Playing The Game of Thrones With Season 2: Ep. 1 – A Review

Episode 1: The North Remembers

Rachel: How does it feel to be back in Westeros? Enjoying a bigger budget and critically acclaimed actors?

Elena: It feels GREAT to be back in Westeros!  Damn.  I was definitely starting to feel like I could get back into playing the Game of Thrones before the season started, but pretty much from the rundown of the most salient points of last season I was thinking fuck yes.  It’s just…so devious!  And so dangerous!  And there are so many beautiful men; I just don’t know where to look.  I feel like Mozart in Amadeus:  “They’re all so beautiful! Oh, why don’t I have three heads?” Except that usually there is only one on screen at any given time, so, you know, I get by with just the one. And the costumes are looking sharper, and the scale seems bigger, and we have gotten to see that the pretty excellent dragon effects from last season were not a fluke.  Pretty much the first episode was everything I hoped it would be.

This is also the first season I’m watching with no idea where the story is going or who any of the new characters are (other than those I can identify by name or prior reference, such as Asha “Yarra the Pirate” Greyjoy or Stannis Baratheon).  I actually think it makes it more fun for me, because then I can discover the story and have the insane reactions to events that all the non-book-readers enjoyed last season.

…If I’m being honest, I have to admit I am enjoying the show more than I enjoyed the part of the first book I read.  I think the reading speed I was limited to made a difference—this show just seems to move so much faster than the book did (whereas if I had been reading the books at a normal speed I probably wouldn’t feel like it was THAT big a difference, because I would expect the book to be a 10-12 hour read straight through).

At this point I am planning to just let the series ride and go read the books after the show is done.  However…I reserve the right to change my mind if at the end of this (or any future) season I can’t stand not knowing what happens next!  I think the lack of a final book in the series will hamper that impulse, though…if I have to wait one way or the other, why not just pace it out with the show?

Rachel: The first episode opened with Joffrey!  He’s your favorite! Do you think Sansa is doing well?

Elena: HA!  Your assessment of Joffrey in the anticipation post, that he is the one character we are meant to hate unequivocally and as such should be cherished, really helped me with him.  Now I can revel in his bastardry (heh—literal AND figurative) and not have to worry about keeping an open mind on him or whether I’ll have my mind changed when I see his point of view the way I’ve heard happens with Cersei/Jaime in later books.

Sansa is…surviving.  And for that she gets serious props.  She has been thrust into a shit situation (okay, she also thrust herself into it BUT she didn’t really understand it and, while, WELCOME TO REALITY, WHERE ACTIONS HAVE CONSEQUENCES, PRINCESS…she is also a sheltered young lady who is being abused, threatened, and is living in fear of her life).  And yet she is still alive, and more than that, she is not just looking out for herself or trying to become like her keepers, but in her own way is still exercising her own will.  Saving that man?  That was ballsy.

Show Sansa is actually kind of admirable.  I don’t want to emulate her, but I like what she is doing.  My problem with book Sansa was that I got her point of view, not just her actions, and her point of view convinced me she was functionally retarded…some kind of daydream savant or something.  If I don’t have to see her FUBAR point of view, I can project some kind of practicality and shrewdness behind her behavior here.  Yay, Show Sansa!  You might make it to the end alive!

Rachel: Thoughts on new characters? Stannis, Davros, Melisandre, Craster?

Elena: Stannis kind of disappointed me.  He was so…uncharismatic.  Definitely not like either of his brothers.  And we thought Ned Stark was inflexible?  Shit.  Stannis makes Ned look like an anti-hero of ambiguous morality.  “My brother rebels?  Kill him for a traitor.  Dead Ned Stark’s son rebels?  Kill him as a traitor.”  Stannis does not play the Enemy of My Enemy Is My Friend Game.  He only recognizes enemies.

Melisandre is really interesting to me because she is the first female we have met who is gaining power through her own agency (as opposed to who she was born or whom she married).  I also reveled in her unspoken Princess Bride reference:  “I’ve spent the last three years building up an immunity to iocane powder.”  In our Skype discussion Rachel asked me if I thought she had done some subterfuge like that or if she is protected by her god.  I vote that she is not touched by the divine but is simply a master manipulator.  I think it would be more interesting, narratively speaking, if she DOES have the backing of a god whose power she can call forth at will…but I have yet to see any damn evidence of any god manifesting in the world, and so for now I am taking the cynical view on her.

Craster is…the fundamentalist who marries his daughters and wants to bang Jon Snow, Who Knows Where to Put It, because Jon is prettier than half his daughter-wives?  Yeah, that guy was crazy.  I hope his daughter’s riot over Jon Snow when he leaves.  Lol.

Rachel: Five kings (ok, 4 and a queen). Place your bets! Stannis or Renly? Is Dany doing it with her bloodriders? Did you like Robb’s decision to send Theon to the Iron Islands?

Elena: Stannis lasts longer than Renly—because Melisandre is going to give him an army of true believers, and that is going to trump gold and political ideology/hero worship.

I think Dany is about to start doing her blood riders…menstrual days give the term a whole new meaning (…I know.  ICK.  Sorry.  Had to!)

Robb is entering a world of pain with that choice.  YOU ARE KING IN THE NORTH, SO STAY IN THE NORTH.  DUH.  I understand Theon’s point that if you want to win the war you have to take King’s Landing.  The thing is…Robb doesn’t need to win the war.  He needs to not lose the war until the south gets tired of fighting the north.  No one can get behind him the way they can in the south thanks to the bottleneck on the continent.  Winter is coming, and he and his men know how to survive in the winter better than any of the thin-blooded southerners.  They are all about to start infighting.  All he has to do is make the conflict with his army last so long and be so costly they give up.  Eventually even the Lannisters would if Robb can make the costs outweigh the benefits.

Rachel: Next week will probably be more Ayra and Renly, less King’s Landing. What are you hoping for next episode?

Elena: More of the same!  And a Nymeria/Arya reunion!

Tyrion’s Axiom of the Week: If I were capable of tricking father, I’d be emperor of the world.

Elena: What did you think of the new-to-show characters–Melisandra and Stannis & co, and northern hut guy?

Rachel: Seeing as I’ve read the books I’m more interested in seeing side characters that I love hit the small screen (Davros! Dolorous Edd! Gilly! Ser Dontos (that Elena called “that man” LOLZ)), but I’m also really really excited for Team Stannis. Because as Elena has said, Stannis is the wet blanket of Westeros. You can always count on him to come in and ruin your day. He IS worse than Ned. He’s totally and absolutely unforgiving. There’s the right way to do things and the wrong way to do things. Stannis is the arbiter of right. It makes him so interesting to me. You can tell in his intro scene with the burning of the Seven and Melisandre telling him to draw out the burning sword, that he might not give a shit about any of it. When he is finished with the ceremonial duties of Melisandre’s R’hllor show (that is the one true god’s name btw, R’hllor) Stannis just leaves the sword on the beach and marches his uppity butt back up to Dragonstone to write a snippy letter. You get the feeling that Stannis does not put up with any nonsense, and yet he’s putting up with all KINDS of nonsense with this R’hllor business.

Which is exactly why I asked Elena if she thought Melisandre had magic/god on her side. Those of us who have read the book tend to say Melisandre definitely has some magic. She does some crazy shit! We’re hoping she can pull off another piece of magic in the next book (c’mon George!). I can’t wait for that thing that is going to happen just to get Elena’s reaction. I predict lots of fuck words.

Elena: Any changes from the book that you found significant, even if the change itself isn’t that big?

Rachel:I think it is significant that Littlefinger is so confrontational. The Littlefinger in the novels is much slyer, to the point where any commotion he causes makes me think he is trying to distract those he confronts from juicier meat. I LOVE the scene between him and Cersei, but it also comes off (like the monologue with the prostitutes from Season 1) as something Littlefinger just wouldn’t do.

The rest of the episode remains a set up and introduction of new characters. I have no complaints whatsoever. As I say in the podcast – television might actually be a better medium for this story.

Elena: Who’s winning the badass CG/CG enhanced pet war, direwolves or dragons?

Rachel: Definitely the dragons! The direwolves look great, Grey Wind was all huge and wolfy, but he also looked slightly like he’d been pasted over Robb and foreshortened. I was hella impressed with the dragons. Not only do they look like they have weight and leathery texture, but they also look great in the full sunlight of the red waste. That’s hard to do with CGI.

I’m sad because it also looks very expensive so I don’t think we’ll be seeing too much of the dragons or all three at once. HOWEVER, we can tell that the budget has been increased. The costumes are richer, there’s more location shooting, the CGI is def. better and most importantly the Wig Budget has been raised! YES!!!! Cersei is free of that horrible contraption they had on her head! It’s amazing! She looks soooo much better!

Elena:   Now that Martin’s got 2 books left, any thoughts on what happens when the show catches up to him? Or do you think he can pull off a book every 2 years to stay ahead of the series?

Rachel: Here is where I defend myself with regards to my previous statement.

I was talking about the show with a friend, and they made a very valid point. The show definitely takes advantage of the fact that GRRM is a screenwriter. He is extremely aware of how his work would translate visually. Game of Thrones is great television, period. The New York Times can suck it. It has fewer characters than most soap operas and more drama. There are teams and individuals that viewers can root for. There are vistas and clothing and food and magical animals and bawdy jokes. It’s television! What the show does BETTER than the novels is cut the bloat. It gets rid of all the stuff we don’t need. That stuff might be nice to read, but it would be hell to sit through, and so it gets cut.

We know book 3, A Storm of Swords, is being cut into two seasons. Fine. A very lot happens in that book, plot wise. I don’t think you can say the same for Feast or Dance but it’s arguable due to the amount of characters involved that they too can be cut into multiple seasons. Cool. Let’s say we DO catch up to Dance with the series. If George maintains his 6-year time frame for writing the novels…we might catch up with him for the last novel. This could happen. George has a lot of demands on his time now that the books have gotten so popular and the TV show requires his attention and screenwriting on occasion, plus his other projects and tours and conventions. He could very well take 6 years to write the next book. Will the show then become canon?

He’s told Benioff and Weiss the ending. Presumably because HBO wouldn’t sign on to a project they didn’t have a full outline for. So if they follow that overall plan will George then produce the exact opposite in his novels? JUST TO SCREW WITH US? Who knows!?

Honestly, I don’t think it’s something to actually worry about. But it does make for nice conversation – books vs. the show: what is canon?

Can’t get enough of us? Then listen in on our brainstorming conversation for this episode! The podcast is back…well, like a White Walker it has come back from the dead as a less formal but more lethal version of its former self.  No guests. No structure. Just Elena and Rachel discussing the episode over drinks.  More wine, sir?

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