The kingdoms of Nunziata, Miller and Rappe call up their opinion bannermen.

Josh: Episode 8, “The Pointy End” (the title, a callback to Jon Snow’s instruction to Arya Stark about how to use her sword), finds Thrones firing on all cylinders. Which I suppose is only appropriate as the script was penned by the big cheese himself, author George RR Martin.

Everything is moving forward now, in a dangerously unwieldy fashion (dangerous for the citizens of the show; not us). Khal Drogo is amassing what he needs to do what no Khal before him has attempted — sailing across the Narrow Sea. Daenerys continues finding new muscles as a Queen. Tyrion’s wit and acid tongue amass the little man an unlikely band of questionable followers. Sansa is forced to turn on her entire family. Arya fucking stabs some kid. Robb Stark takes his father’s bannermen on the war path. And probably most notably of all, for the first time since the pilot we’ve been paid a visit by some surly ice-cold zombies.

At this point Thrones is kind of untouchable, quality-wise. Everything feels like it is working, the way it is supposed to be working. Case in point, earlier in the season the show only seemed at its strongest when it ignored some characters for an episode or two. Here Martin is exploring all our characters and it works like gangbusters. I mean, we even finally see Rickon Stark, the phantom youngest Stark boy (frankly, it was kind of weird finally seeing him; one of the friends I watch the show with hadn’t actually grasped that there was another Stark we’d yet to see). And even if this episode failed to do anything else right, I know Rappe and I are happy about at least one thing here — wolves! As she and I have bitched about in the past, how hard is it to insert wolves into an episode? Just get some second unit of them sleeping in the corner, for christsake. The show runners have a much stricter dedication to making sure we see a flaccid penis in every episode; whereas they only seem to want to show us the furry badasses if they’re directly effecting the plot. But hey, I’ll take what I can get and by happy about it. Last week Jon Snow’s wolf, Ghost, found that hand in the woods, and the pup was quite helpful in notifying Jon of the zombie here. Not to mention Robb Stark’s wolf helping him cinch command of the northern forces by chewing off a guy’s fingers. I love seeing the wolves. They just, well, make the show better.

Nick: Everything is so well handled here, partially because the big bearded cheese is in charge but also because this is the reward for all that buildup. This is my favorite episode thus far, because it doesn’t have any of those cheesy bits or over the top efforts to appeal to a broad base. This is sweet stuff, and though it still may not feel as epic as some folks want, when we see hundreds of tents representing an army it does the trick.

Josh: Couldn’t agree more about those tents. I never saw my critiques about the visual scope of the show as a nitpick. I especially hated the counterargument that would site budgetary handicaps, as though that had anything to do with anything. It’s a TV show; it’s all make believe. So make me believe! I know HBO can’t gather a Ben-Hur cast of thousands. So show me a CG matte painting of enough tents to imply thousands. Simple as that. That was my problem with the tournie, and Rappe’s problem with the hunting party. It was like they weren’t even trying to imply the scope of their own material. Previously the Seven Kingdoms have felt very small, as did Drogo’s supposed army of “40,000” warriors. But in just the past couple episodes they’ve really been able to do little things – use of CG, well-placed extras, clever framing – to imply the greater size of this world and our various leaders’ respective forces.

Elisabeth: I’ll stand by Joshua — I don’t think it was a nitpick, but I have been disappointed in the very flat, uninspiring way this was shot. There’s so much scope!  Bring in some old-fashioned, cheap techniques (I imagine Thrones‘ budget strips a lot of old, classic films) and be inventive.   I was actually paying closer attention to the costumes this week (sue me, I was hoping to see Cersei’s mourning dress that’s so lavishly described in the book) and I noticed poor Lena Headey, Queen of Westeros, has had essentially one dress for the entire show.  Well, ok, budget again, but there are costume warehouses all over Europe. Did they really have a lack of medieval dresses to use? I’ve decided that they were so eager to make everything new, exotic, and unrecognizable that they sort of worked themselves into a corner — the dresses and tunics will be original, goddammit…but shit, we’ve only got the budget for one outfit for each character. No budget if they’re wearing armor.  I can respect that, but let’s face it, you’re NOT working with a Lord of the Rings budget here, and there’s little things like costumes and jewelry that could have made this world seem a little larger, fuller, and richer. Their reach outstripped their ability…kind of like the characters on the show!

I’ll chime in with the consensus that this was a great episode, though I found it a little scattered in places. There’s a lot of ground to cover, but I wish they could have stuck to the pattern they’ve established in the past few episodes, and devoted it to a more narrow range. Nevertheless, no one really suffered in the hoparound, except Jon. Jon’s battle with the walkers was incredible in the book, just a drag-em-down-white-knuckle fight, and I was disappointed to see that curtailed. I think the show, especially in this last stretch, could have used that. We got a taste of it with Drogo Versus Dothraki Guy, and that was awesome (I don’t think I’ve ever seen a tongue ripped out on camera before, except maybe in Cannibal! The Musical)

Arya stabbing that kid elicited actual gasps from my family. Where are the Hit Girl detractors on the blogosphere now? I love her. So fearless.

It’s interesting that Martin wrote this episode (I hadn’t caught that before) because that would actually explain the 360 Sansa did.  I know readers hate when we bring up the book, but now that her story has caught up, I can speak openly!  In the book, Sansa actually betrayed Ned. She tipped Cersei off that he was packing and planning to get out of Dodge, in the hopes that King Joffrey would simply order him to stay, allowing her marriage to proceed. It was an innocent betrayal, but as you saw from this episode, it was deadly. I really expected all the bitchy, sulky Sansa scenes were leading to this, and we would see her “I hate him!” remark to the Septa emerge as a Sansa who knowingly betrayed her father and his men to Joffrey and Cersei’s swords. But not only have they cut that, they actually brought her back in line with the book, as a girl too stupid to know what was going on, but so desperate for approval that she is willing to be a pawn.  It’s a real incongruity with how her character has been portrayed so far, and I’m surprised no one did a bit of editing, but it doesn’t surprise me that Martin comes in and goes “No, THIS is what happened!”

I was also glad to see Robb man up, and have his moment — and Theon back him, despite their squabbles. I saw a nice parallel to the mess in King’s Landing as his liegeman thumbed his nose at him…and then lost his thumb. It’s all a game! A stupid, silly game that everyone should have grown out of, yet is the rotten backbone of this whole world.

And oh, hai Rickon. I think it’s safe to say you and Bran’s storyline isn’t really going to make it into the next two episodes. But maybe!

Josh: The Jon Snow/zombie battle was definitely a missed opportunity for a real bitchin’ fight; if they wanted it. But after the Drogo fight they may simply have felt they wanted to spend time elsewhere. My only legit gripe about that scene is that the relevant injury Jon Snow is supposed to have obtained was not only extremely glossed over but, well, not very injuresome seeming. This isn’t a book-to-show spoiler. The moment is there. It happens. But when I asked my friends if they had caught that Jon had just horribly injured himself in that fight, they all went “Huh? When?” Director Daniel Minahan, who has otherwise been doing a bang-up job on the series (he did “The Golden Crown” and “You Win or You Die”) dropped the ball in this respect. Sure, it’s not the most important plot point in the season or anything, but how hard would it to have been to emphasize that Jon received crippling burns on his hand when he grabbed Lord Mormont’s lantern to burn the zombie? Other than learning the zombies – or wights – can only be destroyed by fire, Jon hurting his hand was the most significant thing to occur in that scene. Making that clear is just Filmmaking 101.

You know, I now feel like such a dude, but it hadn’t even occurred to me that everyone is wearing the same outfits all the time. With most of the characters that isn’t really an issue (and very realistic in some cases), but as relates to the Queen I understand your complaint, Rappe. She should be splendorous.

Richard Madden as Robb Stark had seemed like a bit of a cipher earlier in the season, but I am liking him quite a bit now that he’s given something to do. Since I just gave Minahan a slap, I’ll also say I thought he did very nice subtle work in the scenes with Robb and his mother. Lots of loaded glances in their scenes, which did away with a need for unnecessary dialogue. She wanted to be Robb’s mother and tell him what to do, but now sees that her son has suddenly become a man.

My love for Tywin Lannister continues to grow. So perfectly executed in both casting and general presentation. I’m very, very happy the series created that stag cleaning introduction for him in the previous episode, instead of introducing him when Tyrion enters the camp with his motley crew (as the book did). That scene with Tyrion and Tywin was significantly more interesting after having already seen Tywin tear down Jamie. You can just sense the man’s power by how differently the always-cocky Lannister Bros act in his presence; unsure and awkward. That’s some good TV right there.

Elisabeth: Dodging Jon’s injury irked me too. His fight with the walkers is a big moment for him — especially coming on the heels of yet another temper tantrum. He finally proves himself to Mormont and to the Watch, and it’s kind of a big deal, especially because he ends up so badly injured. While his injury was another one of Martin’s overly repetitive descriptions (“Jon flexed his hand…”) it is an Achilles heel that hinders his ability to fight. That’s a nice piece of character work — I know Nick hasn’t been entirely fond of Jon, and I imagine others might feel the same. Giving him a weak spot might make him a little more sympathetic.

It’s so weird, because they’ve taken massive pains to “set up” other characters for Season 2 before they even had a Season 2…and yet things like Jon’s hand, or Bran’s dreams (no spoiler since they’ve shown them) aren’t given the kind of Season 1 importance they should have, let alone for further episodes.  As I’ve said before they’ve wedged in a MASSIVE amount of story, and they’ve done it amazingly well. Even I was pretty tense watching this episode, even though I know what’s coming.  And yet they do scenes like Jon and the Walkers that must just have people wondering what the point of that was since it came off kind of weak. Or maybe that kind of scene is more effective if you don’t have an inkling of how much cooler it was on the page.

Nick: I didn’t know the hand burning was such a big deal, and they certainly did not draw a ton of attention to it. But either way, they can easily play it up with a flashback or whatever. A few lines of dialogue. That’s the good news here. This is an epic, and I’ll assume they’re going to allow for more than two seasons of this show unless something goes terribly wrong. Little fixes can be applied down the line if need be. I think the filmmakers really have to choose their battles with what they focus on. Though we’re talking about like half a day’s worth of spectacle over the course of a season (literally like 5 feature length movies), there’s still so much that has to be excised or toned down. One wishes they’d have the luxury of pulling off “extended editions” of the show ala Peter Jackson but in reality it’s just a matter for finding those delicate places to snip. That said, how important is his injury? If he has trouble holding his sword sometimes and he flexes his hand a lot, I can understand why it wasn’t a big deal.

Something weird happened over the course of the past two episodes though. The Lannisters became the most interesting and fun family to watch. Charles Dance and Peter Dinklage outclass everyone else, including the sullen Sean Bean and the overrated Arya. The show has taught us not to get attached to any characters nor to expect tidy and clean in how the story moves along. It’s sort of ingenious. Everything was very black and white as the show began. Even the characters who were supposed to be gray have pretty much telegraphed their intentions throughout. Aside from Tyrion.

Now while we have the lily white Robb Stark and Jon Snow and Momma Stark massing while the Lannisters and Littlefingers twirl their mustaches, there’s this really fun undercurrent of anarchy brewing and for the first time since the show began it’s less about who wins and more about how much fun the chaos is.

Josh: Oh god, how I wish there were going to be extended editions of this show. I’d buy the shit out of those blu-rays. The shit, I say! I won’t go into Jon Snow’s injury, as we’ll all see how the series does or doesn’t play with it soon enough. I also won’t say how important the injury is or isn’t. But the scene in which he received the wound was simply shot unwisely. That’s all. I agree wholeheartedly that the series needs to be pick its battles (quite literally), which is I’m sure why we didn’t get the knock down fight with Jon Snow and the zombie that Rappe had hoped for. A minor scuffle was enough to get the point across. But I have a hard time believing their schedule was so cramped that they didn’t have time for a close-up or better reaction shot of Snow hurting himself.

And it is indeed hard to compete with the Lannisters. Especially with the cast they have.

Elisabeth: I imagine they’re throwing all their weight into some of the upcoming battles (that’s not a spoiler, guys — there’s two massive armies, what do you think is going to happen?) but I’m a little afraid to see how they’re going to play out. Simple sword-to-sword action hasn’t been the series’ strong suit so far, and I’d like them to prove me wrong here at the end.

Nick: As we enter the home stretch I couldn’t be more pleased with where this show has taken us. I expect heartbreak and loss, but I also expect HBO to create another scenario where we await with bated breath that next season oh so far away. And George R.R. Martin needs to write more episodes. As many as possible. The difference in quality and in the little details is drastic between this episode and the others.