Monday, June 6, 2011

"Game of Thrones," Season 1, Ep. 8

Posted By on Mon, Jun 6, 2011 at 4:48 PM

I HATE YOU *THIS* MUCH: Jason Momoa as Drogo. (Didja know hes the new Conan, too?)
  • Courtesy of HBO
  • I HATE YOU *THIS* MUCH: Jason Momoa as Drogo. (Didja know he's the new Conan, too?)
This week’s episode, titled “The Pointy End,” credits as screenwriter George R.R. Martin, author of the original series-in-progress A Song of Ice and Fire on which HBO’s “Game of Thrones” is based. As a scripting gig to thrill genre geeks, “The Pointy End” comes a close second to the May 14 episode of “Doctor Who,” written by Neal Gaiman. Maybe Martin’s inside-out familiarity with the characters brings out so much charm and subtlety this week, or perhaps his closer involvement further motivated “Thrones”’ already talented cast and crew.

Where several of “Thrones”’ early episodes felt more workmanlike than inspired, “The Pointy End” proves to be the best episode yet in terms of pace, characterization and plain old visual panache. Samwell mentions the history of the White Walkers and says he hopes The Wall is high enough. Then — whoa! — we see that The Wall’s pretty damn high already. The battles might be off-stage, but we see armies amassed in huge encampments, and characters stride over hills with mighty forts over their shoulders.

“The Pointy End” takes up where where last week’s episode left off. Ned’s attempt to unseat non-heir Joffrey from the king’s throne has gone pear-shaped, and Lannister loyalists not only butcher the Stark guards, but the servants as well. There’s a touching moment — powerfully framed —when Sansa’s nurse bravely walks toward four guards with backs to the camera and bloody swords upraised. Meanwhile, Arya’s “dancing lessons” reach an unexpected final exam. Her teacher Syrio Forel informs her not to trust anyone — something Ned would’ve done well to learn — when the cutthroats show up. Arya and Syrio take up arms and Syrio outmaneuvers for of them before sending Arya to safety. “What do we say to death?” he prompts her. “Not today!” she says.

Arya repeats "Not today!" like a desperate mantra as she escapes through the tunnels. To avoid capture she comes out at the stables, where her servants have been slain. She barely bats an eye at the body and instead looks for her sword, Needle, which she uncovers just in time to accidentally-on-purpose kill a stableboy seeking to kidnap her. Our little girl is growing up.

This week, even a dimly-lit conversation scene practically glows when Varys visits Ned, who’s locked up under the jail, judging from the enveloping darkness. Varys, disguised as a jailer, brings him a drink and deflects Ned’s complaints that he didn’t back Ned up. “When you look at me, do you see a hero?” We get the impression that Varys likes and sympathizes with Ned, but won’t back a losing horse. Ned: “Who do you truly serve?” Varys: “The realm, my lord. Someone has to.” Which sounds like convenient excuse for tolerating tyranny.

Amid all the ghastly bloodshed and gathering warfare, this week’s episode finds room for bits of humor. Tyrion’s more unflappable in the face of disaster than ever, especially when the wild Hill People, lead by “Shagga, son of Dolph,” ambush Tyrion and Bronn. Tyrion saves their lives through a mixture of wit, bribery and insolence: “Lannister smiths shit better steel” than the Stonecrows. When Tyrion introduces his father to the lot, including “Bronn, son of…” “You wouldn’t know him,” Bronn wryly answers. Tywin shows Tyrion even less affection than he bestowed on Jamie, but will pay his son’s debts.

Tyrion and company’s arrival at the Lannister army finds a visual echo in Catelyn’s arrival at Robb’s camp. The Starks, lacking the Lannister fortunes, have a harder time raising an army and guaranteeing the loyalty of their theoretical allies. Catelyn’s own sister, Crazy Aunt Breastmilk, won’t even share her knights for fear of her horrible son, even though the Eyrie is the most fortified, impregnable keep in the realm. (Talk about overprotective parenting.) Robb calls the Stark bannermen but has a harder time keeping them in line. It helps that he has his own direwolf, who bites two fingers off Lord Umber. And Umber actually laughs, that’s how macho he is. “Game of Thrones” can use a big, boisterous Billy Connolly type.

War preparations look even harsher on the other side of the Narrow Sea as the Dothraki sack a community of “lamb men,” to sell the shepherds into slavery to raise capital for an invasion of Westeros. Danaerys looks on in horror, realizing that the blood is partly on he hands. She claims the female slaves for herself, briefly reminding me of “Boardwalk Empire’s” suffragette Margaret Schroder as a champion of women’s rights. When Drogo backs up Danaerys, one of his chiefs challenges him, so Drogo pulls out his tongue — through his neck!. Danaerys asks the local midwife to dress his wound.

Danaerys and Bran Stark have one thing in common: they each apparently have a wild, straggle-haired wild wench as a captive/ally. Bran chats with Osha, the Wildling hostage, who asserts that, like the Starks, the people over the wall worship the Old Gods too. She warns that Robb should be sending his armies North, to defend the White Walkers, rather than South.

Speaking of which, at The Wall, the Night Watch finds some mysterious bodies, and Samwell notes that they’re not as ripe as they should be. “You may be a coward, Tarly, but you’re not stupid,” one of the officers quips. Jon Snow nearly gets in a fight over Ned’s arrest as a traitor, and the commander sends Jon to his room. That night, Jon’s wolf alerts him and they discover one of those bodies they found is going all George Romero, but flame settles their hash.

Even Sansa Stark reveals her courage this week, although it differs from the savvy and skill that saves the other characters. Cersei and the Small Council start bullying Sansa straightaway: “A child born of a traitor’s seed is no fit consort for our King!” someone remarks, presumably unaware that Joffrey was born of a traitor’s seed himself. The Queen betrays no trace of the sympathy she previously gave the Stark females when she orders Sansa to contact her family to try and prevent the Stark rebellion. Later, Sansa goes to the court and begs for her mercy for her father’s life. The court seems moved by her forthright innocence, even Joffrey, or so he claims. But he wants Ned to admit his treason and offer the public assurance that Joffrey’s a rightful king. Sophie Turner’s quite moving in this scene, although it’s hard to feel optimistic.

Notes

I appreciate the budgetary challenge of staging a big battle scene, but I’m sorry that scenes like Jamie Lannister’s siege of Riverrun (Catelyn’s home) is off-stage. Will “Game of Thrones” get its war on by the season finale?

The Stark family wolves always liven things up, and this week we see Jon Snow’s and Robb’s both in action. On the show, though, they appear to be just wolves. I remember the book’s direwolves to be huge, like the size of tigers.

Surely Robb releasing the Lannister scout was a ruse, to convince Tywin Lannister that his army would be going in a different director than planned.

Dothraki balks at Danaerys’ order that they marry the female prisoners. “Does the horse mate with the lamb?” I’m not sure the analogy holds up.

Aww — we get a moment with li’l Rickon, the forgotten Stark. He’s sad and angry that his family has been leaving Winterfell.

The final scene in court features a couple of “portrait shots” of “King Joffrey, Cersei, the small council and their guards, like a ready portrait of the “Game of Thrones” bad guys.

Who’s more awful, Joffrey or Robin Arryn?

Cool casting note: Robb mentions “The Late” Lord Frey as one of Ned’s more reluctant bannermen. In one of the seasons final two episodes David Bradley will be playing the role, and you’ll recognize him as Argus Filch, the Caretaker of Hogwarts.

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