Monday, June 16, 2014

Game of Thrones "The Children" Review

Season 4’s finale, “The Children,” concluded the two-season twenty-episode adaptation of A Storm of Swords—the most popular of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. The filmed adaptation of A Storm of Swords lacked the cohesion of the novels. Benioff and Weiss accepted a great challenge in adapting the massive books for HBO. It’s a story that spans thousands of miles in setting and populated by thousands of characters. The Game of Thrones adaptation has been an accomplishment. It films in five separate locations; the cast continues to increase despite the number of prominent deaths in the show; Benioff, Weiss, and the crew, continue to admirably adapt, stage, and produce tremendous set-pieces. Fans loved A Storm of Swords for many reasons which seem irrelevant to the TV series. Fans may or may not love “The Children.” The 4th season finale shifts focus and perspective as the threads of the various stories fall away as other threads connect with newer, fresher ones.

Three major characters use a boat to drastically change their situations/plights/arcs. A fourth, secondary, character also makes use of a boat to flee from a situation in King’s Landing. Jaime saved his brother’s life in the dead of the King’s Landing night. Awaiting his brother, Jaime relayed, was Varys, who had arranged a safe escape and passage to Essos. The escape plan and subsequent sequence happens quickly. Jaime and Tyrion hug, exchange words of fraternal warmth, and then Jaime leaves. Tyrion stands a moment, looking where his brother went, and then he peers back into the blackness of his cell. He ascends the ladder into the room of the Hand of the King, his father’s present lodgings, and quietly observes the surroundings. The room is quiet. Candle flames flicker. Shae lies in Tywin’s bed, breaking Tyrion’s steely, courageous resolve to not follow the behavior of his cousin, who mercilessly crushed beetles in another time. Shae’s lion, her Tyrion, strangles her to death. A minute later, he murders his father in the privy, for calling Shae a whore twice. And, finally, Tyrion meets Varys, where he’s packed in a wooden crate, lifted onto the boat, to somewhere where he’s not sentenced to die.

Tyrion’s murderous path to freedom marks a darker turn for the character. Tyrion separated himself from his family in numerous ways. He read books; he whored around; he hired sellswords to protect him. One may argue his family influenced his behavior, or, rather, he behaved in reaction what his family wouldn’t do for him, which was save him or love him or protect him. Tyrion achieves a measure of victory over his father, but shooting an arrow through his flesh and bone twice won’t kill the past or his memories of what his father thought of him, how he dismissed his son as monstrous. The slings and arrows of his life won’t disappear because he killed his father. Similarly, the murder of Shae does not resolve an aspect of his arc. He committed the murder in passion, similar to the moor in Aleppo: it’s a tragedy in both instances. Tyrion does not imagine infidelities. He experiences the agony of seeing his love in the bed of the man who sentenced him to death rather than spare him for a crime he did not commit. The tragedy for Tyrion is that he succumbed to the visceral, physical form of revenge that seemed removed from him, as unnatural to him as it was for his sister, brother, and father, (and nephew).

Arya boarded a boat to Braavos in the last scene of season four. In her previous scene, she met Brienne, who minutes later engaged in a bloody fight with The Hound. Brienne urged Arya to come with her to safety. The Hound scoffed, because there’s no safe place in Westeros. Brienne destroys The Hound in the fight. Arya hid behind a cliff. She blended into the rock-face. Her brown garments mimicked the brown cliff—that shot is probably the best shot for the character ever storyboarded/planned. Arya’s had to mimic since she watched her father die at the Sept: as a boy headed to The Wall; as Tywin’s cup-bearer; as an anonymous hostage of The Hound’s. She met a most perfect companion at Harrenhal, Jaquen, whose face changed in front of her very eyes. A part of Arya’s survival involves murdering people, which also has tragic undertones to it, more subtle than Tyrion’s. The women of Westeros share in common, in a broad way, a lack of power and agency. Cersei threatened to expose the incestuous line of Lannisters during a power struggle with her father. Arya can’t survive without killing people, but she’s a young girl. Arya’s tragedy is her life—that the specific events of her life, the horrible deaths of her family, had forced her to make these choices her father wouldn’t want her to make. She told Brienne she learned how to use a sword but her father didn’t want her to learn it. There’s that scene in season one, possibly episode six or episode four, when Ned watches her practice her water dance with an expression of worry, dread, anguish.

The third character to use a boat, presumably, was Stannis, who stormed the wildling camp. Eons ago, Melisandre told him the true war lies north of The Wall. Stannis listened and saved Jon Snow’s ass along with the asses of all the Night’s Watch. Stannis follows the theme of Tyrion and Arya in that he has made tragic decisions in life, albeit for different reasons. He murdered his brother because of their differing claims to the throne. He almost murdered Davos. Stannis seems like a savior, but he’s Stannis Baratheon. The man oozes stubbornness. He’s a magnificent prick. Him and Jon form a solid base for communications. Stannis asks what Ned would’ve done to Mance. Jon spares Mance’s life, explaining his father would’ve imprisoned him and let him speak. The next scene finds Jon and his brothers burning the bodies of their slain brothers. The men of the Night’s Watch stand around their deceased brothers while Stannis stands above the rest, the true king of the North, though the Night’s Watch does not acknowledge a specific king. Melisandre, though, emerges as if from the flames. Jon sees her through the rising smoke. She stares; he stares. The best thing about Stannis’ presence in the north is that the happenings at The Wall matter to some character. Game of Thrones never presented the threat of the wildlings as too dire. Numbers were thrown around that suggested the Night’s Watch would have no chance, but not even the Night’s Watch seemed hopeless about the situation. It wasn’t hopeless, the producers knew from the books, and so it wasn’t treated as such. It is different, and it brims with a number of intriguing possibilities for the future of the Seven Kingdoms.

Stannis becomes more and more a legitimate figure of ultimate power, authority, and regality in Westeros, i.e. he seems likely as one to sit upon the throne by series’ end. Jon Snow lurks, too. He is the character fantasty epics would be lost without: the unwanted bastard son, the unlikely leader, the brave and courageous leader when chosen to lead. Dany’s the other likely ruler of the Seven Kingdoms; however, she’s lost in Meereen. Older gentlemen would like to return to their masters, which she grants. Drogon burned a 3 year old girl to death. Dany chains Viscerion and Rhaegel in the catacombs because she’s unable to control her children. Drogon continues to fly and burn somewhere near cliffs, though unseen for a number of days. Dany lost her most trusted friend and confidante and, now, her children, her dragons.

The title of the episode does not come from Dany’s tearful decision to chain her children in the catcombs of Meereen. Bran and his merry band of adventurers, who’ve all been absent for over a month, arrived at the tree. Upon arrival, axe-wielding skeletons attacked, bursting through snow and ice from underground to attack. A small girl saved their lives, but not Jojen’s, who was stabbed numerous times and thus perished, and brought them into the cave, which leads to three. She introduced herself as one part of the children, short for the children of the Forest, an ancient race in Westeros, existing for as long as the giants. The skeletons were destroyed once they crossed the threshold. Bran meets the three-eyed crow, a very elderly man who is part of tree, who uses a kind of riddle to explain why he led Bran to him. He’s been many things and has seen many things (“a thousand of things”). Brand wonders will he return his ability to walk, to which the man tells him no, but he will fly. So, Bran becomes another possibility to sit on the Iron Throne or to restore Winterfell. Bran’s hero’s journey is as clearly drawn out as Jon Snow’s, and underlined in red with stars surrounding it in “The Children” when he crossed the threshold.

The last shot of “The Children”—Arya looking at what the boat approaches—was a wonderful image to close the season with because it acted as a tease. What matters more than what happened already is what will happen beyond, for the future represents the possibility of change and agency. A cripple may fly, and a girl will survive without a strong, scary male around her (Tywin; The Hound). Jaime looked at his chapter briefly in an early scene. Jaime’s not the lone person who can write history. History will be written by the Starks.

Other Thoughts:

-Arya did not kill a very wounded and suffering Sandor Clegane. Sandor helpfully recounted the cruel acts he did to people Arya cared for. Maisie Williams’ expression during that scene was the most chilling Arya’s been in the series.

-David Benioff and D.B. Weiss wrote “The Children.” Alex Graves directed.

-I’ll see my hundreds of thousands of readers in 2014 for season five of Game of Thrones. Continue checking the blog for content. I’ll write about stuff. Probably Lindelof’s The Leftovers. Maybe Cuse’s The Strain. Perhaps I’ll write about books, too. Or I’ll entertain all with more WB retrospective reviews. Dawson’s Creek season 3, yo.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Game of Thrones "Watchers on The Wall" Review

“The Mountain and the Viper” sparked discussion about the bleak tone of Game of Thrones. Critics and bloggers wondered why continue to watch a show when potential heroes become victims; when innocent men lose the right to live because the potential hero lost, and because the politics in King’s Landing conspire to put those innocent man—or innocent man—to death. What once was daring and celebrated—the murder of Ned Stark—has become a drawback for those who thought the good characters would prevail. So, for those feeling sad and disenchanted, Game of Thrones produced “Watchers on the Wall” which flicks a little light throughout Westeros and through the TV at those feeling disenchanted and depressed with the violence, misery, and hopelessness that pervades the series—a light that flickers like the torches atop The Wall, barely distinguishable from a distance but bright and wild up close, as large as giants.

The Night’s Watch triumph over the wildlings one single night is faint and barely perceptible. Edd reminds his exultant brothers that the wildlings still out-number the Night’s Watch 1,000-to-1. Jon Snow knows Mance didn’t bother to start a full-blown battle. Mance wanted to test the defenses of The Wall; Mance will send more and more and more until he conquers The Wall and continues southward to the northern lands and then beyond to King’s Landing. The rest of Westeros seems oblivious to the threat north. The Night’s Watch barely made an effort to send word to King’s Landing. Of course, Westeros has no resources to send armies north. Jon does not celebrate the minor victory, the cost of which was dozens of brothers and the only love he’d known in his life. Leadership fails during the assault. Thorne falls to a wound, whether alive or dead is unknown, and his second-in-command hid with Gilly. Jon stepped into the vacant leadership role—becoming the unofficial Lord Commander. He commanded the troops along The Wall and then moved inside to where wildlings had broached the gate where he salvaged seemingly lost ground. For one night, the Night’s Watch kept control of The Wall.

“Watchers on the Wall” consisted of moments. The beginning of the episode had moments between Jon and Sam, and, later, Sam and Aemon, about the word known to all men. Sam wanted to know about loving and being loved, his mind focused on the loss of Gilly during the Mole’s Town massacre, and Jon couldn’t tell Sam what he wanted to know. Jon’s ability to convey what he felt for Ygritte and what she felt for him and how it felt was among the best writing in the show. Telling someone about love and its feeling is hard even for poets, so of course the Jon Snows of Westeros would struggle to capture the specific special details of love to another whose own sense of love and devotion to a woman may be different from his. Aemon’s words to Sam touch on the power of the past and sort of non-power of the humble present. Sam’s obsessed by thoughts of Gilly’s horrible death, only to find her alive and well at the gate; and then he’s devoted to returning to her and, also, fighting with his brothers. Pyp looks towards Sam before the hellish battle inside the gates erupts. He synthesizes what he wanted others to synthesize for him, i.e. to put into words, which is that before he killed the white walker he felt no fear because he didn’t like a nobody. If Pyp wants to survive, he should forget himself. Sam won’t, because Glly’s made him someone.

Besides the Sam spotlight for half of the episode, “Watchers on the Wall” spotlighted the watchers on the wall. Jon assumed leadership, because of course: he has Stark blood in him and he’s a prominent character. The concentration on Sam highlighted the character’s growth and progression since Allester Thorne dismissed him as ‘little piggy.’ The Night’s Watch consists of men who’ve been banished to The Wall for committing crimes, or for being a bastard, or for being the least favorite person in a family. The brothers of the Night’s Watch have been dismissed and sent away to a bleak landscape. The fight to defend The Wall and defend the kingdom showed bravery and courage very few south of The Wall displayed since Joffrey took off Ned Stark’s head. Prince Oberyn represented a rare gem in King’s Landing—one unwilling to tolerate brutal injustices—but he lost his life fighting that fight. The men of the Night’s Watch receive significant moments before dying: Pyp doesn’t miss, but then Ygritte shoots an arrow through his neck. Grenn, and five other brothers, hold the gate, sacrificing their lives to do so, against a pissed off giant that lost his giant brother. Dolorous Edd ran the top of The Wall like Pep Guardiola ran Barcelona. Thorne transformed from prickish dick into noble and brave Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. Every significant brother of the Night’s Watch received a moment—whether bold and brave or meek and cowardly.

Jon Snow, though, knows whatever triumphs will be made meaningless when day turns to night. His bad plan involves approaching Mance Rayder, unarmed, Sam asks Jon to come back. Jon walked out into the whiteness of north-beyond-The Wall. And the episode faded to white. Yes, Jon Snow died.

No, I’m kidding.

Other Thoughts:

-I thought it an outstanding episode—a very marked improvement from last week’s massively disappointing “The Mountain and the Viper.” I liked it more than “Blackwater.” Neil Marshall had a wider scope to cover in “Watchers on the Wall” and hit many key scenes with aplomb.

-Ygritte died in Jon Snow’s scene, remembering their romantic eve in the cave, and then reminding Jon that he knows nothing. Oh, Ygritte.

-David Benioff and D.B. Weiss wrote the episode. Neil Marshall directed.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Game of Thrones "The Mountain and The Viper" Review

Names: one’s last name, the name one had before one become a slave, the names of those one wishes to kill, the names of the dead, brutally murdered by a beastly mountain. Names have power in Westeros. Robert Baratheon’s signature had immense power. His signature pardoned Jorah Mormont. Roose’s decision to share the Bolton name with his bastard Ramsay moves Ramsay to his knees, overcome by the meaning and import of becoming Ramsay Bolton. The Hound wonders why Arya utters the names of those she wants dead. Her answer veers away into a playful chat about the satisfaction of watching people, but before it veers she responds that it makes her feel better. Prince Oberyn, the Red Viper, insists The Mountain say the names of the people he killed, confess to their deaths, and offer up the name of the one who ordered the murders. The Red Viper’s obsession with hearing The Mountain’s confession, with fighting him to the death, after he had stabbed him through the chest with a spear, loses him his life and Tyrion’s life. The Mountain confesses to the crime after breaking The Red Viper’s jaw and voraciously finishes by smashing Tyrion’s champion’s head in. “The Mountain and the Viper” concludes with a final name—Tywin hereby announces that Tyrion Lannister is sentenced to death.

David Benioff and D.B. Weiss promised fans of the books and the series that the trial-by-combat would be the best fight in the history of television. The trial-by-combat was not the greatest fight scene in the history of television. Many fight scenes have been staged and choreographed throughout since the beginning of the silent film. Fight scenes don’t succeed or fail because of visceral physicality but because of the fight’s story, i.e. why the characters fight. It’s an obvious statement, but it’s overlooked in an entire industry. Tell someone professional wrestling tells stories all the time, and that person will scoff, roll his or her eyes, cackle at such a ridiculous statement because all wrestling is is grown men, oiled up, doing stuff in their underwear. ANGEL staged an excellent fight in its fifth season episode “Destiny,” in which Spike and Angel race to a mystical grail in the desert that’ll grant whomever drinks it first is the fated champion mentioned in the Shanshu prophecy. Spike and Angel fight for nearly three acts over the ‘cup of perpetual torment.’ Their fight involves more than drinking from the cup for the sake of quickening of a prophetic destiny; it involves their complex personal history through the decades, and it’s also spectacularly badass. The Mountain and the Red Viper fight is splendidly described in the books, but it is merely decently rendered on film. The viewer sees glimpses of Oberyn’s expert fighting ability, but his mastery of the art eludes the viewer. We’re more told than shown that he’s great. The Mountain looks oafish and uncoordinated. The writing clearly sets up the surprise cinematic moment when The Mountain destroys Oberyn.

The only moment the fight reaches exulted territory that the show runners promised during the last two weeks happened when Oberyn had put the spear through The Mountain’s chest and screamed for a confession and screamed for The Mountain to say Tywin ordered him to murder his family. Oberyn dropped the false pretenses of his arrival in King’s Landing. His earlier conversations with the Lannisters were lightly honest. He played a cool, lax game in which he alluded to truths the power and influence of court that do not allow further elaboration. So, he played little games, dropping this or that detail about his family’s tragic history to see whether or not Tywin or Cersei will twitch when those precious, dear Martell names were uttered. Oberyn screams for more bloody revenge. Tywin finally squirms in his chair seconds before The Mountain bursts to life. The moment lasts briefly and in another moment The Mountain kills The Red Viper and Tyrion’s hope for pardon.

Tyrion converses with Jaime before the trial-by-combat. The brothers remember their cousin, Orson, who had the misfortune of falling headfirst to the ground, which made him ‘simple.’ Orson killed beetles by smashing them with a rock. Jaime did not think about Orson’s actions beyond the thetic stage. Orson didn’t think about what he did. Tyrion disagreed. For years he watched Orson in hopes of discovering the reason why he chose to smash beetles with rocks day after day. Tyrion didn’t believe his cousin did not have something going on in his mind. He believed his cousin had a type of sense, but he could not crack why he chose to kill thousands of beetles in his life. He never learned the answer. He couldn’t learn why it happened to those innocent beetles. Tyrion imagines himself as the beetle, his family as Orson and the rock. And his family smashes his fate like Orson smashed the beetles that had the misfortune of being born in Casterly Rock.

Other Thoughts:

-The trial-by-combat happens in the final scene. The penultimate scene is the aforementioned Orson story. The rest of the episode splits between The Eyre, the sacking of Moat Cailin, and Dany’s response to Robert Baratheon’s pardon of Jorah Mormont. Dany sent Jorah away from Meereen after learning of his betrayal. Jorah expressed remorse, and then love. Jorah relayed information to King’s Landing in season 1 when he traveled with Viscerys and Dany amongst the Dothraki. Dany sent him away because she couldn’t trust him after he sold her out, her child, and her brother, for the sake of a royal pardon. There’s another minor story happening aside from the Jorah exile, which is Grey Worm’s growing crush on Missandei, whom he saw naked. They converse about what happened while they each bathed. Missandei wants to know his name from before. Grey Worm does not know. Their slow courtship should delight many fans of the series, but their indoor scene was flat and uninspired. Grey Worm delivers a monologue about why he wouldn’t trade what happened to him as a boy (becoming an Unsullied) because it led him to Dany, his triumph over the masters, and his meeting Missandei.

-Sansa lied her face off because she’d rather trust someone she knows than a group she doesn’t. Benioff and Weiss made Sansa’s transformation clear when she entered the last scene dressed like Maleficent. Arya arrived at The Eyre and then erupted into laughter when she heard Lysa died three days (it was my favorite part of the episode).

-The sacking of Moat Cailin showed more of the Bolton brutality, and also the family’s habit of breaking oaths.

-David Benioff and D.B. Weiss wrote the episode. Alex Graves directed.

-Next episode will be bonkers.

About The Foot

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Originally, I titled the blog Jacob's Foot after the giant foot that Jacob inhabited in LOST. That ended. It became TV With The Foot in 2010. I wrote about a lot of TV.