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Monday, April 8, 2013

Review: Game of Thrones, "Dark Wings, Dark Words"

Season 3, Episode 2
Grade: A-
Verdict: It's ladies night on Game of Thrones! This week's episode centers on the way women directly and indirectly influence power. The show has fleshed out and invented more for several female characters to do, but sacrifices some of the back-story seen in the books. My favorite thing about Game of Thrones is it's ability to make you feel completely disturbed and unnerved while still making you laugh at the witty banter tucked away in the same story, and we see a lot of that this week. 

This week's episode of Game of Thrones, "Dark Wings, Dark Words," once again opens with a bit of the supernatural, as the show tends to do. Bran has another prophetic dream involving the three-eyed crow, and this dream introduces us to a new, critical character Jojen Reed (remember this actor as the little boy from Love Actually?), who has some of the same visions and powers that Bran does. He appears in the vision and then tracks Bran down in reality, telling Bran he and he and his sister have come to help him. 

Bran's story is one of only a few in which women take a backseat role this week. Some of the most powerful characters in Westeros are, arguably, female. This is sometimes portrayed via physical strength and power, a la Arya or Brienne. In other cases this power is obtained via sexuality, manipulation, and politics, a la Cersei or The Queen of Thorns. While this was always prominent in the book, the TV series is taking it a step further this season by expanding the roles of several female characters.  This week:  

1. Arya and her gang are kind of captured. Their captors are kind and treat them to a meal in exchange for some information, with the promise that they'll be let go, but they still don't have a choice in the matter. At the end of the meal, Arya comes face-to-face with The Hound, who's also been captured. 
2. Margaery and her grandmother, The Queen of Thorns, are on a fact-finding mission to figure out what they're up against in Joffrey. They arrange a private meeting with Sansa and ask her to speak freely, and Sansa finds herself breaking down, admitting that Joffrey is a monster. 
3. Brienne is escorting Jamie to King's Landing, but Jamie tries to escape. Brienne and Jamie battle sword-to-sword, and Brienne comes out victorious, but their fight ends when they are both threatened by capture. 

I was really caught off guard by the major additions to the part of Margaery and Tyrion's lover, Shae. In the book, Margaery is often talked about, but we don't spend much time with her. Last week they added a scene in which she stopped and spent time with children in an orphanage, and in this week's addition, Joffrey confronts her about her courtship with Renly. Margaery is clearly her grandmother's protege. She's beautiful and smart, and while she pretends to be powerless in the company of men, she yields a great degree of control over her situation. After only a few minutes alone with Joffrey, she's clearly started to uncover some of his dark sexual fantasies and turn-ons, and she uses them to gain his trust. Margaery is a chameleon who is likely every bit as dangerous as Joffrey. 

Shae also plays a comparatively minor role in the book, and her character isn't particularly sympathetic or likable from what I recall. In this season she's portrayed in a more likable light - she considers herself Sansa's guardian and caretaker, and she tries to exert her power to keep Sansa safe. She also expresses jealousy for and genuine interest in Tyrion, creating a sweeter romance than we've seen in the novel. 

In keeping with the theme of making female characters more prominent and more likable in this episode, an entire scene is created to address Catelyn's misplaced hatred of her bastard son, Jon Snow. Catelyn describes a time when she sat by Jon Snow's side through the night when he nearly died of sickness as a child. She says she told the gods she would care for him like a proper mother and give Jon Snow her last name if they let him live, but she didn't keep that promise. She hints at something like karmic retribution happening as a result of that unfulfilled bargain. Catelyn's coldness and hatred of Jon Snow has always been her least likable characteristic in the books, but she never yields. This seems like an attempt to make her a more believable mother figure. It works, but I'm not sure if it's necessarily better. I like flawed characters.

The weakest parts of this episode, for me, were the shots of Jon and Sam up in the north. This show has a LOT of ground and characters to cover, and I think they made a mistake last week and this week when they included only small scenes of Jon, Sam, and Robb Stark. Sprinkling their narrative across each episode dilutes their plots, I think, and creates even more to manage in each episode. I'd have strongly preferred it if they moved all of Jon and Sam's scenes this week into episode 1, and traded them out by putting all of Robb Stark's scenes into episode 2.

Some final thoughts:

  • The show also made two very direct references to gay relationships this week. I'm not sure if it's meant as a political commentary or if the timing of this week's episode with the Supreme Court case just highlights it for me more, but I found it interesting. Jamie makes an off-hand comment about Renly being gay and sympathizes that we can't choose who we love (while the line is touching, this doesn't make incest OK, Jamie!), while Joffrey dismissively says he plans to outlaw it entirely.  
  • How surprisingly hilarious was this episode? There were several parts that made me laugh out loud, and I watch comedies that can't do that on a consistent basis (coughcommunity). Jamie and Brienne's banter was perfect, and The Queen of Thorns didn't miss a beat. Jamie takes the cake for best line this episode with "It’s a shame the throne isn’t made out of cocks. They would never have gotten him off it.” 
  • The TV series has cut out a lot of the flashbacks and back story we see in the books. I dug out my copy of the third book for comparison, and I noticed an entire chapter about Jamie flashing back to how he betrayed and killed King Aerys. Catelyn also spends a lot of time dwelling on the past in the third book, and so far this has been entirely cut.  
  • Theon was notably absent from the third book, but he's been included on the show. These are the scenes that made me literally wince. I'm not sure where this story is going in season 3, but it's probably going to lead some added plots, which I'm a fan of. Having read the books fairly recently, deviations from it's course are a nice treat. 
  • This might be a trick of memory, but I think the plot with Bran is advancing must faster than it did in the book. I assume this is because the show tends to favor the novels' supernatural elements, adding as much as they can and highlighting them. 

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