Saturday, May 12, 2012

Ben & Jordan Watch Game of Thrones: The Old Gods and the New

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: Ok! So I really liked this episode. Maybe my favorite of the season, though to be fair I've been kind of bored by the last few, so I may be forgetting earlier ones that were quite good. That said, obviously this one came at the perfect time, as I wasn't going to stop watching or anything and let down both our loyal readers, but I was starting to feel like the show was more an obligation than a pleasure, so fortunately this snapped me right back to why I dug the first season.

Jordan: Wow! Surprised to hear of your second season boredom…

Ben: I have literally talked about it every week for the last three or so installments of this thing we’ve been doing! Do you not read our blog?

Jordan: Well, regardless, I also think I understand it. It is quite a challenge to make an audience care about the long list of characters that they just met this season. For instance, Renly getting "Shadow Demon'd" to death was a big turning point for the kingdom...yet how many scenes was that character actually in over the show's two seasons to make people care about him? Five? Not enough to truly feel the weight of it. That said, I am happy to hear this episode was a favorite of yours. The show is following through on my early warning that this season would be a TON of character and location exposition that would later transition into unmitigated mayhem. My weekly entries on this blog have been me constantly saying, "Jon Snow's story gets a lot better once he goes beyond the wall" and "Bran sucks now but his story gets cooler" and "Arya's story is going to become one of the best of all of them" and this episode finally marked the beginning of that awesome-ness. PHEW!

Ben: We start with a BANG as Theon takes Winterfell and the invasion is pretty much over before the credits have even finished. Brilliant way to pick up the pace (and probably save some dough not filming action scenes to boot). The quintessential Theon scene was where he's ordering Bran to surrender, and initially not even the little crippled boy lying in bed takes this guy seriously. You have to love that. Really nobody in Winterfell seemed to REALLY feel all that threatened by Theon, whether it's because they still think he's one of them or because he's always been a bit of a punk, but that made it all the more powerful when he killed Rodrik, because he was truly forced into it. Theon tried to be as nice and honorable as both he as Theon is capable of and as a guy conquering a rival camp can be, but everybody around him kept egging him off until he had no choice but to hack this old guy's head off or lose the respect of his crew once and for all. And man, did he go to town on Rodrik. This show loves chopping dudes' heads off, and that was a doozy. I enjoyed the "Oh shit, he's for real!" moment that rapidly dawned on Bran and the rest of the Winterfellians (is that the correct term?).

Jordan: This scene was really, really cool to watch. The buildup to the chop-job of Sir Rodrik's head made me a little squeamish, and as I saw Theon take his sword out I said aloud, "Oh no. There is NO WAY he gets this dude's head off in one try." Sure enough, 37 hacks later I finally exhaled after holding my breath. It was almost a relief to see that head bouncing around on the ground like a mutton-chopped rugby ball.

Part of the reason this scene was so great (and ALL of Theon's scenes are so great) are that the actor playing Theon is amazing. He is the acting antithesis of the blank-faced "I end all my sentences with an upward inflection" guy playing Jorah Mormont. Theon's actor somehow communicates so much internal strife with so little in the way of actual lines. Next time he is onscreen, take notice of how much he communicates with just his facial expressions and you will see a true artist at work. From his starring turn in Broadway's Equus, to now playing Theon with such tact, I see big things for Theon's actor in the future...BIG things! (Cue him starring in some Scorpion King straight-to-video sequel and then being thrown into the Fast and Furious franchise scrap heap).

Ben: You just described The Rock’s career trajectory, and if this fellow has half the career of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, he should count his lucky stars, sir!

This is also something of a point of no return for Theon, though, and a compelling fork in the road for his character. Up until this point, he was a bit sleazy, preyed on women, etc., but at the end of the day he was still basically decent. I'm generally a fan of good guys with an obnoxious streak, so I liked him. Now though, he's clearly a bad guy, at least in my eyes. I sympathize with his motivations--obsessive need to prove himself to whatever family will have him--and that keeps him complex, but he still turned against the people who spared him his brothers' fate, threatened a paraplegic kid and chopped an old man's head off. He's an out and out villain, but a villain I love to hate (or just love)? Yeah, yeah he still is. He has his reasons and he's got his swagger. I may be hard-pressed to root for him against Robb when it comes to that, but I'll absolutely back him against, say, Jon Snow.

Jordan: I completely agree with every word you just said. This scene was pretty powerful for me because up until this point Theon's weaknesses and motivations made him a very sympathetic character. I felt vindicated because that connection I felt with the character in the books was absolutely there in the show. This episode, however, even made the staunchest Theon supporter in me flinch and shake my head. I then understood why so many people gave me the stink-eye all this time at calling him my favorite character...especially knowing that things are going to get even dicier in the future. Altruistic motivations or not, Theon has made his choice and it is squarely against the loveable hero family in the show. Whether I like it or not, that makes him a villain.

...He still is my favorite though, and unquestionably one of the most interesting characters on the show.

Ben: Great episode for Jon Snow! Why? Because it consisted entirely of him fucking up and people telling him he's stupid. Seriously, Jon accomplished below nothing in this episode, actively botching every task he was given with that perma-pout frozen on his face, and I loved every second of it. I loved Qhorin Halfhand calling him out on being a nitwit.

Jordan: Agree with you about the Jon Snow scenes. Him getting the "you're a long way from home, lad" stuff up to this point hasn't really made the audience like him because he has been way too much of a super hero for anyone to buy it. Seeing him reduced to an insolent idiot once he leaves the wall goes a long way to stripping the character down of everything he's known to this point...a HUGE moment in the book. The audience can't help but look at him now and say, "You know nothing, Jon Snow." BOOM! High five to the book readers on using THAT line (you'll get it later, Ben and the television audience)!

Ben: I loved loved loved pretty much everything about Ygritte, in particular how easily she flummoxed and mocked Lord Snow. She's played by Rose Leslie, of Downton Abbey fame, and while she's tremendous on that show, she's inspired here. A foil like her is exactly what Jon Snow needs. When guys like Sam are in awe of him, I detest him even more, because it seems so completely unearned. When Qhorin and Ygritte treat him like the punk who's only where he is because his dad needed to hide his bastard, I enjoy his scenes more to the power of a billion. But Jon Snow aside, I just enjoyed Ygritte, and her manic survival instinct coupled with smirking flirtatiousness. It was an interesting comparison this episode to have her and Osha, both wildlings, and both in essentially the same situation of having to do whatever they needed to stay alive in enemy captivity; Osha, being older and more worldly, uses her sexuality in a more base and blatant manner, while Ygritte is clearly less mature, and preferring to basically play a children's game of tag, but at the end she's still trying to give Jon Snow a boner, likely both because it may help her later and because it amuses her. Great character.

Jordan: I LOVE the character of Ygritte. The book describes her in essence as a pretty, but not gorgeous, redhead with a mischievously sexy way about her and bad teeth. Could not have cast that more perfectly. Now I'm amped to see more of Jon Snow's story, as it should be wall-to-wall (pun intended) excitement and interesting stuff from here on out. If it isn't than the show and actor will have done a bad job.

Ben: Back to Robb, I enjoyed his scene with Talisa again, as they both continue to grow on me. I have a feeling that they'll ultimately be my favorite love story of the show, if things are headed in that direction (all signs point toward yes, but Sean Bean's decapitated head reminds me that this thing zigs when you think it will zag at times). I couldn't believe Catelyn totally cockblocked her boy, but what can you do (I was really hoping he'd call her out on it).

Jordan: The Robb-Talisa connection is sort of a Garden of Eden thing, which makes it super interesting. Robb is promised to some ugly daughter of the Freys, yet there is this random hottie that showed up in his camp from beating the Lannisters in a battle that has the attention of both his heart and his dong. Something that probably got lost in Catelyn's CONSTANT nagging is the fact that Robb can do some real damage if he pursues this hottie, with her being a former Team Lannister chick and Robb's promised marriage. I really like the actor playing Robb as he seems to have the combo of good looks and acting chops that help carry these scenes despite Catelyn's nagging. Did I mention Catelyn is annoying as hell? She's annoying as hell.

Ben: Most fascinating for me was Robb's reaction to learning of Theon's betrayal, which I felt betrayed his true feelings and their nature relationship quite a bit. Robb got over his initial shock and turned to homicidal rage pretty quick. Yeah, he trusted this guy, and yeah, his family's in danger, but that he didn't give his supposed buddy and "brother" more than a second of "What? No, he wouldn't do that..." before flipping to "I AM GOING TO KILL HIM" tells me as much as the Starks tolerated and maybe to some extent liked Theon, they were always waiting for this. You can tell Catelyn never trusted him (she flat out told Robb not to), but it's interesting that the family rivalry runs so deep that Robb, despite being raised alongside Theon, didn't give him much benefit of the doubt at all--not that I much expected him to given that Theon has openly annexed his home and taken his little brothers captive, but even so. Robb didn't leave much room for interpretation, either: he wants to hear Theon out on why he did this, but he is also going to kill him immediately following said explanation. I eagerly await when these two next meet.

Jordan: As for the Robb-Theon connection, they sorta hinted at their unusual brotherhood in the scene where Theon saved Robb and Bran from the Wildlings in the forest with his arrows o' death. Theon saves them, and Robb's very first reaction isn't "Thanks for the arrows o' death, dude. Next beer is on me," but rather, "What the HELL took you so long?" This hinted early on that while the duo are close and are going for the same "We both have Beatles mop-tops and patchy beards" look, their brotherhood always will have a small wedge of distrust that comes from being part of previously warring families. The quick turn from Robb at the news of Theon's betrayal shows that while he was hoping for the best out of Theon, inside he always expected the worst.

Ben: The King's Landing stuff was quick but effective. We got to see just how much the populace hates Joffrey and just how little he cares, both of which will undoubtedly come back to bite him. It's really just a matter of whether Stannis or Robb (or the Greyjoys or Dany) reach the city first, because whoever it is, Joffrey's people are going to toss him over the gate and hail their new leader. And of course Peter Dinklage gets his weekly "Oh that's just awesome" moment slapping Joffrey around and telling him off. Then you've got the really heavy stuff, Sansa nearly being raped and The Hound saving her in the most bad ass fashion possible. His "I didn't do it for you" line to Tyrion was nicely ambiguous and intriguing. Did he do it because he's loyal to the throne? Because he didn't want to see a young girl suffer? Layers. And poor Sansa. This is not what she trained for. She's as clueless about why the people don't love her as much as Joffrey, but in her own way; both just assume all subjects should love their rulers without question, but with her you get the genuine sense she doesn't understand, whereas I think deep down Joffrey does, he just doesn't want to.

Jordan: The show did a GREAT job with the mob scene, which in the books is rather crazy and on HORSEBACK no less...the protest over the horse death in HBO's "Luck" pretty much nixed THAT. There was a large amount of changing done here between the book and the show (as far as who is raped, who saves Sansa, who dies, who gets hit in the face with poop, etc), but I did not at all mind every choice HBO made here. Still shocking, still crazy, and still spot-on at showing how the Lannisters may very well destroy themselves before anyone else does.

Some specific acting notes on this scene:
-Tyrion is amazing, showing the masses that he can shout and show emotional range beyond his smirking wordplay.
-Sansa's actress is really great at seeming a wounded, helpless creature. One of my friends has the hots for this actress, which I find SUPER weird as the actress is very young and always is acting depressed, like she had to stare at the actress playing Cersei all day.
-Speaking of that, in this episode Cersei looked...can't believe I am going to say it...PRETTY. Whoever did Lena Headley's makeup to accomplish this rare feat needs to win an award, get a free trip to Hawaii, and be knighted by the Queen of England STAT.
-Though the treatment of the Hound in this scene by the cast and crew was perfect, once again I am completely underwhelmed by the actor's lack of portraying the character right. He has this morose, mopey attitude about him that makes him seem like a vexed, Goth, Hot-Topic-shopping teenager than a feral, angry, unpredictably dangerous beast. He also COMPLETELY threw away the "Get back in your cage, little birdie" line to Sansa, which encapsulates his feelings towards her. I had to rewind it three times just to make out those words because he butchered them so badly.
-I had to actually take a moment, pause the show, and wonder how the actor who plays Joffrey can make his voice so shrill and cartoon-y when he is angry. This guy is going to make some SERIOUS BANK as a voice actor after this show. Mark Hamill part deux.

Ben: Ok, so I'm pretty sure Littlefinger knows Arya is Arya, even if he's not letting on (and of course he's not the type who would until it will mean something for him), but does the fact that Tywin still hasn't started to suspect something's up make him seem a little dumber than it should? I mean, yeah, Arya is doing a fantastic job of concealing herself and Maisie William's portrayal of such is making for terribly entertaining television, but she's slipped up and stuttered enough times that I feel like he'd do more than just keep asking leading questions about her ancestry at this point. Also, no offense to your boy Littlefinger, but if he's smart to enough to figure it out--and granted he has the advantage of actually having met Arya before, which I'm probably way underselling given that this is a world where all these people meet dozens of other people every day--shouldn't Tywin be? I suppose it speaks to the fact that while Littlefinger may not be a king or a conqueror, he knows all about people, whereas Tywin is a master on the battlefield, but social intelligence fails him a bit. I guess he doesn't need to understand folks, he can just pay them or kill them.

Jordan: No offense taken regarding your points on Littlefinger, as ALL of these questions need to be sent directly to the writers of the HBO series who chucked all of this confusing gibberish in there. In the books, Arya is the servant of another person (don't want to reveal whom yet as I am not sure if the show will still do this), and Littlefinger never comes upon her. You are obviously right that Tywin AND Littlefinger would recognize her immediately, so the HBO writers dropped the ball on adding this. I'll give them a pass this time as not only does it make for compelling television, but they really did a great job with that mob scene in this episode.

I can't help but wonder if the show is starting to use Littlefinger way too much. They are chucking him into random scenes he wasn't part of in the books, and it is to the disservice of the character and show. For instance, one question that popped into my head last night: Why was Littlefinger inserted into the scenes at Renly's camp? It didn't serve much of a purpose, and it COMPLETELY made no sense as to why Renly would allow a major member of his sworn Lannister enemy into his camp. It boggles my mind that not one person in the HBO writers room didn't stand on top of the boardroom table and shout, "IDIOTS! WHY WOULD RENLY ALLOW HIS WIFE TO GO OFF ALONE ON ONE-ON-ONE CONVERSATIONS WITH UNTRUSTWORTHY, LANNISTER-BANNERMAN LITTLEFINGER?! Like, what is stopping Littlefinger from slitting Margery's throat, killing Catelyn, stabbing Renly, and then fleeing the scene?" I guess loud reactions like this are why I am not formally employed as a writer.

Ben: Yep, that’s why.

Jaqen is simply fantastic. The eye roll before he goes to kill Ser Amory for Arya--tremendous.

Jordan: Jaqen is up there with Theon, Littlefinger, and Stannis for me. Like the others he is the perfect blend of deadliness and interesting personality.

Ben: And we wrap things up over across the Narrow Sea in Qarth. Truth be told, that storyline is wearing on me a bit as I said last week since it seems more or less a contrivance engineered to keep Dany apart from the rest of the cast a little bit longer, but Emilia Clarke's impassioned delivery and a welcome reappearance by The Spice King make me not really mind. That was just a great exchange, as you get how deeply in her core Dany believes in what she's doing, but also how primal that belief is, as she doesn't really have a plan--The Spice King nails her on that--and doesn't really know why she should be Queen, just that she should. Again, it's that balancing act between warrior princess and petulant child Emilia Clarke does so well. Is the mystery of who took the dragons really that much of a mystery though given that those creepy bald warlock dudes were so prominent in the "Previously On" segment and then never seen the entire episode? C'mon, Game of Thrones. Really.

Jordan: Again, you need to amend your statement and start saying, "C'mon HBO Game of Thrones writers changing stuff. Really." At this point anything sucky/confusing on the show is on the HBO writers changing things.

Ben: And again, as last week, I really enjoy some of the stuff that has been added more so than a lot of the book material…but now I’m fairly unconvinced that you actually read my part of the blog and are instead responding to an imaginary Ben who types stuff to you. Is he nice?

Also, since I get the final edit before this goes up, it will now appear as if you are ignoring everything I just wrote.

Jordan: The missing dragons bit isn't in the books, but as you all-too-obviously picked out it is a device the show is using to get Dany to the House of the Undying. In the books, she decides goes to the House of the Undying in search of secrets that will serve to help her on her journey...which makes MUCH more sense (especially after the Spice King scene). The missing dragons angle felt way too much like a cliffhanger on Charles in Charge. I half expected Buddy to run in and yell "Charles! That cheat sheet with those test answers we copied yesterday? IT'S GONE!"

Ben: That would have made this episode not just the best of the season, but of the show to date.

Jordan: Overall a wonderful, albeit completely upside down episode for me: I liked Jon Snow's scenes, I found Theon a villain, I thought there was too much Littlefinger, I found Cersei pretty....thank GOODNESS The Hound's routinely piss-poor acting kept me grounded. It's the one thing I can always count on.

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