Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Ben & Jordan Watch Game of Thrones: What Is Dead May Never Die

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: To quote my wife, Megan, "Oh great, two Jon Snow scenes back to back right from the start" dripping with sarcasm. Jon is her least favorite character ("too emo") and I'm pretty ambivalent toward him. He's so far removed from everybody else I don't really think he's had a chance to shine and his personality isn't strong enough to sustain him like, say, Daenarys, although I did think he had some cool moments last season when he was beating the crap out of the other Wall recruits who thought he was soft. The "beyond The Wall" developments were a bit of a let down given the cliffhanger last week, though, as "yeah, he's sacrificing his sons to the White Walkers and Mormont is cool with it because it's a means to and end" is pretty much exactly what I expected. Granted, getting what's expected isn't always a bad thing, as it makes narrative sense, but I thought it was a waste of a "big mystery" to end last week's episode when the resolution seemed so obvious. I'm anxious for the Night's Watch gang to get moving further beyond The Wall at this point. I'm also very interested how long the White Walkers will remain on the fringes and how big a game changer it will be when they do become involved. They do seem like a a force potentially big enough to get all these rival factions maybe on the same page, because they're that dangerous, and that the entire show from its first moments started with them seems to underscore their eventual importance; I like that despite that splashy intro back then, they've been so relegated to the background since.

Jordan: Like I said last week, the choice to end the previous episode on "dead babies in the snow" made little sense to me, as the whole Craster killing boy babies thing is merely a means to an end for a future development. In the books it's practically just Mormont shrugging and saying, "Craster? Oh yeah dat wild homey always be killin' dem boy shorties. Whatevs. Have dat raven pass me a wineskin."

Jon Snow's tale gets MUCH more interesting as a character as he proceeds beyond the wall, to a point where I went from dreading his chapters to looking forward to them. Based on the snippets from the season preview, I am certain those interesting bits will at least begin later this season. That said, I can't help but look at the person playing Jon and wonder (while he looks the part) if he simply is a bad actor. There is zero likeable or relate-able about him, and what makes the character a fan fave is how endearing he comes off. This alone stops me short from doing my token "stick with this character...it gets GOOD" promise, as for all I know the actor may keep doing his annoying distrusting, tight-lipped face through the whole character arc.

Ben: I'm all about that Sam-Gilly romance. One of the most endearing things about the girl who played Gilly, Hannah Murray, on Skins is that she was with more or less the geek of the show but she has that perfect balance of being cute enough so that you're psyched he could get her, but also plain/quirky enough that you believe it. This was the first week I really got a sense I would like her on this show and that was just through a couple lines. And Sam is just great.

Jordan: It's getting to a point that every time Jon Snow is onscreen, and the audience recoils from how little they feel for his character, Sam pops on afterward and just NAILS it. His actor manages to convey gentleness, hope, awkwardness, and host of other qualities in an absurdly short amount of screen time. He somehow is becoming way more interesting to me than the oft-whiny character was in the books. I have a 3-episode streak this season of murmuring, "Wow, he is so perfect in this scene" after every time Sam appears.

Gilly does seem to work with Sam, looks-wise. I'm definitely with you there. I can't tell if she will be ultimately good in the role as she is currently portraying a character who is trying hard to NOT show any emotional connection to anyone, so I will defer to your judgement on the actress. I can say flatly that I never, ever cared one iota about Gilly in the books, so I am interested to see if this actress can keep me interested moving forward.

Ben: So is Bran going to become Harry Potter? The kid who gets fucked up and then learns magic? I'm more excited that there could be giants.

Jordan: Bran's chapters SUCK early on in the books. I mean, they are just a boring heaping piles of elephant dung. They are a lot of him whining about his legs and having messed up dreams that make no sense. Then, out of nowhere, his story gets AMAZING and you are excited to read about him. I am not sure how soon that is coming on the show as the writers are bending time around to keep the audience engaged, but he is a character I can definitely recommend you stick with. The one correlation that Bran definitely has with Harry Potter is it becomes glaringly clear that he is super duper important and the supernatural forces in the kingdom recognize this.

You totally almost wrote "They Might Be Giants."

Ben: You don’t know that and can’t prove it.

Jordan: I too am jazzed for seeing giants though I will temper your hopes by noting that Hodor is supposed to have giant blood in him and he just looks like a slow-minded NFL offensive lineman. I'm hoping they go the full monty and have really huge giants if they are shown.

On the subject of supernatural stuff, one thing everyone in the kingdom talks about in regards to old folklore are these giant monster spiders in the north. Now THAT I am excited to learn more about!

Ben: I'm very glad Renly is back, I find him a fascinating character. You've got all these guys like Stannis, not to mention Robert and Ned, who are pure warriors and soldiers but pretty much suck at the pomp and circumstance side of being a king. In contrast, Renly looks like he'd get knocked over by a strong breeze, but he's got being regal and a man of the people down to a science. He plays into stuff Varys was talking about toward the end in regards to the true nature of power. Does it comes from being a great fighter or from being the guy everybody gets along with? The king with the most men willing to follow him "wins," but how do you get people to follow you? Also in contrast to Robert, Renly would enjoy the heck out of being king. He loves the perks. Robert just wanted to kill stuff. I get the sense Stannis would be the same way. I have no idea what kind of king Robb would be. The people of Westeros would probably be happiest with Renly as king because there would be lots of parties and no beheadings, but they'd also probably get conquered by Daenerys and her dragons after about two weeks.

Jordan: Renly is a character that everyone universally likes, and he is being played perfectly by Gethin Anthony. I came into work yesterday and asked a coworker what his reaction to watching this last episode was. His top thing, right off the bat, was that he thought Renly was a great character and his storyline was fascinating. Renly is good at being a king (something even Catelyn can't deny) because he is a personable man of the people. Giving Renly this personality trait was a genius move by George R.R. Martin. Renly needs a strong reason for being able to build an army because he is the only guy proclaiming he is the king that has absolutely no legal claim on the crown at all. Joffrey says he is the rightful son of Robert. Stannis says that as the next brother in line the succession should go to him because he believes Joffrey illegitimate. Robb says the Lannisters are using unsound means to gain power in the kingdom and thinks it his right to defend his northern homeland. Heck, even Balon Greyjoy says the world is just an empty slate that the strongest man can claim. Renly, on the other hand, is looking around and saying, "Sheesh. ALL of these people SUCK at being king. Fight for me and we'll have a good, peaceful kingdom again", and it's this reason that his army has quickly one of the kingdom's largest. That and his cool beard.

Ben: Margaery and Brienne are both interesting characters right off the bat. I wish I hadn't seen publicity photos of Brienne because the reveal that this kick ass warrior was a woman would have been cool going in cold, but what can you do. I'd like to know more about her past and exactly where her "all duty" attitude came from. I'm sure some of it is rooted in the whole "I'm not pretty and I'm kind of a freak so I'm going to be a brute instead of a lady to fit the part" deal, but I wonder if there's more. The reveal that Margaery knew about Renly's sexual preference and romance with her brother was well-handled. She was played aloof enough that I thought she was just a clueless princess, going with the flow of wanting to be queen, but that she's smart and ambitious to the point where she's 110% ready to carry a baby out of a loveless marriage just to win the war makes her far more interesting. She's also got striking physical features, in her face especially; she looks like a cat, which is perfect for a character who is pretending to be one thing but is in actuality very much another.

Jordan: I like Brienne's casting a lot, as she is every bit the stoic, ugly, mountain of a woman I envisioned her. My wife, on the other hand, doesn't like the casting one bit, saying that in her brief screentime she came off as a bad actress with no emotional range. Time will tell on this one who is right.

Margery in the books is an enigma, someone that is kept very close to the vest of the author as to how much she actually is doing behind the scenes. Mostly, she just acts the smiling princess and it is left at that. The reveal of her as an active player in the Game of Thrones AND her knowing about Renly's sexual preferences was completely new for her character and not in the books. Unlike the majority of the writer's room tinkerings, this was a very, very cool addition. As for Margery's actress, Natalie Dormer, if you watched The Tudors two questions popped into your head the moment you saw her:

1) How much is this character going to use her sweet looks as a means to gain power?

2) When will she get naked?


Ben: Again, "As the Greyjoys Turn" is the best part of the show. Yara gets the best lines on the show not spoken by Peter Dinklage. Her taunts toward Theon about getting only one boat and being careful of fishermen had me rolling. Why is it the Greyjoys seem to have like two or three sayings and catchphrases as opposed to just one though? Is their main one "What is dead may never die" or the longer one? I feel like Balon spent forever coming up with the shorter one, then the Starks showed up and said "Winter is coming" and he was like "Fuck! That is so much cooler than mine! Bad enough that my animal is a fucking squid...ok, back to the drawing board..." and then just spent weeks writing new slogans for t-shirts and that's why he lost the war because he was distracted.

Jordan: I have had only a few genuinely cathartic experiences in my life, but one came last night when I watched the Greyjoys scene with my wife. It ended, she turned to me, and said, "I love these characters. I can't believe how interesting all of the Greyjoys are. How did I not see this in the book?" I then stood up and did a touchdown dance. I was RIGHT! IN YOUR FACE, WORLD! Side note, doing this dance was much more effective than actually answering her question.

Ben: I’m not 100% convinced you didn’t just misuse “cathartic” but I’m too uninterested to check.

Jordan: The official slogan of the Greyjoys is "We Do Not Sow", something that at least two people have asked me what the heck it means when I wear the Greyjoy shirt in public. The answer I give is "They are pirates who pillage and burn the land, not farmers who build and maintain it...I think." Hearing Balon's explanation in the pivotal "You gave your last son away" scene made me feel vindicated that I had completely guessed correctly at this catchphrase definition. There were a lot of touchdown dances going on. It was embarrassing in hindsight.

Ben: Why Theon Greyjoy is (one of) the best character(s) on the show: He's one week removed from sexually violating his sister and I still feel bad for him. I felt for him as she was essentially bullying him and then had to shake myself every so often and rememmber "Oh yeah, last week..." His "You gave me away like a dog!" rant to his dad was simultaneously pathetic and heartwrenching. I honestly have no idea what's going to happen when he meets up with Robb again and I don't think he does either. Just a fantastically layered and complex figure.

Jordan: Later on last night, after realizing her folly with the Greyjoys, my wife asked me, "How is it possible that Theon came off as so unlikeable in the books, yet is likeable on the show?" I explained to her that Theon's cockiness, womanizing, and (as we see in this episode) treachery are really just a very sad means for him to find a family for the first time in his life. He is a lifelong nomad that desperately wants a home and fate cruelly rips it from him repeatedly. THAT'S what made me empathize with Theon from the get go. He puts up the cocky face of a warrior to conceal the scared child underneath.

I am not one to criticize ANY of George R.R. Martin's work...the guy is a flippin' genius...but perhaps these layers that I saw in Theon that others didn't were not clearly communicated enough in the books. Unlike Margery Tyrell's turn in this episode, these basic personality traits of Theon were always there, but may have been grossly outweighed by his strong actions for others to see them. Watching the first season, I had serious second thoughts about whether my feelings on the character were right because they played him as every bit the cocky, jerky, untrustworthy brat everyone always told me he was. The turn his character has made in this second season is nothing short of a triumph for the actor, writers, and director. Oh, and me. We must never forget me.

Ben: I enjoy Shae. I don't always "get" her (if that makes any sense), but I enjoy her. I like that she's getting to expand her circle beyond Tyrion because her ambition to see the world will make for some interesting situations, I think. I also like that she's paired with Sansa because I very much enjoy her as well and we haven't seen enough of her this season to date. Just the fact that she's this girl who came so close to her ultimate dream only for it to become a nightmare and now she's trying to survive as best she can basically on diplomacy and nothing else makes for great drama. I liked how she tried to slip back into her bratty rich girl persona with Shae but just couldn't quite commit to it because she's so freaking broken at this point. I also like that Tyrion sent Shae to pretend to be a handmaiden with apparently no instruction whatsoever on how to be a handmaiden.

Jordan: Shae doesn't interest me much at all, and I have no idea why they are focusing on her character so much. The whole "I don't want to be a serving wench" was a blip in the book that spoke more to her behaving like a child than to her having some bizarre hooker-to-debutant Pretty Woman sense of entitlement. As you may have guessed by the previous sentence, her scene with Sansa was an added one that wasn't in the books and didn't serve a purpose for me. We already knew Sansa was broken. We already knew Shae wasn't happy being a wench. All it did was remind me pointedly for yet another episode that Shae's looks have gone WAY down from the first season. Again, HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE? Was it a Mark Hamill car accident incident? Ben, here are images of Shae from the first season...

And the second season...

She clearly goes from hottie to nottie, somehow using one show hiatus to somehow age 20 years.

Ben: Um…I have a hunch Shae will die this season. No real basis other than a lot of characters die on this show and she seems like she's in a bad spot and is the type of person who will overplay her hand. Of course, she could just as easily pull an Arya and completely defy the odds.

Jordan: I will reveal nothing other than to say that her face is already dead.

Ben: What is there to say about Tyrion this week. The scheme was brilliant. Dinklage's execution of the scheme was brilliant. Bronn's one line was brilliant. I actually had a bit of trouble keeping track of what information he gave to who, but I'm glad Pycelle was the traitor because it gave us his fantastic breakdown scene and, of course, Tyrion leaving the money for the whore. I hope that's not the last we see of Pycelle because there's always mileage in the horny old man who pretends to be more broken down than he is. I'm a big fan of Tyrion breaking down the small council the way he is and doing everything he can to avoid Ned's fate in the process. It does well to hold him up against Ned as a guy who does seem to have a good heart but also a helluva lot more self-interest as well. I'm also interested by the differences between his dynamics with Varys and your boy Littlefinger where his carrot for the first seems to be making him feel "part of the game" while with the latter it's just play on his lust for power, Catelyn, etc.

Jordan: Not the last we will see of Pycelle, so don't worry there. This scene does a lot of damage to Pycelle's character though as that beard that they cut off was very important to him (I'm not joking, believe it or not. He LOVED that thing).

Tyrion's motivations were expertly defined in this episode: He saw the previous Hand Of The King, Ned, sit back and do nothing out of honor until it was too late. Like Tyrion, I HATED this about Ned's character in the book and that executioner's axe couldn't fall fast enough for me. Tyrion is doing the anti-Ned (which is a great name for a dance move) by jumping into the fray with guns (trebuchets) blazing. He recognizes the council as being the unspoken executioner of previous Hand Of The Kings and finds a brilliant way to root out the ones that may do him harm and ensnare the ones that remain. You can tell George R.R. Martin patted himself on the back after devising this scheme, shortly before going back to his day job of 'long white beard growin.’

Ben: Right after Yoren gave that fantastic talk to Arya about killing his brother's killer, I turned to Megan and said "This guy is one of my new favorite characters...he will probably be dead in five minutes." And boy was he. That last scene was about as brutal as this show has been in awhile, which is of course saying something. Rad surrogate father figures to Arya just do not do well on this show. I gave an audible "Ohhhhh...that was clever" to how Arya saved Gendry though. I was also sure those criminals she freed were going to be the cavalry, so I'm intrigued to find out why they weren't.

Jordan: I obviously knew Yoren's fate before it happened, so that fantastic monologue saddened me a bit because the show was losing an amazing actor. I am pleased to know that it accomplished its mission of endearing the character to the audience, only to have him snatched by the grim reaper in a cold and brutal fashion later. There is a LOT of that coming up, and I can proclaim loudly that at least one character that is held near and dear to the audience's heart will be killed brutally this season. It's a grisly game, this Game Of Thrones. Almost as grisly as the Sims can be when your friend locks you out of your room and kills off your characters as you shriek helplessly at the door.

Ben: I stand by my decision. You were falling into an abyss of unreality. You’re welcome.

See you next week!


Charles Roig said...

Like Jordan explained, "We Do Not Sow" are the words of House Greyjoy. "What is Dead Can Never Die" are the words of the Iron Islanders as a culture, from their worship of the Drowned God.

They kinda wimped out on Theon's baptism scene. The real baptism initiation of the Iron Islanders is probably a much more involved affair than they wanted to depict for this episode, so I assume they're saving it for the introduction of another Greyjoy character later in the series who it is more essential to. The motto of the religion makes more sense once you see it, though.

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