The kingdoms of Nunziata, Miller and Rappe have convened once more to jabber at each other.

Josh: As we discussed last time, the first two episodes were all set-up with little room for character development. “Lord Snow” was the first episode where it felt like Game of Thrones had finally ceased its sprint and was able to take some time to breath. Episode 4, “Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things,” was another episode for further digging in (great ep title, btw). The only major plot advancement came in the ep’s final scene, in which Catelyn Stark name-drops her father to rouse his bannermen into arresting Tyrion. Prior to this moment the episode was largely focused on adding some much needed backstory and context to many of our characters and to this world’s history. We got the lowdown on dragons and what became of them, as well as learning a little more about the Targaryen dynasty (the previous rulers). We finally got the dillio on the random other young guy always hanging around with Ned Stark’s children; he is Theon Greyjoy, taken in as Ned’s ward/prisoner when Theon’s people tried to rebel against King Robert. And we learned why Jon Snow’s last name is “Snow” (that’s what bastards from the north are called, in case you missed it). We also got a couple new characters: Hodor the giant retard tasked with the demeaning duty of lugging the crippled Bran around like a medieval Master Blaster, and Sam, the fat pussy that Jon Snow takes under his wing up at The Wall.

I loved a lot about this episode, but walking away from it the foremost thing on my mind was a negative. With each new installment the rift in quality between the Westeros storylines and the shit with Daenerys and the horse people across the Narrow Sea grows wider and deeper. I’ve read the books. I know where things are going. But in the context of the show, these scenes seem cheap and often rather boring. This ep’s scene in which Daenerys stands up to her prickish brother felt extremely perfunctory and half-assed, and more like a reminder to us that Daenerys exists as a character. I realize the show wants to keep that thread alive in our minds, but honestly, there is so much good stuff going on elsewhere that if they don’t have anything interesting to do with the horse fucker subplot, I think it would be okay to skip over them for one episode. I also may be slowly souring on Emilia Clarke as Daenerys. I was on board for her sad, vacant stares previously, but I’m not wholly buying her assertive commands and yelling.

Elisabeth: I enjoyed this episode too, but when it came down to dissecting it, I found I had some problems with its structure.  I was glad we didn’t get dizzying chunks of plot dumped on us, but many of the scenes were sort of foolishly repetitive. They don’t have very many episodes — and again I find myself judging how they use every single minute — so why waste a scene on Sansa and Septa Mordane, repeating history we already know? Viserys’ scene didn’t add a lot either beyond a description of stuff I’d rather see than hear, and revealed he was, surprise, a prick.

Which is probably a good spot to agree about the Daenerys’ storyline. They’ve removed a lot of her agency. Every important line she has in these early scenes (stemming from the book, that is), they’ve given to someone around her, leaving her blank-eyed with nothing to do.  The low budget also hurts, as it’s impossible to get a sense of how she’s adapting to this world and her new husband when we see like, five riders and no Khal Drogo.  It’s perfunctory.

It could be because of the actress.  I suspect that Sansa’s storyline is being curtailed for this reason as well. She just sulks instead of being the chirpy, empty-headed tween she was. They’re basically dismissing anything she had with Joffrey, and removing her relationships with less, er, savory characters. Or maybe the writers are just utterly bored if they have to write a character who wears dresses, likes being clean, and dreams of knights, flowers, and royal marriage. Daenerys fits that mold a bit too, after all.   Arya is a tomboy, that’s easier to write. Catelyn is also a tough, take-charge kind of woman.  Clearly if they’re not holding a sword or commanding knights, the show has no place for them.

For me, the strongest moments are Jon and the Wall.  Kit Harrington is as much a find as the creepy Joffrey kid. He says so much with just a look or a posture. He’s very much Ned’s son, a boy who has an instinct for leadership and kindness, and yet the world refuses to acknowledge that in any meaningful way. It’s such a poignant storyline, and comes off (I think) even better onscreen than it does in the book. This “chapter” had everything — Ghost, a fine and sad introduction to Samwell Tarly, the best production values, and the skinny kid from Eastern Promises!

I also continue to be charmed by Ned and Arya. All the Starks shine, really, except for Sansa.

Jaime also continues on his road of well-written and acted complexity.  I love how he starts every scene with you wanting to choke the life out of him, and then softens into a guy you could have a beer with, before completely becoming an ass again.  I love how he has this cloak of resentment surrounding him — a job title that reeks of honor, but keeps him standing all day, longing for the glory days of battle, trying to ignore the sound of orgies. Good stuff.  When Thrones gets certain threads right, it does make you wish they’d dump the weaker ones for an episode or two.

Josh: Jaime is most certainly the biggest success story for Game of Thrones the TV show, as far as elements not contained in the book. I’m very excited to see what more is in store for him this season, as it is one of the few elements that I am clueless on. And that orgy-ignoring scene from this ep was phenomenal.

I don’t think it was a bad thing that we got Sansa explaining those backstory details in greater depth, as I imagine anyone who didn’t read the books is applying all their powers of concentration to assemble the show’s mythology as it is. Clarifying some stuff is probably appreciated by the greater audience. And I generally love all the Arya stuff, but I actually disliked the scene between her and Ned here. I thought it was strangely on the nose for such a smart show. It was a nice character moment when Ned was cheerfully explaining to Arya the great future in store for her full of children and an awesome husband, and we can see the look of disappointment in Arya’s face. Maisie Williams is a wonderful lil’ actress. Then she proclaims “No, that’s not me” and Ned becomes awkward. Felt a bit cheap and obvious. It could have been a much stronger moment if she’d simply said nothing.

Nick: All the names of these characters still mystify me so I’m having trouble remembering who you guys are referring to but I totally disagree about Jaime. I think he’s some sort of crossover from an alternate universe soap opera version of the show. The characterization is simply too thin thus far. Most of the “bad guys” are extremely telegraphed, which is why the “shades of gray” characters (Tyrion, Mormont) are so engaging. I did like the bathtub scene with Viserys because it finally allowed the character’s charisma and personality to evolve without it being about his big plans. It makes his eventual return to dickheadedness more effective.

I don’t mind Sansa. I think she feels like an impetuous child, which is a nice contrast to the wise beyond their years Joffrey, Bran, and Arya.

But damn, Sean Bean and Peter Dinklage are gold on this show.

Josh: Ha. Yeah, I’ve been trying my best to contextualize who I’m referring to beyond just saying their names — especially trying to keep in mind that it often took me several books before I committed certain names to memory, and that’s when I was actually SEEING the names repeatedly on paper.

I would agree about Sansa in general. She is working for me. I’m enjoying not liking her. I didn’t like her in the book either. She’s unlikable for, as you say Nick, her believability. She’s a spoiled tween girl with a literal princess complex, who is just now discovering that the world isn’t full of Prince Charmings and twoo wuv, and it’s making her pouty and gloomy. Rappe, I’m curious why you feel the show is doing her a disservice; in particular a disservice based on male writer apathy or disinterest.

And like Viserys, I hope to someday find a girl who gets off on hearing me list absurd sounding dragon names. Dude has gotta lock that shit down.

Elisabeth: Because she shouldn’t BE sulking and disillusioned at this point. I didn’t like Sansa either, and my complaint isn’t that we should. It’s that she needs to still believe in the fairy tale. I know comparisons to the book aren’t popular in these discussions, but I can’t help but do it, especially since this character has to seem worthless to newbies.

Sansa’s big tragedy is that she doesn’t catch on to the obvious — and in her defense, she doesn’t have a reason to. She has pretty dresses, Joffrey is syrupy sweet to her, Cersei makes a fuss, she’s a star with other girls. All her fantasies are fulfilled. She doesn’t realize there’s no Prince Charming. Not yet, anyway. (Don’t scream spoiler at me — I’m echoing the show and my colleagues!) Her arc is a pretty lengthy one and her constant rationalizing speaks, I think, to what a lot of King’s Landing courtiers and citizens must have done. I’m trying not to get into spoiler territory, but that dreaminess is crucial to various events. By omitting it in favor of teen sulk, it’s undermined. If show Sansa goes the simplified way I think, then they’ve killed a lot of threads. Put it that way.

And Josh, I think you and Nick actually answered that very question with your own apathy to the character. Again, I’m not arguing she should be liked, or that her princess fantasy
doesn’t deserve to be ruined. (Does it though? What are her options *beyond* hoping for a glittery marriage?) But I think saying oh, she’s a spoiled girl, fuck giving her any emotion or complexity, there couldn’t be does the entire show a disservice. I love tomboys with swords too, but that doesn’t mean they’re the only characters worth writing well. Would it kill them to have Sansa enjoy the tourney (as she did in the book) the way they allow Arya to have fun with her swords? Or not, because screw her, she’s a girl with shallow (again, debatable in this context — she’s being the kind of girl she’s been told to be) interests? The easy way out is to make her sullen and dull, and I know they can do better.

Nick: Arya’s an easy character for people to get behind because she’s spunky and cool and the people love a girl in fantasy who kicks ass. Or at least appears to be on that path. Sansa is superficially boring. Her character is obviously one built on subtleties and that’s something hard to pull of here, especially without a gifted actress and writers willing to commit the screen time to. With that said, if you look at the women of the show there’s a decent array of archetypes on display and what I like about Sansa is that she’s really in the deep end of the pool already. She’s alienated her family, caused the death of a special animal, and is embedded in a clan of absolute dickheads. She’s in a place to be one of the more complex characters and when I first started watching I thought she was there to attract the Tween audience. As it turns out she’s really caught between worlds, even more so than Pale Bitchqueen. I’m holding out hope the actress and the writers pull it off.

Josh: I guess what I was/am confused about is how Sansa is being treated incorrectly. For one thing, Joffrey may smother her with icky charms and put a smile on her face in the very next episode; maybe it will be more Sansa-centric. It’s true, instead of that scene with her in the throne room being sullen they could have had a scene with her meeting other girls her age and having a blast, but based on how the flow of time works and feels on the show, I frankly would’ve found her unlikable in a whole different way if that had happened. Her brooding over how poorly things went with Joffrey and her dad killing her pet wolf seems like a perfectly good reason to skulk around and pout. If they never allow her to smile again, Rappe, then I’ll definitely agree with you.

Sansa not smiling at the tournament was the least of my issues with that sequence though. I realize it is unfair to blame a TV show – an extremely expensive one at that – for not being grand enough, but after hearing Ned bitch about how expensive that tournament was going to be, it felt pitifully small. Based on that sequence it seems like Westeros is a podunky bumpkin kingdom with hardly any population to speak of. Couldn’t they have added some CG crowd? God, I hope there wasn’t any CG in there already. If so that’s an even worse blunder. It seemed like 100 spectators where there total.

Elisabeth: But they managed it with Arya, who was suitably angry in Lord Snow — she lost a wolf and her butcher’s boy — but has, I think, bounced back.  The line about her being mad at Ned was fine to keep in, it shows she’s still thinking of what happened, but I think the tournament was a scene to at least turn it around and have Joffrey make a scene over her.  Instead, he wants nothing to do with her, which cuts out a swath of story as well.

The budget has definitely been apparent in these two episodes.  The tourney was pretty sorry, as is King’s Landing in general. I noticed they used the same Ren Faire inn, shot from different sides, for presumably different locations. Westeros is really quite small.  I can’t fault them, exactly, not when they do so well on the Wall but…come on, HBO, is that all you’ve got? They’re not buying the Starks any new clothes, the wolves are absent, the Dothraki have been reduced to like, five people…where did all the money go? Actor salaries?   I know that’s nitpitcky, but I am surprised the scale has been getting smaller with each episode instead of larger.

I’m also mad they’ve reduced Sandor Clegane (the burned guy) to the background, and that he didn’t get the chance to tell his own story. Thrones is becoming dependent on third parties for their point of view and I’m puzzled as to why. When Tyrion does it, it’s perfect, because this is a guy who we’ve seen reading, studying, and chatting up people, and who delights in showing off what he knows.  Petyr is that guy too, but he’s supposed to be more subtle, and there’s no good reason for him to know how Sandor lost his face.   That revelation is one of my favorite scenes in the book, and they really just shoved it in quite lazily.

Josh: The scene where Littlefinger (the smarmy guy who told Catelyn the origin of the dagger used in the attempted hit on Bran) tells Sansa the backstory on Sandor, “the Hound,” actually made me laugh. Not the story itself, but the almost intentionally cartoony and sinister way that Littlefinger literally slides out of the camera frame when he’s done talking. Very weird directing choice.

Nick: That’s disheartening. I have been watching it and noticing areas where it feels they skimped but don’t know any better. Granted, it’s rare that anything can live up to our imaginations. I didn’t realize that was the tournament. I thought it was a teaser to the tournament and was expecting a massive one in the next episode. The checks and balances still favor the positive though, because this show’s main strength is that it has taken this material and somehow made it broad. This is as accessible as a fantasy show can be.

And yes… Dinklage.

Josh: Yeah, sadly the tournament got the short end of the stick in numerous areas it seems. Neither of the Clegane’s – two of the biggest badass in the books – have received much of an introduction other than Littlefinger’s tale. Gregor Clegane killed that guy in the tournament, but I found it unfortunate we never got a real shot of him off his horse. He’s called ‘The Mountain That Rides’ because he’s a giant. Not a fantasy giant, just a regular human giant. And the guy they cast for the role is around seven feet tall, I believe. But I’d never have guessed that based on the way this ep was shot. And I’m not saying this in a “waaaa it wasn’t like the book!” way. I know he’s gigantic. But it makes me sad for the regular viewers who clearly walked away from that ep thinking, “Oh, there’s another random character for me to try and remember,” instead “holy shit that guy is massive!” Which is pretty goddamn easy way to remember a character in this sea of knights and surlies.

This was definitely the weakest episode we’ve had, and non-coincidentally the least eventful. But Dinklage indeed. Everything the man does smokes with goodness. His accent is getting better too. Goddamn I want to watch the final scene of this episode again, right now, just for his performance. The little bastard can do so much with his eyes it’s crazy.

Truthfully though, I am liking this show so much that for whatever reason it is encouraging me mostly to bitch about it here. While the budget is failing HBO on the moments of scope (the tournie; the horse fuckers), they are doing great with the art direction. I loved how legit that clunky-ass old book that Ned asks for is, as well as the exterior of the tomb during Bran’s dream sequence. Top notch shit.

Elisabeth: I know I’m being hard on this episode. It’s exciting to see this series come to life, and for the most part, it’s very, very good. I think my disappointment stems from the fact that they are finally taking a breather, and now that they have more time, they’re fumbling some of it away or using their time a little questionably.  As you pointed out, they have characters that they need to establish as *ideas* and not as chunks of history that audiences are like “What? Who? Crap!” Come on, you’re in a visual medium!  You don’t need to use endless speeches, you can shave off minutes with a look or a well-framed shot, you know? It’s a tired refrain, but it’s going to be easier to judge this as a whole than in chunks. I don’t like being the person clucking their tongue over a midpoint arc, but hey, we’ve been nice to this series. Time to hold them to the fire a bit.