Game of Thrones is starting to surprise me. Partially that’s because I don’t remember the second book as well as the first, but it’s also that the tone is just a little wilder, and a little more melodramatic (I say that as someone who enjoys a good melodrama). There’s a lot more seduction and somewhat more screams and threats (Cersei has been fond of those lately).
Last week, on the topic of some changes made in the translation from book to screen (plot threads that were subtext have been shown onscreen), the commenter Luis wrote “I guess overall so far I don’t hate the changes they’ve made, but I’m worried that there will be a butterfly effect down the road and the show just won’t be as good anymore.” I think that’s my concern as well. Right now I’m enjoying watching the creators testing the limits of the scheming/screaming/sexing they can fit into the show, but I just hope things don’t go too far off the rails.
The scene in Episode 3 – “What Is Dead May Never Die” that best exemplifies my enjoyment and my concerns about the new season was the almost-sex-scene between Renly and his new wife Margaery Tyrell (Loras’s sister). Minutes after we first meet Margaery and her impressive cleavage-facilitating dress, she takes that dress off to seduce her gay husband. If that weren’t enough, we learn that she knows about his affair with her brother, and is willing to bring him into the fun if that’s what it takes for her to get pregnant.
Now, on the one hand, I found Renly’s awkwardness in this interaction pretty hilarious, and Margaery comes across as a do-what-it-takes kind of character who might provide some good scheming to oppose the Lannisters, whereas she has very little time in the spotlight in the book. But on the other hand, there’s something to be said for subtlety. When every episode has a new revelation about characters’ sex lives, they don’t hit as hard. If we learned Cersei and Jaime were doing each other now rather than at the beginning of the show, we would have collectively yawned. Part of this is probably the HBO effect. While any ad-supported network would completely neuter the sexual aspect of the show (Executive: “Can we make those two blondes not be twins, but just good childhood friends or something?”), HBO wants to sell subscriptions, and sex can do that. It’s simply important that the sex does not mess with the tone to the point of detracting from the story, and I’m not yet sure whether the last couple episodes have crossed that line.
The other main event in the Renly storyline is the introduction of Brienne of Tarth, a tall and powerful woman-warrior who knocks down the Knight of the Flowers and earns a spot on the Kingsguard. She’s an interesting character, succeeding in a man’s world not by circumventing the rules with cunning and wiles, but by smashing through those rules with a flail. We also see Catelyn arrive with Robb’s alliance offer, and her disdain over Renly’s army and their dilly-dallying. “They are the knights of summer, and winter is coming.” Still, there are apparently one hundred thousand of them (far more than Robb Stark or Tywin Lannister have) so they’re bound to make a difference as the war drags on.
In King’s Landing, Tyrion’s story is a fun one, as he spreads some competing rumors about marrying off Princess Myrcella to see who will sell him out to the Queen (the scene is very nicely edited so that we don’t immediately know what he’s doing). I’m not sure if promising a lordship to Littlefinger and then withdrawing it is such a good idea though; Tyrion may not be too passive for politics like Ned Stark, but we’ll see if he does well in seizing the initiative (and getting rid of enemies like Pycelle and Janos Slynt) or if he makes new enemies in the process.
Tyrion also has to find a place for Shae to “hide”, and sends her to work as Sansa’s lady’s maid. Before this I’d been hopeful that Sansa’s need to survive at court through politeness would make her a more likeable character, more of a girl struggling with matters beyond her (as in the book) and less of a whiny teenager. Of course, she immediately starts snapping at Shae. I’ll reserve judgment on this element of the story; neither of the characters are doing much compelling at the moment, but perhaps they’ll enhance each other by bringing such different backgrounds and perspectives to the table.
On the Iron Islands we see Theon struggle over his loyalty to the Starks and to his family (by the end he seems to be choosing the latter). My favorite character here is once again Balon, who shows the same brutal drive for conquest, and also displays some real pathos about the war he lost and the son he gave up. I would love to see a staredown between him and Tywin Lannister.
Once again an episode ends with Arya and her fellow travelers. She has quite a compelling conversation with Yoren, as he talks about what it means to have seen the death of a loved one, and to get revenge. Then things go south. Lannister men arrive to support the soldiers Yoren scared off earlier, and when Yoren refuses to surrender the killing starts. He takes down a few men after being on the receiving end of a crossbow bolt, but is finally slain. Arya tosses an axe to the three dangerous men in the cart so they might escape a fire. Finally, she and boys are captured, and after a Lannister man casually slays one of them, she suggests that he was Gendry so they might be thrown off the search. Arya’s story arc continues to be the one in which I am the most invested. After all the sex and melodrama, and all the political tricks, it’s nice in a fantasy show to sometimes have some good old fashioned stab-or-be-stabbed stakes. And it helps that Maisie Williams and her character of Arya are just quite likeable, with a child’s vulnerability but also some heroic resolve.
Overall, I enjoyed “What Is Dead May Never Die” at least as much as the other episodes so far this season. Like in “The Night Lands” there were hints of ridiculousness, but it was largely enjoyable ridiculousness, and it was balanced out by enough pure drama to work for me. I do think Game of Thrones needs to get back to the core conflicts of the story (like the war) soon or risk losing focus, but three episodes in I’m still excited to watch next week.
Rating: 4.5/5 crossbow bolts to the torso
Random thoughts and quotations:
- Maester Luwin says to Bran “The dragons are gone, the giants are dead, and the children of the forest forgotten.” Well, we’ve seen the dragons…
- Catelyn: “My son is fighting a war, not playing at one.” It seems like a bad diplomatic strategy to make jabs at Renly’s whole operation. I’d be all like “Hey man awesome army you got here, it’d be totally sweet to team up with you guys.”
- Shae: “Every man who’s tasted my cooking has told me what a good whore I am.”
- “Cut off his manhood and feed it to the goats.” “There are no goats, Halfman!” “Well make do!”
- “Power resides where men believes it resides. It is a trick, a shadow on the wall. And a very small man can cast a very long shadow.” I could listen to Varys dramatically tell parables about power all day.