Monday, June 20, 2011

Sean & Megan Watch Game of Thrones: Fire and Blood

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: Have to be honest, feeling a little disappointed as I write this, but that's just because this was the season finale, which of course carries with it certain expectations, and for me, those were not met. It was not the worst episode, it wasn't even a bad episode, but it was not in my top three, and since it was the climax of a 10-episode season I really enjoyed, that's a let-down for me. I was hoping for a more intense conclusion to make the next nine months unbearable. I'll still miss the show until it comes back, but it didn't leave me with too many burning questions I need answered right away--some, but not many.

Sean: Here's a question for you, then: How much experience do you have with the big HBO genre-revisionist dramas?

Megan: None.

Sean: An interesting thing about The Sopranos, Deadwood, and The Wire is that they all tended to save the biggest fireworks for the penultimate episode. Unlike even really good network or basic-cable shows, where the goal with the finale is to knock you flat on your ass, those shows always took a more novelistic approach, holding the climax back for the second-to-last episode and leaving the finale for aftermath -- the tone usually a sort of "okay, what have we learned this season?" one, ruminative and reflective, while the story sort of ties things off and leaves them in the shape you'll find them next season. So the way Game of Thrones handled ending Season One didn't surprise me. I mean, it obviously wouldn't have, since I read the book and that's how it works there too.

Did you have anything particular in mind for the "more intense conclusion" you were hoping for? Were there any events you were expecting to see? Since so much of the story is about subverting reader/audience expectations, I'm really curious what your expectations were!

Megan: Y'know, when you pose it right to me like that and put me on the spot, I can't think of much specifically. I was expecting a "bigger bang," but nothing in particular really, so perhaps saying I was let down is a bit inaccurate so much as I was surprised. I guess I thought more time would be devoted to Daenerys' labor as opposed to her waking up with the baby gone, but I didn't mind how it was handled. I assumed we'd get more reaction to Ned's death, but as we'll get into, I don't mind that there wasn't. In the end I suppose it wasn't so much that my expectations weren't met, just that I don't have the experience with these types of shows you mentioned above so the idea that the season finale isn't the game changer is not one I'm used to, and my immediate reaction was disappointment. Upon reflection, it's more just something that will take some getting used to.

Quick note on the very first shot of the show: It did jump out at me that there wasn't just blood on the sword that beheaded Ned, but skin, tissue, etc. Normally when you see something like this on TV or in the movies, they just use blood, and most people don't think anything of it, but this was more accurate and attentive to detail, which I appreciated.

Sean: And what a great way to open the episode and convey the finality of what had just happened. I also like how much of that aftermath scene, with Yoren spiriting Arya away while chaos reigns on the steps of Baelor's Sept, happened in the background, out of focus, in brief snippets, inaudibly to our vantage point in the crowd. It's like shit goes on whether you want it to or not.

Megan: Refresh my memory: Do we know Yoren? He's shown up before right? I feel like I should know him and his ties to Ned and the Starks but I can't place him.

Sean: He's from the Night's Watch. We first saw him drinking and joking around with Tyrion during his visit to the Wall when he accompanied Jon. He came south with Tyrion in order to go to King's Landing for recruits, and was there at the Inn when Catelyn had Tyrion arrested. Subsequently we saw him at King's Landing, where he told Ned that out of respect for Ned's brother and his fellow Night's Watchman Benjen Stark, he rode as fast as he could to warn him about what had happened. That's when he first met Arya -- I think he mistook her for a boy. I think I may have mentioned this last week, but in the book he doesn't have that brief encounter with Ned on the way to the execution, where Ned tells him where to find Arya -- it's mostly luck that he finds her, although he did at least know where to look, if I recall correctly. The implication with both Arya and later Gendry is that Varys tipped Yoren off to help them escape, thinking that the newly powerful Queen Cersei would not be kindly disposed to Eddard Stark's daughter and Robert Baratheon's bastard.

Megan: Ok, confession time: After he hasn't been on the show for weeks, I found myself not hating Bran so much when he showed up. This is certainly a good thing since characters are dropping left and right and even though I know they'll introduce new ones, it's nice that some I had an intense dislike for are growing on me. And I forgot there was another Stark kid! Has Rickon ever even had a line to this point? Nothing really more to say about Winterfell since it was so brief and I'm not quite sure what it was meant to set up if anything.

Sean: Rickon appeared a couple episodes ago, I believe, in the episode where Ned was betrayed and captured. He showed up in Bran's bedroom, and Bran told him that the family would come home eventually, and Rickon just looked sad and said "No they won't" and left. I like how they're using him as this pessimistic but accurate oracle figure.

Bran is a much bigger deal in the book than he is in this first season, mostly because there's a lot more to his dream sequences than there is here. I won't say more than that to avoid spoiling anything, but I will say I'm kind of anxious to see if they pick up any of that slack in season two. I think right now many viewers probably are wondering why we're spending time with him.

Megan: Well didn't Joffrey develop into a nice little villain in record time? They kept him somewhat off to the side for so much of the season that his emergence in the last few episodes, obviously pushed into overdrive last time with Ned's execution, has been something of a pleasant surprise. I remember thinking he was an annoying little punk in the beginning, but didn't foresee him being able to step into the shoes of a true big bad so seamlessly. When he ordered the minstrel to have his tongue cut out, it seemed perfectly natural and like he has been doing stuff like that the whole time. However, that said, I think one of the things that makes him a good villain is he's erratic and unpredictable; when he does something awful it totally makes sense, but I'm still guessing right up until whether he'll follow through or not.

Sean: He's a terrific little sociopath, isn't he? Kudos to Jack Gleeson for selling that character as well as he has, not just with a sociopath's cruelty, but with his bafflement and rage anytime things don't go exactly his way. I love watching his face anytime Sansa defies him in even the most minor way; he's not just pissed, he's confused and scared. How could anyone not do exactly as he says? Oh yeah, Grand Maester Pycelle, he'll make a terrific king.

Megan: He's also got a face that was just made for punching.

Sean: Yes, there's that too.

Megan: I badly wanted Sansa to push him off the bridge; it would have deprived the show of a tremendous emerging bad guy, but I enjoy immediate gratification. Sansa's retort about Robb maybe bringing her Joffrey's head was a nice little bit of snark too. I'm looking forward to their developing relationship in season two.

Sean: That scene was wonderfully done. It's one of my favorites in the books -- Joffrey making Sansa stare at the severed head of her father is like George R.R. Martin's entire view of power in a nutshell -- and the interplay between Joffrey, Sansa, the odious yes-man Ser Meryn Trant, and the Hound, who is brutal but not cruel, is a bleak joy. And kudos to Sophie Turner as Sansa, too. She looked so damaged and devastated in that scene that when she made her move toward Joffrey, I found myself hoping she'd go over the edge with him and end her own misery too.

Megan: Cersei is really making it hard to justify her incest when she's sleeping with her scrawny cousin. Hot brother? Ok, you can almost brush aside the grossness and buy into her "it keeps the blood line strong" routine--but that kid? Now she's just oddly kinky.

Sean: Well, someone had to make sure Robert drank all that wine...

Megan: I didn't like how the scene with Catelyn and Robb following the news of Ned's death went down, specifically how Catelyn was played. I'm not sure if it was down to Michelle Fairley, whoever was giving her direction or some combination of the two, but I didn't feel it was clear enough for the viewer--me--how she was processing her husband's death or what her next move was. I'm going to be an acting snob here for a second: Her verbal communication and non-verbal communication were not at all congruent. With her words, she was trying to convey that she was sad and wanted revenge, but pretty much everything in her body language told me she didn't care and was pushing past the situation. Either one of these would have been an acceptable choice--she can be upset or she can be soldiering on for her children's sake--but trying to do both at once was just confusing and gave me no indication where her emotions were. If she was meant to be going for conflicted, she didn't pull it off.

Sean: I'm not nuts about Fairley either, honestly. I think the idea here was that she was devastated herself, but quickly pulled herself together to set a good example when she saw that her newly minted Lord of Winterfell son had totally fucking lost it. "You've ruined your sword" is the key line -- he needs to keep it together if he's going to lead his forces to victory in war, where swords are what matter. That said, you're right, I didn't feel like the emotional throughline in that sequence was clear, even though it was beautifully shot.

Megan: On the contrary, Catelyn's scene with Jaime was much better. She wore her anger much more blatantly, so maybe she was trying to keep it in check and put on a brave face for Robb? I get it, but again, I don't think she conveyed it properly. We've seen Jaime so sporadically that it's always a bit of a treat trying to figure him out. Small doses of him have been nice as it makes you ponder how much of his act is legitimate and how much is posturing.

Sean: He has one of the best lines in the whole series here. "There are no men like me. There is only me." In the book it comes across like braggadocio, and it is, but the way they shot this scene shows that it's also self-condemnation and self-pity. There's only one kingslaying sisterfucking would-be child murderer. He may be handsome and rich and famous and a god with a sword in his hand, but he carries a lot on his back.

Megan: As a general choice, I like that pretty much every character received the news about Ned off-camera and we didn't have to get five different variations of Robb and Catelyn vowing revenge. It would have eaten up the whole episode and you get the gist after the first time: All the good guys loved Ned and they're going to go kill the bad guys. Cool. Next.

Sean: Agreed.

Megan: Not as much Tyrion as I would have liked, but I suppose that was to be expected given how much focus he got last episode. I did like his appointment as Hand of the King and thought Peter Dinklage really handled well the bit where Tywin told him "Because you're my son"--it certainly felt like that was the first time he had ever heard that and he sold it.

Sean: Yes. I'm such a sucker for any time two characters in fiction treat one another with respect. Tywin's a shit, but I'm happy for Tyrion here nonetheless.

Megan: Put Shae down as another character I'm eager to get to know better in season two; glad she's coming along to King's Landing. Tyrion also used my absolute favorite word in the English language during his scene with Shae, but I can't repeat it, because my in-laws read this blog.

Sean: "Father"?

Megan: Moving on...Daenerys had a gross stillborn dragon baby with grey worms in the middle! Tremendous! So gross. Then she has to wake up and find out her husband is a celery stick. Poor girl. At first I was a little let down by Dany's failing to really chew Mirri Maz Duur out when she learned the witch basically set her up, but the later payoff was more than worth it as Daenerys evolved yet again, this time from kick ass warrior princess to calculating warlord who makes an example of her enemies.

Sean: Huh, I never thought of it that way, because I've read the book and knew what was coming. But yeah, you totally think she's being Ms. Nice Guy even after this woman killed her husband and son, only to discover that she's just biding her time until she can light her on fire. Yikes.

Megan: I totally screamed when Dany smothered Drogo with the pillow, 100% legit, Ben can back me up. [EDITOR'S NOTE: It's true] He grew on me more than just about any other character this season and as I've said I loved their romance, so it was very sad. She committed euthanasia in the same bed they made their dragon baby in. No more Sun and Stars...well, at least we hopefully don't need to hear that pet name again. [EDITOR'S NOTE: For the record, if this had been Smallville, Dany's speech about loving Drogo would have been enough to revive him with a single tear running down his cheek so he could go destroy Darkseid]

Sean: It's a weird love story for the ages, definitely.

Megan: I have this to say about the Wall stuff: In my disdain for Jon Snow and all scenes involving him, I have neglected far too often to say how awesome Sam is and how he is the only thing making all that tolerable. Sam is the unsung hero of Game of Thrones.

Sean: He's a strong character, totally unsuited to life in the Night's Watch yet trying to make a go of it in his own way regardless. Admirable.

Megan: The scene with Pycell rambling on lost me, but I totally picked up when he got up and was doing his stretching exercises. I immediately jumped on the fact that his feeble old man bit was an act while my husband was like "Huh?" Score one for Megan!

Sean: I also feel like that scene was kind of the show spoofing itself and its "sexposition" technique. So you've got the naked lady walking around while a guy rambles on about history, she can barely keep her eyes open pretending to be interested, the story goes nowhere like he's Rose Nylund talking about St. Olaf, and in the end it's revealed that half of his doddering old geezer routine is bullshit anyway. Funny stuff.

Megan: I was pretty confused by the stuff with Arya. I'm going to ask you a bit about that later. It's possible I just zoned out. I do love her spunk and how she threatened the bully. "I like killing fat boys" is a great line. I was not a fan of her hair which was clearly a wig. I was a fan of Chris from Skins finally showing up again as Robert's blacksmith bastard and hope we get to see much more of him in season two.

Sean: I'm hoping they'll actually cut her hair rather than stick a wig on her, yeah.

Megan: I was absolutely terrified that the season was going to end on a shot of Jon Snow riding off to the other side of the wall. That could potentially have killed every bit of goodwill I have built up over the past three months. I probably would have had to write an angry letter.

Sean: Hahahaha! Now that's an anticlimax. I wonder if Jon will grow on you more now that he's finally and firmly committed to living life as a man of the Night's Watch. What do you think? Is it just his emo/Hamlet indecision that makes you dislike him?

Megan: I wouldn't hold your breath. It was never his indecision that bothered me--at least not entirely--but more how angsty and whiny he was. I don't see that changing and don't anticipate him being any less emo just because he made up his mind, now he'll just bitch about how he could be off doing the other thing. Loser. [Megan makes an "L" with her fingers]

Needless to say I was thoroughly pleased with how the season really ended instead. If there's one way to get on my good side if you're Game of Thrones, it's making the big finish centered around the khaleesi. In fact, she got a lot of attention this episode, more than she has in awhile, so perhaps I liked it more than I thought. I knew there would be dragons! I mean, it's not a huge shock since they were pretty heavy on the foreshadowing, but it was still very very cool.

Sean: I kind of wished they hadn't included that "The dragons are dead, khaleesi" line in the "Previously on Game of Thrones" montage at the beginning. They might has well have added someone saying "DOT...DOT...DOT..." at the end of it. That said, I'm reasonably sure newcomers couldn't predict that the dragons would hatch from Drogo's funeral pyre/Mirri Maz Duur's execution, and that Dany would stride into the fire to reach them and be found buck naked with the dragons crawling on her as her people bow before her. That's tough to foreshadow.

Megan: I just did an adorable imitation of the baby dragon shrieking that unfortunately cannot translate to e-mail, but trust me.

Sean: Of course.

Megan: As I said earlier, the way she handled Mirri Maz Duur here was far more satisfying than if she had just yelled at her and pushed her off a cliff earlier.

Sean: True. She doesn't fuck around.

Megan: I said early on the thing that made Daenerys my favorite character was that she evolved and changed with each episode--even each scene--and this final transformation--for now--showed it once again. At the same time, there a somewhat neat symmetry in that when we first met her she was staring vacantly off into space practically nude and that's basically how she ended up here as well; also in that very first scene, I remember her going into that hot water and being unscathed, and lo and behold, she ends the season walking into fire and emerging unharmed and with dragon babies!

Sean: I honestly didn't pick up on this symmetry until I saw you point it out. Very smart.

Megan: I am so impressed by Emilia Clarke and particularly that she is this good at only 23--it's going to be crazy how good she'll be by the end of this show!

Sean: Oh man, she is great! And this role...for a young inexperienced actor -- this is her very first film work! -- this is like getting thrown right into the deep end in order to learn to swim. There's no filter between you and the audience, basically -- it's like "Okay, go stand here naked while people bow before your awesome power, and at the same time be a teenage girl and try to own that." It's a highwire act and she pulled it off.

Megan: Overall, it was a great first season. I absolutely did not expect to like this show and to be honest wasn't even going to give it a chance, but I'm glad I did. It's hard to pin down exactly what hooked me, but I think it's mostly that this is so different from pretty much anything else I'm into and along those lines the characters stood out to me more than most would. I'm very excited for season two--and can't believe it's not going to be on for like a year! I just made the dragon baby noise again, but this time I'm angry!

Sean: Just don't burn anyone alive, okay? Anyway, I like that the show's selling point is that it's not actually selling anything you'd usually buy, so you're more interested in taking a look at the wares. I'd be perfectly happy for this to be people's "I'm not into fantasy, except..."

[And with that, Sean and Megan will see you in Spring 2012, folks!]


AdamT81 said...

Great recap, plus a gratuitous Golden Girls reference!!! Seriously, I love this show and it makes me want to start reading the books. Season two can't come quick enough.

Sean T. Collins said...

There's no such thing as a gratuitous Golden Girls reference.

KP said...

The Dany/Drogo relationship was Jami's favorite story too.

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