As anyone who’s Googled me in the past year has probably noticed, I don’t really blog anymore. I’m too busy, what with a baby on the way, plus multiple jobs and far too many hobbies. But if there’s one thing I’m always down to discuss ad infinitum it’s Game of Thrones, and at the request of some family and friends, here I am.
Thoughts on Episodes 1-2
For the most part, season 6 has been great. It’s definitely better than season 5, probably better than season 4, and maybe up there with seasons 1 and 2 (at least so far). As a book reader it has been especially exciting witnessing so many big reveals sure to come in The Winds of Winter, assuming it’s ever actually released (fingers crossed). Yes, there are book fans who nitpick the show and are disappointed to see it surpass the plot of the books, and even some who swear to not watch it so that the purity of the book-reading experience is preserved, but most of us can’t wait that long to see how the story unfolds.
The first two episodes started off slow, as is par for the course with GoT. I do sometimes wish they had more exciting premieres and I have always thought the Ds should use the pre-credits teaser more often than they do (only featured in the premieres for seasons 1 and 3), but there are just too many characters and plot threads to hit the ground running after a ten month break. The season picks up momentum once Jon Snow is unsurprisingly, but thankfully resurrected, and doesn’t really slow down until last Sunday’s installment.
Even in the first episode, there is a sizable book reveal. Many fans have theorized that Melisandre is not who she appears to be, and that her ruby is really just a glamour hiding her true face, one that is ancient and ugly. I figured this was disproved back in the third season, during a dialogue scene between Mel and Selyse Baratheon in which the former was taking a bath sans ruby. But either the Ds didn’t know at the time that Mel was hundreds of years old, or as my wife noted, Selyse simply saw Melisandre the way Melisandre wants to be seen because she is such a devout believer in the Lord of Light.
The Melisandre reveal was a beautiful scene, and highlights how talented the show’s cinematographers are at capturing the effect of candlelight. I also think it’s interesting to have a full-frontal nudity shot that isn’t intended to be titillating, almost like a meta-commentary on the audience. Sometimes nudity isn’t arousing, and I don’t mean that in an ageist sort of way. The scene wasn’t meant to be “gross” because it was an old lady and not Carise Van Houten (it’s actually a composite of Van Houten in makeup and a naked old lady), it’s because it was sad, and showed how vulnerable and lost Melisandre is now that Stannis is dead and her faith questioned.
Other than the final scene, the first episode’s other crazy moment was the Sand Snake coup in Dorne. I really cannot stress strongly enough how much I hate Ellaria, the Sand Snakes, and the Dorne subplot in general. This is an opinion that seems to be almost universally shared across the fanbase, and I, like many, hope that this quick wrap-up of the Dornish storyline was meant as a means to write the Sand Snakes off entirely. It’s unlikely—I’m sure they’ll come back in the final two seasons once we enter the endgame and Daenerys returns to Westeros—but I think for this season at least, we’ve seen the last of Game of Throne’s worst characters/actors. I did like the guy who played Doran Martell (a Star Trek: Deep Space Nine alum), but he went out like a total chump… though not as big of a chump as Areoh Hotah, one of the books’ greatest warriors and biggest badasses, stabbed in the back out of nowhere by a small, annoying girl.
Nothing about this scene made any sense, and as a fan of book Doran Martell one of Westeros’ greatest players of the long game, it was especially frustrating. It also illustrates how the Ds sometimes attempt to use the ignorance of casual fans to their advantage. How exactly did Ellaria, a bastard with nothing to her name other than her association to Oberyn Martell, orchestrate such a decisive coup? In the books “the people mourn for Oberyn” as well, but it’s hard to believe the Sand Snakes could get Doran’s personal guard in on the whole thing and orchestrate it all right under the Prince and Areoh’s noses.
Dorne, like the rest of the Seven Kingdoms, is comprised of multiple great houses, each with their own histories, rivalries and alliances. How do they all factor into this coup? Is EVERY great house in Dorne going to get behind one bastard and three of Oberyn’s many daughters? This isn’t to say that a greater knowledge of A Song of Ice and Fire’s lore is necessary to appreciate the show— it helps, but it isn’t essential, and I wouldn’t consider the show a true success if it couldn’t operate on its own. You don’t need to know that Anders Yronwood is the Lord of House Yronwood which also has its seat in House Yronwood or that their words are “We Guard the Way” to enjoy Game of Thrones. But in this and other instances, the Ds are relying on that fact that you, the viewer, don’t really understand the minutiae of feudal politics so they can get away with this dumb shit. It’s almost insulting to the audience’s intelligence and would bother me more if I wasn’t so happy to see the Dornish subplot pushed to the wayside.
The second episode, “Home,” picked up the pace slightly, ending the Night’s Watch mutineer thread with Alliser Thorne (and more importantly, Olly) in chains and another dude smashed to a pulp by one of my favorites, Wun Wun the giant. This episode had not one but two head-smashing scenes, the second when the Mountain bashes a guy against a wall for shit-talking Cersei. I mention it only because it illustrates how well GoT can be at making its graphic violence both deeply unsettling and occasionally, darkly humorous.
“Home” also saw the return of Jon Snow, an inevitability that was never the less surprising and satisfying. Like the Melisandre reveal, this scene was hauntingly beautiful, with Melisandre imploring R’hllor to let her perform this one last miracle, and all of Jon’s allies leaving the room one after the other in disappointment. Though I was almost positive Jon was coming back, the lingering overhead shot of his body before he awoke with a gasp was truly gripping. I also want to point out the show’s generally brilliant use of the language of film, reusing the same framing across five episodes— first with Jon bleeding out in the snow in last year’s finale, then this shot, then young Hodor moaning “hodor” in episode four.
Game of Thrones is critiqued, complained about and nitpicked more than any other show on television right now, but so often the would-be critics seem to completely disregard the show’s adept usage of the language of film, and the amount of technical craft that goes into every aspect of the production.
More to come…