Posts Tagged ‘Game of Thrones’

“Game of Thrones” thoughts, Season Five, Episode Three: “The High Sparrow”

Monday, April 27th, 2015

The episode starts on the spiritual side, as Arya Stark’s old “friend” Jaqen H’ghar takes her inside the House of Black and White, home to the fearsome Faceless Men. With apologies to the Wu-Tang Clan, these residents appear to be an order of killer priests, worshipping death as a single god that wears different faces depending on your denomination. (The show doesn’t aim for your inner middle-school fantasy nerd very often, but it sure hits the D&D/Frank Frazetta paperback-cover bullseye here.)

Equally appealing to your seventh-grade psyche, albeit in a completely different way: the wedding of King Tommen and Queen Margaery. Or more accurately, the wedding night, a wet dream come true in which a kind, beautiful older woman teaches an eager but innocent young lad exactly why the Gods gave him man parts. It’s hard to pull this off [ahem] without seeming creepy, but that’s part of the fun, and actors Natalie Dormer and Dean-Charles Chapman handle the material with charm and humor as well as heat.

None of this sits well with Tommen’s mom. The Small Council may be firmly under Cersei’s control, but her son is slipping through her fingers and right into Margaery’s…uh, let’s go with fingers here as well. Even a “friendly visit” (#airquotes) to her daughter-in-law earns her veiled insults (“I wish we had some wine for you — it’s a bit early in the day for us”) and tales of ribaldry about her baby boy’s bedroom antics  So when the Queen Mother sees an opportunity to acquire influence over church as well as state, she grabs it with both hands.

But in the words of Crosby, Stills & Nash, “How can you catch the sparrow?” As indicated by his casting alone — Jonathan Pryce is the biggest name to join the show since Sean Bean, or at the very least, Diana Rigg  — the High Sparrow may prove a more slippery customer. Sure, the holy man makes self-effacing jokes about his unusual alias: “Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Like Lord Duckling, or King Turtle.” Yet he’s presiding over a bona fide fundamentalist movement, one capable of marching the High Septon naked through the streets and converting the Lannisters’ lanky lord cousin Lancel into a true believer. Humiliating some pampered bastard who stages perverted rituals with prostitutes (it’s sacrelicious!) is all well and good, but does Cersei strike you as someone who’s sinless enough to avoid incurring the judgment of her pious new BFF for long? The High Sparrow could be every bit as dangerous as the undead monstrosity that the Queen’s crony Qyburn is keeping under wraps in his lab.

I reviewed last night’s fabulous Game of Thrones for Rolling Stone.


The Boiled Leather Audio Hour Episode 38!

Friday, April 24th, 2015

The Alayne Game: Discussing the New “The Winds of Winter” Sample Chapter and the Start of “Game of Thrones” Season Five

BLAH is back with two, count ‘em, two topics! This go-round, Stefan & Sean tackle the new “Alayne” sample chapter from The Winds of Winter and the first two episodes of Game of Thrones Season Five. What’s in store for Sansa in book six? What’s our read on GoTs05e01-02′s plotlines and performances? Listen and learn, ladies and gents! And while you do, you’ll discover some very happy news from House Sasse, as well as musical surprise or two. Enjoy!

Download Episode 38

Additional links:

The Alayne TWoW sample chapter.

Sean’s GoT reviews.

Stefan’s GoT reviews.

Lyanna Sasse holds court.

Theme music via Kevin MacLeod’s Incompetech.com.

Mirror.

Previous episodes.

Podcast RSS feed.

iTunes page.

Sean’s blog.

Stefan’s blog.


“Game of Thrones” thoughts, Season Five, Episode Two: “The House of Black and White”

Sunday, April 19th, 2015

Speaking of the Wall, it’s there where Jon Snow, alone among his surviving siblings, may still have a way to retain his humanity. Arya has entered the House of Black and White, a training temple for elite assassins. Sansa has embraced her position as the apprentice of Littlefinger, rejecting the help of the increasingly unhappyBrienne of Tarth in the process. Bran is off-screen learning to become a psychic sorcerer, and Rickon is god knows where doing god knows what. So when Stannis Baratheon offers to make Jon the new Lord Stark of Winterfell, the offer’s not just hard to resist — it’s likely to work.

But there’s a different road ahead for Lord Snow. Led by good-hearted bookworm Samwell Tarly and ancient Maester Aemon, the brothers of the Night’s Watch vote him their new Lord Commander in one of the only democractic processes Westeros has left. Instead of seizing power by force or gaining it by decree, he’s earned it through hard work, kindness, trust, and sacrifice. He’s got a chance to start a new cycle, right at the place where it counts the most: humanity’s last line of defense against the cold to come. We’ll see how that works out.

I reviewed tonight’s Game of Thrones for Rolling Stone.


“Game of Thrones” thoughts, Season Five, Episode One: “The Wars to Come”

Monday, April 13th, 2015

It begins in the mud. A girl who would be queen trudges through the muck toward a witch who sucks her blood and sees her future — and if you want to tap that kind of magic, you’ve gotta get your hands, (and your feet) dirty. By the sound of things, young Cersei Lannister is used to having her way. But she has no idea that getting exactly what you want can be the worst thing in the world.

Cersei will be queen alright, the witch named Maggy tells her, but she’ll marry a loutish philanderer to get there. Her reign will only last until another queen, “younger and more beautiful,” sweeps her aside. And her three royal children? “Gold will be their crowns,” the witch coos, before adding her cackling kicker: “and gold their shrouds.” She’ll get to the top, but the royal won’t like what she finds there.

Like all of Game of Thrones’ season premieres, this episode — titled “The Wars to Come” — is a largely utilitarian affair, showing us who’s alive, who’s dead, who’s on top, and who’s on the lam. But Cersei’s flashback (the first in the show’s history) both sets the tone and provides the theme for the big Season Five kickoff. Once you’ve seized the power you’ve spent a lifetime fighting for, what do you do with it — and what does it do to you?

I reviewed the Game of Thrones season premiere for Rolling Stone. Back on the beat, baby!


What to Know for “Game of Thrones”‘ Season Five Premiere

Monday, April 6th, 2015

Back in King’s Landing…
In the words of Ser Paulie Walnuts, bannerman to House Soprano, it’s fuckin’ mayham out there. King Joffrey is dead, courtesy of a conspiracy between Littlefinger and Lady Olenna Tyrell, leaving his kid brother Tommen to take the crown and his uncle Tyrion Lannister to take the rap. Tyrion nearly escaped his death sentence when he tapped Prince Oberyn “The Red Viper” Martell to take his side in a trial by combat — a resident the Southern kingdom of Dorne who, you’ll remember, had come to the capital seeking vengeance against the Lannisters. (His previous go-to guy, Bronn, was bought off with the promise of a castle and a lordship of his own.) Oberyn mortally wounded his opponent, the towering murder machine Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane — but the big man ended up squashing the Viper’s skull.

In the aftermath, Oberyn’s girlfriend Ellaria Sand fled to her native city. (Which is where, you might recall, Tyrion sent his niece Myrcella as a goodwill gesture.) Queen Cersei handed the dying Gregor over to her creepy new pal, the Mengele-like ex-maester Qyburn, for experimentation. And the Imp himself was saved from execution by his brother Jaime, who ordered the spymaster Varys to help his fugitive sibling get the fuck outta Dodge. Unfortunately, Tyrion made a pit stop on the way, murdering his ex-girlfriend Shae and his all-powerful father Tywin Lannister for their involvement in his conviction. He and Varys were last seen aboard a ship, secretly sailing to parts unknown. That means no one’s left to keep Cersei and her son’s bride-to-be, ambitious beauty Margaery Tyrell, from each other’s throats.

The annual tradition continues: I wrote a Game of Thrones Cheat Sheet for Rolling Stone, perfect for anyone who wants to catch up or brush up before Season Five starts this Sunday.


Blood Caffeine Sex Magic: Co-Producer Bryan Cogman on How “Game of Thrones” Gets Written

Thursday, April 2nd, 2015

You’re just about to hit the end of the story that George R.R. Martin has published so far. Did you see this coming?

Well, I think, in the first couple of years, it was really just about getting each season right and hoping people would watch. By the time we got to planning out and shooting Seasons Three and Four, David & Dan started really thinking about the overall shape of the series, since we knew we were going to be able to see this thing through. In the end, the show has to go at its own pace and George has to write the books at his own pace. He and D&D are obviously in close communication the whole time about both. But the show is its own thing, as it has to be.

There’s a segment of the fandom that’s freaking out about this, saying that the TV series will “spoil” the remaining two volumes of the book series. Is that a concern the show shares?

I think we just have to make the best Season Five, Season Six, and beyond that we can. Not sure I’m at liberty to comment more specifically than that.

“New” material aside, it also seems from trailers and casting and locations and so forth that this season will change some existing storylines sort of dramatically. When you do stuff that’s not in the books, for whatever reason, what’s the vibe, creatively? Is it a “with great power comes great responsibility” thing, or “woo-hoo, we’re goin’ off-book!”

Well, I think at this point, we do have great responsibility to the viewing audience, whether they’ve read the books or not, to try to produce 10 hours of outstanding television. All sorts of factors go into why a particular subplot, character, story beat, etc. might differ from the books. Again, it’s all tackled and debated on a case-by-case basis. Ultimately, it always has to come down to what David & Dan feel is best for the show.

I interviewed Game of Thrones co-producer/writer and friend of the blog Bryan Cogman about the process behind the coming season for the New York Observer.


The 20 Best “Game of Thrones” Episodes

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

20. “Winter Is Coming” (Season One, Episode One)
Here’s where it all begins. From the opening image of the Wall to the closing shot of Bran Stark’s fall, Game of Thrones‘ premiere episode confidently created the world we’d be inhabiting for five seasons and counting. Getting there wasn’t always pretty: The sprawling cast and complex fantasy setting required a heaping helping of exposition, while an earlier version of the pilot was replaced and reshot with a new director, new costumes, and even new cast members. But strong performances by Sean Bean as noble Eddard “Ned” Stark, Mark Addy as blustery King Robert Baratheon, and Emilia Clarke as tormented Daenerys Targaryen proved from the start that thisGame would be worth playing.

I listed the 20 Best Episodes of Game of Thrones, according to me and Rolling Stone. I am right about this.


The Boiled Leather Audio Hour Episode 36!

Monday, January 5th, 2015

The BLAH Salon: Jamelle Bouie

Slate.com’s Jamelle Bouie joins us for the start of a project we’ve been planning practically since the Long Night: The BLAH Salon! In each installment of this series, we’ll be spotlighting a writer or artist whose work doesn’t normally touch on A Song of Ice and Fire or Game of Thrones but who is nonetheless a fan, exploring how the world of Westeros interests and influences them.

Our first guest in the BLAH Salon is Jamelle Bouie, staff writer for Slate. As a national political correspondent with a specific focus on race, he’s written with compelling clarity about the tumultuous, troubling year that just ended. He was also the first famous face I spotted in boiledleather.com’s followers. His insightful and enthusiastic commentary on the books, the show, along with other pop- and nerd-culture cornerstones, coupled with his insight into sociopolitics, made Stefan and I think he’d be the perfect guest for this inaugural installment. Our wide-ranging discussion hits on Slaver’s Bay, the role of Roose & Ramsay, the problem with privilege discourse, how good hip-hop and good fantasy both wear their influences on their sleeves, the bizarrely productive racism of H.P. Lovecraft, and the scene that made him a believer in George R.R. Martin’s magnum opus. Enjoy!

Mirror here.

Jamelle’s work at Slate here.

Previous episodes here.

Podcast RSS feed here.

iTunes page here.

Sean’s blog here.

Stefan’s blog here.


The Boiled Leather Audio Hour Episode 30!

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

The Post-“Game” Show: “Game of Thrones” Season Four Reviewed


Our biggest episode! Game of Thrones Season Four is over, and in this mega-sized BLAH, Stefan and I analyze it for damn near 90 minutes. Every major storyline is covered, every big controversy is addressed, every substantial change from the books is explored, and every complaint we have about the fandom is given an obscenity-laden airing. Hey, we told you it was a big episode!

Below, we’ve included some links to pieces on the show that we mention in the podcast. Read, listen, enjoy!

Sean’s reviews of the show for Rolling Stone

Stefan’s reviews of the show for Tower of the Hand

Sean’s Rolling Stone list of Season Four’s Top 10 greatest moments

Stefan’s “Outside the Buzz” piece on fandom’s bubble mindset

The AV Club’s Sonia Saraiya on the role of violence on the show

HuffPo’s Maureen Ryan arguing the show is good but not great

Our episode on Season Three

Mirror here.

Previous episodes here.

Podcast RSS feed here.

iTunes page here.

Sean’s blog here.

Stefan’s blog here.


The Top 10 Greatest Moments from “Game of Thrones” Season Four

Friday, June 20th, 2014

Like the superheroes of a post-Christopher Nolan world, fantasy in the era of Game of Thrones could too easily become a genre where “dark and realistic” is automatically equated with quality. Thank goodness this show realizes that when you make an epic fantasy, you sometimes need to hack “realistic” to pieces with a small army of sword-wielding reanimated skeletons. The final obstacle in Bran Stark’s vision quest, the skeletons — like the giants, the mammoth, the 50-foot ice scythe, the dragons, the direwolves, the White Walkers, and the Wall itself — was a reminder that fantasy can speak to us with pure spectacle, the way great music conveys something that just reading a song’s lyric sheet can’t touch.

I listed the best moments from Game of Thrones Season Four for Rolling Stone, trying to capture a range of moments and moods.


“Game of Thrones” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Ten: “The Children”

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

Intimacy and grandiosity, empathy and brutality – Game of Thrones doesn’t just straddle these lines, it water-dances on both sides at once. So you get a skeleton-army attack out of a Ray Harryhausen Saturday-matinee movie and a domestic-violence murder out of a Michael Haneke art-house joint. You get an elf lobbing magic fireballs at zombies like something out of Dungeons & Dragons, and a man getting shot to death in a bathroom like something out of a mob movie. Jon Snow strides into the wilding camp, allowing himself to be surrounded and subdued — then Stannis and Davos charge into it on horseback, killing at will. Beautiful, peaceful, dead Ygritte on her bier or comatose, rotting, living Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane on Qyburn’s mad-science operating table — take your pick. You get the Hound repeatedly begging for death, and Tyrion repeatedly apologizing for causing it.

And it’s never stronger than when the care feeds the cruelty. Look at the episode’s two strongest sequences: Tyrion’s escape and the Hound’s last stand. Tyrion is the more or less undisputed fan-favorite character of the series; his framing and trial for murder was the season’s central storyline. The Imp’s emergence from his family’s hideous shadow has been crucial to the whole series since Peter Dinklage got top billing at the start of Season Two. But his great escape first sees him choke his ex-girlfriend to death, then murder his own father while the elder man takes a shit. Now he’s locked in a box literally and figuratively – set to stew in rage, resentment, and regret most likely for the rest of his life. This, it argues, is the inevitable consequence of greatness.

By contrast, Brienne and the Hound should theoretically be spared this kind of final reckoning. They’re both ronin, masterless misfits who don’t fit in with any side in the War of Five Kings. They even have the same motive: protecting the Stark sisters. Yet the show concocts a confrontation for them that’s nowhere to be found in the source material, taking two beloved characters and crushing them against one another until only one’s left standing. It basically weaponizes the affection we feel for them.

A lot of viewers bang their heads against this kind of dichotomy. Sometimes Game of Thrones is a widescreen epic fantasy, other times it’s a small-scale study of violent lives, and it’s a struggle both to anticipate and appreciate whatever you wind up getting. The answer is to stop struggling. At its best – and “The Children” is certainly this show at its wide and wild best — Game of Thrones is all of these things, simultaneously.

I reviewed GoT’s sprawling season finale for Rolling Stone.


“Game of Thrones” Q&A: Neil Marshall

Monday, June 9th, 2014

How did you do that big shot of Castle Black?

When I walked onto the Castle Black set for the very first time, I noticed that it’s a 360-degree set. You walk into that courtyard and it’s standing all around you. Immediately, I thought the best place to have it all to take place was the catwalks and steps — it’s more interesting than just two guys in a flat courtyard. At some point the idea came to me of doing a 360-degree shot of the battle going on all around.

Slowly but surely, the idea to motivate the shot came to me. What was the point of the shot, other than to show off? I realized you had five major characters involved, and at this point you needed to know where they were and how they were all interrelating with each other. That gave birth to that shot in thematic terms. It very literally put you in the middle of it.

In practical terms, it was the first shot we did for that night. We set it up for about an hour, positioning everybody, practicing the camera moves. We got it on the seventh take. When I said we had it, we all gave each other a big round of applause. [Laughs]

No CGI? That was actually one single take?

It was one take. It was all the work of the ADs — and the stunt guys, for keeping out of the way of the camera. The camera was on the end of a crane arm and swinging around at high speed. It doesn’t necessarily look it from the camera’s point of view, but if the camera had hit someone in the head, it could have killed them — it was moving that fast. That was one of the worries. But nobody got killed by the camera, so that’s good.

What about that scythe on the ice wall?

David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss, the showrunners and writers] came up with that idea. I don’t know how, but it certainly was a fun idea. [Laughs] When I came in, I wanted to make it as logical as possible, to design it so it would look scary and practical.  There was discussion early on as to whether we needed it, but myself, David, and Dan really fought for it. It was a really cool idea to end [both] the episode and the attack.

In “Blackwater,” some book readers complained that the massive chain Tyrion uses to block Stannis’s boats from escaping didn’t show up in the episode. Well, here’s a chain.

[Laughs] I remember those questions. The chain for the boats was gonna be way too expensive to do. This chain was a lot simpler in that respect. Maybe that was the idea — to get a chain in to keep people happy.

I interviewed director Neil Marshall about making last night’s episode of Game of Thrones for Rolling Stone.


“Game of Thrones” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Nine: “The Watchers on the Wall”

Monday, June 9th, 2014

In the middle of its biggest battle since Season Two’s carnage at Blackwater, Game of Thrones takes us on a tour, via tonight’s episode, of Castle Black. Our guides just happen to be busy killing people.

We start with Jon Snow. He’s just brought reinforcements to the castle’s courtyard from the top of the Wall, and after killing his way through half a dozen wildlings, he pauses to survey the carnage. As he runs down the stairs to resume the fight, the camera leaves him, swooping across the chaos of the courtyard until it finds Jon’s former lover and would-be killer — the archer Ygritte. She draws and looses, and the camera moves on again to the axe-wielding, bald-headed barbarian Styr, leader of the cannibal Thenns. The camera moves again, and it’s back up another flight of stairs with Tormund Giantsbane, the red-headed ringleader of the raiding party. Then we take one last pass across the courtyard and its countless killings until the camera at last finds Sam Tarly, on a mission to free the great white wolf Ghost and even the fight.

It takes 43 seconds to make the circuit of Castle Black – 43 seconds involving dozens of performers and stuntmen arrayed across a multi-level set, shot without a single cut. Like all great action filmmaking, that shot rooted us in a specific environment, and did so clearly enough that you could practically give a tour of it yourself now if you were paying close attention. The stakes of every sword stroke were crystal clear – kill your man or you lose this patch of ground, and this one, and so on until there’s no more left to lose. It’s not just a choppily edited jumble of indistinguishable hacking and slashing; it’s the battle for Castle Black, and you are there.

My review of last night’s Game of Thrones for Rolling Stone also doubles as a sort of “How to Make Action Cinema and Why” manifesto. I hope you like it.


“Game of Thrones” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Eight: “The Mountain and the Viper”

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

It all comes back to the Mountain and the Viper, really. For all his decadent swagger, Prince Oberyn was genuinely a man out for justice against people who committed monstrous war crimes against his innocent family. Yet it’s his insistence that Gregor Clegane die as punishment for those crimes, instead of just because he’s the dude who got tapped to represent the prosecution in Tyrion’s trial, that gets him killed in turn. And so, an admitted rapist and murderer crushes a man’s head with his hands, and in so doing insures that an innocent man will die for a crime he didn’t commit. That horrifying special effect was as symbolic a spectacle as any Fourth of July fireworks display – a bright-red tribute to Game of Thrones’ central contention that power is the only thing that matters, and any claims to the contrary are as hollow as a shattered skull.

—Head like a hole: I reviewed last night’s Game of Thrones for Rolling Stone.


“Game of Thrones” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Seven: “Mockingbird”

Monday, May 19th, 2014
“You cannot give up on the gravy.” So declares Hot Pie, former running buddy of Arya Stark and budding Great Chef of Westeros, to an unappreciative Brienne of Tarth and Podrick Payne. All they signed up for was a square meal and a place to spend the night on their quest for Sansa Stark. Instead, they get a monologue from a refugee from Flea Bottom who can’t stop talking about what makes for a good pie. Eventually, the kid gives them information they find a bit more useful: Arya’s alive and headed for her crazy aunt Lysa’s place. He also dropped some science: Westeros may be a hellhole of murder and deception, but individual moments of pleasure and kindness are all the more vital for it. Ice demons, zombies, dragons, giant sword-wielding maniacs, it doesn’t matter: You cannot give up on the gravy.

Or the hot sauce, for that matter. For all that we critique the show’s handling of nudity and sexuality, we should probably also celebrate it when it’s, you know, sexy. To wit: Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons, getting some of that Daario D. Henry Kissinger once called power “the ultimate aphrodisiac,” but it’s unlikely he realized that it applies not just for those in the presence of power, but for those who wield it as well. Dany is intoxicated by her command of this swaggering sellsword, and the master/servant dynamic she establishes by making him drop trou in front of her – and the audience, woo-hoo! – is intensely erotic. The look on her face as she stares at Daario’s exposed Naharis? Hot as dragonfire.

I reviewed last night’s Game of Thrones episode for Rolling Stone, and for once I got to write as much about sex as I did about violence. Wheeeeeeeeeeee


“Game of Thrones” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Six: “The Laws of Gods and Men”

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

for the trial of Tyrion Lannister, the throne room is transformed into something more like a circus, or the ringside seating area at a particularly lopsided boxing match. On the kind of bleachers Westeros normally reserves for the audience at jousting tournaments, the lords and ladies of King’s Landing gather round to watch the Imp’s chickens come home to roost: the Kingsguard he antagonized; the Grandmaester he imprisoned; the sister who despises him; even Varys, the friend who could never be anything but fair-weather. Watch how much work is done here by the camera alone, framing Tyrion all the way over in the lower left-hand corner, squashed into exhaustion and irrelevance by the kangaroo court that surrounds him.

It’s only when his father Tywin calls his son’s former girlfriend, Shae, to the witness stand that Tyrion, a passive participant in his own trial, becomes the star of the show. Her unexpected appearance (even the “Previously on” teaser, which dutifully reminded us of Tyrion’s previous beefs, kept her return quiet) was galvanizing and devastating, especially after the sudden relief of the previous scene. Jaime’s deal with Tywin – Tyrion’s life is to be spared, and he gets sent to the Night’s Watch in exchange for Jaime becoming heir to House Lannister once more – might have seemed too good to be true, but hey, this show does bigger surprises than that all the time. Undoing it so quickly was almost cruel.

Crueler to no one than the two people involved, of course. As Shae, actor Sibel Kikelli does harrowing work here: She’s both the betrayer and the betrayed, and her every line communicates a mix of sorrow, regret, rage, and raw terror. Tyrion, meanwhile, reaches the low point in a life filled with public humiliations. Now it’s his sexuality – the most private and intimate aspect of the physicality that’s gotten him mocked and shunned for decades – that’s put on display for the world to see, complete with pet names and pillow talk.

Simply put, it breaks him. Once again, the camera tells the tale: It circles like a vulture as actor Peter Dinklage swivels this way and that, turning his head over his shoulders to track down and berate the gazing, gawking eyes of the audience he’s forced to endure. So Tyrion plays to type, wishing death and destruction on the people who’d use something as noble as love against him. (That he did the same thing to Shae, calling her a whore in order to get her to leave town, is an irony unlikely to be lost on him.) Now he’s Richard III – a titanic figure, willing to embrace his infamy. Fuck the deal his dad and Jaime made; he’ll take his chances on a trial by combat once again. He’s gambling that his brother or Bronn will enable him to walk out of King’s Landing a free man. But the fury Dinklage pours into him makes his real goal clear: He wants to give his father, his sister, and all the nobles in the realm reason to fear. Throne room or no, you’re in his house now.

I reviewed Sunday’s episode of Game of Thrones for Rolling Stone, paying special attention to sets and staging.


“Game of Thrones” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Five: “The First of His Name”

Monday, May 5th, 2014

Once again, we close out the episode beyond the Wall, with a sequence as cathartic as last week’s was horrific. Jon Snow and his merry men make short work of the mutineers at Craster’s Keep — and yeah, we all felt a little swell of way-too-invested-in-this-show pride considering how green those dudes were just a couple seasons ago. Though the dramatic visions of Jojen Reed and the telepathic powers of Bran Stark intrude on the imagery and plotting like such things rarely have before, it’s ultimately the fate of Craster’s daughter-wives that’s most moving as the episode draws to a close. Since the Night’s Watch turned a blind eye to Craster’s abuse of his wives for years before a gang of them tried their hand at it themselves (even a valuable hostage like Meera Reed was just one more potential victim to these men), the women refuse Jon Snow’s offer of so-called safety at Castle Black. They burn the keep and the bodies, and they go their own way. “Everywhere in the world, they hurt little girls,” Cersei had said. But not here. Not anymore.

I reviewed last night’s emotionally sensitive and satisfying Game of Thrones episode for Rolling Stone.


“Game of Thrones” thoughts extra: Cersei, Jaime, and Craster’s Keep

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

I referenced this in my review a bit, but the Craster’s Keep sequence in the most recent Game of Thrones episode is The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, it’s Hostel, two of my favorite horror films of all time. (Texas Chain Saw is one of my favorite films of any kind, period.) The spectacle, the excess, the relentless primal-scream tone, it’s deliberate, it’s meant to be shattering, it’s meant to concretize the experience of cruelty and moral degeneracy. Under normal circumstances I’ve had responded quite favorably to that, I think, particularly as it segued into the supernatural/cosmic horror of the White Walkers. That too is a spectacle of a kind — the endlessly long takes in which you’re just rooted to the spot with a screaming infant in the cold as monsters gather to snuff out its life. Excruciating, and communicative in a way more subtle filmmaking can’t be.

The thing was, though, that the (mis)handling of the Cersei/Jaime scene the previous week, and potentially into this week depending on how you view the follow-up sequences, had thrown me for a loop, making it difficult for me to process the Craster’s Keep material the way I normally would have. What might normally have read as Salo-style forcing your face into the filth instead made me think that, for example, either some of the nudity or some of the on-screen visible rapes should have been elided.

Which tracks back to the Cersei/Jaime scene, which I believe to be a failure of filmmaking, not of morals or ethics. As a basic platform for discussion, I should note that I think the change from consensual to nonconsensual, if indeed that was the intention, is a valid choice. I don’t think it “ruins” Cersei or Jaime as characters, I don’t think it ruins their future arcs (which for the purposes of the show don’t even exist yet); I don’t think it’s inherently misogynist or reflective of misogynist thinking — I think it reflects the misogyny of the fictional society being chronicled. Be all that as it may.

Right, so. The more I think about it, the more I watch the episodes, the more interviews I read with the involved parties, the more I suspect one of two things took place. Possibility number one is that they tried to show a sex scene between two very fucked-up and violent people in which power exchange and the violation of taboo is a huge part of the sexual dynamic, but they screwed it up, and it came out as a rape scene. Because everyone involved was, well, involved, no one saw it. A secondary possibility is that while the writers intended the scene to be rape, the director and the two actors involved on the day read it and played it differently (there’s famously little background preparation done by the cast in terms of comparing notes with the books or with other characters’ storylines, so it’s not inconceivable), and the result is muddled and flawed. In neither case do I think the scene is reflective of a disgusting misconception that rape is okay, that sometimes no means yes, that it’s fun to insert rape scenes for no reason, or anything similarly depiction-as-endorsement rape-culture supportive. I think that while the apparently HBO-mandated use of nudity needlessly muddied the waters, the show has been as strong in its condemnatory presentation of this fictional world’s morally and practically disastrous institutionalized misogyny as the books. (I still prefer the books as a work, for whatever that’s worth.) If the scene failed it’s a failure of execution, not ethics.

But ultimately, using authorial intent — or textual absolutism, or adherence to a specific set of sociopolitical ideals, or the use of a favored set of aesthetic signifiers (in my case, my much beloved heads on sticks) — as a pass/fail metric is a fallacy when it comes to responding to art, an attempt to objectivize what is inherently subjective and prohibitively complex. So in the end what Benioff, Weiss, Cogman, Graves, MacLaren, Headey, and Coster-Waldau thought they were doing matters much less than the sum total of their work on screen. The text is everything and these are some thoughts about how I read it and why.


“Game of Thrones” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Four: “Oathkeeper”

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

In light of last week’s most controversial scene – and arguably the most divisive one in the show’s history – it’s best to start with the Lannister siblings as they make their way through the post-Joffrey world. Whether you thought it was a bracing exploration of this world’s systemic misogyny or a thoughtless contribution to our own, Jaime‘s rape of Cersei (because that’s what it was, the crew’s series of confounding and contradictory statements to the contrary) was the elephant in the room. True to the proverb, no one addresses it directly. Could Cersei’s ever-increasing consumption of booze, her anger at Jaime, and her treatment of him like an employee rather than a brother/lover be an acknowledgement of the horror of what happened? What about Jaime’s try-too-hard jokey demeanor with his imprisoned brother Tyrion, his grand gestures of support for Brienne in her attempt to safeguard Sansa Stark, the frequent pained looks on his face that appear to acknowledge he’s never met an oath he couldn’t break?

Sure, you could read this as the show recognizing the truth of what occurred. Perhaps that’s fairest, considering that in the show’s culture, rape in the context of an existing romantic relationship is not even recognized as such when it takes place. Or you could maintain that to look at it this way would be to do the show’s own heavy lifting for it. You could argue that what we see here proceeds under the wild assumption either that what we saw last week was consensual — or that it wasn’t, but that it’s ultimately “no big deal,” given the history of the people involved. Certainly it’s hard to rally once again for the Brienne/Jaime love that can never be, or the Jaime/Tyrion bromance, after last week. It’s not going to settle any arguments, that’s for sure, and that’s before we get to the rape camp at the edge of the world.

I reviewed tonight’s frequently horrific, tonally all-over-the-map episode of Game of Thrones for Rolling Stone.


Game of Thrones Q&A: Aidan Gillen/Littlefinger

Monday, April 21st, 2014

Does it surprise you that this is such a voraciously consumed show?
I’m aware of that appetite is for teasers and trailers. I’m aware of the huge number of people following the saga and how much they now have invested in it. It’s quite an emotional story, so people are very wrapped up in it. Quite a lot of people. I guess I understand. What’s your theory on that? Why do people want to know all this stuff now as opposed to next week?

I don’t know if it’s from nerd culture’s origins in serialized comic books and epic fantasy series, or simply because TV drama now has short, heavily serialized seasons people follow from week to week where every episode is an event. But I think a lot of people now value anticipation as much as the art itself.

There’s also social media — you can get the stuff now and spread the word about it now. It’s part of how geek culture has moved forward. There’s so many things people can do now that they couldn’t do 15 years ago, particularly people who are less confident. I’m not talking about extreme ends of geekiness — I mean even asking someone out on a date. It’s completely changed the mechanics and dynamics of all of that, which I think is a good thing.

As a person who was a nerd growing up, to walk past Lincoln Center and see a life-sized dragon out front during the Game of Thrones premiere made me feel like I’d won.
That’s good! [Laughs] Have you ever interviewed George [R.R. Martin]? I was watching him backstage at the premiere, watching him watching the dragon, and I have a feeling he felt the same way about the dragon in front of Lincoln Center.

I interviewed Aidan Gillen for Rolling Stone. An intense and intelligent guy.