Though the pacing is still a bit too slow for my liking, Game of Thrones kicked things up a notch with “Kill the Boy,” the season’s best episode by far. I should note that one of the reasons I probably liked this episode more than others was it neglected the series’ worst and most troubling plotline: the Jaime/Bronn Dorne Extravaganza Hour. The description for next week’s episode promises “the Sand Snakes attack,” so maybe Dorne will finally become interesting (the episode title is also the Martells’ mantra, “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken”), but considering where the other stories have been going it feels like they almost could have cut the Dorne story out entirely.
But back to the topic at hand: “Kill the Boy,” an episode that I am already seeing is contentious among show watchers and book readers (as has been the case with most of this season so far). The AV Club actually writes two sets of reviews for each Thrones episode, one for “experts” and one for “newbies,” and the newbies scores have been consistently lower throughout. As I’ve said before, this is most likely due to book readers knowing the basic gist of where a lot of this is going, so the slow pace isn’t as bothersome, whereas show watchers crave for the action-packed days of Season 4, where every week someone was either getting poisoned or stabbed through the mouth.
I’ve also noticed a bizarre trend where a lot of show watchers are not fantasy fans and are drawn to GoT because it’s a more down-to-earth fantasy story than something like Lord of the Rings, which while also amazing, definitely screams NERD. As such, whenever something super fantastical happens, a vocal subset of show watchers whine that the show is too cheesy or silly, which… fuck off. This is a fantasy show set in a magical fantasy universe, just one that happens to be more grounded than the kinda shit you’re used to: there aren’t any talking Jesus lions here. Magical shit happens and you just have to deal with it, and if you don’t like, get the fuck out, bro.
This type of criticism stretches all the way back to the first truly magical moment (excluding the birth of Dany’s dragons, which, who doesn’t like dragons?): Melisandre birthing the Shadow Baby. Since then I’ve also heard grumblings about the Ray Harryhausen skeletons (though that bugged some book readers as well, as it was more over-the-top than it is in the books). Now I’m reading blogs where people are whining about the episode’s coolest scene because the Stone Men screeched. Sigh. People have no trouble watching a show where zombies go blaaaahhhhhh all the time and can somehow creep up on people despite being loud, shambling corpses, but dudes with a magical disease that zombifies you aren’t aloud to make scary sounds? WHAT IS THE WORLD COMING TO.
The Stone Men scene and the execution-by-dragon that opened the ep were both awesome, but I actually found myself more drawn to the quieter, character moments. This was an episode in stark contrast to last week’s, with every conversation and every story told feeling like it had purpose. Nothing ever felt unnatural. The episode was written by Bryan Cogman, the only other consistent writer on the show besides the Ds, and I’ve begun to realize he’s my favorite. If you look at the Top 10 GoT Episodes blog I posted earlier, you’ll note that a sizable number of the included eps were penned by Cogman. Even though he’s not in charge, he seems to have a deeper understanding of Martin’s world and its lore and history, and his dialogue feels much more natural. When Obara said “I made my choice long ago” last week I rolled my eyes because nobody in the universe, even a medieval one with dragons, has ever talked like that. But Cogman takes the dry tone of the Middle Ages and retains its authenticity while translating it for a modern audience.
Now, keep in mind the Ds often rewrite episodes written by others, as is generally the case in television. Writing credits on TV are odd. When I was more aggressively pursuing a career in TV writing, I went to a lot of panels and heard multiple stories of how writers get credit for an episode that they really had nothing to do with, as it was completely redone by the man in charge. So I could be praising Cogman when I’m really praising the Ds. For example, my all time least favorite Thrones scene prior to that abominable Sand Snakes scene was the gratuitous threesome that led into Theon’s castration. At the time I was bummed because it was written by GRRM, who I hold to a higher standard, but if you listen to the ep’s audio commentary you’d find that the Ds actually wrote that scene (which, of course they did).
I will give credit where credit is due: the Ds have consciously been trying to turn Stannis into a better, more likable character, more like the man he is in the books than the brooding asshole he’s been on the show. It bothered me that Stannis was still in Castle Black this episode. I feel like he’s been talking about marching on Winterfell for ages, and I could have sworn there was a shot of Baratheon men heading out last week, but maybe I saw that in the preview for this week’s and got confused. The pacing is still laboriously slow at times, but all the Castle Black scenes hit the mark beautifully. Stannis has emerged as a man who while hard and often cold, loves his daughter and more importantly, acknowledges the threat that Westeros faces. He and Jon as well as Melisandre are the only three characters who understand the White Walkers are coming and that something must be done. This was illustrated in Stannis’ scene with Sam, where he encourages the Black Brother to keep searching for a way to stop their enemy.
This scene was also great because it showed that Stannis isn’t a huge dick like some of the other characters he resembles: namely Tywin and Randyll Tarly, Sam’s father (who appears in A Feast For Crows. Terrible father, great general). Stannis isn’t ruthless and without honor like Tywin, and he doesn’t begrudge his children for their failings like Tywin does his, or Randyll does Sam. He doesn’t resent Sam for being the son of one of his old enemies, and he doesn’t belittle him for failing to measure up to the warrior his father is. Stannis recognizes Sam’s usefulness and encourages him to use it to their advantage.
Also of note in Castle Black was the Maester Aemon “Kill the boy and let the man be born speech.” Aemon is a tragic character and it’s sad seeing him finally succumbing to old age. The actor who plays him, Peter Vaughan, was, like most actors on GoT, perfectly cast and always gives a good performance. He’s been around since the very beginning (as shown in the previously on) and has always been a source of grandfatherly wisdom.
A final note on Olly. I have repeatedly expressed my hatred for this character and I feel I should elaborate. There’s nothing inherently wrong with him and the actor playing Olly is good, especially for a child actor. I think this is something that probably bothers book readers more than show watchers as he’s a made-up character. What’s annoying is how much time is spent with him. I know what they’re doing and where they’re going with Olly, but it’s just so distracting to cut to reaction shots or have these long dialogue scenes with him. It feels forced, and with so much crazy shit going on all over the world, it’s weird that so much time is being spent with a ten year-old orphan of no consequence. He’s not Shireen, he’s not Bran, he’s not Arya, he’s just some dumb kid, and a dumb kid is the kiss of death for your movie.
Don’t Make Me Regret the Day I Raped Your Mother
Like with the Castle Black stuff, I loved the Winterfell scenes, but I am seeing the cry of “boring” come up from the show crowd, which… fuck off. Look, I’ve already acknowledged the slow pace and agreed that last week’s episode was not the best. But there’s a difference between dialogue scenes where nothing happens—Tyrion explaining to Jorah and the audience who Jorah is, or the Sand Snakes just going, “hey, we’re Sand Snakes, aren’t we cool?” when they weren’t, and dialogue scenes that advance the plot or build character.
I don’t want to get too testy here, because I am both a show and book fan, and I acknowledge that TV has different requirements than novels, and as a visual medium, has to be visually interesting. But sometimes I feel that show-watching Game of Thrones fans encapsulate millennial ADD. Their brains have become so warped by all the tits and gore that when there aren’t tits and gore, their eyes glaze over and they complain. But this is a story, not pornography, and the foundation of screenwriting is dialogue. I just feel that since Game of Thrones has attained “phenomenon” status, there is a large swathe of viewership who don’t actually watch it because they like it, but because the internet told them to. “Everyone is Tweeting about Game of Thrones, guess I better watch it.” Two days later—“waaaahhhh, the Shadow Baby was over-the-top and there was too much talking.”
But let’s not go off on another tangent. It’s just something that bugs me, because rarely do I find this show boring (I did last week though). So much good stuff went down in Winterfell. First off, we did have titties, with some of the most beautifully-lit pale naked bodies I’ve ever seen. The cinematography has been particularly excellent this season, and I love all the framing and callbacks that I’ve mentioned before. This week we got shots that recalled Bran’s fall from the tower. Director Jeremy Podeswa utilizes a low angle to remind you of how awful Bran’s crippling was, and then a high angle looking down on Sansa and Myranda to make Sansa seem small and vulnerable, and ratchet up the tension of the scene.
I’ve really grown to like Myranda, a show creation I wasn’t particularly fond of at first. Her original introduction was in the aforementioned softcore porn/dick cutting scene from Season 3, and last year she just helped Ramsay sic dogs on a poor girl and then had sex with him that one time. I’m always dubious of show-created characters, though some have won me over (most notably Locke, a good addition to Team Bolton and a less ridiculous character than his book counterpart, Vargo Hoat), and Myranda seemed to exist solely for nudity and sex purposes.
But here we see she is just as crazy as Ramsay, which makes sense because how else would she have fallen for him? She’s basically Female Ramsay and is just as violent and unpredictable, making scenes where she’s touching Sansa or leading her into the kennels extremely tense. Even though it seems highly unlikely Sansa will ever die, I was nonetheless terrified Myranda was gonna open the kennels and rip Sansa apart. She also endeared herself to me by slapping Ramsay, an extremely bold move when you consider he’s a violent psychopath whose favorite pastime is peeling off people’s skin while they’re still alive. I doubt she’ll make it very far and will probably end up like the girl she and Ramsay fed to dogs or worse, flayed, but I appreciate her presence. The moment where she bit Ramsay’s lip and he fucking loved it was great, and recalled last year’s “sex is boring, let’s fight Ironborn” scene.
Speaking of Ironbron: Balon Greyjoy Deathwatch Week 16.
Just like with Myranda touching Sansa, the scene where Ramsay made Theon kneel and give him his hand was incredibly tense. It actually made a lot of the excessive torture scenes from Season 3 seem more purposeful in retrospect: were it not for those moments, I doubt I would have been as fearful for Theon in “Kill the Boy.” I also enjoyed the dinner scene because it showed that while Ramsay enjoys physical torture, what he really gets off on is mental manipulation. He’s all about control and domination, and takes pleasure in having others under his thumb.
That scene was topped by Roose’s story of Ramsay’s conception, that he executed a miller for marrying his wife in secret, then raped her “beneath the tree where he was swaying,” a great/horrifying story from the books. What this shows is that Roose is way more evil than Ramsay. Ramsay is a violent psycho, but he has feelings. He actually seems to love Theon like he would a dog, and has a modicum of affection for Myranda. He wants to impress his dad and always dreamt of being legitimized. Roose may not flay people for fun, but he is completely cold and without even a hint of emotion, and that makes him much more terrifying. However, I said this when I read Book 5 and I’ll say it again: Roose’s biggest mistake was trusting Ramsay.
What Happened to “Valar Morghulis?”
I know show people are loving the Dany plot now and I know why: because she fed a dude to a freaking dragon. That scene was amazing, and the moment Viserion and Rhaegal ripped that corpse in half elicited a loud “Ewwwwwwww” from me and Alison. I live for this kinda bombastic shit on Game of Thrones, and I love dragons. Who doesn’t? I dare you to find me someone who doesn’t like dragons. And there has probably been more on-screen dragon action this season than in every other season combined.
I also liked that unlike in the books, Dany is the one who comes up with the idea to marry Hizdhar and not the other way around. In the books he suggests it, just like Xaro Xhoan Daxos before him, and it’s frustrating because it seems foolish of Dany to trust him. She didn’t trust Xaro, after all. But here the power play is reversed and I think it works well… to a degree. The show has been doing a good job of expressing how tenuous Dany’s control over Meereen is and how the dangerous situation she’s in has lead to poor choices. But said choices are just so all over the place it’s starting to feel a little ridiculous. First she’s like, let’s give people a fair trial. Then she’s like, nah, let’s feed them to dragons even if they’re innocent. Then in the same episode she’s like, huh, maybe dragon feeding was a bad move and I should just marry this asshole. I guess it reflects her poor decision-making from A Dance With Dragons, but it just feels a little all over the place.
I will say, I’ve grown to like Grey Worm and actually found the scene with him and Missandei to be genuinely touching. I like that the arc isn’t so much about a cheesy love story but about Grey Worm finding his humanity and undoing his brainwashing.
Long, Sullen Silences & the Occasional Punch in the Face: The Mormont Way
This was the kind of stuff I wanted from the Tyrion/Jorah pairing and “Kill the Boy” delivered in spades. The recitation of the poem was great and I love that the show took the effort to delve into the history of Valyria. This scene is supposed to take place on the River Rhoyne, a detail that I have already seen bugging book zealots… but fuck those guys. Again, TV is a visual medium and the description of Old Valyria from Book 5 was just begging to be filmed. I like the overgrown, moss-covered ruins and the faint cloud of smoke, sulfuric fumes from the volcanoes that presumably caused the Doom of Valyria (one of the books’ greatest mysteries).
Like Leaf, last season’s Child of the Forest, the Stone Men weren’t quite as awesome-looking as they could have been, but the action scene was great and terrifying, and the shot where the Stone Man rises in the background while Tyrion stares at Drogon was chilling. I think the Ds & co. have been doing a good job of taking the coolest moments from Book 5 and repurposing them for their own version of the story. In the books a different character contracts Greyscale after this scene, a character that I knew they were going to cut because his subplot is just so damn complicated. But it works with Jorah being the one who is doomed, and makes me excited for where his and Tyrion’s story is going.
And now… spoilers!!!
- They have been hinting at R+L=J super hard this season (which makes sense, because Jon is probably gonna die). In Castle Black, Maester Aemon says “A Targaryen alone in the world… a terrible thing.” Seconds later Jon steps through the door. BECAUSE SHE’S NOT ALONE. THERE’S ANOTHER TARGARYEN.
- Melisandre going with Stannis is interesting. In the books she stays behind at Castle Black, which I just realized doesn’t bode well for Stannis, as the last time he went into battle without her he got his ass handed to him. But her going on the show doesn’t bode well for Jon—my main theory for how Jon will survive the mutiny is that Melisandre gives him the fire kiss like Thoros did for Dondarrion and Dondarrion did for Lady Stoneheart, but if she’s not around…
- Very intrigued by Jorah getting Greyscale. In the books, the scene with the Stone Men seemed to be all about Jon Connigton contracting the disease then traveling to Westeros and not telling anyone—basically foreboding that Westeros will become infected by the plague. But it seems unlikely Jorah will last long enough to make it to Westeros. Perhaps in place of the Pale Mare, Slaver’s Bay will be overrun by Greyscale?
- I suspect we will see White Walkers during Jon’s trip to Hardhome. There will definitely be at least one White Walker scene this year and there are rumors the Night’s King is returning.