Did you like this weeks Game of Thrones? Me too. Let me ask some rhetorical questions and maybe you can intuit why that was. Did I see Mrs. Stark recount her pain for the twentieth time, or did she only appear in a dream sequence recounting her admonition to Bran? Was Robb Stark on screen or can we just assume he spent another night in his battle tent while Florence Nightingale-Stark tended to some walking wounded? Did Stannis bother to grace our presence for thirty seconds of nothingness? Yeah, you get the point: When Game of Thrones emphasizes its best characters, it’s as captivating as any show on television. Having NOT READ THE BOOKS, I can’t tell you how many pages George R.R. Martin devotes to the non-Arya Starks or to Stannis, but Sunday’s “And Now His Watch Has Ended” should serve as a useful reminder that the show is a different entity from the books.
Kyra so eloquently encapsulated the strengths of the episode-ending sequence, that of Dany’s commanding, commandeering, and fiery retribution against her army’s former captors. It was a powerful display of might by Dany, probably the most forceful she’s appeared to others or to herself (even her proving her immunity to fire didn’t match this display) and the scale of her might was matched by the impressive visual of her battalions en guard and perhaps more loyal to her now that she has stripped the formalities of loyalty instituted by their previous enslavement. I argued last week that Thrones should try to find a middle ground given its budgetary constraints (Kyra alluded to this as well in his recap): There’s plenty that the show can throw the audience’s way even if it doesn’t have the money for a weekly battle scene. As the last episodes have shown, there’s room for chases on horseback and the epic flourishes of this week’s finale. I agree with Kyra that the battles we don’t see make those we do, like Blackwater, more satisfactory, but I’d also add that this isn’t mutually exclusive to giving us a few scraps of excitement (in the form of chases or some widescreen panoramas or whatever) to supplement the dialogue-heavy scenes; thus, it’s nice to have had these mid-season moments that give the show a little momentum rather than inertia.
Kyra’s right that Dany will be the lasting image of the episode, and regardless of what the books contain the show is right to augment her screen time relative to the other characters this year. Emilia Clarke conveyed powerfully what’s running through Dany’s mind when she drops her disguise of ignorance and her simmering resentment towards the wardens of Astapor turns into fire. Alan Sepinwall’s observation that subtitles weren’t needed is on the money, as Clarke was so convincing in that scene. There’s a danger to increasing Dany’s role, especially if the show might going to add details that aren’t in the books, but Clarke’s a strong enough actress—she can play timid and omnipotent equally well—that with the right material, I don’t think anybody would complain if we saw more of her. That’s how we can distinguish Dany’s storyline this year from her whiny Qarth sojourn last year; we saw a little too much of Dany too frequently and the show didn’t adapt well to her character’s progress, nor did whatever source material from Martin do her character justice: There had to have been a better way to feature Dany (and Clarke) than have her bitch.
This leads me to a discussion of Varys, who was featured prominently on Sunday and who is an example of a character who the show uses properly. Varys’ sackless background is one of the most intriguing on Thrones, perhaps even more so now that we know that his insidious revenge was the product of extreme patience and planning. But while Varys’ influence has grown like a weed, the show deserves credit for preventing Varys’ character from intruding into the show like a weed. Unlike Dany, Varys is not a major protagonist and his appearances mostly consist of an oblique monologue or Socratic exercise with another of the wittier characters (Littlefinger, Tyrion, Oleanna, etc.). While fascinating—there are few things more fascinating or devilishly enjoyable than a cunning eunuch, let’s be real—he’s a character who, if handled poorly, could suffer from the too-much-of-a-good-thing syndrome: Too many scenes with Varys might be overkill. It’s better to take the route that the show has pursued so far: By being patient with Varys the payoff of his patient vengeance sits much sweeter with us and makes his insinuation-laden dialogue all the more amusing when the full truth is revealed.
A couple final points in more direct response to Kyra’s review: I too share Kyra’s frustation with the Sam-led story, as it’s not one of my favorites (also, how the fuck is Sam still THAT FAT?) but I at least appreciated that there was some climactic moment with the massacre at Craster’s camp. It seemed that Kyra was disappointed to see Commander Mormont die, as I was as well, though I understand why he had to, as he was still following an outdated code of reciprocity that Craster (and the other crows) had eschewed. I wonder if, now that he’s gone, Kyra thought this Mormont was an under-developed character. I tend to think the show could have done him a better service or more fully flesh out his relationship with his son, pining away for the Khaleesi across the sea.
Second, my reaction to learning that the Brotherhood without Banners worshipped the Lord of Light was the exact same as Kyra’s: UGH. Even more problematic for me is that I’d think that the Brotherhood without Banners—emphasis on WITHOUT BANNERS—wouldn’t have a god to follow, especially not one that would so intricately connect them to another character WITH BANNERS (Stannis).
Third, great observation by Kyra, noticing the parallels between Varys’ advice to Tyrion and Brianne’s advice to Jaime. Patience is indeed a virtue.
Other than the above, I don’t have much to add other than reiterate that it was a strong episode. My only narrative critique this week was with the Theon storyline; Kyra and I have criticized the show for leaving us in the dark there and only there, and this week we realized that Theon is right back where we started. Because Thrones relies so heavily on dramatic irony, as both Kyra and I have argued, it’s not suited to obscuring certain details let alone implementing red herrings, which is what Theon’s trajectory has been to this point. Following Theon around has been as circular as the wheel he’s about to get nailed to again. Still, I think the takeaway this week is that we got the best characters and the show used them properly. If only we could say the same about the characters who weren’t featured, though perhaps their relegation is a sign of good things (good from the storytelling standpoint, that is) to come.