Monday, July 25, 2016

Game of Thrones Rewatch 1.10: "Fire and Blood"

Curator's Note: The post below is the 100th for the Tales after Tolkien Society's blog. It is a fine piece with which to mark such an occasion. -GE

Read the previous entry in this series here.
Read the next entry in this series here.

1.10 “Fire and Blood”
Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by Alan Taylor
Commentary by David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, and Alan Taylor

About half of this episode focuses on the aftermath of Ned’s death and how various factions are handling it. The other half is about Daenerys dealing with the aftermath of her choices regarding Khal Drogo’s life and Mirri Maz Duur. In both cases, though, much of the action rests on younger people ignoring the advice of cooler heads.

The entire incident was instigated by a young person ignoring the advice of his council, after all—Joffrey was not supposed to execute Ned. Nobody’s plans included that—not Cersei’s, not Tywin’s, not Petyr or Varys’, and definitely not Ned’s. When Kevan suggests that—in light of Jaime’s capture and both Renly and Stannis claiming the throne—the Lannisters sue for peace, Tyrion points out that Joffrey ruined any chance of peace by killing Ned. Tywin agrees, saying that if Ned were still alive, they could have used him to broker peace, maybe ransom back Jaime. Joffrey killing Ned ruined everything, and now the realm is in chaos.

Joffrey continues to be a complete twerp by hauling Sansa out to the walls where they’ve stuck everyone’s head on spikes and forcing her to look at Ned’s and Mordane’s. This is where Sansa’s tempering begins; her inner strength is evident even here when her face is all blotchy and her eyes are dead. She back-talks Joffrey, which makes him angry, and he says that Cersei has taught him that a king should never hit his lady. So instead he has Ser Meryn do it for him (I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the lesson). With her lip split and bleeding, Sansa notices that Joffrey stands over a pretty deep drop to the ground below and manages three or four purposeful steps toward him before Sandor stops her and cleans her lip for her. So Joffrey has learned nothing from anything that happened, and has no idea what mistreating Sansa (and the realm) is going to lead to. He thinks being king makes him all-powerful and untouchable because he’s young and a spoiled brat.

Jon is also ignoring advice—Aemon’s “love is the death of duty” advice from last episode. He mounts up, intending to ride South to help Robb, and only his new brothers chasing him down (and Sam getting knocked off his horse by a tree branch) stops him from becoming a deserter. Instead, Lord Commander Mormont convinces him that he needs to help fight a bigger, more important war—the one between the White Walkers, the Wildlings, and the rest of the kingdom. The last shot of Jon in this season has him heading north, beyond the Wall, with a couple of hundred Nights Watch, on the Great Ranging.

Dany’s failure to listen to wiser heads happened last episode, and now we have the aftermath: Drogo is essentially comatose, the khalasar has scattered, and Dany’s son Rhaego is dead. Instead of running away with Jorah, or at least not enlisting the help of a maegi whose entire clan was killed or enslaved, Dany completely wrecked the khalasar and all her hopes for the future. One could even argue that not listening to Jorah led to Drogo’s illness in the first place, since Drogo and Mago wouldn’t have fought over Dany if she hadn’t insisted on claiming all the women. Dany learns a strong lesson here, too, that helps to undercut the Great White Savior thing she’s started to have—Mirri asks what, exactly, Dany thinks she saved, since Mirri’s clan is dead or enslaved, her temple is burned, and Mirri herself was raped three times before Dany ever got to her. Dany insists that she saved Mirri’s life, but Mirri has an object lesson to hand of what life is worth if that’s all there is. Drogo is technically alive. So what? Dany fully expected Mirri to help her in good conscience and to the best of her abilities—to save the man who was the cause of all of Mirri’s recent suffering—because Dany rescued her.

The Stark camp is probably the only place where there aren’t cooler, wiser heads. Or at least, not many. Catelyn finds Robb ruining his sword on a tree and calms him down, replying to his vow that he’s going to “kill them all” with a reminder that Sansa and Arya are still in the Lannisters’ custody, but as soon as they get them back, “then we will kill them all.” At their war council that night, Jonos Bracken urges Robb to join up with Renly and swear fealty to him, combine the strength of their armies and sack King’s Landing. Robb makes the same mistake Ned did by insisting that Renly isn’t the king because he’s the younger brother. Technically, that’s true; tactically, Renly is a much better choice than Stannis, who hasn’t shown his face yet. His refusal to consider joining Renly leaves an opening for Greatjon Umber to declare that he doesn’t want any southern kings: “It was the dragons we bowed to, and now the dragons are dead. There sits the only king I mean to bend my knee to. The King in the North!” Everyone else quickly falls in line, and the schism in the kingdom grows bigger; now it’s not just about who gets to be king and who killed whose father, but a full-blown Brexit war of secession.

Even Tyrion’s rejecting a reasonable and wise order from his father: he plans to take Shae to court with him. This is stupid for a number of reasons. First of all, just as a matter of social etiquette, court is no place for a prostitute. Also, he seems to be forgetting that she’s paid to hang out with him; it seems he’s interpreting her temper tantrum at being left behind as honest fondness for him and not as a paid companion seeing the biggest mark she’s ever had about to slip through her fingers. Finally, he’s defying his father. He already shared the story of what happened with Tysha; why in the world would he think this would end any better? He’s not just defying his father, he’s defying the most powerful man in the kingdoms, the man whose punishment of a rebel sworn bannerman was so thorough that it destroyed the entire house and inspired “The Rains of Castamere,” which has become the Lannister theme song. Of all the bad ideas that happen in this episode, this is the epitome of bad ideas.

Speaking of bad ideas, let’s take a brief detour (before we get to the good part of this episode) to talk about sexposition. Again. This episode has two scenes of it, one pretty brief and one longer one. The first one—Cersei getting the news that Jaime has been taken captive while Lancel wanders naked around her room—is understandable. A lot of this episode is people getting news of things—Ned’s death, Jaime’s capture—and of course we should see Cersei getting this note. It also helps to establish that Cersei isn’t exactly faithful to Jaime and has a bad habit of sleeping with family. This becomes important in the books (I don’t recall just how important it is to the series), so I’ll allow it. The second one, however, falls right in line with many of Benioff & Weiss’ other sexposition scenes in that it tells us nothing we don’t know and does nothing but take up space and show us Ros’ naked body. (I think we’ve seen Esme Bianco dressed all of twice in the entire season.) What the scene does do is imply that there’s more to Maester Pycelle than a doddering old man, which, if I recall correctly, was on Julian Glover’s insistence that he not play “just” a doddering old man. And sure, book-Pycelle is a bit more than a doddering old man—he’s an informant for the Lannisters. So what? They couldn’t have given the audience that impression without Pycelle yammering about nothing in particular for five minutes while Ros cleans herself up from their tryst? Not to mention that this scene brings the action of the episode—the season finale—to a screeching halt. In the commentary, Benioff and Weiss claim that including this scene was either “ballsy” or “folly,” and I’m gonna go with “folly.”

If there’s one thing this episode did right, it was the end. This was the big payoff—the moment all book readers had been waiting for. Daenerys constructs Drogo’s funeral pyre, ties Mirri Maz Duur to it, has the dragon eggs placed on it, and lights the whole shebang. Dany doesn’t know much about magic, but she has a vague sense that this is the recipe needed to do something big, something important, and she walks into the fire in order to be part of it. And when everybody wakes up the next morning, she’s sitting in the ashes, naked, three teeny dragons clinging to her. The show has done a lot of work to set this up as a Big Deal, since dragons were the Targaryen’s shock troops, the whole reason the Valyrians had as much power as they did in the first place, and they’ve all been dead for centuries. Dany’s claim to the Iron Throne looked completely hopeless not ten minutes ago, but now she has dragons (and a brand new, I Am the Blood of the Dragon attitude).

So there we have it. A Game of Thrones, in full color and action, covered pretty well in the space of about ten hours. I have my quibbles with it (obviously), both as an adaptation and its own narrative, but season one did a really good job with the source material.

RIP: Drogo, Mirri Maz Duur, Rhaego

Next week: We take a break to visit with family, but season two starts the week after.

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