The kingdoms of Nunziata, Miller and Rappe have entered the melee once more.
Josh: Last week’s episode, “The Wolf and the Lion,” was the best of the series so far (says me). And while I don’t think this week’s episode – the sickly named “The Golden Crown” – quite matched the extreme highs Ep. 5 hit with some of the characters moments (that tense yet venomously serene conversation between the King and Queen was even better on a second viewing), Ep. 6 sumo belly-bumped Ep. 5 out of the ring in the badass plot developments department. Tyrion’s trial. Ned on the throne. The wannabe dragon king’s golden shower. Some shit got real, and it got real pretty hard.
My love for this show and the meticulously crafted world of George RR Martin (almost fetishistic in its expanse) continues to grow with each episode. Since I have really nothing but praise in the broader sense, I feel most compelled to open on some negatives.
As the series progresses and consistently builds and deepens in quality, I find the tiny weak points that have always been with the series starting to become more conspicuous. In particular — unnecessarily accentuated motivations, and similarly, of all silly things, embarrassingly unsubtle facial reactions. Nick has long bitched about the heightened degree of Queen Cersei’s sinister over-execution (in acting and writing), and while I can easily see where this complaint is coming from, I always took it in stride as Thrones‘ tactic for making certain characters stand out during the early episodes, when viewers were going to be struggling to figure where these gazillion different chess pieces properly belonged on the board. And I think Cersei’s mustache-twirling has lessened as of late (we must take into consideration that Lena Headey honestly just looks like that; seriously, in real life she’s always making that arched eyebrows scowl). But I wish the show wouldn’t be so on-the-nose with other characters, especially characters that are supposed to be clever. Namely Littlefinger. We’re all aware of what a master schemer he is. That great face off with Varys, “the Spider,” last week made that abundantly clear. But for a character who is always up to something in secret, and successfully seems to always get what he wants, the show is presenting him as blunderingly transparent. I fucking hated the execution of Littlefinger’s monologue to Sansa regarding the Clegane brothers, which almost felt like a scene out of a comedy he was so dripping with sketchiness, and in this episode it would have been nice if they’d turned things down from 11 when Littlefinger was sitting next to Ned in the throne room. The way he kept leaning over to “whisper” sweet loaded hints to Ned was just goofy. It also made Ned seem kinda stupid, as though he couldn’t have pieced together that the gigantic horse decapitator that villager was talking about was ‘The Mountain.’
The series also makes a lot of weird, over-the-top choices with facial reactions. Last week, when Littlefinger asked King Robert’s brother Renly when he planned to “have” the Knight of Flowers, Renly was just one step away from fanning himself nervously and extra gayly like a southern belle. Yeah, we get it. Littlefinger knows he’s gay, said something about it, Renly got uncomfortable. For a show that loves dropping almost imperceptibly ambiguous details regarding backstory most of the times, it has the bad habit of getting hamfisted with other details.
Also, as the series progresses I find myself agreeing with Rappe pretty wholeheartedly that the scene several episodes back – in which Queen Cersei and Lil’ Prince Fuckstick talk openly and evilly about how much they hate the Starks – was a mistake. At least I believe Rappe said something about this. In either case, now that Joffrey has resumed being nice to Sansa and Sansa has once more found her smile (which I assumed would happen), I think making Joffrey overtly scheming, sinister and hostile towards Sansa is significantly less interesting than him merely being a spoiled, unlikably lil’ sociopath.
Nick: “Wear it in Silence or I’ll Honor You Again.” Amazing.
This was a weird episode because it’s quickly becoming apparent that some of the characters I’m attached to are not long for this show and it becomes a matter of figuring out what the greater story is. It also felt like a precursor to some huge things (which HBO GO’s little offer to see the next episode proved correct) and a lot of the cock teasing needs to bear fruit. It’s nice to see some good things happening at Winterfell (dumb raven dreams notwithstanding), and though Rob Stark so far seems like an indecisive puss I love the skirmish with the Wildings. Anything that makes the world seem bigger. When the story moves around it works really well. The stuff in Vaes Dothrak is really good, and it tightens the storyline by excising an annoying and hammy character. I really dig the stuff with the dragon eggs and am feeling that in future seasons they’ll be rather important. Best yet, we get a lot of little. Dinklane I mean. He owns yet another episode with his humanity, cunning, and manipulative ways. Very fun stuff and there’s a nice balance of stuff throughout. That said, Josh is right on every point with his criticisms.
Elisabeth: This was a really strong episode, cutting through swaths of narrative without losing much weight. Seeing Ned put the genetic pieces together was such a relief (it took forever in the book) and the biting little scene between him and his daughters helped smooth the silliness of the lineage stuff.
Your complaints echo mine, Josh — this is a show that is capable of great subtlety, and yet they allow other characters to wallow in hamminess. Your problems with Petyr (which I share) are exactly what I was driving at with Sansa the past week or so. I’m baffled as to how they can find it in their hearts to give depth to Cersei, Jaime, Viserys, and even Sandor, but they reduce Sansa and Petyr to the most simplistic of interpretations. One minute they trust us to tie all these houses and plots together, and then a scene or two later finds them indulging in mustache twirling or rampant bitchiness. (You aren’t supposed to hate Sansa quite this much. At her very core, she was a character who *behaved* and I’m alarmed they didn’t catch that.)
Bran’s storyline worries me. They’ve dropped the ball there. They became very obsessive about Theon Greyjoy, clearly getting into a bit of a tentpole mindset with him and Robb, forgetting that they need to do the same for other Winterfell boys — and their wolves! Why are we focusing on whores when we need to see direwolves?!
I’m sure I’m going to get slammed for nitpicking. I am, a bit, but I am seeing some structural problems that I’m unsure will be patched up when all 10 are done.
Let’s also hope HBO grants a bigger budget — some of my other recappers pointed out (and I’m ashamed I didn’t see it) that Robert’s hunting party was desperately short on extras, just like the joust we complained about. They’ve got to beef up the externals, big time. It gets BIGGER from here and this 5 man army stuff just isn’t going to cut it when armies and ships start clashing.
Josh: When word first trickled onto the interwebs that HBO was adapting Martin’s books into an on-going series starring Peter Dinklage as Tyrion, after blacking out from sheer ecstasy my first rational thought was, “Wow, how the fuck are they going to present this thing?” For those who haven’t read the books, each chapter is told from the perspective of a specific character and is thus limited to everything they see and hear. I knew HBO wouldn’t be foolish enough to deprive the viewing audience of all the things/characters that were deprived from readers (for example, as Rappe and I have previously mentioned, Jamie Lannister is much jabbered about but barely seen until Book 3), but I did wonder about structure. Lost had done quite well with their character-centric episode structure, so it didn’t seem implausible that HBO might attempt something similar. They didn’t, obviously, but the show seems most effective when they come close.
In previous episodes it felt half-assed and perfunctory when we’d cut to the Dothraki storyline to get what felt like time-killing filler, occurring seemingly just to remind us that these characters existed. Yes, it did remind us, but it did the characters a great disservice by making them seem boring. As Nick’s reaction clearly indicates, the characters aren’t boring when shit is actually going on. When Daenerys doesn’t burn her hands on the dragon egg, she suddenly becomes a lot more interesting. When she chokes down a horse heart (swallowing her own vomit), while her husband ogles her like she’s doing a striptease, she becomes even more interesting. When she doesn’t flinch as her asshole brother is killed in the most awful possible way, hell, I’m into this character now. Similarly I think it was wise to ignore The Wall for two full episodes. That just means once we finally go back to them, shit is going to happen. I think Winterfell could use this treatment. It was nice, and surely relevant, to learn more about Theon Greyjoy (I don’t like their characterization of him, but I also respect that the show doesn’t exist solely for fans of the books), but the past three episodes contained about one episode worth of information — also, have we seriously never even gotten so much as a glimpse of the youngest Stark boy? Allowing characters to cool their heels for an ep or two is the sign of a writing staff’s confidence, so I’m hoping this trend will continue from here (and into the second season). When an episode really focuses on a character or subplot, the show is strong. When it does the typical jumping around to hit every character stuff, it starts to feel weaker and scatterbrained.
I’m with you 100% Rappe on your wolves complaint. Sansa’s wolf is dead, Arya’s was set free, and Jon Snow hasn’t been in the past two eps, but why have Bran and Rob’s wolves been so absent? This is a conspicuous omission. And I don’t even mean that in a “the wolves are important in the books” way. But the wolves are awesome. They’re wolves for fucksake! And since HBO didn’t go CG, how tough is it to toss a live wolf into a scene?
It is interesting seeing the show slowly work its way into the fantasy world. Even though we began the pilot with a bit of horror movie shenanigans, other than hearing about “white walkers” and dragons, Thrones hasn’t really felt like a fantasy series. Interestingly, the most fantastical element we’ve had on the show thus far hasn’t been the dragon skulls, but rather The Eyrie. That establishing shot from “The Wolf and the Lion” of The Eyrie’s fortress, impossibly placed up on that peak, was the first moment on this series that felt unreal to me. The dragon skulls and dragon eggs feel plausible; a dragon is just a crazy animal, after all. The look of the Eyrie, and the crazy nature of Lady Lysa, her boob sucking son, and the Moon Door, is where things have started getting a little D&D. While I really loved the look of the throne room, I kind of wish they’d gone a little less ridiculous on the general exterior look. I think the show’s strength as fantasy is and will be its utter realism.
Elisabeth: Yes, the show has been much, much stronger since they kept the storylines to two or three characters an episode. In retrospect, I wish they’d started off that way, and I certainly think they could have. The helter-skelter nature of introductions really made a lot of viewers nervous, and I imagine a lot of people checked out, and never checked back in.
Daenerys’ story still feels sort of tacked on to me, but this was certainly the best, and I have hopes they’ll be pulling off her really, really badass moments in the coming weeks. I think it’s clear the writers are really only comfortable writing Warrior Chicks or Psycho Sexy Chicks (which, despite her infantile fixation, Lysa definitely was) and anything more feminine or soft gets short shrift. Daenerys was very much an earthy, sensual, soft character until Viserys was “crowned” and the writerly discomfort — especially when contrasted with the strength of this episode — is pretty evident now. It feels odd complaining about that, since I love chicks with swords and entourages — and I suspect George RR Martin does too — but I do think it’s unfortunate they’ve cut the pretty, shiny and perfect “court life ” that Cersei, Sansa and Joffrey had going. I don’t think it’s spoiling anything to say that this idyll, such as it is, is very much shattered and it would have been nice to see Sansa flitting around with dresses, her girlfriends,her septa, Cersei, Joffrey, and all that drippiness so that it made the coming darkness even nastier.
But I will give them this — the scene between Robert, Renly, Barristan, and Blonde Pageboy did cut through the bullshit of The Good Old Days with Renly brusquely pointing out they’d never existed and never will. If there was ever a thesis statement for the show (and a more brutally apt one than “Winter is Coming” which implies there’s been a spring or a summer), that would be it. I’m not even sure that’s a sentiment Martin himself believed, as he took a lot of pains to show us a fairly even, peaceful and stable time in Westeros, which is what made the rest of the series so goddamn hard to read. If I have one complaint about the show, it’s that it forecasted the doom and gloom a little early, as opposed to giving you some illusions.
Josh: You know, logically, I also would have to imagine that a lot of people checked out after the first or second episode. Yet the numbers disagree. Since the pilot, the ratings for each episode have actually increased, building on the numbers from the previous episode. The word of mouth on this series must be spreading like a contagious high-five, because new viewers are apparently pouring in each week. This is great news for a series that is both expensive and a hard sell.
Rappe, you may not be alone in your feelings about the boy’s club nature of this show. Buffy the Vampire Slayer alum, Jane Espenson, was a writer on this episode, and I think that can be taken as a sign that David Benioff and D. B. Weiss aren’t blind to their limitations of perspective. Hopefully this will mean more involvement from Espenson and other lady writers in the future.
Though I’m torn between agreeing with you or disagreeing with you regarding the show bypassing any ‘good times.’ On the one hand, the perfectionist in me agrees, it would be nice to emotionally descend into the gloom with some of these characters instead of starting off there. But on the other, TV is just a different beast than a book. I know plenty of people who gave up on Game of Thrones the novel, but it is much more likely that someone will give up on an TV series than a single book they’ve already got in their possession. Martin had more freedom to ease into things than Benioff and Weiss do; they needed to hustle to the kind of story beats that hooks audiences in. Also, there wasn’t much in the way of good times in Martin’s book. But I can’t help but lean towards your side regarding Sansa. The farther we’ve gotten into the series, and the more we’ve discussed it here, I think you’re definitely right. You’re especially right about guys not giving a shit about Sansa (for all the reasons you’ve said), and seeing Sansa happy again with Joffrey’s repugnant ass just felt so good. We should have had that this whole time. And your desire to see Sansa frolicking with the other maidens of the court should be in here, not just to show Sansa enjoying herself, but for the same reasons you complained about King Robert’s hunting trip. Where the fuck is everyone? It’s like there is no upper class on this show. Just royalty, the members of the government, the guards, and then the lower classes. We need some hangerons and such to make this world feel bigger. You can almost get the impression that our characters are clunking around inside the castle all by their lonesome. Doesn’t anyone have friends?
Nick: The main thing is scope. That’s the one thing that needs work. I’m not worried about the balance of male and female characters provided that the writers allow the characters to grow. I’ve been revisiting The Sopranos and am astounded how one-dimensional characters are (Junior Soprano speaks almost exclusively in generic mob lines from movies it seems). Provided the show allows them a fair shake it’ll even out. Or it won’t, but the show will still be very good. The scope is something that will ruin the whole affair if it continues to feel small. Apparently the show has stayed close to the source. A wise move would be to add the shading characters need in season two because there’s less to prove and I can’t imagine anyone being disappointed if they don’t rush through the existing books. The more the merrier. Which is why not only do we need to see masses of people and these skirmishes we’re teased about but also for the camera to pull out of medium shots from time to time to reveal more than just pretty scenery.
Success has given the show breathing room and clout. How it uses that will determine so much.
Josh: I wonder if it is conceivable for Thrones to squeeze a little more money out of HBO for the second season. Because they’re going to need it. If the show is struggling to make something like a tournament feel grand, I have to wonder how they’ll pull off certain future events.
I can’t believe we’re already as close as we are to the conclusion of the season. Ahh! And then I’ll have to wait until next year for more! Speaking of The Sopranos, I hope Thrones keeps a tighter between-seasons pace than that show did. If I have to wait years between seasons I’m gonna stab someone.
Elisabeth: The lavishness of Boardwalk Empire says they could. And True Blood had lots of wolves last season. Maybe they could share?