(This Game Of Thrones post is written from the point of view of someone who has not read the books the series is based on. As such, spoilers are strictly forbidden. Any spoilers in comments will be deleted on sight. If you see spoilers, please mark them as best you can and e-mail todd at vanderwerff dot us or contact Todd on Twitter at tvoti, and he'll take care of them as soon as possible.)
Game of Thrones' eighth episode (penned by George R.R. Martin) feels like the most zoomed-out the sprawling show's been so far, in a good way. Joffrey's on the throne, Ned's in the dungeons, Renly has fucked off somewhere, and everyone else is summoning their armies around them and marching to war. Sure, there's some off-screen fighting that we unfortunately only hear about through dialogue, but "The Pointy End" quite masterfully kept us abreast of everything going on, while sticking to the point-of-view style the show has held from the start. And even though we're back in table-setting territory a little bit (more than one scene had people pushing figurines around maps like a game of Risk), this episode also had a seriously hefty amount of awesome fight scenes (and a nice helping of Hodor penis, if that's what you're into).
The only thing I really noticed with Martin scripting is that this episode seemed to lack some of the very long conversations and monologues of weeks past. Whether that was a personal preference or just down to the fact that this was a very busy episode, I don't know, but it served the show well. The same amount of info was conveyed, but the pace was quicker, which suited. Plus, I think Martin has a taste for the unconventional when it comes to fight scenes. Syrio's face-off with the knights using only a wooden sword was beautiful to watch, and the moment the sword was cut down told us all we needed to know (his fate is left to our imaginations). Contrarily, when Drogo throws down with some dude who doesn't like Daenerys' sympathy for slave women, he kills him gorily, even for this show—goes in through the throat, and rips out his tongue. Ouch.
For all the nasty twists like that, there was some affecting stuff in here too, especially concerning the poor Stark family, who really had a pretty bad week. Ned languishes in prison with only Varys to talk to, seemingly resigned to his fate now that Catelyn's lost Tyrion (the look on his face when he heard that news was painful). Catelyn's reunion with her son was very well-played, since now, he's a commander of a huge army, and she has to be careful not to mother him so much. But both actors sold that hug very well. Arya, of course, loses Syrio and escapes into the deep of the castle herself. And Sansa is probably the worst off, a prisoner in a gilded cage, trying to balance what might remain of Joffrey's affection with her attempts to save her father's life. She's such an innocent that I'm almost worried for her the most, even though she's hardly my favorite character. "I won't hatch anything!" she promises. She really deserves nothing that's coming to her. Hell, even Bran's little brother (have we seen him before?) seems more wised-up than her about the ways of the world.
Sansa does quite well in throwing herself at the mercy of her former (still current?) love Joffrey, who has become 10,000 times more of a shit now that he's on the throne. God, I will watch this show even if it goes on for a hundred seasons just if they promise me gruesome violence against that little kid. I have to give Jack Gleeson credit. I remember him being an adorable little tyke in Batman Begins. His pampered, evil little face brings me the most rage on this show. Another interesting fact to note: While Petyr and Varys cautiously advise their new lord to treat Sansa with grace, Grand Maester Pycelle has gone from being a kindly old monk to a sour-faced bastard who essentially thinks Sansa has TRAITOR BLOOD in her veins. I think this is supposed to signify that of all Ned's advisers, he was maybe the least trustworthy after all, piping info about Ned's doings to Cersei all along. Or maybe he's just a mean old man. Either way, quite the character shift.
Tyrion, on the other hand, remains himself as ever, but even more so. Last time we saw him, he'd talked one mercenary onto his side with promises of future glories. This week, he raises a whole army. An army of terrifying sub-Viking types called "Shagga" and the like, but an army nonetheless. Tyrion's silver-tongue scene where he stops this band of halfwits from killing him on sight is another great mix of comic relief and impressive smarts from Peter Dinklage, who was sorely missed in episode seven. As he reminds us so bluntly, "I like living!" His confrontation with his father plays even better. While Jaime obviously lives in fear of scary old Tywin, Tyrion is so used to scorn coming from the man, he's weirdly more at-ease. And Tywin seems… well, not impressed by the band of beardos his son has gathered, but not quite scornful either. That scene had a lot to take in, as Tywin brings Tyrion up to date on everything we know and a few things we don't (apparently, Jaime's off making war somewhere, and he's doing well, but we don't really get the details). But, like most of the infodump scenes, Martin mostly keeps us in the loop, and we're pretty confident anything we'll miss will get cleaned up for us later.
Up in the north, I was happy to have some real action for a change, instead of a Jon sulk-a-thon. Things seemed to be heading in that direction with the bad news from King's Landing and Jon almost getting in another fight with his bullying trainer. But then… ZOMBIES! Zombies are a cure-all to pretty much any narrative stoppage. And Game of Thrones poses an interesting question with its zombies, although I don't know this is the point of it, but it occurred to me. How do you fight zombies… in a world with no shotguns? Jon tries to stab them, gets one of them through the heart, etc., but all that works is fire (we don't know if decapitation does the job yet). It's another great fight scene, nice and scary (although who didn't see that shit coming!) that broke up the drudgery that the Wall scenes had become. Hopefully, that continues in the weeks ahead, because I don't want to be watching Jon's bits and clamoring for them to back down south for war.
After all, that's what Robb's doing, right? (Niiiiice segue, David). This week probably had the most character stuff for Robb since the show started, and about bloody time, since he's marching all the armies of the north against the Lannisters. Swaddled in a few extra layers of fur, he somehow seems a bit more grizzled (although he's still quite a pretty lad) before he has his wolf rip the fingers off of a lord who dares defy him. As I mentioned earlier, the show has a subtle nod to Robb's enduring boyhood when he was greeted by his mother, but he's a just-about compelling leader figure too, although I hope he has something up his sleeve when he releases the Lannister spy, because on its own that did not seem to be the smartest move.
As the armies march, Martin inserts a natural plot obstacle (that I'm sure he used in the books too) in case we thought all the fighting would go down in episode nine. Apparently Robb has to convince some cranky old dude in some tower to let him go through, or else there won't be any war. Game of Thrones has had a surprisingly rapid-moving plot as we come to these final episodes, but it's not above such tactics. I'm looking forward to seeing which English character actor gets swaddled in a beard to play this dude!
Similarly, the Dothraki march to war appears slower than I originally predicted, as Daenerys objects to their tribal practices of enslavement and rape (the whole "savages" part of this plot has always made me a little uncomfortable) and Drogo has to fight some underling to back her up. Then he gets wounded, and some witch lady offers to help… I don't know, guys. Suddenly I'm not as convinced we're going to see Dothraki war along with the North vs. South war we're already being treated to. I mean, if they're fighting over shit like this, how are they ever going to get the nerve up to cross the sea? Still, they treated us to that tongue-ripping, and Drogo did some very handy fighting with no weapons at all. I suppose I should be satisfied.
With two episodes to go, the show seems to get more skilled week by week at dispensing information, blending it together with action, character wor,k and suspense, and really feeling like a TV show rather than a port of a novel. So, that's good. Let's give this one an A, and hope that they stick the landing.
- Wasn't sure whether to be alarmed or reassured by the sight of the Hound with Sansa. At least it's not the Mountain!
- Lysa's brief appearance, with her son furiously trying to undo her shirt and her promising him a bath, was probably her most disturbing.
- Lot of choice lines in this one. I liked:
- "Though I would treasure your friendship, I'm mainly interested in your facility of murder."
- Or how Tyrion would like to die. "In my own bed, at the age of 80, with a bellyful of wine and a girl's mouth around my cock."
- Drogo had some choice fightin' phrases too. "The beetles will feed on your eyes!"
- I know I've complained about gratuitous nudity before, but Hodor's was probably the most. I mean, what did that scene convey? That he's big and dumb? We get it! Still funny, though.
- "I'll cut off his manhood..." "...and feed it to the goats, yes!"
- Bronn's introduction to Tywin is priceless. "This is Bronn, son of..." "...you wouldn't know him."