Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sean & Megan Watch Game of Thrones: You Win or You Die

From the blog that brought you "Lynn Phegley Watches Lost," get ready for another experience that redefines the art of recapping TV shows!

Sean T. Collins is a friend to the Cool Kids and avid devotee of George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Fire and Ice" series of books, upon which the HBO television show Game of Thrones is based; he is currently chronicling the series on two separate blogs, one with book spoilers and one without.

Megan Morse is Ben's wife who has never read the Martin books and does not typically go in for the fantasy genre but loves Game of Thrones for reasons she doesn't even fully understand.

Each week, Megan will provide her analysis of the show from a neophyte's standpoint and then Sean will interject with his informed reactions and insights, answering her questions and commenting on her observations.

Whether you're a nerd or a newcomer, if you're watching Game of Thrones this is the recap for you!

Megan: Last week I talked about how I felt there was still a lot of set-up going on, and here in my opinion they got to the top of the mountain and started down the other side, with danger and consequences coming on fast. I really liked the episode for that reason and because the scandal and drama ramped up even higher than it had been. It feels like we're really in the meat of the show. I did think this was the most complicated episode thus far; I have trouble keeping track of all the characters and what each person is doing sometimes, but it doesn't take away from me enjoying the show.

I did not expect Robert's death, but it really hammered home that you can't see what's coming on this show, so even though I liked the character and will miss him, I thought what happened was a cool move.

Sean: You know, I think your former point flows from the latter one. The show already established that Robert and Cersei's marriage was all that was holding the kingdom together -- hell, Robert and Cersei actually came out and said as much. With Robert removed, the dam has broken. Hence your feeling that the story has crested the hill and started plummeting downward.

Megan: I became really interested in trying to untangle the line of succession and how different factors could play a role. Do his brothers have more claim than his son? Can any of his bastard children be considered a rightful heir? Again, it was confusing, but in a good way because it got me thinking and engaged. Obviously it also drove a lot of intrigue and further story lines.

Sean: I've been wondering if aspects of the story peculiar to its medieval setting would catch newcomers' imagination and interest the way, say, the minutiae of setting up wiretaps or selling drugs in a particular housing complex caught up people who watched The Wire with no previous drug-war experience on either side. I suppose this is my answer!

Megan: I really liked where Cersei when confronted by Ned about her relationship with Jaime once she knew she couldn't bluff attempted to justify it with the explanation of how other royal houses like the Targaryens had engaged in incest for years to keep their bloodlines strong. Obviously it's not a rationalization that would fly in most modern societies, but putting yourself in the world of the show, you can actually see where she could have a point, or at least I did. Even if she's just trying to make excuses, she's making the issue less cut and dry, which gives her character and story more depth to me. That she didn't react by seeming immediately threatened but rather somewhat calmly defended herself was an interesting change of pace from how I figured things would go. She doesn't really seem to even mind if the relationship were to be exposed so long as it didn't threaten Joffrey's ascension.

Sean: Yeah, that sounds about right. One thing that becomes clear over the course of the series is that the Targaryens got cut a lot of slack by nobility and smallfolk alike that other Houses just don't. I guess that when you invade from overseas on the backs of three giant fire-breathing reptiles, you can pretty much do what you want.

As for Cersei, I think you can say two things about her for certain: She really does love her kids, especially Joffrey, and she is utterly confident in her superiority to everyone else. So coming at her the way Ned did -- inviting her to a mano-a-mano sit-down in which he threatens to expose a truth about her children that will necessitate them fleeing the continent at best and get them killed at worst -- is perhaps the single worst way he could have approached the situation.

Megan: Something I enjoy every week is the relationship between Daenerys and Khal Drogo. It's about as far removed from what most TV shows offer in terms of romance as you can get, but there is something incredibly sweet about the way they care for one another and the sexuality they convey in their interactions is both undeniable and powerful. When they exchange a glance across the fire there is no question they WANT one another. Regardless of what initially brought them together or what she maybe hopes to ultimately gain from him, the chemistry that comes from their strong physical attraction is gold every time. I liked seeing the side of him that came out when she was threatened as well; the scene where he's declaring war was intense.

Sean: The show had a steep hill to climb with this relationship. Because it lacks the detail of prose, it had to flatten things out a bit to create a consistent arc, as opposed to the ups and downs of their initial relationship that were found in the book. For example, in the book, their wedding night is a lot more tender than what we saw in the show -- Dany was terrified, of course, but Drogo treated her tenderly and took time to make her feel more at ease. But Dany's an even younger teenager in the books than she is in the show, so night after night of sex with a guy she barely knows and can barely physically accommodate takes its toll. It's only after a portentous dream AND Doreah's bedroom tricks that she's able to make sex both pleasurable for her and a tool for growing closer to her new husband. But the showrunners felt like viewers would have a hard time with the idea that that first night might have been relatively okay, and get confused if she started getting upset afterwards and then things went okay again, so they basically made the wedding night as brutal-looking as possible and started sending things in the opposite direction with the subsequent episodes. All this is to say that if they're at the point where a newcomer to the material can find their relationship both sexy and sweet, they struck the right balance with this delicate material eventually.

I enjoyed the declaration of war scene, too. I can totally buy a guy in his situation using his anger and fear over a threat to a loved one to drive himself into doing something crazy.

Megan: When Ser Jorah saves Daenerys from being poisoned is this because he cares for her and realizes she is in danger or is he aware this will be a catalyst for Khal Drago to go to war and wants that to happen? Or are we not supposed to know yet?

Sean: Good question!

Megan: I don't care about the Wall. I don't care about any of the story lines taking place there. Jon Snow is whiny and I don't enjoy him at all. He has a sense of entitlement while at the same time complaining about how harsh a hand life has dealt him all the time; either make something of yourself or don't, you bore me. Samwell is the only reason to watch the Wall scenes for me. That's all I have to say about it.

Sean: The Wall is another challenge for the filmmakers...

Megan: Is Jon Snow a more likable or sympathetic character in the book either now or later on? Basically, am I reacting negatively to the character or the actor here?

Sean: Well, here's the thing: Compared to all the other main characters, Jon simply has less stuff to do during the events of Book One. While Tyrion's getting arrested and fighting for his life, or Ned's getting tapped to be Hand of the King and dealing with a murder attempt on his son and trying to solve the murder of his predecessor and maneuvering against Cersei in King's Landing, or Dany's getting sold into marriage and learning the ways of a new people and fighting with her asshole brother and rallying her new husband to invade her homeland and gestating The Stallion Who Mounts the World, Jon's in boot camp. That's basically it. In the books you bounce back and forth between enough other chapters that it doesn't feel like the storyline's getting padded, but the show has to cut back to the Wall every so often lest we forget about it, and when it does, there's only so much they can show. So you get the repetitive character arc you described earlier, where he's simultaneously arrogant and self-pitying until one of his friends sets him straight. I will say this for Jon, though: Like Ned, he's a fundamentally decent dude. He doesn't have a fuck-someone-over bone in his body. That makes him more sympathetic to me than he might otherwise be.

Megan: The introduction of Tywin Lannister and I'd assume impending appearance of Stannis Baratheon actually made me a bit nervous in a more meta sense than in the story. They're introducing seemingly important characters at such a rapid clip that I get concerned some will get shafted in terms of development. The characters who are getting ample time and depth are great and the show on the whole does a nice balancing act, but there are still some people who have already been introduced I'd like to learn more about before more faces get cycled in. It's not a problem now, it's just a concern on the horizon for me. How far can they bend before they break?

Sean: Ha, if you're worried about this now, get back to me in a couple seasons! Cast of thousands, yo.

Megan: On the show, obviously there are whole episodes where members of the regular cast are missing, like Tyrion and Catelyn this week; are there long stretches of the book where the narrative moves away from characters?

Sean: Definitely. The book's unique trick is that every chapter is told from the point of view of a single character, whose name is used as that chapter's title. In Book One, those characters are Jon, Eddard, Catelyn, Bran, Sansa, Arya, Daenerys, and Tyrion. This is a big part of what makes reading them such an addictive experience: Once you get to a big cliffhanger with Character A, you've got chapters about Characters B, D, X, and Q before you get back to Character A again, so you just race along until you find out what happens -- and along the way you're likely to get similarly hooked on several other storylines. But of course this also means that characters disappear from the action for quite some time, especially Dany and Jon and to an extent Bran, since their storylines really can't intersect with the other characters for logistical reasons. You can see Tyrion in a Catelyn chapter and vice versa, and the King's Landing Starks can split action as well, but Dany and Jon are on their own.

This also means that we only learn about all the other characters through what they do and say in view of the "POV" characters. Without a third-person omniscient narrator, anything that Robert, Cersei, Jaime, Tywin, Joffrey, the Hound, Barristan, Renly, Viserys, Jorah, Drogo, Varys, Littlefinger, Lysa, Samwell, Theon, and Robb do "off-screen" from our eight main characters is invisible to us. One of the big tasks of the show was to add "deleted scenes" between those characters to which we had no access in the books, and I think it's been very successful. Many of its most memorable scenes -- Robert and Cersei's bitter conversation about their marriage, Littlefinger and Varys's pissing match over who knows more about whom, Jorah's conversation with an at-the-end-of-his-rope Viserys, Robert and Barristan's conversation about their first kills, Loras shaving Renly's chest, Jaime being dressed down by his dad -- never happened in the books and were the invention of the writers.

Megan: Despite his getting an exposition scene and the big moment at the end, Littlefinger is still something of an enigma to me. I can't get a handle on him and I'm not sure why. He's still just coming off as a sneaky little bastard and I feel like there's something I'm missing that should open him up more.

You and Ned probably feel the exact same way right about now.

Megan: What did YOU think about Robert's death, both when you read it and how it was handled here?

Sean: I don't remember much about what I thought of it. Perhaps the impact is dulled in the books because of that POV device I described earlier, due to which anyone who ISN'T a POV character feels comparatively minor and therefore expendable? But maybe it's also a case of his death needing to happen to move the plot forward. To get cross-nerd-cultural for a moment, if the Starks are Obi-Wan Kenobi and the Lannisters are Darth Maul, Robert was the energy shield thingamajig that popped up and separated them for a while. For the smackdown to really start, that shield had to be removed.

So because of all that, I think it wasn't Robert's death, or even the nature of his death, that surprised me so much as that all of Ned's plans were thrown up in the air because of it. He takes the risk of announcing to Cersei his intention to out her incestuous infidelity to Robert, in order to give her and the kids a chance to flee and live rather than stay and die...and then Robert, his friend and his trump card, is removed from play, and then he's forced to consider less stable alliances with Renly or with Littlefinger, and we've seen how that worked out. So I remember Robert's death more for its impact on Ned than for its impact on Robert!

Megan: Cool...what's a Darth Maul?


KP said...

I owe Sean like a zillion e-mails about this show, but for now I would like to state on the record that I much prefer how they represent Dany and Drogo on TV than how they came off in the book – particularly at the beginning.

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