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: This week was a little slow. After the last episode was so loud with so much going on, they went back to set-up mode. I wouldn't call the show so much a roller coaster as a log flume ride, where you've got the slow, suspenseful ride to the top, the crazy drop, then you float around for a little bit until you start over. I still liked the episode as part of the larger narrative with the knowledge that you need these breaks to build to the big happenings, but as a standalone, it was not my favorite.
Sean: I think I see what you're saying -- this wasn't a "shit hits the fan" episode so much as it was a "shit flies through the air and lands here and there after previously having hit the fan" episode. But I can't agree with you that it was "a little slow." By my unofficial count, there were 47 storylines going on here, give or take a couple dozen. Arya, Sansa, Syrio, Jon, Drogo, Daenerys, Septa Mordane, Ned, Varys, Grandmaester Pycelle, King Joffrey, Cersei, Ser Barristan, Samwell, Robb, Tyrion, Bronn, Lord Tywin, Catelyn, Bran, Osha, and Lysa all get pushed or thrown or yanked or marched forward in their storylines; meanwhile, we meet the Greatjon Umber from the North and Mirri Maz Duur from the Lamb People, and we see one of the White Walkers' undead servants in action for the first time since the opening sequence in the pilot. It's not the clusterbombing of the plot that last week was, with Robert dying and Littlefinger betraying Ned and the attempted assassination of Dany and Drogo swearing to conquer the Seven Kingdoms, but "slow" still isn't how I'd describe it.
Megan: I totally agree with what you're saying, but I think you're misunderstanding me; I'm not using "slow" to mean nothing happened, but rather that what did happen, while a lot, didn't captivate me like the flashier stuff did last week. Again, I wasn't bored and didn't think it was a poor episode, but personally it just didn't stand out as one of my favorites.
I was not bothered by the lack of Ned this week. I've bought into seeing the Lannisters and the Starks as collective characters, so as long as we check in with at least one of them every time, I don't so much notice the lack of the others. That's what sets Daenerys apart: There is only one Targaryen so if she's not shown, I do feel like a big chunk of story is missing. Here, Ned was in the dungeon, but that gave Sansa and, in particular, Robb, a chance to shine.
Sean: That's totally true: We're trained to see the Starks and Lannisters as a collective, albeit collectives with heads in the form of Ned and, I'd say, Tyrion, although he's just the most sympathetic Lannister and not the one who calls the shots. I think a big reason that many of the critics who received the initial six episodes for review liked the Daenerys material so much is precisely the reason you cite (and actually I think we've discussed this before): Her family unit is just her and Viserys, and Drogo and Jorah I suppose, so it's a lot easier to get a handle on their relationships and power dynamics and get to know them in the process than it is with a group of ten or twelve characters.
Megan: This was really a breakout episode for Robb, who was not on my radar at all before. Whereas I had no real sense of who he was, now I'm getting at least some, so I'm glad he got a storyline that put him front and center. I wasn't blown away by his charisma, but I noticed him and do want to see more; he's on the fence for me, but I'm glad we got some insight into him.
Sean: I've seen a lot of reviewers say pretty much exactly this. Robb's a challenge for the filmmakers in that he's not one of the "POV" characters in the books, but he's obviously just as important as they are to the plot. They've done what they can, but it's still difficult to cut away from Ned and Tyrion and Dany et al to flesh out Robb when all he's really done up until this point is hold down the fort at Winterfell for the absent Ned and Catelyn. Now he's finally got something to do, and it's just about the biggest responsibility anyone in Westeros has: raising an army to fight the King. I think the actor, Richard Madden, really wears that responsibility and its stresses in his eyes, young eyes full of awareness that he's taking an enormous risk that could lead to death and ruin for everyone he knows.
Megan: My take on Sansa was that she has a foot in each world now, which adds some depth to her just being a straight social climber trying to escape her life as a Stark. Her father being in trouble shocked her enough that she showed some loyalty and did not throw him completely under the bus--which I thought she would--but she clearly is still going to do everything she can to stay on Cersei and Joffrey's good side so that she can get her dream life. A little inner conflict is good for her character.
Sean: The show handled Sansa's situation here in an interesting fashion, in that they cut a major plot point from the book in which she's so upset by her father's order to go back to Winterfell that she runs to the Queen, oblivious to what's really going on, to ask her to keep her at court. In the book, this revelation is part of what sets Cersei and the Lannisters' trap for Ned in motion; it also makes it very, very difficult to sympathize with Sansa, who's proven herself to be an enormous idiot with a totally warped sense of priorities. (Priorities drilled into her by her parents and her teachers, who've taught her what a lady's place in this society is, but still.) I'm sort of glad they cut that bit.
Megan: I liked having Tyrion back as he always adds a little bit of comic relief and makes the show more well-rounded. He gets all the best lines, of course. "I like living" was a great one.
Sean: Well, he does!
Megan: In a nice bit of irony, I was complaining early on that they weren't showing Daenerys, so of course they cut straight to my least favorite thing on the show: The fucking Wall. We got so much Wall this episode. I'll be brief: zombies definitely make it moderately more interesting, I like Ghost, I still hate Snow. Next.
Sean: Haha, the Wall's got a ways to with you, I see. Did you at least like the way the zombie was handled? That's a pretty played-out monster at this point, so I was impressed that they seemed to give it a novel physicality that still made it feel unfamiliar and weird and dangerous.
Megan: I did like the way they played the zombie, for the reasons you mentioned and also how it was silent as opposed to growling or moaning. They did a good job giving a different take on a well-worn monster.
At first in the scene where the Dothraki were pillaging the village I was confused as to what was going on, but I think that's mostly because I wanted to read more into it and think there was some greater reason for what they were doing, like that lamb tribe had some sort of significance, as opposed to them just looting for gold so they can buy ships. There is a lot to be learned from the way that Daenerys manipulates Drogo not by scheming but just by being polite and tender to him, which I suppose isn't really manipulating so much as gaining control through being genuine, but whatever.
Sean: I really liked how Drogo leaned on his staff with a grin on his face, watching Dany verbally joust with the outraged Dothraki warrior. You got a sense of his admiration for her -- like, he used to think she was just a pretty face and a weakling, but boy was he wrong, and he gets a kick out of other people learning it. "Heh, this oughta be good." That's not to say that he won't literally rip your tongue out if you take things too far, but he knows Dany can handle herself and he respects her and honors her wishes -- even when those wishes fly in the face of all their previous customs.
Megan: As much as I love the two of them though, the pet names were wearing on me. Go easy on using the same pet names over and over again in the same conversation, especially when you've got subtitles, guys.
Sean: So you're telling me you don't call Ben your Sun-and-Stars?
Megan: No, I call him Fluffy, or Fluffs, which is different because it is not annoying. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Yes it is]
I noticed that there was a recurring theme of male characters giving testosterone-y speeches about how bad ass they were and then daring somebody to challenge them, from Syrio to Drogo to Robb. Syrio's scene was nice and fitting for the characters, but what I really like is how when Drogo gives speeches, he backs up his words, and hammers home the point that he is a man going to war, whereas Joffrey, Viserys and even Robb really are little boys.
Sean: The show is very much about young, inexperienced people growing into the roles society and family and history have created for them even before they were born, and the degree to which they succeed or fail at that. The teenage characters -- Joffrey, Viserys, Robb, Daenerys, Sansa, Jon, and Theon -- give you a pretty great apples-to-apples-to-apples comparison on that score.
Megan: I loved when Drogo referred to his gaping shoulder wound as "a scratch." As a female viewer, I'm typically not drawn to the alpha male masculine types like Drogo, but I find him very intriguing, probably his relationship with Daenerys is such a contrast to how he is with everybody else. Every other guy on the show ends up looking kinda weak by comparison.
Sean: That's a big "mission accomplished" for the show, then, I would say. You have to feel like despite having a more "primitive" culture, Drogo's still a threat to these great lords and kings with their giant castles and armies of armor-clad knights. In that light it was a brilliant decision to have him defeat the angry warrior while completely unarmed and unarmored -- compare that to, say, Varys, who protests to Ned that he couldn't do anything to defend him in a similar state. I mean, in Varys's case that's perfectly true -- but you still get the sense that if Drogo had been in that room and had reason to take Ned's side, things may have gone differently just by virtue of that single man.
Megan: Building off my last thought somewhat, I think a lot of people would look at this show and not see it as very feminine, but I totally do. If you look at who the characters really holding power are, it's Daenerys and Cersei who are running their respective armies. Catelyn doesn't have quite that kind of role in the Stark house, but she is assertive and people listen to her. And hey, Arya totally stabbed that kid to death!
Sean: Haha! I am woman, hear me roar! No, wait, those are the Lannister words. Seriously, though, it's like this: These societies have a very limited role for their women, and women must exercise power through proscribed circumstances and with limited means. The extent to which Cersei and Daenerys have gathered power to themselves is a testament to their prowess. The important thing to keep in mind is that the show is in no way a celebration of a world where women must either be highborn ladies in extravagant gowns, whores, or rape victims. In many ways, the problems with that kind of a world are what the series is about.
Megan: How do you feel the casting is overall? Since you read the books and are so familiar with the material, I've been very curious to hear your thoughts on who fits, who doesn't, etc.
Sean: Well, the number one thing you need to know is that the books were written with both the lifespans and the cultural mores of the Middle Ages in mind, meaning that everyone is waaaaay younger in the books than they are in the show. The clearest example, to me at least, is that Ned, who by this point has fathered six children, including three teenagers, and has commanded armies in two wars, and is one of the most hardened and experienced warriors and leaders in the world, and rules the realm's largest and most inhospitable sub-kingdom, is about my wife's age, 35. Bran is seven, not 10, when Jaime Lannister tosses him out the window. Daenerys is 14 when she first starts having sex with the total stranger to whom she has been wedded. Robb is 15, I think, when he takes the reins of the North and marches into war. In part because of the challenge of resting so much of the show on the shoulders of very young child actors, and in part because the sexual and violent material involving the teen characters would be difficult if not impossible to convey properly on television, the show aged everyone up. You lose something with that, I think -- you lose a shorthand way of showing just how hard a world this is, how quickly it makes you grow up and then grinds you back down. But for the most part the casting is such that it doesn't matter that much: Sean Bean and Maisie Williams, for example, are basically perfect as Ned and Arya, even if they're older, while Emilia Clarke still sells Daenerys' youth even if you probably have to make her 18 in the show to be allowed to show her naked and having sex at all.
The one place I feel the show whiffed was with Michelle Fairley as Catelyn Stark. I think she's too old and that she's playing it too dour, too mother-hen, too predictable. The writing's at fault here too, to be sure; for example, in the opening chapters, it's Catelyn who urges Ned to take the job as Hand to consolidate power, make his children safer, and avoid risking Robert's wrath should he refuse, and it's only after Bran's fall that she begs him to stay. That's a lot more interesting and unpredictable a character point than "concerned mother is concerned," which is pretty much all you've gotten from TV-Catelyn as written, and all that Fairley has delivered through her performance. I also think it's a little harder to buy Littlefinger as driven to be what he is by his rejection from a woman who after all looks like she's got a solid ten years on him, though they tried to fudge that during his monologue last week when he calls himself her "little plaything," implying that maybe he was just hitting puberty when he fell for Catelyn as an older teenage girl.
Other than that I think the casting has been more or less spot-on, even when some liberties have been taken with their appearances -- like, Ned's supposed to have black hair, and Jon and Arya inherited that and his hatchet-faced serious looks, while the rest of the Stark kids take after their mother's beauty and her auburn hair; Lysa's supposed to have gotten chubby since Catelyn last saw her, not gaunt; there are various facial hair discrepancies with guys like Pycelle and Ser Rodrik and Drogo -- but I'm still not complaining. I think in some cases the casting has done nearly all the work for the show: The Mountain and the Hound have barely said a paragraph between the two of them, but they're every bit as intimidating here as they are in the books beause Conan Stevens and Rory McCann are impeccably frightening physical specimens. Heck, Jerome Flynn as Bronn makes that character even more dangerous-seeming than he is in the books, and in the books he's pretty dangerous.
Fun fact: The showrunners have said that when they started the project, they had three actors in mind before anything else: Bean as Ned, Peter Dinklage as Tyrion, and Charles Dance as Tywin. They ended up getting all three.