Thursday, May 31, 2012

Ben & Jordan Watch Game of Thrones: Blackwater

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: Hooooooooo BOY the greatest Game of Thrones episode of all time and I get to lead it off! How to start, how to start? I know! Lena Headley's bottom teeth looked particularly jagged and out of place in this episode. We also noticed that she appears to only move her bottom lip while talking, like some sort of swamp creature...

Okay, if that doesn't grab you, then I will talk about the battle. This episode was just brilliant, and EVERYTHING in it worked for me. From the opening scene where Davos and his son are on their way to war, to the final scene where Tywin comes in to say the Lannisters were victorious, there was not an old choice from the book or a new choice scripted that I felt needed to be changed. I was not at all surprised to read afterward that this episode was written by none other than George R.R. Martin himself! The guy is a genius.

Ben: I’ve made no secret here that this season of Game of Thrones has been quite up and down for me, and at times I’ve been very frustrated the show. Another thing I’ve done frequently on this blog is compare it unfavorably to Mad Men, simply because that happens to be the other one hour drama I watch on Sunday nights and it happens to be in the midst of what just may be its finest season to date (and it wins the Emmy every year, so, y’know). Because my wife likes to use our DVR to tape a lot of reality shows, of late we’ve been catching the replay of Game of Thrones late Sunday night or even Mondays, meaning Mad Men gets priority and I generally watch that show first, making it even tougher for this one to compete. This past week, Mad Men perhaps had the best episode of its best season with “The Other Woman,” so even though I was psyched for the big war, I was not liking Game of Thrones’ shot of wowing me this particular go around.

Fortunately, Mr. R.R. Martin (read his interview with here!) penned an episode so great I wasn’t just talking Monday about how incredible Mad Men was, I was waxing about how it was simply of the best nights of television I could remember period.

This episode was everything that made me fall in love with Game of Thrones in the first place. First and foremost, the dialogue was top notch, be it powerful, moving, humorous or so on; it captured the full range of emotions. The cast involved was at the top of their game and had me audibly cheering and groaning. The ebb and flow of the tapestry of plot was masterful, jumping from one story within story to the next effortlessly as it did in the show’s earliest episodes. The orchestration of all the moving parts and the infusion of action worked wonderfully. It was indeed the best this show has ever been in my opinion.

Jordan: One thing I really enjoyed was that this episode stayed on the battlefront and never left. Unlike the last episode, where you got a bunch of snippets of scenes from a bajillion different parts of the kingdom, this one focused on the war in the kingdom's capitol. Much like the books, which made the reader feel the magnitude of the war by seeing it from several different characters' perspectives, the viewer was locked in and there was no escape from the clash of kings (nerdy book title reference). An even larger feat was somehow cramming the entire battle into ONE EPISODE! It made me somehow happy and sad at the same time to know that the season would not be going out on this momentous episode.

Ben: Definitely this was the flip side of my complaints that last week’s episode was short attention span theater and didn’t give me time to care about anything or anybody. You still had like a dozen viewpoints big and small to follow here, but keeping them all confined to one space and giving each scene proper time to development works wonders.

I can’t help but ponder whether or not this wouldn’t be a more effective format for the series overall at this point. Early on last year, while the cast was big, it was manageable enough that you could have them all in just about every episode, particularly as the bulk of the action was confined to Winterfell or King’s Landing or wherever, with the cuts to The Wall or the Dothraki kingdom feeling more like novelties than distractions. Now there are so many characters and they’re so spread out that at times like last week when they try to cram the whole world of Game of Thrones into an hour it has disastrous results. Obviously this week was a very special case as it was the payoff to the biggest storyline of the season and demanded the attention it got, but I wonder if the show couldn’t benefit from being structured a little bit more like you say the books are by picking a handful of characters each week and telling their “chapters” then not coming back to them for like a month.

We’ll see next week (and next season, I suppose).

Jordan: Because this episode was not a typical format, when dissecting it I struggled to pick something to talk about first. I kept going back to one thing: That wildfire explosion was one of the coolest things I have ever seen on television. When that arrow went up in the air and that neon green explosion happened, there was not a human being alive watching that didn't think the same thing: "OH SHIT!" It was the moment that changed the stakes of the entire battle and needed to be big and hoo-rah did it deliver. I have this bizarre urge to put an m80 into a glass of Ecto-Cooler just to recreate it.

Ben: The explosion was great as was the whole sequence leading up to it. I’m glad we didn’t get more than the most subtle hint as to Tyrion’s master plan (basically just him saying “pig shit” with a ponderous expression last week), as watching it unfold had me on the edge of my seat. I had an inkling of what was coming when they showed the empty boat, but really until it actually happened I wasn’t entirely sure, so I certainly jumped out of my seat (not really, but almost). It was a spectacular site. They used their FX budget well and something as seemingly small as choosing to have the fire be green resonated with my silly brain as I went “Oh! Dragons! Dragons are green!” like an idiot.

Granted I’m color blind, so maybe I saw something different than everybody else, but your Ecto-Cooler comment reassures me I did not.

Pooling their effects into big spectacles like the explosion also helped me forgive the night-camouflaged battle sequences, as even though I couldn’t quite make them out, I appreciated that they picked their shots and make the right calls in my mind.

Jordan: When reading this battle in the books, my wife and I both were squarely rooting for Stannis' army. He was the rightful king, his army was full of supporters who wanted a better kingdom, he would have saved Sansa, and...let's face it folks...Tyrion was literally the only Lannister that was truly likable in King's Landing. Thus, I was surprised when the director chose to use what can only be described as "ominous villain music" whenever Stannis was onscreen. They also changed a few lines to make Stannis seem like a monster. Varys saying something in the books akin to, "Stannis is a stubborn man, so in the name of his own personal justice he will never rest and the kingdom will be wrought with war" became "Stannis and his men loooooove raping people, and they work in the DARK ARTS!" The only thing I can surmise is that the show's producers must have told George R.R. Martin that the hero of the war was too ambiguous in the books, so the audience NEEDED to root for the Lannisters. Hence all that raping thrown in there. Lord there was lots of raping references.

Ben: I didn’t feel like the good/evil line was as clearly defined as you did. I thought Stannis was portrayed as a hard man, but not really any more so than in the past few weeks. I still saw him as the blue collar guy who had earned his reward and was willing to fight for it. Even his throwaway line about being ok with sacrificing thousands of his own men didn’t bother me because he’s a professional soldier and anybody who signed on with him knew what they were getting into. He was certainly a hundred times more likable than Joffrey, who I would have loved to see trampled beneath his boot.

Yes, at the end of the day we rooted for Tyrion, but that’s not just because he’s so fucking charismatic, it’s also because he was the only one who gave a shit about the common folks fighting for him. Joffrey and Cersei could obviously care less about their subjects and only see them as a means to an end. As noted, Stannis is decisively more of a grey area kind of guy, but I didn’t really feel like we were meant to relate to his army as they were never portrayed as any more than cannon fodder. Tyrion, even if his self-interest came first, seemed genuinely dedicated to motivating the working class populace of King’s Landing, who unless I’ve missed something are meant to be as close to “us” as this show gets (assuming “us” means middle class people who have HBO). Basically, I would have been fine with Stannis killing Joffrey, but I did want Tyrion to, at worst, get away, or, at best, lead the blacksmiths and barkeepers to victory if not some sort of peace with the invaders.

Lot of rape references.

Jordan: One thing I have been waiting two seasons for is an accurate depiction of The Hound. This was FINALLY it. He was every bit the scary, gravelly, monstrous beast described in the books...even making Bronn seem like a wimp by comparison. In my mind's eye George R.R. Martin and I were on the same page watching the soft, eyelash-batting portrayal of The Hound and he was like, "Oh F this. I am SO writing that Blackwater episode and making my character cool again." His scene where he dramatically tells Tyrion and Joffrey off was mesmerizing, and his all-too-brief scene with Sansa was wonderful. The only thing I must nit-pick is that in the books The Hound tries to get Sansa to come with him, but she is SO afraid of him that she would rather take her chances with the outcome of the war. Perhaps because of the weak portrayal of The Hound up to this point they had to go another tack and have Sansa tell him no although it made total sense for her to go with him.

Ben: The Hound was at his best this episode. His scene with Bronn in the bar was also awesome, as you really got a sense of both guys, their commonalities as well as their differences. We only got small doses of Bronn throughout the war, but man did he make them count, from his initial rousing in the bar to his firing the arrow to saving the Hound’s ass. I was SURE Bronn was going to die, actually, because after the bar scene I noted how awesome he was, and generally when I have done that on this show it has been the kiss of death (RIP Arya’s swordplay instructor and the dude trying to get her north; y’know, maybe it’s Arya, not me).

Jordan: I'm not sure why they injected the poison storyline into this episode. It got a bit muddy with Cersei telling Sansa that Ser Ilyn would chop their heads off if they were captured, and the next moment running out to poison her son. In the books, there is no poison, and Cersei, Sansa, and the noble ladies are locked up in a super elegant dining room (which added to the surreal nature of Cersei's cold comments). My guess is they told George R.R. Martin, "Look, budget-wise you can either have an elegant dining room or a wildfire explosion so insanely awesome that it will instantaneously impregnate any woman watching it." He made the right choice in my opinion.

Ben: I can’t really imagine this dining room you speak of, because the setting they were in seemed so perfect; they really were caged birds trying to create luxury in the most awful situation and their shoddy surroundings straining to be elegant sold it for me.

I figured the poison storyline was in place because while Cersei would have had Ilyn shred Sansa and company to bits without hesitation so Stannis didn’t get them as spoils or hostages, she sure as hell wasn’t letting him touch her or her son, that’s just what she told Sansa to mess with her.

Jordan: Speaking of Cersei, along with The Hound it looks like George R.R. Martin finally set things right with the character in this episode. No more of that "I'm a fragile flower" crap Lena Headley has been doing all series and more of the calculating, cocky, vampish Cersei we all loved (and loved to hate) from the books. It's with this quality that the character really comes alive onscreen, as with Cersei's previous scene of threatening to kill Tyrion's whore if he stepped out of line. You could see the relish and excitement in Lena Headley's eyes when she tells Sansa that a woman needs to use the weapon in between her legs. I am not sure if it is perceptible the way the characters are vacillating wildly from episode to episode to someone who hasn't read the books, but for me it's been a bit maddening. I blame the 150,000 directors the series has had.

Ben: Lena Headey was excellent for the third straight week by my reckoning. The more drunken and vulgar she got, the more I enjoyed her. It felt like she was pushing back against years of being forced to act like a lady by openly acting the part of the bitch she’s always been behind the scenes and loving every minute of it. Credit to Sansa as well for taking everything Cersei was giving in their dynamic.

Jordan: No Mormont! No problem!

Ben: I have nothing to add.

Jordan: If there was ever an episode I thought Peter Dinklage should win an Emmy for, it was this one. George R.R. Martin may have penned his best line ever with this part of Tyrion's speech to the troops: "Those are brave men knocking at our door...LET'S GO KILL THEM!" I am forever going to try to find a way to insert this bit of dialogue into everyday life.

Ben: That was a truly wonderful bit of dialogue indeed. I look forward to hearing it at least a dozen times when I see you this weekend.

We don’t say much about Tyrion or Peter Dinklage because he’s at the point where he’s so good you run out of nice things to say (my friend Sean and I used to have this problem all the time when we reviewed comics for the Wizard web site). This episode was the pinnacle of his hero’s journey to date, where once again he waded into battle as he did last season and once again found himself knocked out, but this time because he was an active participant, not because he was trampled. My heart broke for him when Tywin showed up—cool a moment as it was—because, dammit, he EARNED this one.

Jordan: One thing I was surprised at was the active role Stannis played in this battle. He was first out of the water, first storming the wall, and was chopping people's heads off like the Slap-Chop infomercial spokesman. In the books, he is on the back lines of the battle so this was a welcome change.

Ben: And this is why I didn’t find Stannis to be the clear cut villain. He’s out there amongst his troops, facing the same risks as them, giving his all for his cause in contrast to Joffrey, so you have to respect him. He didn’t ask anything he wasn’t also willing to put on the line.

Jordan: In the books, Lancel is seriously, seriously wounded in battle. Watching him gallop around the castle, I was like, "Oh crap, how are they going to change this part?"...then Cersei stabbed him and I was shocked. So damn exciting. I seriously can't say enough about this episode. I need to watch it again. I am hyperventilating.

I feel like I am missing commentary on some stuff, but I can't remember it. And you know what? It doesn't matter. Whenever anyone asks for my top television moment in recent memory, I will scream, "GLORIOUS GREEN EXPLOSION!" That's all that matters. Thank you, Game of Thrones...thank you.

Ben: It feels natural for me to finish with some “well, they can’t possibly top this next week” doomsaying, but I’d prefer to end on a high note after this excellent episode, so I’ll just copy and paste the last thing you said…

Jordan: Thank you, Game of Thrones...thank you.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Paragraph Movie Reviews: 50/50

If you don't have plans to see this movie, you can check the spoilers here and then come back.

Even if I hadn't known going in, I wouldn't have been surprised at all, I don't think, to learn that this movie was based on real life, given how heartfelt it feels and how well it mixes mundane events with dramatic and humorous tics to create a compelling story. Will Reiser really did a great job on the script, drawing on his experiences in a way that never feels preachy while also finding ways to stray from autobiography (I have to presume) at the right times for entertainment's sake. There were a few times I felt like the mixing process went a bit askew, pretty much all with Seth Rogen's character and forcing a little too much comedy when I wanted to see human emotions, but there are payoffs to just about all those quibbles that justify them enough for my liking. Rogen was the least interesting character for me, as he was just doing he was usual routine, but honestly, it was refreshing to just like him in a movie again, even if I didn't love him, after my last experience watching his shtick was Funny People. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is his superlative self as the young cancer victim at the center of the story, giving an especially unselfish performance where he spends most of his scenes enhancing those around him with his straight man routine for the good of the movie and lending power to the times he explodes; it's tough to do what he does, and he does it better than just about anybody. Anna Kendrick is delightful to watch as his even younger therapist, with a wholly unique quirky charisma and cuteness plus some of the best comic timing you'll see; their chemistry could power the whole film by itself. Anjelica Huston as the concerned and overprotective mother is powerful both in her funny turns and when she tugs at the heartstrings; she's a master. I feel like after The Help I can't ever believe Bryce Dallas Howard as a likable character again, but fortunately that wasn't an issue here. Matt Frewer and Philip Baker Hall as the Greek chorus of other cancer patients round out a stellar cast working out a fantastic script pulled together and shot beautifully by director Jonathan Levine. I waffled a long time on seeing this one (can a cancer comedy really work?) and am glad I finally went for it.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Ben & Jordan Watch Game of Thrones: The Prince of Winterfell

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: After two solid outings that reeled me back into what I felt was becoming a subpar season, this episode torpedoed my enthusiasm right back down. It just didn’t work for me. It wasn’t atrocious, and there were a lot of good scenes and bits—which we will of course cover along with the bad—but my biggest issue is that they didn’t spend enough time anywhere for me to get invested.

Jordan: I could not have had a more different reaction! For the first time all season, there wasn't a scene, performance or creative choice made that I could easily point to and say, "The episode was good...but THIS part sucked." You are correct that they didn't spend too long in any one spot, but I felt like they spend juuuuuust long enough for me to get invested before switching gears. The hallmark of a good show is to hook you, then leave you wanting more. They teach you that on the FIRST DAY in (insert film school I didn't go to here).

Ben: That would be fine if they were hooking me, but the only thing they’re leaving me wanting more of at the moment is for the episodes to end so Veep will come on. Have I mentioned I love getting final edit of this after you’re already done?

Jordan: Since we outnumber you 2-1, the overwhelming consensus is that the episode was good. By "we", I of course mean me and Joe Rogan's twitter account.

Ben: I was very impressed with how they balanced an impressively sizable cast last season, so I didn’t pay heed to any concerns about even more new characters bogging things down, but now I’m starting to think those are pretty valid. I don’t have any trouble remembering who’s who or anything like that, but the stop-start momentum of the storytelling is really hurting things, in my opinion. Here’s where I’m starting to see the issues in book-to-television translation without even having read the source material. With the book, as you’ve explained to me, you get lengthy chapters rotated between characters, so nobody is really getting shortchanged; here, you get five minutes of Dany’s story a week so it all feels so stagnant because we’re getting at least what feels like the equivalent of two pages of action doled out at a time. Everything seems to move at a snail’s pace and we’ve got no option to adjust that; were I reading the book, I could gorge myself as I choose and decide when I’ve had enough of the plots advanced, but here I just have to content myself with a month of watching Arya have her 18th tense table clearing/bonding session with Charles Dance.

Jordan: and Joe Rogan see your point. I will point out that the books at times had trouble in the opposite extreme, namely being stuck in a 25 page Bran or Sansa chapter while quietly praying Tyrion or someone else entertaining would be the next chapter. I do have to agree with you that some "snippets within the snippets" I think are getting unintentionally lost. For instance, certain important secondary characters like Rorge and Biter are being shown for 1/10th of a second and probably have already been forgotten by the television audience despite their important roles in the series. Still, I find the vignette feel of the show exhilarating, and it will make for a ton of fun as this extensive cast starts meeting each other in various scenes down the line.

Ben: The fact that this episode crystallized so many of my issues with the larger season as outlined above marks it as not a great one for me, but as I said, it was still a mixed bag, so let’s proceed.

Jordan: Nah, I say we just abandon this thing right now. Want to play football?

Ben: I would love to play either the real deal or some form of Madden on your new Xbox rather than watch this show at the moment, but we’ve made a commitment to our readers!

Our boy Theon’s stuff was part excellent and part awful this week. The excellent part was Yara’s appearance and their chat, as once again interactions with his family bring out the best in this character. It reinforced what I dig about Theon and have been harping on week after week: his deep-seeded need to prove himself worthy in the eyes of really anybody, but especially those who he unintentionally abandoned for most of his life. It’s weird, but I do think there are tinges of guilt in Theon’s motivations in as far as he feels bad that he didn’t really comprehend that he was living the high life while his father and sister hanging around a decrepit castle back home cursing his foster family. When he’s yelling and flambĂ©ing little kids, he becomes far less interesting because he’s just a bad guy; when he’s around his family, he becomes a far more intriguing figure as the little boy who wants his dad to tell him he’s his favorite.

Jordan: Totally agree with you. In regards to Theon trying to prove himself, Yara's stern warning to him that the Greyjoys’ place is the ocean just goes to show the confused situation Theon finds himself in. He is not only trying to prove himself to his father, not only trying to become a hero to his people, not only trying to prove he is more worthy than his sister to be heir to the throne...but is ALSO trying to live how his people live. You see him goaded into chopping people's heads off and making any possession he has legit by making someone "paying the iron price" for it (i.e. killing someone for it), but it all feels completely foreign to him. He tries so hard to do something right, only to accomplish it and get told it's been done the wrong way. Let's recap the sad, sad tale of Theon so far…

Theon yay!: Theon becomes a hero for the Starks in battle against the Lannisters!
Theon booooo!: Theon finds no joy in this because he is fighting for the family holding him hostage (After each of these imagine a sad trumpet going "wah wah wahhhh").

Theon yay!: Theon saves the lives of Bran and Robb!
Theon booooo!: Theon gets reprimanded for not saving them SOONER because Robb deep down doesn't trust him.

Theon yay!: Theon presents a letter from Robb to his dad, proclaiming him a King if he helps the Starks!
Theon booooo!: Theon's dad hits him for this, calling him out as a stooge for the Greyjoy opponents.

Theon yay!: Theon gets baptized as a true Greyjoy by his uncle!
Theon booooo!: Theon's sister still reminds him every two seconds he is not a Greyjoy in his heart.

Theon yay!: Theon takes over Winterfell, the seemingly unconquerable land of the Starks!
Theon booooo!: Theon's sister tells him Greyjoys are meant for the ocean. Winterfell is inland and thus not something they will be able to hold successfully.

Theon yay!: Theon (seemingly) butchers Bran and Rickon, preventing any uprising of Stark loyalists against him within the castle walls!
Theon booooo!: Theon's sister says Greyjoys LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE killing people....just not valuable hostages and children. THAT is shameful.

I could go on and on. Somewhere Rodney Dangerfield is shaking his head at the lack of respect Theon is getting.

Ben: Gemma Whelan just owned it as Yara this week with her turn-on-a-dime performance. I loved when she was laying into Theon for being an idiot and letting his impatience and anger get the best of him in regard to the Stark boys, really undercutting all his supposed accomplishments. I also loved the flipside when she made the tender appeal to her brother, not her rival, to come home because she really does love him and doesn’t want him dead. They key was how she waited until every other Greyjoy loyalist was out of the room before she showed Theon any affection; it would have rang false otherwise. Telling him he was an awful baby was a nice touch too.

Jordan: I REALLY loved Theon's interaction with his sister in this episode. At her core Yara loves her family and while she finds Theon to be a completely over-matched idiot, he IS trying as hard as possible to do what he thinks is in the best interest of the Greyjoys. The way she looked at him in the scene was perfect too. It's as if in her eyes, she is a master magician while Theon is a little kid that is overcompensating by having his first ever magic trick be sawing himself in half and then lighting himself on fire. She knows he won't be talked out of it, that he is probably going about it all wrong, but in the end she can't do anything but hope and pray it all works out well in the end.

Ben: But then Yara leaves and it’s back to cackling Theon and his band of bullies. I’m so much less interested in him wanting to be a prince or revered/feared by his subjects than the more complex stuff with his family. It also kind of kills the tension when you realize just how little he’s accomplished and how screwed he is: He’s been outwitted by a jungle girl along with two little kids, he’s made awful tactical errors pointed out by Yara (giving up his hostages, land locking himself away from the sea) and despite how he proud he is of taking Winterfell with so few men, well, he has like no men. The moment Robb decides to confront Theon will be an interesting one based on their history, but the moment immediately after will be a foregone conclusion because it’s a horribly one-sided contest.

Jordan: Theon is trying to play the part of Robb, but there is one huge difference: Theon has NO CLUE what the people he is fighting with are like. While Robb is utilizing his life's worth of knowledge as a Stark amongst Northmen, Theon is guessing left and right what these kooky pirate people would want in any given situation. The results thus far have been predictably bad, which is saying something since we are talking about the frickin' NEW LORD OF WINTERFELL over heya!

Ben: Also, that fake out with the neighbor kids that I called last week was so transparent I’m actively annoyed they treated the “reveal” of Bran and Rickon being alive as even a remotely big deal.

Jordan: Yeah, that was pretty obvious. An unfortunate result of these shortened scenes is telegraphing a lot. Hard to hide the big reveal after a 30 second scene that consisted of "Wow, glad we escaped. Hey, look! Neighborhood kids! How will we hide? Hmmmmmm. Hodor, you are dropping nut shells! Hmmmmmm."

Ben: Even Ygritte couldn’t salvage the beyond the Wall segments this week for me, mostly because she had like two lines. It wasn’t even Jon Snow’s fault in this case, as he was serviceable, but this is a prime example of the stop-start stuff I was talking about, as they would never linger more than two minutes on these guys, but still felt the need to sprinkle their story out in tiny portions throughout the episode; the past few weeks with Jon and Ygritte were much more effective as they had less but longer scenes and I got a sense of them and their situation. I wish they’d just skipped the Wall stuff this go around and consolidated it all into a future, lengthier installment, but this show can’t go an hour without Kit Harrington’s confused pout. It was nice to get confirmation that Jon got all his companions killed, though, as his constant failure is a source of amusement.

Jordan: I enjoyed the short beyond the Wall scenes this week. The Dolorous Edd/Sam crew finding the dragonglass was pretty neat to see, and Ygritte saving Jon Snow from the Lord of Bones was our first true reveal that he appears to be more to her than a virgin she wants to mess with (both sarcastically and sexually).

Strange thing to note: Although the book described the area just beyond the wall as cold, I didn't necessarily see it all being a GLACIER IN ANTARCTICA like the show has suddenly presented to us lately. I was imagining trees, frozen rivers...things like that...probably because they were written about constantly. Like, are we to believe once you walked 10 feet past Craster's spot in the woods all of a sudden you were in the Arctic? It's not a huge deal, but I feel like in the producer's haste to shoot somewhere cool like Iceland they made it a little TOO barren. Wow, I'm nitpicking now. Let's move on. Or abandon this and play football.

Ben: Also nice to see Sam and company again, and in that case, those guys are nicely cast in their niches, so a little goes a long way. I was really hoping that thing they found was a manhole cover and we were going to learn Westeros is post-apocalyptic New York City, but maybe next time.

Jordan: My first reaction was that we would see whatever the Westeros version of Ninja Turtles was. Alas, we do not see Krang and the Technodrone until at least book five.

Ben: I’m glad our main caveat from last blog was resolved somewhat if not outright addressed with Arya and Tywin finally splitting up, at least for a little bit. I don’t know how many scenes of them sitting at that table I watched, but it feels like enough to create a spin-off show where the Benny Hill theme is playing on a loop as Arya comes up with dumb additions to her impossibly elaborate fake dead father’s back story while Tywin sneers and then sighs.

Jordan: It DID feel like a spin-off, didn't it? No one was happier they split up than me. It was beginning to feel like a bet in the writer's room for how many episodes they could seamlessly weave dialogue from Growing Pains into the show without anyone noticing. Fortunately, they got called out last week after this exchange:

TYWIN: Carol, how dare you disobey us!
SANDOR "THE MOUNTAIN" CLEGANE: I never thought I would ever say that but Carol Ann Seaver, you're grounded.
ARYA: Wait...
TYWIN: No explanations. You are not getting a nose job.
ARYA: I know I'm not.
ARYA: I'm not getting a nose job.
SANDOR "THE MOUNTAIN" CLEGANE: Don't confuse us by agreeing with us, Carol.

Ben: That would have been amazing. Actually, it just was.

Arya is a character this show needs to badly redeem in terms of awesomeness, as she was a breakout all last season and to kick this one off, but weeks of making the same wide-eyed “am I going to get caught?” face and carrying cups around has been a drag. Her back on the run with Gendry and the husky kid is a good start. And even though telling Jaqen he had to kill himself if he didn’t help them isn’t up there with her better gambits, like saying the dead kid was Gendry, it brought her precocious cleverness back to the fore, and that’s the side of her I want to see; it also gave Jaqen another chance to be bad ass, with the hanging guards bit, so that’s always nice.

Jordan: One of my all-time favorite scenes in the book was Arya telling Jaqen that the third person he has to kill is himself, causing him to go from world's most suave murderer in one moment to "oh please don't make me do this" scared guy the next. This wasn't done as well as it could have been, but it was entertaining nonetheless. One thing I didn't expect is that there is a level of comedy to the Jaqen killings that undercuts the really terrifying nature of Arya's life in Harrenhal. This is one of the three most deadly murderers in the kingdom essentially saving the life of Arya and anyone she cares about because of a debt. If the Growing Pains Tywin scenes didn't take the fear of this place out of you, then most certainly the humor of the Jaqen scenes did.

By the way, there have been a lot of facts from the Game of Thrones world left out of the TV series, but I submit Joren pointing out “Jaqen, Rorge, and Biter are the three most deadly murderers in the kingdom” as the biggest one left out. Totally killed the stakes in regards to those characters, and they now just seem like unwashed nobodies.

Ben: I was interested to see Jaime and Brienne paired up, because Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is similar to Peter Dinklage as far as being charismatic and bold enough in his acting that anybody playing off him is either going to rise to their best work to keep up or be left in the dust; sadly, I feel it was the latter scenario here. Jaime’s japes were so seamless and airy while Brienne’s retaliation I felt was supposed to show, hey, she’s clever too, but they just came off clumsy and stilted. I will give this one some more time, but poor start.

Jordan: Believe it or not, Brienne is supposed to be completely clumsy and stilted in every way but fighting, so this was more successful reaction from you than you might think.

Ben: If their goal was the unorthodox one of making me not interested in watching a particular character’s scenes, then yes, mission accomplished.

Jordan: Jaimie and Brienne's interaction boils down to cocky, dangerous jokester and honorable, completely uncomfortable knight. I agree that this could go either way, but if the books are any indication it should bear fruit.

Ben: I thought the Robb and Talisa stuff was good. Her origin story was her acting highlight thus far and really made me care about the character. Their sex scene was hot because they’re among the more attractive people on the show. I do feel like she has been getting progressively softer in her attitude, though, which I suppose is supposed to demonstrate how she’s so head over heels for Robb, but I liked when she debuted that there was an attraction but she also called him out on his shit and made him questions the whys of this war; now it feels more like she’s trying to reassure him that he’s the good guy and is doing the right thing, which is far more bland and predictable as a dynamic.

Jordan: Watching attractive people go at it is always fun. It's seriously the only reason anyone watches True Blood. Oh yeah, High and mighty True Blood Fan, like it's that AMAZING plot and character development that keeps you coming back for more.

Ben: Uh, remember how we bought the entire run of Melrose Place on bootleg VHS during college? And then I bought the entire run again on bootleg DVD a few years back? Maybe we should keep quiet…

Jordan: For some reason, I buy Robb and Talisa channeling their anger and attitudes into lust for one another. They are both strong-willed characters, so being told by everyone that there is one little thing they shouldn't do makes it irresistible. Something I don't buy? The king's men just casually strolling away from the tents the 5,000th time Talisa is in Robb's company and he curtly tells them "Leave us." A little wink from a guard would go a long way, even if it kills all of the tension in the series.

Ben: The Davos/Stannis scene was pure gold, one of the true highlights of the episode; another case where they only got a brief window but these guys were able to make it count. I started to see why you dig Stannis here Stephen Dillane just did a masterful job conveying his motivation and how he’s been getting screwed over despite being the most loyal, hardworking member of his family all his life. I felt for the guy. I also liked how Dillane threw a little bit of a pouting kid into his speech but not the degree it overshadowed the capable and dangerous man delivering it. Davos was the perfect straight man and I also genuinely dug the mutual respect these two battle-tested soldiers showed one another; on a show filled with posturing, arrogance and demands (all of which I am also a fan), stuff like that stands out.

Jordan: This makes me happy to no end. Something quite strange in watching this second season is that since I know already what will happen (more or less. Screw you HBO writers), I take more delight in the reactions of those around me than the show itself. Like, I could give a crap if the scene I saw in my head is executed to perfection onscreen, but am DEEPLY wounded when people come up to me and say, "Why do you dislike Tywin? That guy is such a cuddly teddy bear!" You liking Theon, and now coming around to Stannis, has me grinning from ear to ear.

Up to this point, I was worried they were just transforming Stannis into a cold villain, which made NO sense to me because he is never presented in the book that way. For all of the love for Tyrion, at this point in the book I think many readers are going into the Baratheon-Lannister battle-to-end-all-battles rooting for Stannis to win. This episode's speech, albeit brief, went a long way to showing that while he’s a cold, stern man, he has come a long way and finally deserves to be king. The acting chops of Davos and Stannis really shone in this one too, especially with the cool moment of Stannis telling Davos that he will be the Hand of the King in the new regime.

Still can't get over your reaction to this scene. I may rewatch it. I am giddy right now.

Ben: I like Tyrion, I like Bronn and I like Varys, but their scenes have ceased really telling me anything new about them (Tyrion had a terrible childhood, Bronn knows how to fight better than rich people, Varys likes to keep secrets) and in this episode especially it felt like they were just being tossed on screen because people like them. Normally that’s cool, because again, they’re all entertaining and I like watching them do whatever, but when everybody else is already struggling for screen time and plot advancement, I really don’t need yet another grudging mutual admiration exchange between Tyrion and Varys. The best King’s Landing scene was the Tyrion-Cersei stuff with Dinklage’s card shark shell game and Lena Headey’s overblown smug satisfaction—I think she’s growing by leaps and bounds recently—but even that felt like it was a rehash of crap I’ve already seen.

Jordan: I loved all of the Tyrion, Bronn, Varys AND Cersei stuff this episode. The scene with Bronn revealing he killed all of the thieves in the kingdom shows that in a weird way Tyrion's appointees are actually making the kingdom a safer place. He has a bizarre, rag-tag group of distrustful misfits around him that STILL are better than what was there previously. I also laughed loudly at Bronn cleaning his fingernails and it upsetting Tyrion. Those two could sit and stare at the wall in a scene and I would eat it up.

As for Cersei, despite her ugly looks Lena Headey is showing off some fine acting chops as of late. In the books I actually cared about Shae, so this scene was a lot tenser until Tyrion realizes that Cersei stupidly found the wrong woman. The Shae in this series is gross looking and a bad actress, so I was not expecting to like this scene. It was Lena Headey's smug, misguided jubilation that won me over, and made me happy she is on the series (although I would be happier if she had a bag over her face).

Ben: Lena Headey is a beautiful woman.

That scene of Dany and Mormont added absolutely nothing to the episode aside from getting his requisite eyebrow raise quota in for the week. It felt like it was put in just so they could cut from Varys telling Tyrion that Dany was a live to a shot of her (and to be fair, it was a cool shot).

Jordan: I didn't mind Jorah Mormont that much in this episode, most likely because the show's producers finally found a good length of time to have him onscreen to conceal how bad of an actor he is (plus or minus 15 seconds). I'm not the world's biggest Dany fan, so less of her is better for me on this show. That's all I have to say about thaaaat (said in a Forrest Gump voice).

Ben: All that said, I’m excited for next week and the war finally getting underway as I figure stuff’s gotta progress given the build to this and the herd is probably going to be thinned as well, which is necessary at this point.

Jordan: I am PUMPED for the battle, which has been called by tons and tons of crew members "un-filmable." Look, Jack, with enough money you can film anything...and Game of Thrones has enough money right now to afford to make this epic battle AND afford a full facial reconstruction for Lena Headey next season.....please?

Ben: Lena Headey is a beautiful woman.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Art Attack: August 2012's Coolest Covers

-That Dustin Weaver cover to Astonishing X-Men is intriguing. I have a sense of what's going on (Wolverine and a bomb are involved), but it's abstract enough to get me curious. Well done.

-Chris Samnee is my cover artist of the month. His work on Avenging Spider-Man and Daredevil both demonstrate blending the super heroic with the civilian for a combination of excitement and heart. He nails Spidey and DD, but his work also gets me genuinely invested in Aunt May and Foggy Nelson as well.

-Look at the care in the background and border elements of the BPRD cover by Ryan Sook; the devil is in the details.

-Captain Marvel #3 by Ed McGuinness is currently my desktop background at work; Deadpool #59 by Dave Johnson at home.

-Frank Miller, man. Gross. Love it.

-That David Aja cover to Hawkeye #1 has been out there for awhile now, but it's still so striking.

-Ask anybody, I'm a sucker for images that incorporate super heroes or villains playing chess. See New Mutants #10, Doomwar #3 and now Invincible Iron Man #522 by Salvador Larroca.

-I thought that Guillem March cover to National Comics: Looker #1 was great even before I saw the clever touch with the camera.

-Steve Epting's Winter Soldier #9 cover strikes me as an image that would have made a great movie poster in like 1987--which I dig greatly.

ANIMAL MAN #12 by Yanick Paquette & Steve Pugh
ASTONISHING X-MEN #53 by Dustin Weaver
AVENGERS VS. X-MEN #9 by Jim Cheung
AVENGING SPIDER-MAN #11 by Chris Samnee
CAPTAIN MARVEL #3 by Ed McGuinness
THE CREEP #0 by Frank Miller
DAREDEVIL #16 by Chris Samnee
DEADPOOL #59 by Dave Johnson
DEFENDERS #9 by Terry Dodson
THE GOON #41 by Eric Powell
HAWKEYE #1 by David Aja
INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #522 by Salvador Larroca
THE MASSIVE #3 by Rafael Grampa
NATIONAL COMICS: LOOK #1 by Guillem March
NEW MUTANTS #47 by John Tyler Christopher
THE PUNISHER #14 by Mico Suayan
RED HOOD AND THE OUTLAWS #12 by Kenneth Rocafort
SWAMP THING #12 by Yanick Paquette & Steve Pugh
VENOM #23 by Patch Zircher
WINTER SOLDIER #9 by Steve Epting

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.