Vicarious Viewing: Game of Thrones S5E3- “High Sparrow” Review

Margaery Antagonizes Cersei on Game of Thrones, season 5 episode 3 High Sparrow

This season is shaping up to be REALLY interesting, isn’t it? Much has been made of the fact that the show has pretty much exhausted the source material on which it is based, and the reigning consensus I’ve seen among fans of the books is that the material that is left is, well, rather bloated and tedious. Personally, I have to admit that I am one with this camp. It took me forever to get through Feast of Crows and I still haven’t finished Dance with Dragons.

That said, I think the show so far has done an admirable job of adding, changing, and just all around streamlining the events of the books in particularly interesting ways, and in two stories in particular.

One of those big changes featured heavily in this week’s episode, concerning Sansa Stark. By taking her back to Winterfell and having her actually be betrothed to Ramsay Stark instead of some proxy posing as Arya, the show-runners have succeeded in both trimming a lot of fat and upping the tension tenfold. We all know how much of a monster Ramsay Bolton is, and putting Sansa face to face with him is nerve wracking to say the least. I just hope it doesn’t devolve into more victimization. And who knows what the hell is going to happen when she finds out Theon is around, or what this take on the story will have Theon do.

The other story being streamlined to hell and back is Tyrion, and it’s better for it. Rather than spending hundreds of pages with a character that mostly undermines Daenerys’ story while ultimately amounting to nothing, Tyrion gets to straight on to Volantis. We get some important plot building here, of course, with the Red Priestess talking about a savior (and I guess putting the faith surrounding the Lord of Light firmly in Dany’s camp, at least for now), and Ser Jorah showing up and capturing Tyrion mid piss. This was done a bit awkwardly, I think. Unless I missed it, there didn’t seem to be a shot of Jorah spotting Tyrion and figuring out who he was, though Tyrion was being pretty damn obvious about it (“I’m known for paying my debts”). And there’s a halfhearted attempt to make us think that Jorah is going to take Tyrion to Cersei when he mentions an ambiguous “Queen”, but I think we all know he’ll try to use the son of Tywin Lannister to get back into Dany’s good graces.

Back in King’s Landing, Tommen and Margaery are wed, and nobody dies. But Tommen does find himself a pawn between his new Queen and the Queen Mother. This all led to my favorite exchange of the night, the gut wrenchingly passive aggressive conversation between Margaery and Cersei. Since her first appearance on Game of Thrones I’ve seen Natalie Dormer in a few other things, and I have to say she’s quickly becoming a favorite of mine. And the way the writers and director have shown Cersei’s slow loss of relevance and her reaction to it has been really well done, two examples being the palanquin ride to the sept for the wedding in which the crowds expressed their support of Margaery, and then as Cersei was walking away from the new queen and her friends as they laughed.
Cersei’s not out of the fight, though, and sees an opportunity arise in the form of the Sparrows, who have taken it upon themselves to publicly humiliate what I guess is Westeros’s version of the pope.

Up on the wall, Jon Snow gives Stannis a reply to his offer to make him Lord of Winterfell. Being appointed as Commander has only re-enforced Jon’s commitment to his vows, and he seems fully aware that not everyone is happy with his appointment. Janos Slynt voices this opinion quite loudly and loses his head for it (YAY!). Jon does get an interesting tid-bit to mull over however, when Davos points out that, despite the Night’s Watch charter of neutrality in Seven Kingdoms politics, perhaps being the protector of the realms of men might mean stepping in to sort shit out. After all, I’ve said it time and again that the greatest threat Westeros faces is being divided by petty squabbles when the White Walkers show up. Perhaps by standing idly by and letting politics divide the living while the dead march on unopposed isn’t exactly in line with his vows after all.

Finally, over in Braavos, we are reminded that the Faceless Men, like those of the Red faith, have only one god as well. The god of many Faces is a clever concept, however, because it allows for the existence of Westeros’ disparate pantheons, as Aryan points out that The Stranger, the Drowned God, and the Weirwood tree are represented in the House of Black and White (perhaps no coincidence that all of these gods are associated with Death).

Arya, like Jon, faces a choice concerning her identity. In order to become Faceless, she must shed her identity as Arya Stark. As Not Jaqen points out, she’s wearing Arya Stark’s clothes, using Arya Stark’s name, and carrying Arya Stark’s sword. Arya manages to throw most of her possessions into the sea, but in great emotional beat she just can’t bring herself to toss needle into the brine, instead opting to stash it under a cairn.

All and all a strong episode that worked to re-invest us in the remaining Stark children, particularly Sansa, who has returned to Winterfell, and Jon, who was offered Winterfell should Stannis win. And out there, somewhere, Brienne and Pod wander (their exchange was really cool as well, with Brienne finally warming up to Pod and agreeing to teach him to fight). ‘Til next week!

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Vicarious Viewing: Game of Thrones S5E3- “High Sparrow” Review

Vicarious Viewing: Game of Thrones- “The Mountain and the Viper” Review

pedro pascal, oberyn martell, gregor clegane, the mountain, the red viper, the mountain and the viper review, game of thrones review, game of thrones season 4

This week on Game of Thrones: The Wildlings come to Mole Town, A Bastard becomes a Lord, Oberyn Martell fights Godzilla, and Sansa Stark goes full Sith.

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Vicarious Viewing: Game of Thrones- “The Mountain and the Viper” Review

Vicarious Viewing: Game of Thrones: “Oathkeeper” Review

gwendoline christie, brienne of tarth, oathkeeper

Game of Thrones gets crazy this week, as Dany takes a new city, the Tyrells make their move, Brienne sets out on a new adventure with an unexpected partner, and Jon Snow’s story continues to make some interesting deviations from the source material.

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Vicarious Viewing: Game of Thrones: “Oathkeeper” Review

Vicarious Viewing: Game of Thrones- “Breaker of Chains” Review

Game of Thrones suffers what could be its first missteps in an episode that, while still excellent, made a few weird choices concerning at least one character’s development.

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Vicarious Viewing: Game of Thrones- “Breaker of Chains” Review

Vicarious Viewing: Game of Thrones- “Two Swords”

Game of Thrones has a unique problem going into season 4. With the Stark rebellion crushed, the show finds itself lacking a central narrative post to hitch its reigns to. What about the White Walkers, you say? They’re still in the north, being ignored by almost everyone. Even the Night’s Watch is more concerned with the Wildling threat at the moment. What about Dany, you ask? She’s still in Essos, trying to liberate slave cities, but what she’s really doing is leaving massive power vacuums in her wake that will eventually lead to a narrative issue so confusing it apparently left George R.R. Martin at a loss on how to fix it and spawned its own literary term: the Meerenese Knot.

That’s not to say that the show has no conflict…quite the opposite. It’s full to the brim with conflict, and the fact that most of characters left (sans Joffrey, the little bastard) are the ones the audience are kind of rooting for– even seemingly irredeemable child-murdering cads like Jaime Lannister and Sandor ‘The Hound’ Clegane have become misunderstood anti-heroes over the course of the last season–makes that conflict more intense. So, until the White Walkers show up, or Dany finally gets on a ship and gets moving, character drama is the name of the game. Luckily the characters and the actors playing them are strong enough to pull it off.

Season four opens on the eve of King Joffrey’s wedding, and the arrival of Oberyn Martell. Oberyn has officially come to King’s Landing for the purpose of the wedding…but he has blood on his mind. Oberyn was the uncle of the Targaryen children the Lannisters had murdered when Robert’s Rebellion ended. He’s after one man, in particular: Gregor Clegane.
Oberyn’s pretty much a badass–a brothel patronizing, bisexual badass–and I couldn’t help but get a bit of a western vibe during his introductory sequence. Switch out Littlefinger’s brothel for a dusty saloon and give Oberyn a pair of guns, and you’re set.

The same goes for the final scene involving Arya and the Hound, and by far the best scene in the episode, not only for the action but the rapport these two have developed. They walk into an inn overrun by outlaws, the outlaws run their mouth, and the dusty, trail weary stranger ends up having to take out the trash. What makes the set up interesting is Arya, and the fact that one of the outlaws is the same man who took her sword and used it to kill one of her friends, way back in season two. Arya stalks up to the unarmed man, telling him the same things he told her friend until he remembers who she is, and slides the sword into his throat. It’s a moment that is at once thrilling (Go Arya!) but also a little creepy and unsettling as we see Arya enjoys not only exacting revenge, but taunting her prey beforehand.

Much of the rest of the episode is set up for the rest of the season: Jaime has returned to King’s Landing, but because of his hand, he finds his status has changed. Tywin wants to send him home to rule their city, and Joffrey taunts him as being weak and lacking ambition. He also finds himself at odds with his oath to return Catelyn Stark’s daughters, because quite frankly, there’s no where to return them to. Not to mention Arya’s missing and Sansa is now married to Tyrion. Then there is Cersei, who resents him for being captured and leaving her alone for the past year and a half.

Tyrion’s conflict comes from matters of the heart. He’s stuck in a loveless marriage with a young girl whose family has all but been wiped out by his. On top of that, he can’t be with the woman he does love because, despite all his claims to the contrary, Tyrion does have some honor. He has a heated exchange with Shae that is overheard by one of the Queen Regent’s spies. Should be interesting to see where that goes.

Up north, Ygritte is facing suspicion from her own people for letting Jon Snow escape. True, she shot him with three arrows, but as Tormund points out, she’s taken out rabbits from 200 yards in the past. If Jon escaped, he says, its because Ygritte let him go. A quick aside…the location they shot this scene in was fantastic.

Jon Snow is facing suspicion, as well. We find him at Castle Black, being questioned by Alliser Thorne, who’s had it out for Jon since season one, Janos Slynt (the city watchman who sold Ned Stark out), and Maester Eamon. They eventually let Jon go, and I’m a bit confused how this came about. They don’t show any deliberation, a vote, or anything. Maester Eamon simply speaks up and Jon is let go, for the moment.


Finally, I want to close these reviews with a discussion of any VFX in an episode. As usual, GoT’s production values remain high. The big effect of this episode (or any episode where they appear), was Dany’s dragons. These things have gotten pretty big, and they look amazing…motion picture quality even. The designs are beautiful, too. I just wish Drogon wasn’t such a screen hog and we could get a good look at the green and red dragons, both of whom appear somewhat smaller than their brother. The most interesting aspect of their scene was they way Drogon snapped at Daenarys, however. As Jorah tells her afterward, They can never be tamed, not even by their mother. It puts her status as the one person in in the world in possession of what is essentially a Weapon of Mass Destruction in question. I suppose WMD’s that can act on their own volition would be a bit of a problem.

So far, season four is off to a strong start. It has a bit of the Premier Expository Blues, as characters explain what has gone before while setting up plot points for the future, but like I said before, the actors and writing are strong enough that the show can get away with this somewhat.

I’m excited for next week, and from what I saw in the preview, a lot of fans are going to be thrilled (or sorely disappointed) with how it ends. Let’s say initially thrilled, but disappointed once they let it sink in.

Vicarious Viewing: Game of Thrones- “Two Swords”

Vicarious Viewing- Game of Thrones: The Rains of Castamere

“Wh-what, now?” Copyright HBO

The Rains of Castamere. Where do I even begin with this one? Chances are by the time this goes up, you’ve seen something, somewhere, talking about the audience  reaction to the events of last night’s episode. You’ve seen people familiar only with the show freak out, and you’ve probably seen people who read the books years ago telling them not to freak out and stop watching the show, because you’re in for a treat soon (that treat probably getting pushed to sometime next year).

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Vicarious Viewing- Game of Thrones: The Rains of Castamere

Vicarious Viewing- Game of Thrones: “The Climb” Review

copyright HBO
copyright HBO

This week’s episode takes a breath from the fallout of the last two weeks, and begins to build up to the paradigm changing events to come.

The episode begins with a quiet scene between Sam, Gilly, and Gilly’s newborn son. If it wasn’t already apparent, the fact that Sam is in way over his head was illustrated even more as he tried to build a campfire and Gilly had to tell him how to do it properly. The scene ends with Sam singing the newborn a lullaby about traditional gender roles. It’s obvious that in Sam’s mind, it’s his responsibility to protect Gilly and her baby, and it’s hard to fault him for that given the time period and his highborn upbringing. He’s lived his entire life with the stigma of being a coward, so for him, guiding Gilly south through the forests to the Wall is an act of bravery.

After checking in on Sam and Gilly, we catch up with another group, this one heading North toward the Wall. Meera Reed and Osha are skinning rabbits, and having an argument over who is better at it while Bran tries to foster a truce between the two. Once again we have a statement on gender roles in Westoros. This group is made up of four males: Bran, who is a cripple, Rickon, who is around five or six years old, Hodor, who is simple minded, and Jojen, who is sickly and prone to seizures. The two most capable people in this group are Meera and Osha.

Once Bran negotiates a cease fire and gets the two women to stand down, Jojen has a seizure as he dreams. When he awakens, he tells the group that he has seen Jon Snow, “on the wrong side of the wall and surrounded by enemies.”

This offers the perfect segue way into Jon’s story, where he, along with Ygritte and a number of Mance Rayder’s Wildlings, are preparing to climb the wall. Jon and Ygritte discuss last week’s dalliance, with Ygritte teasing Jon about “that thing (he did) with (his) tongue.” The conversation takes a darker turn, and their relationship deepens in a much more mature way, when Ygritte reveals that she knows Jon is still loyal to the Night’s watch. And she doesn’t care.  They’re both pawns to their respective masters, soldiers in someone else’s war that can easily be replaced.

We return to this story midway through, in what could be considered the action set piece of the episode. As they are climbing the Wall, a section of its surface cracks and most of the wildlings are killed. Ygritte and Jon find themselves in a precarious position, dangling freely by their safety lines. One of the wildlings, who has no trust in Jon, tries to use the opportunity to get rid of him, and Ygritte. Jon recognizes what’s about to happen and struggles to find a foothold. It’s a very well conceptualized and executed scene that provides a thrill while further driving Jon and Ygritte together. I wouldn’t be surprised if this scene, coupled with Ygritte’s reveal that she knows about Jon, isn’t leading to a major departure from the novel. Part of me hopes it does.

copyright HBO
copyright HBO

In another major departure, Melissandre, who we last saw leaving Dragonstone to find the “blood of the king”, arrives in the Brotherhood’s camp. Here, the Brotherhood sells Gendry (who is Robert Baratheon’s bastard son and true heir to the throne) to Melissandre for two bags of gold. It’s gut wrenching to watch, after Gendry gave his reasons for staying with them last week. Arya stands up to her, and in my favorite moment from the episode, tells her that she see darkness in Arya, and in that darkness, eyes staring back: eyes that Arya will shut for good. Given Arya’s story so far has involved lots of revenge seeking and shape shifting assassins, I can’t wait to see what Melissandre means.

A large part of this episode deals with negotiations, and people making decisions for other people. At Harrenhal, Roose Bolton reveals that he will allow Jaime to return to King’s Landing, given that Tywin Lannister understands that he had nothing to do with Jaime’s maiming. What’s so disheartening about this is that Roose is supposed to return Jaime to Robb, meaning another blow to Robb’s cause that he unfortunately doesn’t know about yet.

Speaking of Robb, the King in the North meets with Walder Frey’s men to try and make up for the wrong of breaking his deal to marry one of Frey’s daughters. The price Frey demands is that Robb’s uncle, Edmure, marry one of his daughters. It’s difficult to sympathize with Robb here, as he expects his uncle to pay for his transgression. It also serves once again to remind us that the Game of Thrones has little to do with winning on the battlefield.

Which leads us to Tywin, who is busy securing Lannister dominance throughout the seven kingdoms with a pen…or a broken pen, as the case may be. Lady Olenna has been a bona fide verbal bad-ass since she was introduced, steamrolling her way through Westerosi politics with cunning wit and common sense. She meets her match this week, however, in Tywin Lannister, who threatens to end the Tyrell line by assigning Ser Loras to Joffrey’s Kingsguard, thus ensuring he will never marry and never sire an heir. Olenna, knowing she’s beat, retreats, and the fates of Sansa, Loras, Tyrion, and Sansa are sealed.

 

copyright HBO
copyright HBO

The final sequence of the episode begins with Petyr Baelish studying the Iron Throne. It’s a creepy image, and you can just see the wheels turning in Littlefinger’s head, plotting his path to be seated on the ugly thing. As he stares at it, Varys enters and recites the legend of its forging. Littlefinger tells him that the legend is a lie they have told themselves for so long they forget it’s just a story. He then informs Varys that he knows about Ros’ role in keeping Sansa Stark out of his hands. Varys claims to be acting in the best interest of the realm, to keep it from descending into chaos, which he likens to a dark pit.

“Chaos isn’t a pit,” Littlefinger says. “But a ladder.” It’s a sentiment that sums up the series succinctly, as most of the chaos in Westeros has been caused by the machinations of people making grabs for more power.

The speech that follows overlays a sequence that reveals the ultimate fate of Ros and ends with Ygritte and Jon reaching the top of the Wall. It’s an effective juxtaposition of images, the ugliness of Ros’ death and the beauty of the sunrise over the wall that culminates in an old school Hollywood make out session.

Hollywood
copyright HBO

Unfortunately, the lyrical nature of these last few moments, as well done as they are, seem out of place in the grand scheme of things. That sunset steps just a little bit past that line of cheese I warned about in my review for “Kissed by Fire”. But then again, if I had just nearly died and found myself standing on the edge of a 700 foot drop next to a smoking hot red-head at sunrise, I’d probably engage in an old school Hollywood make out session, too.

 

Vicarious Viewing- Game of Thrones: “The Climb” Review