Game of Thrones S6E3: “Oathbreaker”

Months and months ago, I fell off the Hodor and kind of stopped blogging about current TV. It’s possible that I lost my mind a little after Mad Men concluded. A girl had no quality shows. A girl had no passion. But because I found myself looking forward to Game of Thrones season 6 much, I promised myself that I’d climb right back on and post some reviews.

Call me Oathbreaker. I missed out on the first two delicious, well-crafted episodes of the season, and it’s clear that grad school is to blame (for everything). But let’s not dwell. Let’s instead rise up together, as nude confused fans, and get back into GoT together!

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The thing about third episodes – of most TV seasons – is that they’re not supposed to be standout. A third episode is a dust-settling point in televisual storytelling during which plot wheels start to creak, slowly. “Oathbreaker” allowed us to exhale and watch the season construct its primary conflicts and paths: the (spectacularly) resurrected Jon Snow cuts his ties with the Night’s Watch, Bran starts to get the significance of his flashbacks, The High Sparrow casts a pall over King Tommen’s burgeoning leadership, and Daenerys realizes she’s caught between the Dosh Khaleen and a hard place. Everybody’s watching their choices shimmer into view, and thus “Oathbreaker” was both kinda boring and kinda exciting. We have so much season to go!

First up: Snowbunny.

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Jon’s comeback was handled with simultaneous grace and explosiveness in Episode 2, with an incredibly taut buildup and cathartic final shot (loved the wild drummy music that ushered us into the credits after his gasp!). So now that he’s alive, for real for real, Kit Harington and the writers have to facilitate a smooth transition. Though Jon’s first scene back on the mortal coil wasn’t terribly well-written (“I did what I thought was right, and I got murdered for it”) the decision to make Reborn Jon a teary, frightened mess was a solid way to go. He is rightly bewildered by his second chance at life, and Harington is at his best when he’s vulnerable. It’s very grounding for us, the audience, when Game of Thrones characters are also frightened by the supernatural insanity around them and struggle to understand it. For this reason and this reason only, I could watch Jon Snow run naked into Davos Seaworth’s arms for hours.

On that note, it was nice to see Jon reunite with his old squad, even as his detachment from and distaste for mortal culture became clear. There was an uncomfortable sense of surreality that ran underneath best-bud exchanges, like this one with Mance Rayder:

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It’s not super-surprising that after being touched by Melisandre’s Noodly Appendage of Magic, Jon is pretty done with the violence, in-fighting, betrayal, and petty management that comes with the Lord Commander job – especially during this testy time of Night’s Watch/wildlings detente. He handles the executions of his murderers with swift justice, but the experience of killing, so soon after experiencing it personally, proves to be a breaking point.

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I found this scene really disturbing myself. Game of Thrones has a way of making visual and aural room around death; sliced flesh gets a nice crisp sound, empty unseeing eyes fill frames, and the camera trains on the dancing feet of hanged men for far too long. I’d include the shot of poor young Olly in the noose, which I thought was the strongest of the episode, but I honestly can’t look at it again. These particular deaths got a more somber treatment than many others that have come before them, and this makes me hopeful for S6: less juicy eye-gouging, more devastation through stillness and silence.

Anyway, Jon’s reanimated as hell and he’s not gonna take it anymore, so he ditches his handsome Lord Commander parka and walks away from the duties of his past life with a killer shot: “My watch has ended.”

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Not too far away, his little brother Bran is experiencing the joys of Oculus Rift, getting a front-row seat to the back-story of his family. I myself have had many hopeful visions involving nice strolls through the past with Max von Sydow, and Bran doesn’t seem to understand lucky he is to get actual information as opposed to the hints and prophecies that everyone else has to make do with.

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The Three-Eyed Raven is currently in the process of revealing what happened so many years ago at the Tower of Joy. He has Bran watch his father Eddard and Aunt Lyanna work up to the incident that kind of sets this whole GoT operation off, which is obviously (SPOILER ALERT) Eddard arriving at Rhaegar’s stronghold just in time to watch Lyanna die while giving birth to Jon Snow. You know this. I know this. It’s hard for me to imagine that none of the characters have yet arrived at the same conclusion. Are Redditors really better at synthesizing Westerosi gossip than, say, Varys?

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Either way, Bran is pissed that there’s only so much time in an episode and he doesn’t get to 11/22/63 this whole thing and just weasel his way into the past. I’m having a hard time investing in Bran’s journey; I don’t think the show is spending enough time on who this kid is as a person. Bran has transformed from a “let go and let god” type, back into a normal teenage boy who aches desperately to connect with the father he lost. I’m still not really getting how Bran’s whininess and impatience is going to enhance the historical exposition of the Tower of Joy plotline.

I will say that flashbacks are a completely new storytelling device for Game of Thrones, and it’s smart to cloak them diegetically, in the form of these Three-Eyed dreams. I watched an interview in which one of the show creators called flashbacks “lazy,” and while I think that’s a little pretentious, it’s true that rewinding the clock is a really dangerous game for this show. One of Game of Thrones‘ greatest strengths is its strong commitment to forward momentum. Even as history saturates the characters’ motivations and activities, many of the inciting incidents that drive the show result from the way people in the present decide to elide the past and forge forward with originality. Look no further than Daenerys Targaryen, first of her name! Game of Thrones has a novelistic immediacy that cannot be denied, so it will be fascinating to see if the current moment truly can clash with the past through these Bran-visions.

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I have never been of the opinion that Emilia Clarke is a poor actress, and I’m holding out hope that Season 6 gives Daenerys the same agency the character had in Seasons 1 and 2. I’m getting tired of watching this woman walk through foreign civilizations of fools and letting her reputation – and occasionally her dragons – make persuasive arguments for her own empowerment. Now we see Daenerys out of the reach of her protectors (toxic Nice Guy duo Daario Naharis and Jorah Mormont) and facing two equally unappealing options: execution at the hands of the Dothraki, or a place in the interminably dull Khaleesi First Wives Club.

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I find it irritating that her captors are calling back to Daeny’s more powerful, earth-shattering story moments (“I remember when you ate the stallion heart”) because I have a feeling that her current predicament can only be solved by a deux-ex-machina rescue. The Stormborn Queen boasts one of the most mishandled storylines on GoT, but there’s still something so special about this character that is unlocked every time the show gives her room to develop, takes her seriously. I’m about ready for her to cast off the shackles of her male handlers (both evil and benign) and start making inroads towards the other entangled stories of the show. Critics have been saying this for like, four seasons already! Why must this storyline so consistently spin its wheels? In this third episode, she’s basically in the same predicament we found her in during the premiere; that definitively sucks. Bring Daenerys back into the fold, please.

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Of course, we did get a nice fist-pumping moment as Arya unlocked the final level of her apprentice-assassin training. After besting her salty superior (following many, many rounds of “hit the blind girl as hard as you can with a stick”), Arya is allowed to begin some sort of Potions class under the tutelage of Jaqen H’gar. Maisie Williams, stellar as Arya from the series premiere, has grown into this character with incredible poise; she plays powerlessness without weakness, triumph without showiness, and projects maturity with a heartbreaking hardness that is never not watchable. A girl has me as a forever fan.

In contrast to Bran, Arya has had a complex journey toward reconciling her many losses and devastations. She wasn’t blind quite long enough for us to heart-attack over her I CAN SEE moment, but that doesn’t matter much. Arya’s succeeding, and the audience is always right by her side and pulling her ever upward.

Here are some other things that happened during “Oathbreaker” that I care much less about:

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1. Sam and Gilly and Tiny Sam take a watery trip towards Sam’s ancestral home. Being on a wet, bilgey passenger boat seems awful. They all love each other.

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2. Varys attempts to set up some shady governmental structures in Daeny’s absence, by flipping a local leader into an informant. Tyrion waits for him, passing the time by making up proverbs about “history being made in elegant rooms” and threatening Grey Worm and Missandei with an awkward, drunken game of Never Have I Ever.

3. The creepy new version of The Mountain continues to freak people out in King’s Landing. Jaime and Cersei are still trying to make progress back into the ranks of power. Tommen attempts to intimidate the High Septon, who slides closer to him on a bench and implies visually that he’s probably going to have him murdered soon.

I think that’s it! See you for next week’s episode, which I’m sure will at least look beautiful. Dan Sackheim’s direction was excellent for “Oathbreaker” and he has a lovely sense of light and composition. Next up: “Book of the Stranger”!

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Game of Thrones S3E10: “Mhysa”

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Last night’s Season 3 finale was the best-written episode in the show’s history.

I get a little glassy-eyed just thinking about it. The end of every season typically brings with it some nice cliffhangers and a clean setup for next season. This finale set the stage for a future. The episode had the feel of…well…history in the making. We’re watching the roiling beginnings of a new dawn for the GoT world.

Basically, “Mhysa” birthed a massive political power struggle, began to slot exactly the right characters together like puzzle pieces, and ushered in A NEW THEME. A new fucking theme: an encroaching supernatural wave of death, White Walker-style. This was all accomplished with such writerly aplomb and performerly brilliance that I might as well drop dead now because I can’t handle life’s goddamn beauty.

Here’s what’s-a goin’ on:

Sausage Party: Theon & Bolton’s Bastard

Over in some cold dungeon, our favorite former Stark ward is CUT OFF from the rest of the world. See what I did there? No penis. Lopped off like prunin’ bushes. We finally learn the true identity of his sadistic torturer – Lord Bolton’s bastard, sent by Lord Walder Frey (and by extension, Tywin Lannister) to break Theon and essentially neutralize the Greyjoy threat. Very disturbing scene in which we get to watch Bastard Bolton break Theon’s spirit and christen him with his new slave name: Reek. Meanwhile, Theon’s sister Yara suddenly has a change of heart and decides to defy Lord Greyjoy’s wishes in order to rescue her brother from Mr. Crazy Dickless. Nice to see siblings getting along. Speaking of…

Incestual Eruption: Lannisters Reunite

Was SOOO looking forward to Jamie and Cersei’s emotional reunion. It was brief but very poignant. Nice to see Jamie’s BFF Brienne give him an encouraging smile before he walked the plank into King’s Landing – he definitely needed that support, because Cersei reacted less than favorably to his disfigured limb. Side note, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau does some of the BEST male cryface in this show. Give him a HAND! AYO!!!

STOP GOING NORTH: Bran Meets Sam

Extremely adorable happenstance meeting between Bran Stark, his small motley crew, and the ever-cherubic Samwell Tarly who has finally escaped the White Walking Jack Frosty army north of the Wall. The look on Sam’s face when he tells Bran he cherishes his noble, amazing, and hot best friend Jon Snow is kyoooot. I also thought this scene was notable for Bran’s quiet poise; I don’t know if this was the child actor or just wishful thinking, but he seems to have inherited a lot of his mother’s diplomacy and kind, firm pragmatism. Definitely mad danger afoot if he ventures into the North, but we’ll see where the Sight takes him.

Shot Through the Heart: Jon Snow and Ygritte

Who else felt a little fanfiction flutter in their hearts when Ygritte peppered Jon with her love-arrows? That scene was a little schmaltzy but Rose Leslie is a VERY affecting actress. She plays hard-slash-tender like no other bitch. She’s probably just pissed because Jon Snow won’t be licking her neck, her back, etc. etc. for awhile.

The Whole Fam Damily: The Small Council

This was HANDS (of the King) DOWN my favorite scene of this episode. Joffrey calls a Small Council meeting to gleefully announce that Robb and Catelyn Stark are dead. And that he plans to throw Sansa a bone at his wedding ceremony. Actually a few bones. Her brother Robb’s head-bones.The tone shifts all at once when Tyrion, ever the sexy-furious voice of reason, levies accusations of poor leadership against his nasty whey-faced nephew. He all but threatens to poison him! So REAL. Also really enjoyed the subsequent conversation between him and his father Tywin, who ultimately admits that he planned to drown Tyrion as a baby were it not for his Lannister-ness. Said it before and I’ll say it again: Peter Dinklage is unrivaled. All the acting. All the yes. His subtle anger, his pain, his gears constantly whirring – it’s no wonder he’s got a friend in Varys, who correctly assesses him as “the only good thing for this Kingdom.”

Seein’ Red: Stannis and the Crimson Wave

God, I’m so over the Red Woman. She clearly has NO IDEA what is going on. First Stannis is all ready to kill Ser Davos for defying the stupid Lord of Light shit and the Red Woman is like “Yeah, kill him! And I’ll rub my nubile body on you later for sure. The night is dark and full of terrors, THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID.” And then Davos is all, “Well, I can read now and I went through your mail and THE WHITE WALKERS ARE COMING.” And then Red Lady considers for a second and is like, “I guess we should put that whole King thing on hold then.” Make up your mind. Stop taking people’s virginities. Buy a new robe. Not red.

Don’t Wanna Mhysa Thing: Dany in the Desert

So over in Yunkhai, Daenarys has freed all the slaves and is doing her usual “Choose your own adventure, but probably come with me because I have dragons” thing. Seen it all before and I never held it against her, because Dany is clearly a bit of a tactical savant. She’s been a terror since the public school era and has been doing Drogo proud by conquering EVERY city in her midst on the road to Westeros. I generally prefer Dany as a dangerous motha-of-dragons, which is why this scene struck me as a little heavy-handed. The thousands of slaves, inspired by her beauty and fearlessness, begin to chant “Mhysa (Mother)!” and surround her in a spiral of cult-of-personality. She even basically stage dives into the crowd. Stirring enough, but something about it struck me as on-the-nose. We get it. She’s the prom queen. However, the final shot from above, showing her bright conquering face in a sea of worshipful bodies, makes it clear just how HUGE a Throne-contender she’ll be in seasons to come.

Valar. Fucking. Morghulis: Arya

I want to end this recap with the most interesting scene of the episode: Arya’s little vengeful freakout in the woods. She overhears a few d-bags talking about Robb’s disgusting and violent death, and goes all stabby on their asses with some help from the Hound. I love psycho badass Arya and her frightening, character-building journey. But most of all, I loved the throwback to the Faceless Man. Arya learned from swordmaster Syrio to stare the God of Death in the face (“Not today!”) but she learned from the Faceless Man to harness Death and make it your bitch. Her little face leans close to the silver coin he gave her, and she whispers “Valar Morghulis.” Just like that, you know: Arya is going to become the littlest and scariest assassin in the business. A great development for the best young character.

So that’s it! No more Season 3! I’m baskin’ in the afterglow. WINTER IS HERE!

Mad Men S6E10 AND Game of Thrones S3E9!

I got no time this week, so I’ll keep the Sunday night recap short and sweet.

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Mad Men: A Tale of Two Cities
I am so fucking intrigued by Bob Benson. I’ve been devouring all the Internet theories on who exactly he might be, or what Bob represents in the Mad Men universe of signifiers, but for now I’m content to watch him say “funny cigarettes.” Last night, it hit me, how BRILLIANTLY James Wolk is playing this character. He has this slick reptilian vibe but also some giant, beguilingly innocent eyes. He’s, for lack of better words, a very sexy baby. A total cipher. Is he being taken advantage of by the cynical Jim Cutler? Is he playing Ginsberg and the other creatives? Downloading the Sterling Cooper blueprints into his handsome alien microchip brain? Well played, writers. Bob Benson is the most complicated and obscure puzzle that this show has seen in a long time.

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Game of Thrones: The Rains of Castamere
It’s a nice day for a…Red Wedding. It’s a nice day to start again. Without the most boring characters.
Peace out, King Robb The Dull! That’s what ya get for marrying Chaplin spawn and screwing over Argus Filch. He’s going to go all Mrs. Norris on your ass. All that bloodshed was shocking and sad, but I am secretly glad to be rid of ALL those storylines. Make some room for the witty hotties, yo! I’m looking at you, Tyrion. I’ll give you the Hand of the King, if ya know what I mean. I digress. Mourning period for all the dead Starks. Right. Sorry.

GoT S3E1: “Valar Dohaeris”

With a stroke of fate aided by living in LA, I recently had the pleasure of seeing the Game of Thrones season 3 premiere. The experience of seeing the first episode of a new season, of an HBO show, before everyone else, really fans the flames of flailing fandom. Worth the trip downtown, let me tell ya.

Here’s my review after the jump. I’ve released the SPOILER ALERT ravens. Take heed. Continue reading

You down with G.O.T.?

Yeah, you know me!

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This post is dedicated to my best friend Faye. Thanks for haunting me until I watch all the good stuff.

GAME
OF
THRONES.

I never thought it would come to this. Fantasy has not been my thang since pre-2002 – elves, dwarves, lords, rings, whatever. I mean, I’m the girl who fell asleep while watching the Battle of Helms Deep (seriously). But I recently finished up the entirety of GOT so far and it was MAGICKAL.

Right now the Gamers are catching their breath and awaiting season 3, so the show is in a bit of a gestational period. I really should have written something while in the throes of bingey obsession, but I wanted to save you from all the exclamation points!!!!

GOT is a massive character tapestry, and each episode bounces between five or six environments at a time to cover developments in all corners of Middle Earth. I mean, Westeros. Whatever. Insert made-up Pangaea-like mythical landscape here.

Anyway, so since the cast of characters is so large, we as viewers are keeping up with a lot of simultaneous stories – some more interesting than others, granted, but there are many psychologies to mine and many battles to wage. The more you watch, the hotter the thrill burns, since the stories begin to tangle and knot together into a chaotic complete picture. A political empire is being painted in deceptively tiny strokes.

This kind of viewing experience is meant to be slowly savored, but addictive personalities like mine need ACTION, JUICE, SEX, and MOTHAFUCKIN’ ANSWERS TO MY QUESTIONS right now. So I ate the entire cake in one sitting, Liz-Lemon-style, and didn’t have much time to process the minutae. Now it’s time to shine a spotlight on GOT‘s yummy subtleties with my trio of three favorites…

Continue reading