Landing we see the balance of power shift once more as Tywin Lannister’s opportune arrival to take victory from the jaws of defeat at the end of last week’s episode sees him back as Hand of the King to Joffrey. Tyrion has lost all the advantages he had worked and gamed for all season as even Bronn has been removed as Commander of the Goldcloaks. We’ve not seen Tyrion laid so low as we have in this episode and the horrible scarring of his face looks to go deeper as he finally realizes that as much as he would enjoy running away with Shae and leave the politicla intrigues and backstabbing of the kingdom it’s something that he would miss terribly because it’s the one thing he’s best at. With Tywin now in charge of the kingdom and Petyr Baelish having earned himself the king’s good graces for manufacturing the alliance between the two most powerful houses in the kingdom with the Lannisters (Baratheon by name only) and the Tyrell’s of Highgarden. It’s going to be interesting to see how Tyrion readjusts to the new power dynamics in King’s Landing for season 3. If there’s one thing we’ve come to learn about Tyrion over two season’s worth of episodes it’s that he’s a survivor first and foremost.

Lastly, we come to Jon Snow and his dilemma North of the Wall. A captive of the wildlings and seen as someone very important for the still unseen Mance Rayder the so-called King-beyond-the-Wall, Jon must do the only logical thing (something Qhorin halfhand agrees as the only thing that could save Jon and maybe give him time to warn the Wall) and earn the trust of Ygritte, Rattleshirt and the rest of the wildlings even if it means killing one of his own to do so. In what would be one of several sweeping scenes that show the epic nature of this series lest we forget Ygritte shows Jon over the lip of a glacier the army of wildlings Mance Rayder has gathered.

Yet, it’s not that army that gives tonight’s episode that cliffhanger send-off that last season’s finale did with Daenerys coming out of the funeral pyre with her three dragonlings perched on her unharmed body. No, tonight’s episode gets a cliffhanger that is more ominous and reinforces the House Stark motto of “Winter Is Coming”. We see poor Samwell Tarly (having been abandoned by the two other Night’s Watch Brothers once they heard the three horn blasts in the distance) scared out of his wits as he realizes that the three horn blasts that hasn’t been heard for thousands of years could only mean one thing: the White Walkers are on the march towards the Wall. In a final acknowledgement that as realistically the show has tried to portray the series in terms of warfare and political intrigue there’s no getting away from the fact that magic is still alive in this world born out of George R.R. Martin’s fevered mind as a massive army of undead slouches south towards the Wall and the kingdoms beyond it.

This scene just ups the ante on what we could only imagine what would be season three of the show. Across the Narrow Sea we have Daenerys Stormborn gradually detaching sentimentality from how she operates and this could only mean more bad news for the warring kingdoms of Westeros. The power struggles against King Joffrey looks to be going the mad king’s way as Lannisters and Tyrells ally together to retake the rest of the rebelling kingdoms. Now we have two armies, one living and preparing to go south towards the Wall (most likely to get away from the gathering White Walker horde) and the other undead and also heading towards the only bastion (one that is ridiculously undermanned) protecting the southern kingdoms from a gathering darkness.

If there was a complaint about this season’s storytelling it was that so much of the novel this season was based on was condensed to make it fit in a ten-episode season. Despite lulls in character development with Jon Snow and Daenerys we get major pay-offs for these two with tonight’s season finale. It’s good news that showrunner Benioff and Weiss has decided to split book three, A Storm of Swords, into two with the first half comprising season three with the latter half set aside for season four. Even with missteps along the way tonight’s season finale goes a long way into proving that HBO’s Game of Thrones is currently the best genre show on tv and one of the best tv shows airing now.

Now we have ten months of waiting to see how Westeros and Essos will deal with the events that ended season two. One thing for sure is that we’ll see more people die before all questions get answered if ever.

Review: Game of Thrones S2E07 “A Man Without Honor”


“It’s hard to put a leash on a dog once you put a crown on it’s head.” — Tyrion Lannister

“A Man Without Honor” is the name of tonight’s episode which also happens to be the season’s seventh. How time flies when one is enjoying a series, but this is amplified when it’s a series that only runs ten episodes a season. Considering that HBO’s other hit series in True Blood gets twelve episodes a season makes giving the channel’s biggest hit and moneymaker only ten a season an interesting choice. Having ten episodes a season definitely allows for the series to not dawdle on too many subplots, but it also means certain characters and events in the book source either got dropped (some for the better and others not so well-handled) or amalgamated with others to create something wholly different. Tonight we got some great examples of how changes from book-to-screen made for a better narrative.

Tonight’s episode moved from place to place. We get to spend some time with Jon Snow north of the Wall with his wildling prisoner Ygritte. There’s some definite sexual tension between these two young people as Ygritte constantly baits Jon about their night spent close together (only for warmth as Jon kept trying to tell the young lass) and how Snow and his brother Crows must either be having congress with each other (something Jon denies very loudly) or with the local goat population (for some reason his denials about this weren’t as loud). Throughout their exchanges Jon continues to act the honorable man he was brought up to be by his father Ned Stark and he even tells Ygritte this though something he wishes he kept to himself if her reaction to the information was any indication.

Jon’s honorable behavior during his time with Ygritte and the consequence of it at the end of their part in tonight’s episode was a constant reminder about how Ned Stark’s brand of honor and intractable principles really has no place in the world created by George R.R. Martin. It’s idealism that masks the truth of the reality around them and Jon Snow, like his father before him, might be too late in learning the true costs of his idealism.

The same could be said about Daenerys over at Qarth as she has to deal with more of her followers dead because they decided to trust and follow her. Then there’s the little thing about her dragonlings still missing and taken by one of the Thirteen. It’s easy enough to surmise that the warlocks of Qarth had taken her dragons, but as to the reason other than wanting them still eludes the young Targaryen Queen-to-be. It’s left to her guardian knight and close adviser Ser Jorah Mormont to try and talk some sense into her, but as her experiences in Essos has clearly been teaching her it’s trust that she can’t afford to have anymore. Whether it’s others offering their trust or her being asked to trust in others. Here we see Ser Jorah testing the boundaries of Daenerys’ trust towards him and we see even more clearly that he has had and continues to have some very strong feelings towards his khaleesi that even Daenerys begins to suspect.

Unlike Jon up North, at least Daenerys has begun to shed some of the idealism she started this series with and looking towards learning how to truly become a ruler of people. Once again idealism was the casualty in this part of the episode but one that might help Daenerys survive a little longer in this deadly game of thrones.

Tonight’s episode also sees the return of the Kingslayer. He still remains a captive of the Starks, but now has a jailhouse companion in a distant relative the young Alton Lannister who once squired for him in years past. This section of the episode was really one extended exposition done well as we get a deeper look into the backstory of Jaime Lannister. He’s much more than the male half of the twincest pairing of the show, but unlike Cersei he seems to have accepted his lot in life and the sort of figurative bastard he has turned out. His reminiscing to Alton about his own time as a young squire was quite honorable in putting the young man at ease, but once again Jaime continues to be this show’s rare survivor in that he uses everyone he thinks could be of use to help him survive one day longer even if it means killing several young men in less than a night and throwing the hypocrisy of the Stark honor back at Catelyn’s face.

Jaime might be a villain, but he’s one who doesn’t blame his lot in life for turning him so and sees clearly how those who try to look down on him might be just as sullied and dishonorable as he is. He just happens to admit to it.

The best part of tonight’s episode once again come from one of the major changes from book-to-tv. It’s an extended scene between Tywin Lannister and Arya as the two sit down for a meal and talk. It never happened in the novel, but the fact that the showrunners thought this peculiar relationship between the elder Lannister and the young Stark daughter would make for some strong scenes and dialogue was a change that I fully accept. The back and forth between Charles Dance as Tywin and Maisie Williams as the young Arya was great. Whenever Tywin makes mention of how observant and learned his cupbearer seem to be Arya would have a ready-made reply. Even when Tywin makes it known that he believes her to be more than a local peasant girl but more akin to a noble-born Arya doesn’t break stride and continues her charade.

What’s great about this scene is how we’re able to believe Arya’s deft ability to stay in character even when she knows she might have been found out. She’s learned to play the part to help her survive and even gotten better to hide her true feelings from her face. Even Tywin seem to be quite impressed by Arya and even though he might have some suspicions about her true upbringing he’s still not fully sure about the truth of it so he bides his time. The two characters really look like they would’ve made the perfect father and daughter if not for their present situation.

Finally, we see just how low a man without honor can go. Back in Winterfell we see “Prince” Theon blaming everyone but himself for allowing the two young Stark boys to escape the castle. We see how he’s turned to violence as a way to court respect from his men when all it does is just show just how much a child playing at ruler he truly looks. What’s worst is how the episode ends with what looked like two young figures burnt beyond recognition and hanged above the castle gates and Theon looking like he had a hand in it. If people had any sort of sympathy for the Greyjoy son tonight’s episode did much in burning those bridges.

Tonight’s episode did much to grow some of the characters in the show, but also show how the war between the five kings have shown particular characters faults and virtues. With just three more episodes remaining in the season we’re getting close to the culmination of the war or, at the very least, narrowing down even more pretenders to the rule of Westeros before we look towards season 3 of HBO’s Game of Thrones.

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 S2E04 “Garden of Bones”


“A naked man has few secrets. A flayed man has none.” — Lord Roose Bolton of Dreadfort

I will say that tonight’s latest episode of HBO’s medieval fantasy series, Game of Thrones, probably qualifies as a set-up episode. The episode was quite good, but it was also one that moved around the world of the series to help establish some upcoming storylines for characters in the show. What each of these set-ups had in common was how much they dealt with death both the past, present and future. Tonight’s episode lacked any sort of balance to it’s downbeat and doom-laden tone.

“Garden of Bones” was the title of tonight’s episode and it comes from the description the people of Qarth called the area outside their city-state’s walls. It’s an area full of death and the bones left behind by the enemies and unfortunate individuals who were barred from entering the city’s gates. The show has been very good with introducing those fans who have never read the book to the culture of the many peoples in Game of Thrones. While these many disparate cultures have differences that make them unique they also seem to have a common denominator and that’s with how they view the concept of death. This is a world where death has become the norm and almost a currency for those in power. It’s no wonder that death would be described in such interesting and flowery ways.

We see death on the battlefield as Robb Stark’s army opens up the episode with another major victory over forces of Tywin Lannister and his bannermen. While the battle itself wasn’t shown the aftermath is something we do see in very grim and detail. Bodies of the dead from both sides litter the battlefield and we get a mention about how the butcher’s bill for the battle itself was 5 Lannister men dead for every Stark men. It’s a grim reminder that the world Martin has created with his novels is one that doesn’t glorify or sugarcoat the nature of warfare, especially the medieval kind, and how it grinds away men both soldier and civilian alike. We get a sense of how even the very one king out of the five vying for control in this season has no clue as to the consequences of his actions. A nurse who is tending to the wounded and crippled of the battle’s aftermath pretty much calls bullshit on Robb Stark’s assertion that he’s the good guy in this war. A good guy the nurse calls out for not having a proper exit plan if and when Robb defeats Joffrey. Even Robb’s compassion towards his defeated enemies seem to ring hollow considering that it’s his reaction to his father’s death which has brought about all the death we see in this episode’s beginning.

It’s that exit plan that Tyrion seems to be working on whether his family wins the war or not. Once again it’s the one person everyone (well except Bronn) seems to not take seriously due to his appearance and undeserved reputation who sees clearly that if the war continues the only one who would have won would be the dead and that’s because they won’t have to deal with the post-war mess Joffrey and the other claimants to the Iron Throne (or carving out their own kingdoms from the ashes) have made with the execution of Ned Stark in season 1.

The theme of death continues to permeate even when it comes to the younger roles in the show. Across the Narrow Sea we see Daenerys and her khalasar on the brink of starvation and death until news comes from one of her outriders that the city-state of Qarth wants to meet with her. It’s a meeting that doesn’t go well for the young Targaryen queen as those in power in the city (a city of merchants) are not overly impressed by the so-called Mother of Dragons. It’s a misstep in her attempts to negotiate diplomatically that threatens to add her and her khalasar to the ever-growing Garden of Bones which encircles the walls of Qarth.

It’s from the youngest of the Stark daughters that we see the death and brutality of this war come into vivid view as Arya arrives with the rest of the prisoners into the cursed castle of Harrenhal. We see torture in full display as a prisoner is brought into questioning as Harrenhal’s current lord wants information on a band of warriors who call themselves “The Brotherhood” who continue to harry the Lannisters in the region. Arya’s journey from being the rambunctious and wild young daughter of Ned Stark in season 1 to the damaged and old-before-her-time survivor continues as she witnesses the torture of the prisoners and the utter disregard for human life some of the men of Harrenhal have towards the prisoners and villagers living nearby. It’s ironic that the very person who actually shows a semblance of compassion (though probably less compassion and more of a pragmatist who sees waste in killing of prisoners) would be the head of the house which killed her father and took her away from family and home. Yet, it’s her near-ritualistic repeating of the names of everyone who has wronged her from Joffrey and the Lannisters to Ser Amory Loch who killed Yoren in the previous episode.

Tonight’s episode doesn’t treat it’s young characters with kid gloves and with Arya we see how much she’s becoming accustomed to all the death around her and even uses it to keep herself focused on her personal quest of vengeance. For one of the youngest characters in the show she’s turning out to be the one who is learning to understand the power the concept of death has over everyone. It’ll be interesting to see if the show does the brave thing and really follows the novel in terms of Arya’s journey into what I can only call the dark side.

“Garden of Bones” wasn’t as streamlined as the previous two episodes this season, but it does set-up some major plot threads for the rest of the season. While it they all seem to be lines of story that look to not interconnect they all seem to agree on the fact that more death will be forthcoming as the season heads toward what I can only see as a bloody, fiery conclusion. Oh, plus it did have quite a major turning point in the show and another step towards making magic and the supernatural part of the show’s narrative fabric as Melisandre show’s Ser Davos Seaworth the true extent of her powers.

Notes

  • We get two new locations and clockwork cities in the show’s intro sequence: Harrenhal and Qarth.
  • Love the detail of the clockwork Harrenhal being made to look like the dead and cursed castle and land that it is with no clockwork motions given to it in the intro.
  • Another battle that is done off-screen. The Battle of Blackwater Pass better be epic.
  • Great to see Greywind actually being used as part of Robb Stark’s army.
  • We get another new character introduced that fans of the books should know very well: Lord Roose Bolton of Dreadfort
  • Joffrey takes another step into Emperor Nero-level of royal madness.
  • If anyone ever wonder just how crazy the Mad King Targaryen was then Joffrey may be giving glimpses of that very madness when it was still in it’s early stages.
  • Fans of the show may still not be enamored with Sansa Stark, but Tyrion is beginning to understand just how much a survivor she’s becoming in the dangerous world Joffrey has turned Westeros into.
  • Tyrion and Bronn continue to be one of the highlight’s of this new season with Tyrion once again having some of the best dialogue. You’d think the show’s writers were making sure Dinklage wins another Emmy for his work on this show.
  • Natalie Dormer in the role of Margaery Tyrell continues to own the role as she more than holds her own during a verbal joust with Littlefinger in the Renly war camp.
  • We hear the first mention of something called “The Brotherhood”. It will be interesting if the writers decide to make them a major part of the tv series considering it would add another half dozen or so characters to an already large cast for the season.
  • We see how much Daenerys has to go to be a political queen as she deals with the Thirteen of Qarth.
  • Some more great work from young Maisie Williams as Arya Stark in tonight’s episode. She continues to be the star of the cast of young actors on this show.
  • Stannis may be a rigid man in terms of whats right and wrong, but not when it comes to battle or war it seems.
  • Davos’ reaction to what Melisandre has planned all along in the secret mission Stannis has sent him on was classic. It had all sort of WTF written all over his face.
  • One of the most important scenes in Martin’s story was done quite well and disturbingly so.
  • Which ends the episode that was shorter by a few minutes than previous ones.

RANT BEGINS

Some major changes in tonight’s episode in regards to the books and in this season as a whole. I’ve seen many on Twitter complain about this. All I can say to these people: they had to be made and Martin has been involved in making sure they fit into the overall story he’s been telling. Either stop watching the show looking for the next book-to-tv change and bitch and moan about it when it happens or just treat the show as it’s own thing separate from the books they love so much. As a fan of the book series from the very beginning I understand the changes for tv and don’t see it as making the novels worse in the end.

What’s the point of watching something that’s suppose to entertain and bring about discussion when one already going into with a negative bias about the show. Get off the show’s jock and watch something else if you can’t get passed the changes. No point in spoiling things for those who have never read the book and must read and listen to the complaints.

RANT ENDS