Monday, September 12, 2016

Game of Thrones Rewatch 2.6: "The Old Gods and the New"

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

Episode 2.6 “The Old Gods and the New”
Written by Vanessa Taylor
Directed by David Nutter
Commentary by Kit Harrington (Jon Snow), Rose Leslie (Ygritte), Vanessa Taylor

Rather than my usual thematic breakdown of the episode, I think I’d like to take a step back and talk about adaptation and internal logic in the series, specifically in this episode. Because this episode has some . . . problems. With both.

Tywin Lannister’s been set up as an incredibly intelligent strategist when it comes to warfare. Nobody expected Robb Stark to last as long against Tywin as he has, not only because he’s young and untested, but because Tywin is the best. He’s also cold and distant and doesn’t have the best relationship with his family.

So why in the world would he allow a young girl who’s clearly from the North, who’s clearly highborn, who can read, who’s clearly nervous around Petyr Baelish, and who Petyr Baelish obviously recognizes or thinks he recognizes into his war councils? We haven’t gotten direct confirmation that he knows Arya Stark is missing, but I’d be surprised if someone hasn’t let it slip to him. If he’s that smart and that good of a strategist, why is he being so stupid?

Also, why is he telling this nobody of a girl / Arya Stark (depending on whether he’s figured out who he is or not) all about his family, his relationship with Jaime, and his relationship with his father? Tywin is not an open man. There’s no reason he would be any less cold with Arya than he’s been with his own family and his own bannermen. The best I can give Bryan Cogman and Vanessa Taylor, who wrote the two episodes in which this has been going on so far, is that Charles Dance and Maisie Williams have some really great chemistry and their scenes are delightful to watch. However, they completely break internal consistency with regard to Tywin’s established character and intelligence. Even if he isn’t completely sure she’s Arya and is pretty sure she’s not going to run off and take his plans to Robb, the absolute smartest thing (and most Tywin thing) to do would be to clap her in irons and have someone take her back to King’s Landing, where Tyrion can handle any further questions about her identity and getting a trade set up (which he’s already doing without Arya anyway).

It’s also a side-effect of the weird pacing they’ve done with Arya’s storyline this season. It’s simultaneously sped up and slowed down; she ends up Tywin’s cupbearer rather than working in the kitchens until Roose Bolton takes over, and Tywin stays at Harrenhal much longer than he did in the books. I don’t remember if they ever get Roose Bolton to Harrenhal in the show, but if they do, I’m pretty sure Arya’s escaped by then. At the time, Roose is still more-or-less loyal to the Starks, so being privy to his war councils doesn’t matter as far as the enemy knowing his secrets, and anyway, Arya’s primarily concerned about getting out of Harrenhal and to Riverrun.

So in trying to create more “interesting” TV (I’d argue that the storyline as it stands in the novels could have been plenty interesting onscreen), the writers have (inadvertently?) undermined the strength and credibility of one of the strongest (by which I mean “best written” and “interesting”) characters in the novels. Even considering Tywin’s character just internally to the show, we’re told a lot about who he is and what kind of person he is, then shown something completely different. Unfortunately, this is another trend with the show; so much of the strength and development of the characters is sacrificed to what the showrunners think will look cool.

Which brings us to Sansa.

Up until this point, Sansa’s storyline has followed the books pretty much beat-by-beat. She starts out kind of bratty, horrible things happen to her, and she slowly develops the political savvy necessary to save her own skin. However, in the riot-in-King’s-Landing scene, the show swerves in a way that probably wouldn’t be such a big deal if it didn’t also become a trend with Sansa’s character.

While returning from the docks, where they’ve shipped Myrcella off to Dorne, the smallfolk’s restlessness explodes into full-blown rage. Someone throws a cow pie at Joffrey, he screams to his guards to kill them all, and all hell breaks loose. In the fray, the High Septon is torn apart by the crowd (literally. It’s pretty gruesome), and Sansa is separated from the group of nobles, chased into an alley, grabbed by a group of men, shoved around, has her dress torn, and is nearly raped before Sandor Clegane finds her and slaughters every last attacker.

Here’s (part of) the problem: this doesn’t happen in the books. Sansa remembers the incident this way:
She could hear the people screaming at her, screaming without words, like animals. They had hemmed her in and thrown filth at her and tried to pull her off her horse, and would have done worse if the Hound had not cut his way to her side. (A Clash of Kings ch. 52, Sansa IV)
The gang-rape incident does happen—to Lollys Stokeworth, a character who does not appear in the show. It also happens off page and has terrible consequences for the character. So, not for the last time, the showrunners and writers have replaced a minor character with Sansa, a point-of-view character, and had her experience the minor, not-appearing-in-this-picture character’s sexual assault.

Here’s the other part of the problem: in the commentary, Vanessa Taylor says, “You have to hand it to George, he really goes there in the books.” Kit Harrington follows it up with a comment about how this scene is just as disturbing when it happens in the books—to Sansa. Except that, no, Martin doesn’t go there (on page), and this doesn’t happen to Sansa. I can excuse Kit Harrington—he’s not one of the writers, and it’s not imperative that he understand the differences between what happened on page and what’s happening on screen (later he remarks that he must be remembering the books wrong because he thought Xaro Xhoan Daxos was a pretty decent guy). But I can’t really excuse Vanessa Taylor, or David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, who presumably greenlit this change of rape victim. Making this change is one thing; being somehow completely ignorant that it is a change is another. So often, these writers “pass the buck” to Martin when complaints arise about violence and sexual assault in the series, but this is a buck that can’t be passed, even if they think it can.

This also starts a trend apparent in the show of demonizing or ridiculing “girly” things and valorizing “male” power. Women who draw their power from things coded “feminine”—courtesy, social skills, etc.—are treated much worse than those who reject “girly” things and/or embrace “male” (read: violent) power. I’ll have more on this in the next week or so when I’ll have to have another mini-rant on Talisa, and even more when I get to season six. I’ve mentioned briefly in several of these posts that there are “trends” in the adaptation of this series that perpetuate (and, in later seasons, explode) throughout the show, and these are a couple of major ones. Right now, they seem like minor, even inconsequential changes, but the attitudes behind them continue throughout the series and get more intense.

The highlight of this episode is the introduction of Rose Leslie as Ygritte. She’s one of my favorite characters in the books for her feistiness, her ability to mouth off to anyone, and her refusal to take anyone’s guff. Also, “you know nothing, Jon Snow” is one of those lines that’s crept into my everyday vocabulary (I communicate primarily in pop-culture references anyway).

This episode also marks Theon’s point of no return in the trajectory that leads to his really horrible fate at the hands of Ramsay Snow/Bolton; just before he beheads Ser Rodrik, Rodrik tells him, “Gods help you, Theon Greyjoy. Now you are truly lost.”

Arya makes another decision about a death, and while this one isn’t quite as wasteful as the choice she makes in the books, it is spur-of-the-moment and needful because of her own carelessness.

And a good chunk of Dany’s khalasar, including her handmaiden Irri, is wiped out so that the warlocks of the House of the Undying can kidnap her dragons.

RIP: Rodrick Cassell
Armory Lorch
The High Septon

Next week: Theon goes hunting. Sansa becomes a woman. Xaro is a double-triple-possibly-quadruple-crosser.

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1 comment:

  1. I continue to love what you post in these pieces, Shiloh.

    I also have to wonder if the slow aggregation of minor characters' plot points to Sansa is somehow a mimicry (unwitting as it might or perhaps must be) of the accretion of stories around romance characters--and even Classical mythological figures.