Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Ben & Jordan Watch Game of Thrones: Garden of Bones

The bonds of brotherhood between Ben Morse and Jordan Geary were forged during their time as students at Connecticut College, where they spent four years losing at intramural sports (except softball in 2004!), forming their own fraternity because the school wouldn’t let them, making student films one professor called “unfortunate” and regularly beating their friend Dan Hartnett in Goldeneye.

Today, they live 20 minutes apart in New Jersey with their respective lovely wives, sharing passions for miniature golf, diner cuisine and the music of Motley Crue. They also both watch HBO’s Game of Thrones and have decided to write a column about it. While Jordan ran out and read all the books on which the show is based after season one, Ben prefers books with pictures and floppy covers.

Bear witness to their wit, wisdom and frequent allusions to Melrose Place as they try to do the tradition of Sean T. Collins and Megan Morse proud!

Ben: I enjoyed this episode. It may have been my favorite of the season thus far (though I may just be saying that because it's fresh in my mind). I thought the pacing was good in that they jumped around enough to keep any one plot from grating, but also focused and came back to stuff, so you cared. It felt like there was character progression and in general the plot seems to be moving forward. Did it help that the two characters I'm least interested in (Jon Snow and Cersei) weren't on? Maybe. But I was definitely just more engaged by this episode than the past couple weeks, to the point that I really didn't even think on the lack of Greyjoys until I sat down to write this, so that's something. This was certainly the third best TV show I watched last night (the premiere of Veep was hilarious and Mad Men is basically running on automatic this season).

Jordan: Every episode of this season has been better than the last, and will only get better if they follow the formula of the second Game of Thrones book. I do caution, however, that this is a big IF as every episode also has deviated more and more from the books. This past episode took me off guard a lot as it merged several scenes together, added characters into spots they weren't before (like Littlefinger popping up at Renly's camp), and at points just completely added brand new things like Tywin Lannister entering Harrenhal and in 10 seconds telling a group of people that not only was Arya a girl but now she is to be his personal serving wench. Um...what?

Ben: I believe she’s his cup bearer, actually, which may or may not be the same thing. My knowledge of medieval occupations for young girls is a bit rusty.

Focus on Joffrey for more than a line or two, even if it's just a pair of uncomfortable scenes, is a good thing, because you've got one of the most unique characters on television right there in this little boy with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. I'm impressed how every time you think he can't get any worse, he does, but not in a "geez, get this kid off my screen" way, in a "what a glorious asshole, I can't wait to see him get his eventually" way. Jack Gleeson is pretty tremendous. That he's got the look of an angry old man in a child's body is genetic luck (in the case of this part, who knows in life), but he wrings every bit of malice he can out of what he's working with, be it a line, an action or just his own facial expressions.

Jordan: When Joffrey was first cast, I'm guessing fans of the books did that dog thing where they tilt their heads to the side in complete confusion. The character in the books has long, flowing blond hair and soft features and Jack Gleeson on the other hand looks like some sort of short-haired, large-headed alien. Then Joffrey spat out his first words onscreen and the audience was sold. THIS KID IS SUCH AN ANNOYING JACKASS!

Ben: Which is why it’s probably good they seemed to have people who were respectful of the books but not slavish to them involved in casting.

Jordan: In little league baseball growing up, there was always a kid just like this brat on every team: a brash, pig-headed, loud, mean little monster that would also get injured every two seconds because they were physically weak and frail. I had no idea until I got older how frequently those traits go together in people like that.

Ben: The sojourn into Joffrey's sexuality was an interesting one, and one worth taking. I remember when he legitimately seemed taken with Sansa back in the early part of season one and could even be quite charming, but I think it's pretty clear that was his "This is what a king does" mentality operating rather than his libido. The obvious leap would be to wonder if he's gay, or at the very least uninterested in women, but I don't think it's so cut and dry. I think power turns him on, and not in the way you usually hear about it, but in that he literally is attracted to being able to make people do what he wants. Of course why does "make people do what he wants" always seem to involve physical or emotional cruelty? Can't say for sure. He's definitely sadistic, maybe sociopathic, and I'm not entirely certain where that comes from. His (believed) father was a warrior, but not a sadist by any indication we've been given. His mother is diplomatic. Chalk it up to inbreeding? Not sure. He's a fascinating little puzzle. The scene with the whores was as uncomfortable as it should have been (I thought they were going to make it more so, but they pulled back, and I'll just hope you know what I'm talking about rather than spelling it out). Ultimately, I think Bronn was right in thinking Joffrey needed to release some tension, but in his case it's violence and sadism that is his sex.

Jordan: This scene with Joffrey was not in the books, and his sexuality is never mentioned even in passing. I do not think the purpose of this scene was to deal with his sexuality, but was rather meant to establish a few things:

1) Tyrion is trying to gain Joffrey's favor a bit as a means to gain more power in the kingdom. Tyrion is always trying to gain power by targeting the weaknesses in people, so when brutish Bronn makes a joke that Joffrey needs to get laid, Tyrion takes it seriously and sees it as a means to not only befriend his nephew, but also steer Joffrey's evil games away from poor Sansa.

2) Once Joffrey learns the whores are a gift from his uncle, he has them beat themselves to a pulp. This appeals to the sadistic nature of Joffrey, but more importantly it is his intention to send a venomous return message to his uncle of what he thinks of him and his gifts.

Joffrey's personality traits, his mean-spirited nature, his inherently weak physicality, his commanding voice, his impatience and snobbishness, and (last but not least) utter hatred for his uncle are ALL exaggerated traits that have their roots in his mother. Perhaps the greatest evidence that Lena Headey is sucking in the role of Cersei is how many people fail to make the connection that Joffrey is everything Cersei shaped him to be, to the point of it even exceeding her. Cersei is downright malevolent at times in the books and her son is a crazier chip off the ol' block. Hopefully the director will tell Headley to stop taking the character in a sympathetic path and the audience will make this connection more easily.

Hopefully the direction will make her less ugly too. Had to throw that in there.

Ben: You didn’t have to, but I would have been shocked if you hadn’t.

I don't know really why I like Robb, but I do. He's pretty much your classic square-jawed, super moral, even a bit bland hero (heck, he seems more concerned about the Lannister army guys than his own), but I like those characters; I'm pretty much a "one extreme or the other" kinda guy, where my favorites are the cocky jerks like Theon or the ultra noble Robb types and people too in between don't interest me (i.e. maudlin Jon Snow). I liked the introduction of Talisa, though, not just because I thought she was well-portrayed, but because her challenge of Robb made him more interesting. By calling him out on his motives and more importantly his end game, she made him question if he really is this righteous hero everybody treats him like. She called it like it is as far as him risking all these men's lives to get revenge for his family and then having no reward for them even insomuch as being a good and just king. I hope we see a lot more of her.

Jordan: I am totally with you in your admiration of Robb on the show. Both him and Jon Snow are supposed to be Ned Stark clones in temperament, but there is something far stronger in the acting performance of the guy who plays Robb that endears him to the audience. I can't help but wonder how much better the show would be if those two actors switched roles at the outset, considering Jon Snow gets more screen time.

Ben: I don’t really think it would have made a difference, at least from what I’ve seen so far. Robb is the more pro-active character, Jon tends to let stuff happen and brood about it. A degree is no doubt the performance, but there’s definitely something in the core of the characters. I’ve still got faith there’s stuff coming with Jon that could win me over, but I don’t think the stuff I’ve seen so far would have hooked me regardless of who was playing him. Except for maybe Matt Damon. He can do anything.

Jordan: As for Talisa, she may be either a character who is only in that one scene (the name isn't in the books) or may be a character in the books that is hella important in the story that got her name changed...I'm not sure yet. [NOTE: Her name is Jeyne in the books] Either way, that was a cool scene. The writers’ room was obviously getting drunk and writing new scenes left and right for this episode.

Ben: Y’know, they do get paid to do that…

Jordan: One thing extra: They made no large mention of it, but a very important character got introduced at the beginning of this scene: Roose Bolton, the soft-spoken, creepy, powerful lord of House Bolton. As Roose mentions in this scene, the Boltons have a flayed man as their house sigil, which I always thought was super interesting. I will reveal little than to say they are important to the future of the show. It's worth re-watching the scene to look at him again.

Ben: Good episode for your boy Littlefinger. I enjoy for a guy who runs a whorehouse and even goes so far as to teach his employees how to please men he's constantly getting verbally kicked in the nuts by strong women. Cersei made a fool of him a couple weeks ago, then here Margaery zings him with the marriage line and finally Cat disses him. The sheer arrogance of him thinking he had a shot with Cat and that he could also lie his way out of the whole getting her husband killed was pretty hilarious and fun to watch. However, the fact that he walked out of there both at all and with all his limbs intact speaks to what a good line of bullshit he still spins. I will say Catelyn isn't one of my favorites either, so I get nervous that she'll drag him down if they associate too much, but for some reason their relationship works for me, in that she doesn't strike me as being particularly bright (I feel like she's supposed to be, but I also feel like she's one of the few characters who did not translate well from book to show, and I've read that a few places as well) but she still flummoxes him and I like the "love's funny" nature of that.

Jordan: They're ALL good episodes for my boy Littlefinger. While we see touches of his humanity here and there, the thing I love about the character is that he is the chess player who is ALWAYS playing. He doesn't take a second away from pulling strings behind the scenes. You can see the character in both the books and show gently testing the limits of other people before stepping back, studying the players in the game before figuring out the best way to act. Varys and he share this trait, as exhibited in the first season when they are talking to each other in the throne room and exploring one another for weaknesses. With some of the most brilliant, cutting, calculating dialogue in the world of the show, it's guaranteed to be an entertaining sequence the moment you glimpse Littlefinger in a scene.

Catelyn, on the other hand...well...she is what I would call a "human" character. If the world was only comprised of calculating Littlefingers, secret-toting Varyses, evil Joffreys, and ambitious Daeneryses, it wouldn't be very believable. Catelyn is a real person with real emotions and while she is obviously less interesting than the others I understand her role as the glue in the whole thing. That said, she is a bit of a dull character in the books and her actress doesn't really help things. While the character's story arc gets SUPER interesting later, she doesn't have much to offer right now and I have to say I still have no idea why they cast a woman in the role that looks like she is in her mid-60s.

Ben: Part of me wishes that Sean Bean could have gotten an easy payday to play his own headless corpse, but part of me wishes they'd swung completely in the other direction and used the most over-the-top wax replica they could make; their decision not to show the body at all is why they make a hit TV show and I write this blog with you for no payment but the warmth of our fans and admirers.

Jordan: Sean Bean came out and said he would die to be involved with the show in any possible way moving forward, which is both cool and sad...especially that they didn't even let him play his own corpse. I swear if these cheeky writers deviate from the books and write in some "long lost twin brother" bullcrap to get Bean back on the show I'm going to be pissed.

Ben: What is your problem with these poor writers? Friggin' animators...and if they wanted to keep him on the show that bad, I’m pretty sure they could have just balked on killing him. Clearly they committed there.

Other than the concentration camp parallels and that Arya is just generally kick ass, her and Gendry's scenes in downtown Hartford didn't really interest me. The rats thing was pretty awful, and I have to admit for a hot second I actually thought they might kill Gendry despite his potential not being anywhere near tapped because this show can be like that, but otherwise, meh. I did love that Tywin instantly knew Arya was a girl and stated it so matter of fact; that guy kicks ass.

Jordan: The scenes in and around Harrenhal are pretty grisly and bleak so they did a good job in an insanely short amount of time showing that. Arya's story is about to get really interesting and I pray they don't change a thing about it. Don't screw this for me, writer's room.

I just made a realization: 99% of the added scenes the writers on the television show made to the story involve the prostitutes in the kingdom. Just look at the scenes that weren't in the books and all of them center around whores. This can't be a coincidence!

Ben: There’s an Andy Samberg digital short from Saturday Night Live a few weeks back you really need to watch…

Finally Daenerys' story is going somewhere again. She ended last season on such a high note and then all the hanging around in the desert this year has just been a downer. I like that in her confrontation with the Thirteen we got to see all sides of her complex character--proud warrior queen, uncertain little girl, and entitled child of privilege--in phases. She started conducting herself like royalty, then got scared because she thought her people were going to die, then threw a little tantrum because the Thirteen weren't obeying the "proper" laws of etiquette. Because she's so exhausted and at her wit's end and because Emilia Clarke is tremendous, I bought each incarnation as genuine. Her transformation from the silent waif we met in the pilot to the present has been so extreme, that it was almost refreshing to see that the front she puts on can be just that, and she can break down from time to time. Daenerys is one of my favorite characters, and as ever, I just wonder how long it will be until she hooks up with the rest of the story and how many distractions like Qarth they can use to delay that moment. It's gonna be a doozy (I hope).

Jordan: The show is condensing Daenerys' story a TON, which is actually a very good thing because we are being spared a ton of monotonous scrambling around the desert. I concur that Daenerys' story is shaping up quite well, and I am interested to see where they take it. I also like that they are using the free cities to cast cartoonish-looking actors. For all the subtlety and nuance that is going into the Westeros scenes, it's almost as if they see a super fat guy, super skinny guy, super tattooed guy, and guy with one eyeball on line for Game Of Thrones auditions and said to them, "Don't bother auditioning. You're all cast in the free cities scenes. Congrats."

Ben: That spice merchant was wonderful. It played like a great homage to Wallace Shawn in The Princess Bridge. The only person who maybe could have done it better would be...Wallace Shawn, I guess. Or maybe Curry Man, since he's the King of Spice. I'm also predisposed to like Xaro Xhoan Daxos because I've got a soft spot for physically huge guys who are all heart underneath, like my towering best friend who has a heart of gold beneath his freakish frame.

Jordan: Haha. The spice merchant was indeed fantastic. LOVE that the writers didn't even give him a fake name. That poor actor essentially had to say onscreen "You aren't going to see me enough in this show to even get to know my name, so I'm not even going to give it."

Interested to see where they go with Xaro Xhoan Daxos. His character fascinated me in the books although he wasn't in them much, so I predict his character will be expanded a lot for the show.

Ben: Ser Jorah Mormont is my least favorite character on the show. I would not miss him.

Jordan: Like I said before, not hairy enough. The actor also is a bit of a one-note tune for me. I would do an imitation of the cadence he delivers every line in if this blog had audio, but it doesn't...yet.

Ben: If you’ve got the cash, we’re eager to take donations for new tech.

Now is the part of the blog where we do the requisite praising of Peter Dinklage's performance and what a great character Tyrion is.

Jordan: I want to have his babies.

Ben: In all seriousness, the thing that fascinates me most about Tyrion at this stage is how good a guy is he? Obviously like 85% of what he does is about self-preservation, but clearly there are other things making him tick. Is he a genuine hero in some ways or is that just the power of Dinklage's charisma carrying me away? Is saving Sansa from her humiliation part of a larger game for him or is that one of those things he does simply because it's right and maybe in some part because he liked her father and feels like he owes his kids? Obviously having been a persecuted outcast as he's been, the obvious paths for him are to lash out at the world that has mistreated him now that he has power or to use that influence to make it so other don't need to suffer as he did. At times he almost seems like a super hero, swooping in to punish the wicked with a quip and rescuing innocents, but that's clearly simplifying him. So much screen time is given to this fellow, and Dinklage indeed makes it seem effortless, but even after all the time we've "spent" with him, I still have so many questions.

Jordan: I would say Tyrion is an active player in the Game of Thrones (which is, in itself largely a game of self-preservation), but to fully answer your question about his spotty heroics, I defer to a line from Tyrion himself in season one: “I have a soft spot for cripples, bastards and broken things.”

Ben: So then there's the end of the episode. In the moment, when I was watching, I got swept up in the weirdness and creepiness, but upon further review, I don't believe I cared for it and I can point to two reasons:

1. I didn't like that particular use of magic. Yeah, mysticism is part of the show, and it's been lurking on the outskirts since we glimpsed the White Walkers in the very first scene, popping in at random times with stuff like Daenerys' dragons and Bran's connection to the wolves, but I haven't enjoyed how in the heart of things the whole "Lord of Light" deal places it. I just feel like it veers away from the overall feel they've worked so hard to establish. Little glimpses into the realm of the supernatural are one thing, and I know it will probably encroach as time goes on, but a full on smoke monster baby felt like too much too soon for me.

Jordan: Totally, totally understand this reaction. I too felt something similar when I read this shadow birth scene, turning to my wife while I was reading and saying, "Whoa...so something insanely bizarre and supernatural just happened. Don't know how I feel about this. Hope this book doesn't get all goofy and spooky moving forward." I want to assure you that it doesn't. Like the shock of seeing the dragons at the end of Season 1, George R.R. Martin does a genius job throughout the story of smacking the reader in the face with something nuts and supernatural and then deftly pulling it back.

Armed with this knowledge beforehand, I was very excited to see how they would do this scene and it was SUPER fun to watch! LOVED this scene!

Ben: 2. I'm not buying Melisandre in the least. I don't like how she's been dropped into the midst of this world we've gotten to know and is kind of being pushed as both extremely important and seemingly unflappable. With the other new characters, they're pretty powerful and imposing figures as well, but they're also flawed and show moments of weakness, with there being perhaps no better example than Stannis. Melisandre seemed in control from the moment she showed up onscreen and her confidence has never once wavered. Sure, that's probably what they're going for since she's a fanatic, and thus believes with totality in what she's doing, but it has still rubbed me wrong. She's the first character I feel like the show is telling me I should care about rather than making me care about her. I would contrast her with somebody like Daenerys, where as I mentioned, we got to see her whole journey from uncertainty to power, and even now her cracks are evident, whereas Melisandre was introduced fully formed and I have no idea why. Would I like her more if we got to see her back story and how she got here? Maybe, but this show doesn't do flashbacks, near as I can tell. Maybe she'll win me over, but she's a very frustrating blind spot for me right now.

Jordan: Both Stannis and Melisandre are initially presented in an aloof fashion in the books as well, so it’s interesting to see you are feeling this same way towards them. They don't have chapters from their perspective, with their story instead being told through the likeable Davos. The reason I personally find both Stannis and Melisandre very interesting as they represent wild cards in the Game of Thrones. As with the Greyjoys, I LOVE the wild cards in this story. You've got the giant armies of Robb, Renly, and Joffrey, all hulking and huge and ready to duke it out while they size each other up...and on the fringes you have the beaten down house of Greyjoy and the super miniscule (yet brimming with witchcraft) crew of Stannis. The REAL fun begins once they enter the fray, in my opinion.

One thing I have found interesting with the HBO series is the presentation of these two groups, most definitely my two favorite groups in the books. The Greyjoys and Stannis' Lord of Light crew both are equally despised by readers, but are positioned very differently from one another on the TV show. The Greyjoys and Theon have been presented rather openly, with the viewer encouraged to empathize with Theon and explore the exciting world of House Greyjoy. The music backing Greyjoy scenes has been somewhat heroic, with strings and trumpets. On the flipside, when Stannis and Melisandre are onscreen there is a very dark and evil feel to it all, which leads the viewer to believe they are the bad guys. You are given no such direction in the books, and I never saw them as bad. Guess we will see how this all evolves, as the show has most certainly done a good job of casting OTHER characters in the kingdom in a negative light who will eventually turn out to be heroic and popular (you readers who read the books know who I am talking about, right? Right? High five!)

Ben: However, ending aside (for me), strong episode.

Jordan: Me too. Had the three "b"s of good storytelling: Bloodshed, boobs, baby shadow creatures.

Ben: Poetry. See you next week!


Keith W. said...

Man that Baby Smoke Monster was Creepy!

I just thought she was gonna lay down and have a baby, boy was I wrong. Great episode, I'm trying to get my wife to watch but she's super leery. She's just not as much of a nerd as We, but then again few are.

Keep it up Fellas.

babybillydee said...

As a resident of Htfd, CT; I lol'd! Great review guys, though you forgot one "b"... Baby killing. I think the writers forgot, too...

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