Saturday, May 19, 2012

Ben & Jordan Watch Game of Thrones: A Man Without Honor

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!

Jordan: This week I have to start with something that annoyed me. Up to this point, Game of Thrones’ HBO writers have taken a lot of liberties with the Song of Ice and Fire story in the name of good storytelling and condensing very dense books into simple, transparent narratives. Despite these changes, the writers were able to appease both old and new fans by keeping the characters consistent in both their personalities and motives. Yeah, Littlefinger could be inserted into Renly's camp for seemingly no reason...but at least he ACTED very Littlefinger-ish. That said, this episode was the first time I just shook my head at one major character acting completely unlike he had previously in the HBO series, and in the entirety of the books: Tywin Lannister. The cold, stone-faced, cutthroat, war-loving patriarch of the Lannister clan was transformed into a cuddly, friendly, grandfatherly figure to Arya...a character whom he never had any direct contact with in the books. Giving the series the benefit of the doubt (and truly enjoying the acting of Charles Dance and Maisie Williams) I tried to watch these scenes and ignore this gigantic personality change...but at a certain point the hard facts came pouring back in: This was a change I knew was pointless to the overall story. This was a change that was in direct opposition to character presented on the show to this point. This was a change that would leave viewers confused with future actions of the Tywin character in general.

I tried to convince myself I was alone in these feelings, or that they were solely a result of having read the books first, but when I went to work the next day many coworkers of mine had the same questions regarding the Arya-Tywin scenes: "Does Tywin know that Arya is lying? Why is he being so nice to her? Does she like him or want to kill him? What is the point of their friendship?" The new change had muddied things up, and not in a cool, mysterious way...but a half-assed, unclear way (A way I like to call "How 'Lost' handled everything"). To quote an L.A. Times article on this past episode: "The "Game of Thrones" that plays out weekly on HBO will never be the "Song of Ice and Fire" books exactly, it never has. But with each passing week, tiny changes from the plot of the books are rippling out and causing the series to deviate more and more from what was widely praised as a near-identical transcription of the books during Season 1. Just how far can the TV show deviate before fans cry foul? And do the changes really matter?" HBO, cut the crap, take off his Cosby sweater, and give us back our Tywin!

Ben: First of all, I commend you at actually bringing hard—and footnoted!—material to the table to support one of your opinions this week beyond simply relying on your invisible Greek chorus of co-workers and friends.

Second—I agree with you. Not your near-fanatical “EVERYTHING MUST BE LIKE THE BOOK OR I WILL RAID THE HBO OFFICES WITH MY HOMEMADE GREYJOYS DAGGER” point of view, but in that the Tywin we’re seeing here does not resemble the Tywin we saw last season and who seemed pretty solidly established. The whole song and dance is making Tywin look bad, it’s making Arya look bad and it’s making the show look bad. It was cute once or twice, but now credibility is straining. It’s not like Tywin doesn’t suspect something, because clearly he does, hence his constant stream of pointed questions, but despite the fact he’s a shrewd enough fellow to be the wealthiest guy in the kingdom and a highly successful warlord, he’s getting outwitted by a little girl. Now at first I didn’t have a problem with that in as much as Arya is no ordinary little girl and is extraordinary clever, but she’s no longer really displaying that, she’s doing dopey stuff like spilling wine on Littlefinger or creating a fictional stone mason father who had an extensive library. So it’s not just Tywin whose character suffers by looking dense, Arya is being stripped of her hard fought evolution by pulling stunts you’d expect from Lindsay Lohan in the The Parent Trap (I’m aware that was a remake, but our readers are young and hip and don’t know who Hayley Mills is).

The one counterargument I could see being put forth is “Oh, well Tywin has never experienced this paternal feeling before, so he’s seeing what he wants to see,” but we know he has three kids and multiple grandkids. He was by all rights a horrible father—see Tyrion’s story of his first love from last season—and I don’t buy that Cersei and Jaime were awful people straight out of the womb, so presumably he squandered his opportunity rather than losing it.

Like you, there was a degree to which I was willing to look the other way simply because Charles Dance and Maisie Williams had great chemistry, but that tolerance is bending/bordering on breaking. They need to break out of this rut soon, either by Tywin revealing he knew all along and had his reasons (good ones) or Arya grabbing Gendry and getting the f out of there.

Jordan: Moving on, The Jon Snow story is becoming SUPER fun to watch as Rose Leslie's portrayal of Ygritte makes it IMPOSSIBLE to watch anyone else onscreen. She is like Emma Stone at the Oscars: a superstar that demands your attention with every word and every movement. Drab Jon Snow plays off of this perfectly, looking almost like the straight-faced Abbot to the uber-sexual Ygritte's Costello. It took 17 episodes, but I finally don't give a deep exhalation of grief when I see the icy setting of The Wall pop on my television. Huzzah!

Ben: We are two for two as far being on the same page, brother. I can’t believe what a 180 my anticipation of Jon Snow scenes has done in a few short weeks, and thanks no part whatsoever to Kit Harrington…ok, to be fair, he does a nice job of playing the straight man and foil, like you said, so kudos, Kit. But yeah, Rose Leslie is brilliant. She really puts her whole being into every little line.

More than that, she’s not just a great character, she’s actually making me understand and dare I say appreciate Jon Snow to some degree. This is a dude who no doubt had a massive inferiority complex growing up that his father and brothers—not his stepmother, who as Jaime Lannister reveals wonderfully later in this episode likely hated him—sought to combat by assuring him he was just as good at them as everything. He went to The Wall puffed up of the confidence instilled in him by his overcompensating family and just got more and more assured/insufferable as he mopped the floor with the other losers in his training class and then got that lucky zombie kill. Now he’s out on his own, just like he kept claiming he wanted, and not only has he totally botched everything, he’s got this sexy gnat in his ear reminding him every two seconds. It’s brilliant. I guess my problem with Jon Snow was in large part that everything came so easily too him but in a way that felt unearned; if he emerges from this true trial by fire an improved dude, maybe I’ll like him more…or maybe I’ll want him and Jorah Mormont to impale each other simultaneously again, we’ll see. “You know nothing, Jon Snow,” indeed.

Jordan: Oh ho! Look at this! It's that Jaimie Lannister guy! Finally back with some actual dialogue onscreen! Yes, ladies and gents, somehow the unnamed, made-up-for-the-show "Spice King" has had more screen time this season than one of the series' most important characters! Truthfully, it was nice to see Jaimie back again, dirty beard and all. I know fans who haven't read the books probably don't care much about him at this point, but hopefully he gets more face time and can make an impression worthy of the character.

Ben: I haven’t read the books and was thrilled to have Jaime back. He’s one of those characters who makes soap operas—and no matter how much acclaim this show gets you’re kidding yourself if you don’t think there’s heavy soap opera elements—great: The self-assured jackass who can actually back it up. He’s Michael Mancini’s smarminess with Jake Hanson’s ability; or simply Peter Burns, if you prefer. The character is versatile in the sense it’s a pleasure to watch him get taken down a peg or two, but it’s also delightful to watch him do what he does best, outwitting and emotionally manipulating those around him, then using his physical gifts to place the exclamation point; his mental shell game and then brutal murder of his cousin was a thing of brilliance, then his calm but fiery attack on Catelyn with those great jabs at Brienne was a lovely follow-up. I love this guy.

Jordan: I like Jaimie too. For those of you keeping count that makes me a fan of Theon, Littlefinger, Stannis, Jaqen, and Jaimie...not exactly a list of people you'd entrust your kids with. With Jaimie, I've always had a soft spot for people that are able to somehow be likeable despite delivering deeply insulting sarcasm to those around them, from comedians like Patrice O'Neal and Chevy Chase, to that Ben Morse guy.

Ben: In the words of Andy Samberg as Nicolas Cage, high praise.

Jordan: It's hard to make the stuff going on in King's Landing uninteresting, but somehow this episode figured out the exact crappy actor formula to it: Take one part Sandor Clegane, mix in a little Sansa Stark, add a dash of Shae, then shoot it out of your ass. Not even a glum Tyrion-Cersei conversation could make the audience really care about the goings on in the castle walls, a location that is usually a strength for the series. Where's Bronn when you need him?

Ben: The Sansa/Shae/Hound stuff was indeed the stuff of drying wallpaper, but I actually thought this episode was Cersei’s finest hour in at least this season (her only other real memorable moment was threatening Littlefinger, and who hasn’t done that). In two separate scenes we got to see her metaphorically stripped down and displaying at least a glimmer of her true emotions, a rarity for this character. Her harsh but motherly advice to Sansa made that exchange far more compelling than it had any right to be, and I’d even contend that Lena Headey carried her end of the business with Peter Dinklage this week. Her assessment of her marriage to Robert and more so her admittance that she had no control over Joffrey had me actually feeling for her; and there was a twisted tenderness in her concern that her inbreeding with Jaime, and really her only true expression of love, had given birth to monsters. I liked that both Cersei and Jaime rather casually confirmed their true relationship to outside parties this episode and even more how Dinklage gave Tyrion the perfect “Yeah, we all knew, but I’ll pretend to be at least a bit shocked for your sake” reaction.

Jordan: Though acted well, I found the scripted dialogue with Robb and Talisa completely ridiculous. It sounded like a late night Cinemax movie. Scratch that...late night Cinemax movies are Shakespeare next to the all-too-obvious subtext in this scene:

Talisa: "Hey. People are dying. Check it out (points over shoulder). I have to get medical supplies from The Cragg."

Robb: "I love medicine and helping people and stuff. If you like...maybe I can go WITH you to The Cragg."

Talisa: "Maybe you could."

Robb: "Yes...maybe I could."

(Cue swell of saxophone music)

Ben: It’s much more fulfilling if you imagine they’re going to the set of GUTS for supplies…which I now hope they will next week.

Jordan: Oof, Theon is really being trumpeted squarely as a super villain right now—the two ways to achieve super villain status in the middle ages being over-the-top beating of peasants and displaying the charred remains of children.

Ben: Without the benefit of spoilers, I’ll predict those roasted kids are not the Stark boys, but rather the unfortunate neighbor lads Rickon namedropped with the subtlety of a sledgehammer earlier in the episode. You don’t need to tell me I’m right, book boy, I’ll accept your kudos next week.

I do hope Theon isn’t going too far over into cartoonish over-the-top bad guy territory. His sojourn back to the Iron Islands was so effective because it gave him such rich motivation in wanting to please the father he had unintentionally abandoned years earlier. I want that to remain his reason for doing the things he does, rather than just the “You guys kidnapped me and killed my brothers!” rallying cry he’s adopted; I don’t really buy that he gives a shit about his dead siblings so much as I believe he desperately craves daddy’s approval, so I’d prefer they keep going in that latter direction.

Jordan: On a side note, I find the inclusion of Maester Luwin in most scenes HILARIOUS. Most of his lines are in the super funny "token old guy in stressful situation" vein like, "Theon...please...DON'T!" and "Have mercy on their souls!" I kinda want to play a drinking game with his lines. Rule: Viewer must chug the rest of his/her drink if Luwin says "Gods help us all."

Ben: You remember when we tried to play that Melrose Place drinking game in college and almost died because we didn’t realize you were supposed to pick one character per episode and tried to do it with every character? Good times.

Jordan: The scene in Qarth was quite entertaining to me this week. It featured lots of cool action in Xaro naming himself King of Qarth, Pyat Pree multiplying himself and going on one of those ol' fashioned "throat-slitting sprees," and Dany being baited to go to The House of the Undying to rescue them. Whoever did costume design on Pyat Pree should be denied an Emmy based solely on the fact that they stole his look from Quan Chi in the Mortal Kombat games.

Ben: Xaro is so much more interesting to me as a bad guy than as the dude pining for Dany. If nothing else it gives his “I came from nothing and earned everything” rap a fresh beat. Pyat Pree is wonderfully creepy and I liked the way he seemingly couldn’t be killed. Weird mask lady is also intriguing. I hope Jorah trips on a root and they just cut back to him slowly bleeding to death over the course of eight episodes. His come-on to Dany could not have been ickier and I’m thrilled she finally called him out on being a dirty old man. I also enjoyed the trip down memory lane of how much her life sucks. Once she gets to Westeros, I’m going to be pretty solidly on Team Dany; there’s an off chance I’d switch allegiances to Robb when push comes to shove, but she’s got a great story.

Jordan: Overall a very hit and miss episode for me, but one that I still enjoyed. Had you told me beforehand that I would enjoy an episode that did not have favorites Littlefinger, Sam, Davos, Stannis, Melisandre, Joffrey, Bronn, Commander Mormont, and Varys in it I would have called you crazy...but somehow I still did. I credit the Spice King. RIP, my brother (pours a 40 on the ground).

Ben: We’ll never forget you.


Keith W. said...

Please don't start the Team Thing For GoT...
Team Dany, Or Team Theon..

You Guys nailed it on thee Noggin. Although I found very little wrong with the Tywin & Arya Convo's. I think he sees something special in Arya.. He knows shes lying; Stone Masons, Reading.. Pshaw. But hes a Lannister and has nothing to fear from her. But I'm excited for the Assassin guy to kill Tywin.. It will be EPIC. Obviously i havent read the books but that is the way it should go down.

Thanks for the entertaining Recaps..


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