Monday, January 16, 2017

Game of Thrones Rewatch 4.2: "The Lion and the Rose"

4.2 “The Lion and the Rose”
Written by George R.R. Martin
Directed by Alex Graves
Commentary by Natalie Dormer (Margaery), Jack Gleeson (Joffrey), George R.R. Martin, Alex Graves

As with “The Rains of Castamere,” it’s sometimes hard to remember that there’s other things happening in this episode besides the Purple Wedding. Martin actually wanted to do the whole thing as the wedding, like they did with “Blackwater” and “Watchers on the Wall,” but Benioff and Weiss told him they really needed to cover a few other storylines, as well. Graves was happy about that; he says if he’d had to do an entire episode with nothing but this wedding, he might have gone crazy. This is also the last episode Martin has written for the show to date, and since he doesn’t seem terrifically happy with the direction the show’s gone (and since the show will [thankfully] be over before he finishes A Dream of Spring), I don’t think he’ll write another one. I’ll miss his episodes for the rest of this rewatch, especially when we get to season six, where the writing is abysmal. But, again, we’ll get there.

So we’ll start with the stuff that isn’t the Purple Wedding and work in. There’s a lot going on at the Dreadfort; Roose has returned and is deeply unhappy with how Ramsay has been conducting himself. He’s angry about his mutilation of Theon, in particular. Ramsay shows him that his treatment of Theon has made him into a tool rather than a person, and Roose definitely sees the possible uses there.

Earlier, we “got” to see one of Ramsay’s infamous hunting trips; Myranda’s apparently gotten jealous of Tansy and demanded her death, and Ramsay’s delivering. Something about Ramsay having a willing play-toy rubs me the wrong way; his treatment of girls is in the books (to an extent), but for some reason, adding a just-as-sexually-sadistic partner seems extraneous. Later, of course, she fills out the “Shae” part of rehashing the Sansa-getting-married drama, but we’ll get there when we get there.

Over at Dragonstone, Melisandre’s burning people, and there doesn’t seem to be a good reason for it other than to burn people. She says he’s an infidel, blah, blah, but if they meant to conflate him with Alester Florent, who was burned for trying to negotiate a truce with the Lannisters, then “he wouldn’t stop worshipping the Seven” seems like a really lame reason to burn him. Especially since this is the only time he shows up; they only put him in the show so that they could burn him. Maybe it’s supposed to show that even being family won’t spare someone from burning (and thus foreshadow Shireen’s death)? If so, it’s still not set up well and just comes across as Melisandre burning people because she likes burning people.

Then follows the most awkward dinner ever, with Selyse trying to ride the high from burning her brother and Stannis and Melisandre not cooperating with her attempts at conversation. The important part of the conversation is that Selyse doesn’t really like her daughter that much, and especially resents that she refuses to convert. This leads to a scene anyone familiar with fairy tales will recognize: the witch visits the innocent princess. Melisandre tries to explain why they burned Axell, but since it’s a stupid reason, Shireen’s having none of it.

This episode also shows the first time Bran wargs into a tree, because it totally makes sense that that would even occur to him. This is how they figure out where they’re going, because apparently the showrunners are trying to use their secondary characters as little as possible, only bringing them in when there’s no other choice (Dontos, Coldhands, etc.). Unfortunately, this means they’re not at all set up and turn into plot convenience and/or deus ex machinae instead of, you know, characters.

The wedding takes up the biggest part of the episode. It’s a whole-day thing, starting with a small breakfast with the Lannisters, where Joffrey gets his presents for the day. Widow’s Wail makes its appearance and is dutifully named, then used to destroy Tyrion’s present—a book—just to show once again how awful Joffrey is. The whole day is clearly written to show Joffrey in the worst possible light leading up to his death. There’s also a brief moment where Cersei points out Shae to Tywin, who orders that she be brought to him after the wedding (dun dun dun).

Between the breakfast and the actual wedding, Tyrion breaks up with Shae and sends her away. Of course he does it in the worst possible way, trying to get her to hate him so she’ll leave. He calls her a whore, tells her she’s not fit to bear his children the way Sansa is, and sends her away with Bronn.

After the wedding comes the feast, which is a massive set piece that allows for all sorts of characters to have moments to show alliances, rivalries, and temperaments.

  • Olenna and Tywin argue over the cost of the wedding and Olenna points out that the Tyrells paid for half the wedding and will probably end up paying for half the war and half the debt to the Iron Bank. She tells Mace to piss off when he tries to get involved in the conversation. While this establishes her as undisputed matriarch of the family, it doesn’t quite jibe with how the patriarchy is set up to oppress Cersei and Sansa later.
  • Bronn tells Tyrion Shae got on the boat and she’s fine.
  • Oberyn drools over a contortionist to display half of his characterization (he likes sex).
  • Olenna greets Sansa and adjusts her hair and necklace, conveying her condolences for the Red Wedding and Sansa’s losses.
  • Oberyn flirts with Loras, and Loras backs into Jaime. Jaime tries to warn Loras against marrying Cersei for his own safety; Loras thinks Jaime’s just jealous.
  • Brienne pays her respects to Margaery and Joffrey; Cersei laughs at her for bowing like a man instead of curtseying. Joffrey congratulates her for killing “that deviant” and Margaery and Brienne look awkward.
  • Cersei corners Brienne and tries to stuff her back in the “lady” box, then drops the truth bomb on her that she’s in love with Jaime. Brienne flees. Jaime looks concerned.
  • Cersei saves a young woman from Pycelle’s lechery and then tells him to make sure the leftovers from the feast are fed to the dogs instead of the poor.
  • Dontos is juggling; Joffrey gets bored and has people pelt him with fruit.
  • Oberyn, Ellaria, Tywin, and Cersei encounter each other and Cersei nearly has vapors over Ellaria’s dress (and I’m sorry, any show that wants me to take this dress seriously does not get to claim to be historically accurate/authentic. That goes for a lot of the wardrobe choices, actually). They exchange subtle and not-so-subtle digs that show us the other half of Oberyn’s characterization (he hates Lannisters).

Then comes the dwarf show, during which every single noble at the feast gets insulted in some manner or another. Joffrey tries to get Tyrion out there to fight, too, and Tyrion manages to graciously decline, which is quite the talent under the circumstances. Joffrey stomps over and pours his wine on Tyrion’s head, then demands that Tyrion serve as his cupbearer, getting more angry when Tyrion says it’s an honor, because it wasn’t meant to be. Margaery tries to save everyone by announcing the arrival of the pie, and it works for a minute, but Joffrey isn’t easily distracted from tormenting people. He demands Tyrion bring him some wine to wash the pie down, drinks it, and starts coughing. And keeps coughing. And falls over. And starts oozing out the face. And dies.

For a poison that’s supposed to make it just look like you choked to death, it’s doing a terrible job not looking like poison. Which makes Cersei look much less psychotic when she screams that Tyrion killed him than she did in the books.

Meanwhile, Dontos ex machina spirits Sansa away, making Tyrion look even more guilty.

Axell Florent
Joffrey Baratheon, First of His Name

Next week: Yet another rape scene that wasn't supposed to be one. Petyr pervs on Sansa. Tyrion tries to build a case.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Game of Thrones Rewatch 4.1: "Two Swords"

4.1 “Two Swords”
Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by D.B. Weiss
Commentary by David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, and Pedro Pascal (Oberyn)

As with many season premiers, this one focuses on the leftover bits of fallout from the end of last season and sets up the major arcs for this season. It begins with one of the rare cold-opens, which shows Tywin having Ice reforged into the swords that will eventually be called Oathkeeper and Widow’s Wail. The reforging technique is horrendous, and Benioff and Weiss admit they know this isn’t how swords are made, but “it looks cool.” That pretty much sums up the remainder of the series (so far); it’s not accurate, it makes no sense, it’s often offensive, but it looks cool.

This episode focuses quite a bit on how Jaime has changed during his time in the Riverlands. He has encounters with three members of his family; each encounter shows how he’s grown a bit more self-confident (despite his injury), a bit more willing to stand up to people. He started out the series as, frankly, a coward—the thing he was most known for was stabbing a king in the back, after all, and trying to kill a child to cover up his indiscretions isn’t exactly a brave thing to do. Now he stands up to his father, refusing to leave the Kingsguard and become heir to Casterly Rock again. Tywin is deeply displeased, of course. The fun thing about having an actor of the caliber of Charles Dance playing Tywin is that even though he’s a terrible person, you can kind of feel for him. He’s trying to establish the family so that its greatness and power continues past his own life, and his kids are not cooperating. The frustration that Tywin feels because of their stubbornness comes through much better with a neutral third-person observer (the camera) than it does with the tight third-person viewpoint of the books, since we never get inside Tywin’s head and Cersei, Tyrion, and Jaime each project their own internal conflicts onto their relationships with Tywin.

Jaime then tries to rekindle his relationship with Cersei, only to discover that she’s changed, as well. He’s frustrated because, as he points out, everything he did out there was for the sole purpose of getting back to Cersei. He lost a hand, for the gods’ sake. And now here she is—drunk, apparently has some kind of infection that I think we’re supposed to think is an STD?, and refusing to so much as kiss him.

Then he gets to talk to Joffrey, who he hasn’t shared a whole lot of screen time with up to this point. Jaime lays out his plan for the security at the wedding, and (as usual) Joffrey’s not terrifically interested in the details. Instead, he leafs through the White Book, commenting on all the big-name knights whose exploits are detailed in it. He gets to Jaime’s page and remarks that someone forgot to write down all of Jaime’s deeds. The implication is that Jaime hasn’t had any great deeds to write down. Jaime says there’s still time, but Joffrey (with a combination of the brashness of youth and his own brand of assholery) says he’s pushing forty and doesn’t have a hand, so what exactly does he think he’s going to accomplish? Joffrey stomps out, and the look on Jaime’s face shows that he’s realizing just how much of a little shit Joffrey really is.

A scene very similar to this one happens in the books, but with Loras Tyrell, who’s in his Kingsguard whites at the time. Book-Loras is Jaime at twenty—brash, full of his own prowess, romantic-minded. He’s a wonderful fighter and essentially took a vow of celibacy when his lover died, joining the Kingsguard both to protect his sister and as a visible sign of that vow. Talking to Loras about the people in the book gives Jaime a moment to consider his own legacy and what kind of person he wants to be, how he wants to be remembered. Instead, we get “lol gays are funny” Loras, more of Joffrey being Joffrey, and Jaime getting a slightly troubled look on his face. Not much for introspection, is show-Jaime.

Finally, Jaime has a brief meeting with Brienne, who points out that Sansa is still in need of protection. He takes out his frustration with his family on her a bit, asking if she’s sure she’s not related to him just like everyone else who’s been a massive pain in his ass lately. After all, Sansa’s safe in King’s Landing and has no family left for Jaime to send her to; Brienne’s not convinced.

This serves as a transition to the return of Dontos, who’s become entirely a plot convenience at this point. At least the books set up Sansa slowly learning to trust him and believing that he’s the one who’s going to rescue her. Once we know Petyr’s behind it, it becomes obvious; Dontos isn’t nearly smart (or sober) enough to manipulate Sansa the way he does without some prompting. But having Petyr do most of his own dirty work rather than going through Dontos, only to throw him in for three whole scenes to get Sansa the poisoned necklace and then get her out to the boat, feels like really lazy writing to me. Having Sansa wear Dontos’ necklace and then run away with him after the wedding isn’t set up or seeded at all, and it makes Sansa look like a little idiot. (So much of what they do with Sansa since season 2 makes her look like a little idiot and I hate every second of it.) Also, of course they can’t just have Dontos walk right up to her; first they have to scare her and have her run away and get cornered, then show that it’s “only” Dontos (as if they haven’t already established that every man is a threat to every woman in this show). Book-Sansa goes through a lot of terrorization and molestation; show-Sansa goes through even more.

Other wedding preparations include Tyrion waiting to greet Oberyn Martell on the Kingsroad. And here’s yet another place where I feel Benioff and Weiss dropped the ball (hard) on characterization. Book-Oberyn rides into the city with Tyrion and they have a very political conversation that establishes Oberyn as a keen political mind. Show-Oberyn? Outrode his escort and hit the first brothel he found in King’s Landing. When we first see him, he’s choosing which prostitute he wants to have sex with Ellaria, while he grabs Olyvar for himself. Disturbingly, when Olyvar protests that he’s not for hire, Oberyn says that everyone who works for Petyr is for hire. So we’ve got two levels of sexual coercion going on here—Olyvar’s a prostitute who’s said no already and Oberyn won’t take that no. And this is how we’re introduced to the character. The next thing is Oberyn hearing a couple of Lannister guardsmen singing “The Rains of Castamere” in another room, which sends him into a fury, and he runs out to confront them, putting his dagger through the wrist of one of them and giving the other an ultimatum. These are the two notes that define Oberyn through the entirety of his run on this series—he likes sex and hates Lannisters. That’s it. That’s all there is to him. Given that this is our first introduction to an entirely new culture—the Dornish—it smacks again of the “barbarians are all about sex and violence” stereotype that we’ve already gotten with the Dothraki. (This only gets worse as we get more about Dorne. Just wait.)

Meanwhile, in the north, Jon’s put on trial for his time with the Free Folk. He has to explain why he killed Qhorin, admits to having sex with a Free Folk woman, and tries to convince them that Mance is a much bigger threat than they know. Janos Slynt, being Janos Slynt, decides that Jon’s broken his vows and should be executed. Aemon says nope, no way, and dismisses Jon; he tells Janos and Alliser that Jon’s not lying, and he knows liars because he grew up in King’s Landing. It’s not clear how much the other brothers know about his past and his identity; it’s a big secret (and one of those dun dun duuuuun moments) in the books, but lots of stuff that’s supposed to be secret in the books is common knowledge in the show, so who knows. In hindsight, this is where the trouble with Jon’s storyline begins. It hits all the major beats, sure, but it loses so much nuance. A lot of it boils down to Jon being Right About the Wildlings and everyone else being Stubborn and Stupid. Of course, in the book, there’s so much more politics to it than that. I’m sure I’ll be breaking this down in more detail as we move through season five.

Also in the north, Ygritte is angrily fletching. Ygritte has turned out to be one of the more nuanced characters in the show, and Rose Leslie does such a wonderful job with her. Outwardly, she’s furious and wants to kill every member of the Night’s Watch, including (especially) Jon. But it’s also clear that she’s hurting and she’s angry at herself for trusting Jon and she feels so stupid. And she doesn’t like feeling stupid or having her heart broken, so she channels all of that into anger and lashes out every chance she gets. In this case, she stands up to the Magnar of Thenn, who would scare anybody (he obviously scares Tormund).

Speaking of which, we need to talk about the Thenns. In the books, they’re fierce warriors, tribal, one of the ones everyone admires Mance for managing to tame long enough to join his army. In the show? Barbarian stereotypes. They’re cannibals. Because of course they are. Because that’s lazy shorthand for “super dangerous tribal barbarian.” This is especially frustrating because the Thenns in the book are actually more structured than most of the rest of the Free Folk; they have laws, lords, discipline, and honor. They consider themselves the last of the First Men, which means they also have history and pride. They have mines and they forge their own weapons and armor. They do not engage in ritual scarification and cannibalism. I’d be irritated if Benioff and Weiss had made any of the Free Folk into this stereotype, but the Thenns in particular is extra offensive. The only real “reason” I can see for this is making sure Olly is extra traumatized to set up his betrayal of Jon, but I have lots of problems with Olly, as well. We’ll get there.

Daenerys is still marching south toward Meereen, and Benioff and Weiss are still reducing her to a twitterpated little girl who’s doing her best to hide it. She breaks up a wager between Grey Worm and Daario (Mark II) over who gets to ride with her at the head of the column. She gives Daario a frosty reception when he tries to give her flowers under the very thin pretext that she should know what the flora of Slavers Bay are used for. But when he walks off, she’s clearly admiring the view. The only part of her stuff in this episode that has any relevance to anything not Daario is when they come across the slave children nailed up and pointing toward Meereen, which is just as horrifying as in the books. I understand giving Daario and Dany more time together; in the book, all of her admiration and lust is internal for a long time, and she gives no outward sign of it and doesn’t talk to anyone about it. On the other hand, three-quarters of her stuff this episode is Daario-centric, and that’s a bit much. We just need it seeded, not stuffed down our throats.

The best part of this whole episode (the best part of any episode they’re in, to be honest) is Arya and Sandor. Arya’s still riding pillion with Sandor and wants to know when she’s getting her own horse, because it’s not like she has anywhere to go even if she did try to run away. Sandor tells her the new plan is to take her to Lysa at the Eyrie. They scout out an inn and Arya recognizes Polliver, who’s on her list. Cue the second-best line in this scene:

  Polliver still has Needle, and Sandor thinks it’s hilarious that Arya named her sword at all, let alone “Needle.” (Third best line: “Lots of people name their swords.” “Lots of cunts.”)

They decide to go into the inn, where Polliver tries to talk Sandor into joining their band of raiders. Sandor just wants some ale, and some roast chicken. As usual in one of these kinds of scenes, the innkeeper’s daughter is being sexually harassed in the background. (That sex, rape, and sexual harassment are used as a backdrop for so many of these scenes is super disturbing.) Polliver tries to trade chicken for Arya; Sandor demands two chickens. Since Polliver doesn’t know when to shut up, Sandor tells him that if he keeps talking: 

(Best line!)
So of course fighting ensues, and Arya dances around the edges of the fight, incapacitating and killing one man, then getting Needle back from Polliver. She stands over him and says all the stuff he said to the Night’s Watch recruits in general and Lommy in particular; he starts to realize who she is just as she puts Needle through his throat and watches him drown on his own blood.

Sandor and Arya, now mounted on her own horse, ride off into the sunset, Sandor chomping on some chicken.

 Bonus: This statue of Joffrey.


Next week: The Purple Wedding. Nuff said.

Stills from Gifs from

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Thoughts about Bunny Loves to Learn

I've not made a secret on this blog that I have a young daughter and that I am invested in keeping abreast of what media she consumes. I have also not made a secret in pretty much any place that I am a lover of books--and it makes sense that a lover of books would urge his daughter towards books, and that those who know both father and daughter would get books for the latter. It was through such agency (thanks, Mom and Dad!) that my daughter received a copy of Bunny Loves to Learn, written by Peter Bently and illustrated by Emma Foster and Deborah Melmon. In it, several young animals--Buster, Sam, Max, and Francine--are assigned by their teacher to dress up as representative historical figures, reproduce a representative object from the time associated therewith, and explain both in a class presentation. Buster, Sam, and Francine quickly choose projects; Max struggles to find one, but is aided by his friends and completes his project. Presentations ensue, and the children are commended by their teacher for their efforts. In all, it is a nice story, one eminently suitable for children in my daughter's age range (she turns three soon); learning is praised, teamwork without shirking is encouraged, and both are desirable.

Why it comes up here, however, has to do with the strange historical compression at work in the text and with the interpretation of the medieval that, while not necessarily inaccurate, is a bit...odd to my eye. The first, the historical compression, shows up in the lumping together of a cloak with a Viking motif, a send-up of a court dress that looks to be from thirteenth- or fourteenth-century Western Europe, Gothic knightly armor, and imperial Roman legionary dress. (It is worth remarking that the core narrative, in which Max finds his way to making a sound presentation with the help of his friends, focuses on Ancient Egypt. It does so under the name of Egypt, rather than Kemet, and it focuses on the stereotypes of pharaohs, mummies, and pyramids, so there are some problems, to be sure.) While each--and more--is worthy of study, the contemporary presentation of them without even a note about their temporal sequence suggests that they are all from the same time, some nebulous, amorphous past rather than an array of culturally and chronologically diverse origins.

The second, the...interesting interpretation of the medieval, appears in what receives attention in the book. Vikings are mentioned briefly, receiving attention from a rabbit who focuses on the aforementioned cloak and building a model langskip; the impulse to battle is noted, but not the social structure or the propensity towards trade. Knights receive more attention, including a full-page spread showing a squirrel talking about visored helmets and shield devices; knightly armor is left bare instead of clad in a surcoat, and nothing is said of the chivalric codes to which knights ostensibly aspired.. That attention is shared with the medievalish princess in which the frog takes interest (and there is some joke to be found about the princess and the frog), and the frequent truth of noblewomen's lives is elided in the comment that princesses were involved in politics. The "core" medieval, that easily romanticized, is presented, although many details are skipped over (some not inappropriately, given the target audience), and a skewed view of the subject matter is presented therefore.

It might be argued that looking so closely at children's books is missing the point. Such an argument might note that if it gets kids to read and imparts some good lessons, that should be enough. And it would not be wrong to make such an argument; it is the case that getting kids to read and encouraging desirable behaviors is a good thing. The fact that I interrogate my daughter's books does not mean I disapprove of them, however. It does mean that I treat seriously what she does, for which I do not think I can be censured. It also means that I consider what kinds of messages are being sent to children like my daughter--and if it is the case that a children's work will necessarily compress things, both for space and for developmental concerns, it is also the case that doing so will necessarily elide some of the complex nuance that makes study of the medieval rewarding. I want my daughter to have an accurate idea of deeper histories, and having things to work with to develop it helps. While there is much to be said for simply getting kids to read and to enjoy reading, there is more to be said for working to get a more accurate, and therefore nuanced, idea of things; it helps those of us who work with the medieval to have less we must correct as we encounter students in the classroom.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Game of Thrones Rewatch 3.10: "Mhysa"

3.10 “Mhysa”
Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by David Nutter

This episode, as is appropriate for a season finale, has a lot of journeys that are ending. It also has a lot of fallout from the Red Wedding, which is only to be expected.

Bran, Hodor, Jojen, and Meera have reached the Nightfort. This is the site of a lot of really awful stuff, but the show only has time for one of them—the most relevant at the moment, the story of the Rat Cook. Bran tells the story: the cook at the Nightfort felt slighted or wronged by the King of Westeros, and when the prince came for a visit, the cook killed him and served him in a pie to the king. The gods cursed him for breaking guest-right—“That’s something the gods can’t forgive”—by turning him into a giant rat. This foreshadows Arya’s punishment of Walder in the show, but in the books it has a much subtler echo in Lord Manderly’s visit to Winterfell. So of course everyone’s on edge when Sam and Gilly come up the well from the hidden door under the Wall in the middle of the night. I have to say, I think the director missed the humor in this scene entirely, which is a clear homage to the Mines of Moria and “The Bridge of Khazad-dûm” when Pippin drops a stone down the well and alerts the orcs (and, ultimately, the Balrog). In the books, Hodor throws stones down the well and “Hodor”s down it, and Bran tells him to stop with this sense of dread of what he might have awakened. Martin builds the dread when noises start coming from the well, and this huge black thing looms up, and then Meera catches it in her net and it falls over and it’s Sam. It’s a really hilarious moment that the director didn’t quite manage to catch.

While one phase of Bran’s journey is over, his next is starting. He convinces Sam that he really needs to go north rather than joining him and Jon at Castle Black. Jojen has decided that Bran is the savior of mankind for some reason (I honestly don’t know how they got to this conclusion at all; it doesn’t feel set up to me), and helps Bran convince Sam. Sam gives them some of the obsidian weapons he found and tells them just how bad things are north of the Wall, then sends them through.

This is, similarly, an end and a beginning for Sam and Gilly; they’ve reached the Wall finally, but still have to get to Castle Black and they’ve both got emotional journeys ahead of them.

Jon’s journey ends at the Wall, as well; he escapes Ygritte and makes it back to Castle Black, though not unscathed. Somehow she catches up with him (on foot, even though he’s on a horse) and they get to have one last conversation. He tries to explain that she knew, the whole time, who he really was and what he would have to do, and that she won’t hurt him. She yells “you know nothing, Jon Snow!” at him one more time, and he says he does know that “I love you, and you love me.” At which point she puts three arrows in him before he manages to ride away. He arrives at Castle Black a little while later, where Sam and Pyp have him carried into the castle to be doctored.

Jaime and Brienne finally reach King’s Landing, and nobody recognizes Jaime. That seems to be when he truly realizes how much he’s changed, and Brienne gives him a sympathetic but not pitying look and have I mentioned best bromance on the show? Jaime goes to see Cersei, and her name is the only word spoken in the brief scene. Everything else is done with looks—she notices his hand, he notices her noticing, and there’s an understanding that he hasn’t returned unscathed.

Meanwhile, a couple of other journeys are started or ended before they can start. Davos decides that sacrificing Gendry is a bridge too far and releases him into the wild, never to be seen again. (There’s a joke meme about Gendry rowing away forever. I think Benioff and/or Weiss might have made a comment about Gendry still being out at sea, rowing.) Davos admits to Stannis that he released Gendry, but tells him about a plea for help from the Night’s Watch that he found amid a pile of raven-borne notes. He says if Stannis wants to be king, he needs to act like a king and protect his kingdom from these monsters coming from north of the Wall. Surprisingly, Melisandre agrees with him, saving Davos from execution for treason.

Shae refuses to go on a journey; Varys offers her money and a house in Pentos to leave, but she thinks it’s Tyrion being too cowardly to tell her to leave himself and refuses. Varys, serving the kingdom as he does, thinks Tyrion could do a lot of good, but Shae is a liability. This scene really exemplifies the differences in Shae’s character between show and book; if Varys had made book-Shae this offer, she probably would have taken it. She’s only in it for the money. Show-Shae really cares for Tyrion and has gotten viciously jealous about Sansa even though (as Varys points out) that’s stupid, because it’s not like if Tyrion hadn’t married Sansa he would have married Shae instead.

Arya and Sandor find their journey extended by the Red Wedding; rather than meeting up with her family and going home, Arya’s at loose ends again. She witnesses what we only heard about (and saw in a vision) in the books: the Freys beheading Robb’s corpse and sewing Grey Wind’s head to his shoulders. As they head away from the Twins, they come across a couple of Frey men bragging about being involved in the desecration of Robb’s corpse. Arya plays the part of a lost, hungry, cold waif to bring their guard down, then offers them her Braavosi coin as payment for food. When one of them reaches for it, she stabs him in the neck. Sandor’s caught by surprise but rallies quickly and fights off the rest of them, then snarls at her to “tell me first” the next time she wants to do something like that. While she retrieves her coin and gloats over the body (“valar morghulis”), he plops down at the fire and starts eating their food. (Sandor eating stuff quickly became my favorite gag over about four episodes.)

Daenerys waits to find out the results of her liberation of Yunkai—will the slaves see her as a liberator or a conqueror? She’s letting them decide in their own time, waiting outside the gates with her army and her dragons. The slaves come out finally and push right up to the Unsullied spearpoints between them and Dany. Missandei announces her, there’s an awkward and tense silence, and then someone yells “mhysa,” which Missandei translates as “mother.” Dany decides to go greet her new people, which leads to this super awkward moment:

Lots of other people have discussed why this is a troubling shot, and Martin has defended it as a quirk of casting in Croatia. As with so many other things in this show, by itself it’s not a big deal, but added onto lots of other issues—how they treat Dorne later, not even putting Jalabar Xho in a background shot, making Xaro Xhoan Daxos (a manipulative, power-hungry, and—in the books—pedophilic man) one of the few people of color in the show, killing off or sidelining Dany’s khalasar etc.—it’s yet another sign that they didn’t think through a lot of things regarding how race and slavery were portrayed in the show.

Finally, Asha starts on a journey when Ramsay's "gift" reaches Balon and he refuses to do anything about it because Theon's not a proper heir anymore; he's not even a man anymore. Asha storms off to try to rescue Theon because he's still her brother, dammit.

So that’s the third season. Some of the small changes made in the first two seasons are starting to make themselves felt, but generally speaking, they stuck pretty close to the main beats. I clearly deeply disagree with everything they did with Talisa, but I haven’t gotten to talk a lot about what they did with Sansa this season. Buckle up.

The issues here are subtle, but noticeable. The core problem with adapting Sansa, in particular, is that she’s so internal. A lot more goes on under the surface than ever comes out of her mouth, and that’s really difficult for a visual medium to convey. The problem is that that thoughtfulness and never saying everything that’s on her mind, or even honestly admitting what’s on her mind, is Sansa’s strength. “A lady’s armor is courtesy,” and while Sansa sees things and works things out and is developing a pretty strong political mind, she generally only says the kind, polite thing. Some of this is to save her own life, but some of it is building relationships and just being nice to people (not everyone in King’s Landing has the power or inclination to have her summarily executed, after all). But her development from a naïve, romantic little girl to this carefully-thinking young woman is actually nearly erased in the show. She continues to take a lot at face value, including her relationship with the Tyrells and her impending marriage to Loras. In the books, she’s set to marry Wyllas Tyrell, not Loras (who’s been sworn to the Kingsguard and can’t marry anyone), and though she’s never met him and knows he’s disabled, she’s looking forward to it because it will get her out of King’s Landing. She knows they want her for her claim to the North, but that’s okay because they’ll be nicer to her than the Lannisters. She doesn’t fawn all over Wyllas (who hasn’t yet appeared in the books) or Margaery (though she enjoys spending time with people who don’t treat her like a leper) the way she does in the show. She doesn’t trust anyone.

Likewise, their shift of the circumstances in her marriage to Tyrion changes a lot of her characterization. In the books, she’s given a pretty dress, then dragged to the sept and shoved in front of the High Septon and Tyrion. The way they’ve done it on the show doesn’t quite make sense—giving her warning means the Tyrells could have gotten her away from there before the wedding happened. Instead, Margaery laments how awful it all is and gives her sex advice. And instead of having Sansa refuse to kneel, refuse to participate in this marriage more than she’s forced to, refuse to give up her dignity, they spare Tyrion’s dignity and his feelings.

Sansa’s relationship with Tyrion is a big part of the trouble with this whole thing, and that’s because Benioff and Weiss’ writing of Tyrion is so problematic. They, again, went with just the surface—the smart, drunk, smartass, womanizer that is just a small part of Tyrion’s characterization. I’ll have a lot more to say about this in seasons five and six, but generally speaking, they’ve removed all of Tyrion’s flaws. None of his difficulties are a result of his own choices, but other people being mean to him. So instead of possibly losing some audience sympathy for Sansa by having her also be mean to him, they had her kneel, and then continue to develop an affectionate relationship with him (their first scene in this episode is them talking about punishing a couple of minor nobles for laughing at him by pulling childish pranks) despite all the reasons Sansa would have (and does have, in the books) for doing no such thing. As happens so often, the deeper characterization of a female character suffers because of the characterization of a male character (boy will I ever have more to say about this at the middle-ish of season five).

Couple-a Frey soldiers

Next week: Jon goes on trial. Dany is twitterpated. Arya crosses a name off her list.

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