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Wednesday, 3 of March of 2021

Game of Thrones – “Fire and Blood”

I’ll not sit meekly by and wait for the snows.”

Robb hitting a tree as Catelyn approaches

That tree never did anything to you, Robb.

This was pretty standard for a season finale. Admittedly, the season reached a climax at the end of last week so it’s only to be expected that the finale essentially ties up its one big loose end (Daenerys) and then spends the rest of the episode putting the pieces where they need to be when the next season starts. It’s essentially season 2, episode 00.

And there’s nothing wrong with that at all. Indeed, this first season really feels more like prologue to whatever is to come after, and probably should be treated as such. But it’s not very good, even as a prologue. The first half failed  to make connections between sexposition sequences and the larger narrative world, leaving me feeling talked at and without a sense of what was at stake here. The second half tried to pay off some of that, and while I enjoyed the last five hours more then the first five, I didn’t know why I needed to care who was on the Iron Throne.

And I still don’t.

Last Friday, I had a nice talk with Cory Barker (who shares my general ambivalence about the show) and Zack Handlen on Twitter about the role of stakes in the series. For Cory and I, the show hasn’t done very well at telling us what those stakes are, really. Why should we care who sits on the throne? Zack’s point, as someone who has read the books, was that the real stakes are that the country needs to be unified so that when the threat from the North comes, people are prepared, and that the infighting and factions are leaving Westeros unprepared for that threat.

The problem with that, and where the show messes up, is that no one seems to be after the throne to be a better leader and to prepare the seven kingdoms for when winter comes. Instead, they just want it, and that ultimately just isn’t that interesting. And while I should be rooting for characters to survive, as Zack says he does while reading, survive what? And for what purpose?

In any case, Zack’s points about the book have led me to get a copy, a Kindle version of my new Android phone. I’ll be starting it shortly, probably tonight even, and I’ll report back to you here on the site how things stack up compared to the show after I finish. Mind you, this will take a while since, well, it’s a very long book. But at least this doesn’t mean the end of my complaining about the franchise.

But to the episode as a unit, instead of the series as a whole, since, well, I’ve spilled enough digital ink on that matter.

As I said at the start, the episode is a decidedly traditional denouement events, so there’s not much to say beyond talking about Daenerys. But I’ll delay that a bit (I want to revel in being the being of oh so right just a smidge longer) and instead tell you how much happier I’d be if Game of Thrones was called The Wall. Here, with Jon’s subplot, the show actually provides us with not only stakes, but stakes that the show itself should care about.

Yes, I know, people keep telling each other that winter is coming, but they’ve gotten fat and lazy and the only thing anyone that has their name attached to a house can do for fun is out-scheme one another, so that winter isn’t a real threat to most of these people. And while we get to be on that knowledge (it’s the one charitable thing the show does, I think), the show doesn’t do much to make winter seem apparent to anyone else. It deprives us of a basic joy of watching arrogant people cast themselves to their own doom (TV is as much a masochistic medium as it is a sadistic one).

So the members of the wall, all of them it seems, riding out to investigate, thrills me to no end.

The rest of the episode is fine. I suspect that Jeor Mormont will be pleased to have as scruffy a warrior as Arry/Arya at the Wall (provided she gets there alive), and Tyrion’s new role as the Hand of the King is a promising development as it possibly means more of him slapping Joffrey. I likewise appreciated Sansa’s suicidal/homicidal look down the bridge from where all the heads of those who serves House Stark are lined up (I can only assume, not seeing Syrio’s there, that he lives). So everyone is in place for for the next season at this point, which leaves Daenerys.

In the episode “The Kingsroad” I wrote the following:

Daenerys’s bits in the episode are sadly lacking. Ham-fisted foreshadowing (or what I must assume is foreshadowing) by putting far too much focus on those dragon eggs overplays them. Foreshadowing should be subtle, especially when you’re loading Chekov’s gun(s). Instead of being surprised when the damn things hatch dragons (or are used in some other mystical way), I’m just going to yawn since the show has already told me that they’re VERY IMPORTANT.

And yawn I did (and rolled my eyes, too). What should’v have been an awesome and incredibly epic scene felt cheapened because the show didn’t trust me not to know that they’re important (it was still, as Cory would have said, a cool scene). And try as they might to make me forget about them by not mentioning them since Daenerys didn’t burn herself while holding them a couple of episodes back, I’m a savvy enough viewer to be able to keep track of symbols and plot devices.

This development, of course, also relies on Daenerys’ development across these 10 episodes really working for me, which, as you all know, it didn’t. Certainly I think Emilia Clarke is more comfortable being tough and commanding than she ever was being meek and out-of-place, and that helped immensely, but the writing just wasn’t there to really sell me on the transformation, culminating in her fiery rebirth.

So, there it is all. All 10 episodes of the first season of Game of Thrones. I don’t think I’ll be writing about the series when season two starts up, but I may still watch it, albeit more than one episode at a time since I don’t think the show was designed or thought of as something to be watched on a weekly basis, which I find problematic. But I’ll save that for (hopefully) this week’s podcast.

FINAL THOUGHTS

  • There’s lots of stuff circulating on the finale, and you can hunt it down easily enough. But I want to push this post by Aymar Jean Christian and the show’s emphasis on the young inheriting problems of past generations. It’s a brief, good read on the show. (He likes it far more than I do.)
  • Shaggydog. Awesome.
  • “The lion ripped his balls off, and the boar did all the rest.” Idiot minstrel.
  • “And as soon as you’ve had your blood, I’ll put a son in you.” Smooth talker, this Joffrey is.
  • “Why should they rule over me and mine from some flowery seat in the south? What do they know of the Wall? … And their gods are wrong! Why shouldn’t we rule ourselves again?” So is he suggesting that the north secede? Does it matter?
  • “I do love a violent woman.” Oh, Jaime. So good at goading people.
  • “There’s your peace. Joffrey saw to that when he decided to remove Ned Stark’s head.”
  • So Pycelle’s rambling speech to Ros (that poor actress) was mind-numbing, but rewarded by Pycelle’s humorous post-coital exercises thus revealing that even this old man hides secrets. Appreciated it.
  • “When you imagine yourself up there? How do you look? Does the crown fit? Do all the lords and ladies simper and bow, the ones who sneered at you for years?”
  • “Do you lie awake at night, fearing my gash?” So, yeah, pretty much in agreement with this tweet.
  • “You want it? I’ll give it to you. I already killed one fat boy. I bet you never killed anyone. I bet you’re a liar. But I’m not. I’m good at killing fat boys. I like killing fat boys.” Arya Stark. Badass motherfucker, Esq.

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