Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Kissed by Fire

Well, wow. That was simply an episode that kept me glued to the screen, relishing the many lines of dialogue lifted from the book more or less intact, enjoying the superb acting across the board, and actually 'feeling it' the way many fans of the TV show do. I might be a so-called 'book purist' but I'm also able to understand many of the changes done in the show. This episode was rather good at blending the source material with the necessary adaptations, giving us an hour of quality that felt like ten minutes tops. I'm noticing an increasing focus on themes and other methods to unite the separate story-lines, to help give it a feel of being one single story; the Kissed by Fire - theme this week runs through many of the scenes; Thoros of Myr and Beric Dondarrion, Ygritte and Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen (subtly); it brings some cohesion, I guess. There was the music linking Theon's beheading of Rodrick Cassell and Robb Stark's execution of Rickard Stark; and there are the increasing number of scenes ending with the mention of another character, then the scene shifts to said character. I like how they do it, and I think season three is the best so far; of course, it wouldn't have been so great without all the preceding episodes bringing us this far into the story. 

I've warmed up to the show's Thoros of Myr; in this episode, he is simply perfect. I still need some time on his boss, Lord Beric Dondarrion. The trial by combat which opens Episode 5 is fantastic, I feel. They pretty much nailed it mood-wise, though of course I'd love to hear more dialogue from the books. That flaming sword is so awesome it rivals the almighty lightsaber. For non-readers it might be a bit confusing - why are they dueling, and why are they putting the Hound on trial in the first place? I had to stop the show to explain those who watched with me, remind them of the scene between Bronn and Ser Vardis Egen in season one. Love Arya's attempt at going for the Hound, and when she screams at him, "Go to hell!" and then you hear Beric's voice, "He will...but not today", that was a goosebump moment for me. 

The Jon Snow/Ygritte-scene...I didn't really feel it. Of all the storylines on the show Jon Snow's has been neglected the most I feel; little character development (well, until this episode), but I'm not complaining too hard - after all, Jon's chapters are my least favorite in the books. I am glad they keep Tormund a bit darker and less Tolkienesque dwarf-like than he is in the books. Still, Jon Snow requires a little more space in the show, very evident when Tormund says, "I like you, boy," and the viewer doesn't really have any reason to buy into it. Ygritte & Jon in the cave was a sweet moment, one of few. The actress playing Ygritte has really grown into the role as well, love her voice especially.

Back to the cave of the Brotherhood without Banners (kind of odd placing of scenes in this episode by the way), but just as quick we're sent to Harrenhal. Kingslayer, meet Lord Bolton. Awesome scene! Love the ambiguity surrounding Bolton during this scene, love Jaime asking about "word from the capital" and then Bolton being such a dick about it. Hahaha! I wonder what non-readers make of this Lord Roose Bolton. I still prefer the Bolton of the books, but the actor does a great job with the material he gets. The scene is followed by another great one, between Qyburn (the voice!) and Jaime; a scene almost straight from the book, I love it (and again, proof that scenes close to the book do make the best scenes). I also love the lighting in this scene. I'll scream. I'll scream loudly. Yes, I am happy with this episode if you haven't noticed. Also notice Qyburn's eyes toward the end of the scene. This is clearly a man who isn't entirely healthy...mentally. Oh yeah.

Cersei/Littlefinger-scene...I don't know, it's just a quick setup scene but I must say Lena Headey looks more
and more like the Cersei of the books for every episode, I don't know what it is. Did they dye her hair this season?

Next is Olenna/Tyrion, brilliant scene performed with brilliant actors. Good dialogue. Love Olenna's fluttering eyes. When Tyrion says, "We're at war," and Olenna reponds, "Oh, I had almost forgotten," I admit I thought something like "Yeah, it doesn't really feel like there's a war going on is there?" I mean, there are so many scenes where you don't "feel" that there is a war, mostly because it right now is in stalemate, of course. Doesn't really matter.

One thing I have noticed which irks me a little bit with most King's Landing scenes is that there are seldom guards hanging around. You'd think that in a scene like Tyrion/Olenna you'd see a few Kingsguard or gold cloaks at the doors, or Bronn standing in the shadows. 

Maisie Williams really nails it, doesn't she? Fantastic little actress. Whenever she has tears in her eyes, ye olde Slynt almost tears up too. Love the scene between Arya and Gendry. Sad and beautiful. "I can be your family." Sniff. Nice music too, layering it in the right mood.

Time for the Lannister cousins at Riverrun to be murdered at the hands of Karstark. The scene sticks as close to the book as the show allows at this point, and I loved it. Ser Brynden Tully should have been in the show since season one, he is perfect. Love how they kept in the bit about the one who "only looked at" the murder getting hanged last, as per the book. I do think Karstark has a point, though, and I wonder how non-readers feel about Robb Stark's harsh justice which even his nearest allies (Catelyn, Talisa, Edmure) try to hinder. How do the non-readers feel about Robb now? 

Execution scene - brilliant, with the rain and the Tully banner; the sad looks, Karstark's a great character in this scene - and reinforcing the idea that Robb now may be known as a kinslayer. Which is bad. Blink and you'll miss Grey Wind. Oh man, the music as Robb drops his sword and stalks off. Shit. Good stuff.

Back to Arya reciting her list, love how she finishes with the Hound; Thoros is once again likable here. He's telling her they'll take her to Riverrun. I wonder if we'll see the Ghost of High Heart on the way there, or if she's been cut. Love Beric's talk about his five - now six - deaths; again, book power is strong. The Mountain is once again mentioned ("two Cleganes" have killed Lord Beric) but I really feel he should've actually been present in a scene or two in this season because non-readers surely must have forgotten who he is (whenever he's mentioned, Lady Slynt asks "who was that again", and I reply, "horse in two", "oh, that guy", "yeah, Sandor's brother", "Sandor?" "The Hound" "Oh").

Stannis is great today, Selyse too but like most fans of the saga I feel that the fetuses was a tad too much. Still, a minor niggle (not for the fetuses). I wish Selyse had been present, even if not talking, in scenes in Season 2 so she doesn't come as a total surprise. Now people believe Stannis keeps his wife locked up, which is a bit off in my opinion. Shireen Baratheon was perfectly cast, love her songs and how they have mixed in Patchface here, love how the scene between her and Stannis shows how little empathy Stannis has; and the scene between Shireen and Davos is pure gold. Beautifully shot, charming little actress and they didn't need to explain the greyscale, much better that it's just there and viewers are like WTF. Stannis will not win any Father of the Year award anytime soon.

Brienne and Jaime in the bath; a fan favorite already judging by Winter is Coming's discussions, and it was indeed a standout scene. The acting is noteworthy from both actors.

Weakest scene of the episode in my opinion is Ser Jorah and Ser Barristan, two exile knights in Essos, bantering, testing the waters between them (interestingly their discussion takes place at water). I like the scene well enough and their dialogue is important, but it fell a little bit flat for me - a bit too obvious as exposition. Daenerys meeting Grey Worm was great, though. Again I'm impressed by the language coaching on this show.

Loras and Oliver - fair enough. No need to elaborate on the plots within plots going on around Sansa, just a few quick scenes to set up what's to come - the scheming around Sansa, with Littlefinger wanting to take her to the Eyrie, Margaery wanting to marry her to Loras, etc. Works nicely.

Sansa Stark is so beautiful in her scenes this episode (well most episodes); finally a scene where I can like Littlefinger; when he talks with Sansa, there's some subtle acting going on that I appreciate. He's trying to find out if there's truth to the gay spy's information (Sansa going to wed Loras), and we already know Cersei was telling Littlefinger to find out this stuff, so it's pretty close in nature to the politicking of the books. Look how Petyr wants Sansa to want to go with him. And that last shot of Sansa. Excellent stuff.

And then we come to the final scene of the show which is simply fantastic from beginning to end. Tywin, Cersei and Tyrion together kind of ensures a great scene. Cersei's sly smiles, Tyrion's surprised looks, and Tywin's pure anger. Brilliant! I cheered when Tyrion realized he is going to wed Sansa - it is, after all, one of my favorite plot twists of A Storm of Swords. Never did I see this one coming, unlike certain other more celebrated plot twists. "That's cruel, even for you!" Tyrion tells his father, echoing the books. Perfect acting in a perfect scene with a perfect twist. Icing on the cake of course is Tywin's ambush on Cersei.

One of the better episodes, then. Now I'm excited about next week in a way I never was during the entire airing of season two. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Geek rhymes with tomato streak

Yay, I'm rather predictable. As I predicted I'd soon enough grow tired of repeatedly clicking buttons inEverquest II and last night I was able to enjoy listening to some music instead, and today I got around to start the final draft of a short story, 3,000 words down and about 2,000 to go. It feels so much better to be productive than just being, ah, reactive. That being said, now that I feel good about myself, I'll take a quick jump into the world of Norrath to see how my dark elf necromancer fares and to get a feel for where I am on the addiction scale. With some luck, I'll be out again quickly :p Kind of risky though, isn't it, but not on the  level of being an ex-drug addict just checking to see if heroin is less interesting today.

In other news, my Re-reading A Clash of Kings book might just get published after all, but with newpeople backing it. More news on this when I have given the script a new pass (haven't read it for a couple of years) - there's a lot of ifs involved yet, though. 

In other other news I actually managed to finish a novel last night, though I had to push myself through the last dissapointing third - the story in question was War in Tethyr, another Forgotten Realms novel. As I've explained I want to check out some of the Realms novels out of curiosity and to get a better grasp of the setting as I've begun running a game in this world. War in Tethyr is a vast improvement on the last Realms novel I tried (Red Magic), but still isn't anywhere near truly good fantasy like Martin, Abercrombie, Rothfuss, Erikson et al. The first half was quite enjoyable - although it took some time to get used to a talking horse as one of the main characters - even though the game system shines through at times ("She cast a fireball spell"). War in Tethyr had much better characters, with the star of the story being Zaranda...Star, who is a magic-wielding fighter doing the good deed for the people of Tethyr, a bit like Robin Hood and Lord Beric Dondarrion, but with the magic turned to eleven. The story's premise really deserves another hundred pages or so, though. It's a story of civil war and political dissent but still comes across as a bit underdeveloped and remains a fantasy yarn without the scope the story requires.

Still, the author (one Victor Milán) manages to keep men entertained through many sections although it becomes a little bit confusing toward the end (and predictable). It does bring hope that there might be some good Realms novels after all. It felt more like a story than a game's campaign journal like Red Magic did. This leaves me to finish a third Realms novel I've been chomping at, Shadowdale, and I've actually picked up The Way of Kings again (!) - the book itself doesn't seem to be picking up anytime soon, however. It's still slow and meticulous, but I was pleasantly surprised to see I remembered the main characters and their stories (which goes to show just how slow this story builds). I'd give War in Tethyr a solid 6,5 (in a good mood today, remember). The book made me consider giving Zaranda a cameo appearance in the campaign, as we're playing about a year before the events of this novel. You can read about all our two sessions so far over at Obsidian Portal in Once Upon the Realms.

You may have noticed it's been a while since the last A Storm of Swords post. You may also have noticed that this is due to two primary reasons. Everquest II and a new baby in the house. There is actually a third reason which is, as I have also written about before, that I've begun to collect all the old Forgotten Realms role-playing books, searching eBay and assorted online stores for the gems I'm still missing. Reading them as they arrive is almost like a guilty pleasure. And it makes me want to play so bad. Why am I still eighteen inside when it comes to this geek stuff? Today I feel guilty about being a family man and spending time wondering about Daggerdale's problems in Doom of Daggerdale and why Elminster who lives basically next door and is an overpowered wizard doesn't come to the aid. Ah, secondary worlds! You naughty...escapes, you. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

And Now His Watch is Ended

Just watched the fourth episode of Game of Thrones. Despite, once again, jarring stuff, that last scene was - for a television series - rather epic (if incredibly short!) and left me all exhilarated. Had to watch it twice, what a great delivery from actress Emilia Clarke the warrior princess. I loved that they ~ahem~ kept Jaime's hand in, I hadn't expected that. Quite a few interesting scenes today, Cersei/Tywin was a good one, seeing Varys taken aback (by Lady Olenna) was fun; but so much was simply not from the books in this episode that it kind of hurt a little bit none the less. The Craster scene was good but lacked emotional punch, and the episode - despite his absence - reminded me how the most butchered character is and remains Littlefinger. How good isn't Littlefinger in the books? I think I'm going to say that if I had to have one pet peeve with the show, it's the way Littlefinger/Petyr Baelish is treated, dammit. Even when the actor looks like he stepped out of the books even. Ah, but that last scene really made up for a lot, didn't it. Dracarys. Me <3 Daenerys Stormborn. What about the scene in the Hollow Hill with Sandor Clegane, Thoros of Myr and Beric Dondarrion? I don't know. Personally I felt that the scene fell a little flat, maybe because it - as far as I can tell - is a tad confusing for non-readers. I guess that with more episodes, the Brotherhood will be more settled in the viewers' minds and I am looking forward to see where they take this storyline.

Trapped in Norrath

So a while ago I was sitting with my oldest son wondering what to do and decided to show him Everquest II, which is now free to play on Steam. Sneakily I set up a Steam account on Lady Slynt's computer, downloaded the game to her machine and then I entered the world of Norrath with my son, showing him the sights and just letting him have some fun (the best part for him was the ability to write stuff in /say, and then see it displayed onscreen, which led to a whole lot of strange conversations for any onlookers, where words like 'fart' and 'pee' were bandied about).
What I did not expect was to get hooked by the game (after all, it's a 2004 release and even then it wasn't quite there). While my heir has returned to Minecraft, I've become mired in EQ2 ... again. A lot has changed in all those years within this particular secondary world and before I knew what was going on, you know, addiction-wise, I was travelling the Darklight Woods questing my hat off every time there was a spare moment in the currently otherwise rather full schedule. Not good I guess. It has put everything else I like to do kind of on the backburner because I just have to complete that quest, or go there and do that. It's Everquest II's greatest strength - there's just so much to do. A lot of options for your gameplay. It's linear and very traditional, but also different enough (and in places rather weird) to have kept me on a leash daily for the last couple of weeks or so. I wish I had a computer that was able to run it at maximum settings, but it doesn't really matter. What matters is that I have two paintings and three trophies hanging on the wall of the hallway of my apartment in Freeport, I suppose.
Well, I reckon I'll get sick of it any day now, and get back to writing that story I was working on for SFF, continue to read A Storm of Swords and all those other books on the bedside table, and watch episode four of Game of Thrones which I had frankly forgotten while I was delving deep down into an orc-infested cave system. Dangerous, very dangerous, these online worlds. Alluring and driving someone else in the household crazy. Stay tuned.

My Dark Elf necromancer posing in her hallway. Why? Oh why?!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Walk of Punishment

I hate to check the news and find out another violent tragedy has occurred. I feel sorry for everyone who got hurt or lost loved ones. At the same time, I'm seeing on the recordings shown on TV a lot of people running to help. That is a good thing. To quote Patton Oswalt, "The good outnumber you, and we always will". Words of consolation and words to think about. Then, of course, the religious extremists come out on Facebook and blame it on the "godless people". I am pretty sure that if this was a terrorist attack of any sort the people behind it will certainly not claim to be godless. Ahem. No, this isn't a blog on politics or the-long-overstayed-its-welcome inanity known as religion, so I'll shut up.

Somebody in the background should be doing the L-sign.
What with House Slynt recently having acquired a new, very small member I've been putting aside my fascination for anything fantasy to the point that I actually forgot that Game of Thrones' episode three of season three was out. Now that's quite earth-shattering. I did get to watch it last night, though. Before I did, I quickly swept by Winter is Coming and saw the following comment: Now THIS is a Game of Thrones episode, a comment that got me hyped. I found episode 2 somewhat lacking so I expected the new episode to be, if not mind-blowing, at least really good. But I found myself not finding that enthusiasm they had over at Winter.

To sum up the episode, I'd call it...jarring. There were a number of things that were, for one reason or the other, jarring. Right from the get-go, really. Who's this guy firing those arrows? Hey, it's Brutus! That was jarring, probably because I didn't know that Tobias Menzies had landed the role of Edmure Tully. I just couldn't wrap my head around the fact that he was portraying Edmure because he doesn't look like Edmure at all (as described in the books). It got even more jarring when he was standing next to the Blackfish, played by Clive Russell, who was so spot-on that it hurt. They could at least have spent a few dollars giving Tobias reddish/auburn hair and/or a beard, you know? Now Tobias himself does a great job with the little time he has, he's a class actor, but, yeah. Jarring.

On the other end of the episode, the music in the end credits wasn't so much jarring as it was jarring, rankling and dissonant. Still, I appreciate the effort of trying to go for a different vibe after Jaime losing his precious hand. But still. Jarring.

Inbetween these two scenes there was some good and some ... less good, much like the previous two episodes, but for some reason I found this one to be less interesting than the first two, possibly because I was riled up and waiting for Jaime to get his comeuppance - so I suspect it will feel better on a second viewing. 

That being said, I was very happy to see some of my complaints about the previous episode taken care of; we had Jaime pointing out how weak he was when fighting Brienne; the Locke character is played wonderfully by Noah Taylor to the point that I was able to shrug off the lack of Brave Companions; we get to see the Fist of the First Men...

...but there was more jarring going on - the Podrick Payne scene was one long jar. It just didn't work very well because it didn't come across well enough for people to realize what was going on, and it felt like an unnecessary scene by all accounts (I'll be noting that maybe there's a follow-up to this later in the season since it's in there in the first place); this long scene introducing whores by the score could have been swapped out for some better and needed exposition. Because I fear that the numbers may begin to drop anytime now for HBO; there are many characters, many plotlines and perhaps in some cases just too little information though I obviously value less exposition over more. There is a certain vagueness slipping into the show with regards to character motivations. What is going on with the Hound? Where is Thoros taking Arya? Why does Tywin send Littlefinger to the Eyrie? Not difficult to answer if you're a book reader, but I'm almost afraid the general public will become too confused - who is helping Theon and why (brilliant scenes, by the way - favorites this episode)? All these questions came up while watching with non-readers (and more). Edmure and Brynden are thrown into the show with barely a hint of who they are and I am pretty sure the writers regret not having introduced Hoster and Riverrun in season two.The episodes feel rushed, as if we have haste. Good thing about it is of course that it may bring us The Winds of Winter a couple of years early. So even when cutting out vast sections of source material for the show, it becomes a bit confusing for non-readers. That's of course when you slap them in the head with a solid copy of A Game of Thrones and yell "Get reading! This is much better!"  
What could it mean? Nazi-zombies? Spiralling madness?
 Seriously, they should spend two seasons on each book in my opinion. 

All right, so as to not sound entirely pessimistic - here's what I really liked about Episode Three:

I did like the cinematography, Riverrun especially was splendid. The small council scene with Tywin was
Who wouldn't want to be this one's bodyguard except Loras?
rather good at showing us just what kind of respect Tywin demands though the scene didn't come through well enough with regards to Petyr (probably the character from the books that has been molested the most); Daenerys was as radiant as Kraznys was despicable (their scenes together are fantastic); Richard Madden had a great scene as Robb Stark (probably his best so far); the Blackfish was perfectly cast and perfectly portrayed by the actor; Jaime and Brienne back-to-back on the horse, tied up, and Jaime getting dialogue from the book was great and - I have to reiterate - once again we see and hear just how well suited the book's dialogue already is; I'm growing fond of the portrayal of Thoros of Myr; the scene with Hot Pie and the wolf bread was endearing; Catelyn Stark once again perfectly played; Mance Rayder is growing on me in this particular incarnation; Craster is awesome (though I am worried they will change the upcoming scenes in the show - I don't "feel" as if the Night's Watch guys are set up properly to do what they do to Jeor in the books); the Walk of Punishment was appropriately biblical in its depiction of suffering and the Jorah/Barristan-combo can only become better; and, as mentioned, for me Alfie Allen was the star of the show. And in one episode, they had all the viewers reconsider their opinions about the womanizing, cruel and traitorous young man of the Iron Islands. And Nicolaj as Jaime as a good second. Actually he was amazing (again).

Only a few scenes left me cold - Talisa and the Lannister boy felt tacked on and unnecessary (as of now), as did Melisandre and Stannis' scene (though I liked well enough that they got across the point of Stannis' fires burning low); and the scene between Littlefinger, Tyrion and Ros the Boss. 

Overall, I'd rate this episode to be just below the previous one; the strongest scenes in Episode Two were stronger than the strongest scenes in Episode Three, and the weakest scenes of Episode Three were slightly weaker than the weakest scenes in Episode Two.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

No clash of kings..

The publishing of my re-reading of A Clash of Kings, and thus sequel to that book you can see to your right (you may need to scroll down a bit),  has been cancelled. I wasn't given much of a reason, to be honest, but it's at any rate a bad thing for me personally. Mostly because I put a lot more blood, sweat and tears into that one. It came out thrice as long as the first one, and I did my best to make it more of a solid book and not just a collection of blog posts. It was a much better script content-wise, more focused on the actual re-read than whining about Martin, so boo and hiss. All the posts on A Clash of Kings are still here at Stormsongs,  in their unedited form, though. The first book sold rather well (and is still selling) - I don't have any numbers for bragging purposes. So, no Re-reading A Clash of Kings: Waiting for Winter.

Oh well, looking forward to lazy and hazy days with the newborn, blogging Daenerys' meeting with Krasnyz, watching Episode Three of Game of Thrones over the weekend, listening to rebellious music and trying to finish a neat little short story I've been working on a little, where I try to mix the gritty of Westeros with the vanilla flavors of silly of the Forgotten Realms. Maybe.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Game of Thrones, Season 3, Episode Two

I'm not going to do a full review on this one for the simple fact that Lady Slynt is in labor and so I'm shuttling back and forth to and from the hospital awaiting the arrival of Mini-Slynt #2 (that won't be his real name). Still, a man has needs, and as such I watched Game of Thrones: Dark Wings, Dark Words today. For an hour - that, once again, felt like fifteen minutes at the max - I was whisked away and enjoyed most of it, and definitely disliked some of it.
Like with the previous episode, the scenes that mirror the books the most, stand out as the best - Lady Olenna Tyrell's dialogue (and acting), for one. Martin's dialogue is already so good in the books and the proof lies in her scene; and in the scenes I mentioned in the post on Valar Dohaeris. Jaime and Brienne's banter in their first scene was brilliant though, even if Martin didn't invent it - but it is very close to Martin's anyway. I am thinking specifically of Jaime's one-liner about Renly and the Iron Throne. 

So, highlights were the aforementioned Grandma Tyrell and Brienne and Jaime bantering, but there were was more goodness to be had; Theon Greyjoy's predicament is portrayed with just the right amount of horrid, and actor Alfie Allen plays it so well - and the last scene must certainly come as a surprise to book readers and I've noticed the speculation is well under way on the great Interweb. Of the many changes they do in the series, the re-arranging of story lines I feel is one of the wiser. To my surprise, I warmed quickly to the Reeds. Also to my surprise, Bran is no longer a boy. This episode had a lot of beautiful landscapes to show, giving it - at least in Bran's scenes - that sense of awe and grandeur not unlike Middle-earth in tone and atmosphere, a more adventurous feel perhaps, and it was great, as were the direwolves, the costumes etc. Brilliant scenes - with one minor caveat; why does Osha suddenly not want to hear about Bran's dreams, and why have they decided to call it black magic? Sounds kind of strange. 

Robb and Catelyn's scenes interested me the least in this episode, mainly because they were not that interesting to me personally. I did like how Robb and Jeyne W are about to kiss when Roose Bolton enters. That actor is great! What a voice! They sure like to remind us of his existence I have no idea why. Catelyn is once again played to perfection by Michelle Farley, and no I did not mind her story about Jon Snow. To me it sounds like something that easily could have been in the books. It doesn't change anything, as I've noticed some people claim. Cat's reaction when Robb talks about Winterfell...fantastic work. 

I like how the scenes often change when a character is mentioned, like when Cat says, "Have you heard anything from Theon at all?" and then we shift directly to Theon having fun with nails. This happens several times in the episode and it really gives the episode some needed "flow". 

Jack Gleeson does a great performance too in this episode as Joffrey Baratheon, there is more to him in this episode than what we usually see. Now there's several kinds of wickedness. Sansa is good too, especially when Ser Loras appears and I can feel the book come to life as she is starstruck by the Knight of Flowers. For the first time, I am buying what's-her-name-Anne-Boleyn Margaery Tyrell - she really does a great job in this episode but of course she's got some material to work with when she confronts Joffrey who's all aroused by a crossbow. 

Blink and you'll miss the Jon scene with Orell ; nice scene, they should have added some dramatic music when Orell says "dead crows" to give it more flair, I think. A better and more poignant scene is Sam almost giving up, with Dolorous Edd's honesty ("Aye, we left you. You're fat and slow..."), and the Lord Commander's way of dealing with the situation. Good scene. That guy playing Sam is so good. Perfect choice.

And then we have what I really didn't like about the episode. Arya Stark's scenes. All right, I did not dislikeactual story of A Storm of Swords - I really missed Tom Sevenstrings, Lem Lemoncloak, Jack-be-Lucky; how hard could it be to give one of the background characters here a missing eye and another a yellow cloak? Also, how did they see Gendry and Hot Pie, that was weird. Now, the new guy playing Thoros of Myr surely does a great job and I buy the character - but not as Thoros of Myr (nice to see that Anguy made the names list, though). I am well aware that they need to cut down material for time constraints, but I'd rather see three seasons of A Storm of Swords so that we could get Arya's journey more alike to what actually went down in the books (it would also give them more time for other crucial book scenes not in the show, think Riverrun). Maissie Williams does a fantastic job as usual. I would have loved to see them first meeting Tom et al, before meeting Thoros et al. Maybe I feel so strongly about this because this is where I am in the re-read. But I can't help but hope that people that like the show go on to read the books.
it either, but the scenes left me wanting more of the

Next dislike goes to Tyrion and Shae's scene. It's awkward - not in the acting, but in the dialogue. I can't make sense of it. Why would she call him a pervert and tell him he wants Sansa when there's been no indication of this from him at all? They are playing up her jealousy (and I suspect this is because of an upcoming event) but I can't buy it because her reasons are weak. Some dialogue is repeated verbatim from season two, and the scene could have been constructed differently to make it more believable. If they want Shae to be jealous, all right, but give her a good reason. 

The return of the Hound also left me a little cold, though I can't pin-point exactly why. It's not so much that it is not how it happens in the book, but the way it is done. I believe he could have been re-introduced in a more interesting way, is all.

And finally, my pet peeve of the episode, the final scene on the bridge feat. Jaime Lannister and Brienne of Tarth. It lacks a line from Jaime reminding the audience that he's shackled, that he's the greatest swordsman of the realm but realizes that his time in the dungeon has seriously hampered his ability; yes, there is heavy breathing, but it doesn't come across believably. He could have been non-chalant in the beginning, "May I remind you I am of the Kingsguard..." or "I'm the best swordsman of the Seven Kingdoms.." and then,  as she continually beats on him he could tell her she's strong as an ox and looks like one too, you know, more banter in the duel. The duel itself also didn't look very convincing.
But what I like the least about the scene is that they are picked up by Bolton men and not the Brave Companions. The scene also lacked emotional punch, I feel. They should have ended it just a little later methinks; as Martin did in the chapter, where it ends with the sword flashing above Jaime and then his scream. It's a cliffhanger of almost Falling Bran-like proportions and they decided to skip it.

So, it turned out into something of a review anyway, and I am left with a fairly good episode and the things I am the most displeased about are things - characters, really - that are missing. The Brave Companions, arguably too detestable to be shown on TV, and the lot Arya falls in with on her adventures. Yeah, we can't have it all and I'm happy with what we're getting. I think it's another solid episode, not as good as the first one of the season. It feels more like Episode I - Part II, but I'm looking forward to the third episode already with glee. And I am very very curious about how they are going to handle Riverrun which has been absent for so long yet was so prominently featured in the books. 

I think I give this one a 8.2

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

[Re-read] Arya IV: Twice in the Tub

Arya's fourth chapter already, and what a journey she's been on and is still being on. One thing that makesA Feast for Crows and most chapters of A Dance with Dragons. 'Arya IV' never feels meandering or plodding. It is efficient writing with enough color to make it vivid and interesting. I love this chapter for this, even though, perhaps unusually, there is little violence, bloodshed and/or awkward sex in it (there is the mention of cutting off boobies just for kicks, but those boobies - fortunately - were wooden and belonged to a statue). Anyhow, let's look at this chapter from the beginning. 
this chapter special - in my opinion - is how efficiently Martin moves the plot - and the characters - forward with little delay; in this short chapter, we visit several different locations, and the days go by quickly, and not a sentence feels wasted; there is characterization, there is plot detail (particularly the Ghost of High Heart's dreams, of course), there is world building (Ser Lymond and his bridge), a pinch of this and that...it has all the ingredients that makes this particular book so engrossing - and, dare I say it, this chapter highlights, by contrast, what I feel went wrong with many chapters of

As Martin often likes to do, he kicks off the chapter with a short description to set both stage and mood. This time, the stage is a small, square keep, and the mood is brought forth by describing it as half a ruin - like its master, a "great grey knight". This knight is a classic example of how great Martin is at describing a character with few words - even the smallest characters come to life. In Ser Lymond Lychester's case, it's the fact that he only is interested in speaking about that time he held the bridge against a Ser Maynard. I wonder if Martin put this in just for color, or if there's more to it - Ser Lymond and his story reminds me of the Dunk & Egg novellas in style and tone; Ser Maynard had red hair and black temper which brings to mind the Targaryens/Blackfyres (red and black) which are important to the Dunk & Egg stories; so maybe we'll see a novella featuring a young Ser Lymond holding that bridge he remembers. Pure speculation, of course - but the first paragraph really gives off a Dunk & Egg-vibe.

Turns out Arya and the crew - Harwin, Tom Sevenstrings et al - are visiting the castle searching for news on Lord Beric Dondarrion. The old knight's maester claims he was hanged half a year ago, but Lem Lemoncloak agrees that it happened, but Thoros of Myr cut him down before he died. The maester tells them to ask the 'Lady of the Leaves', and Greenbeard agrees that they will go to her and ask. The title of 'Lady of the Leaves' immediately made me think of Galadriel from The Lord of the Rings. To conclude the Ser Lymond sequence, the group passes a small bridge and they discuss whether it could be the bridge the grey knight was talking about. Interestingly, Tom Sevenstrings mentions the Dragonknight in this discussion (another link to the Targaryens). Another theory - strengthened by the fact that Lychester's sons died in Robert's Rebellion, is that Martin is setting up this knight as one who will rally to a Targaryen once a Targaryen walks the lands of Westeros again. Apparently Lychester went mad when his sons died, some for Robert Baratheon, and some for Rhaegar Targaryen/the Mad King. Interesting, no? Ah, these details.

Elegantly, Martin gives us a "Three days later", and I seriously do not mind. As much as I like to hear about the Westeros countryside, there's something to be said for an even, quick pace. The next bit is one I tend to forget between reads, I don't know why, but it kind of feels out of place. They ride through a yellow wood, Jack-Be-Lucky blows a signal on a horn, and rope ladders unroll from the trees around them, Lothlórien-style. Turns out there's a hidden village in the upper branches, "a maze of rope walkways and little moss-covered houses..." Both Tolkien's Elves and Lucas' Ewoks come to mind. It feels out of place because the location is such a trope, and A Storm of Swords is mostly about subverting and / or perverting fantasy tropes, isn't it? Fortunately, the visit to Treetop Town is brief; Tom Sevenstrings asks for Lord Beric, is told Beric is dead (again - notice the pattern). Love how real the dialogue feels (if not the town) - "The Mountain caught him, and drove a dagger through his eye. A begging brother told us. He had it from the lips of a man who saw it happen." Just the way tales are spread, innit.

Lem (again - notice the pattern) tells the Lady of the Leaves that the tale is old and false, and that the Lightning Lord is not easy to kill. We are reminded that Jack-Be-Lucky lost an eye; the Lady is relieved that Beric is alive. The lady, by the way, is "stick-thin" and "white-haired" and that's about what we get. Truly a minor character, or will she also have a role in later books? There are so many minor characters! Remember Vayon Poole? He was an all right guy. 

Martin makes another quick jump in time, to the next day when the group seeks shelter in a sept in a burned village called Sallydance. Here they meet an aged septon who is upset that all the valuables of the sept have been taken (this is where a statue's boobies have been hacked off); one simple line of dialogue shows us what kind of septon the old man is: "May the Mother have mercy on them all." He wishes mercy upon those who defiled the sept instead of cursing them. Really, for the umpteenth time, Martin excels at painting minor characters with quick strokes. Interestingly, he blames the "Northmen" for the assault on his sept. Turns out these were the fellows who left Riverrun in anger - Karstark men who are looking for Ser Jaime Lannister, to avenge the deaths of their lord Rickard's sons. Lovely how Martin never forgets to see small events through; if those Karstark guys had ridden off into the sunset in Catelyn's previous chapter, I wouldn't necessarily expect them to show up again, but here they have been, wreaking havoc in Sallydance. It is so good! Yes yes. They stay the night in Sallydance; there's a quick description of Tom Sevenstrings trying to teach Arya to use a bow, which could be setup for later ("You need a lighter bow, milady"). There's also some backstory dropped telling us there's been interaction between Tom Sevenstrings and Ser Edmure Tully; apparently Tully hates Tom Sevenstrings for having composed a song about him and his failed attempt at sexual intercourse - a song about a floppy fish (I've got to give Tom a chuckle point for that one). And like the Karstark men, this little tidbit will also be returned to. Love the details. Love love. 
Arya realizes that she will be used as ransom; the outlaws need horses, armor, weapons - and they may be able to sell her for coin. My heart almost goes out to Arya when she chews her lips and wonders whether her brother and her mother would want her back - almost, because she is a fictional character. Come on.

Another day, and now they ride to a place called High Heart, "a hill so lofty that from atop it Arya felt as though she could see half the world." Around its brow there's a ring of pale stumps which once upon a time were weirwoods. Yes, those mysterious red-leaved trees linked to the Old Gods and the Children of the Forest. Again, I associate with Tolkien's imagery. Perhaps it's the travelogue, the party of adventurers riding through mythical landscapes; perhaps it's simply that High Heart reminds me of Amon Hen (Weathertop to lay-folk). Tom explains that the place indeed was once sacred to the Children of the Forest. I like this hill. I want to see it again in a later book. That night, a storm wakes her up; the wind pulls her blanket off her so she runs to get it, conveniently placing herself in sight and hearing of the "Ghost of High Heart"; and I am pretty sure every reader of the series agrees with me that this just has to be an old Child of the Forest, or at least a character with the blood of the Children running through her veins. Flesh the color of milk, and red eyes, and tiny of stature. That should be enough really. She's like Ghost, the direwolf, only not a direwolf but of High Heart. She tells Tom, Lem and Greenbeard that "the old gods stir and will not let me sleep" - this is interesting in itself; since the lady goes on to say some stuff that comes true, it means that this also is true - but are the old gods really stirring, or is it some other power, as revealed in A Dance with Dragons? I admit to being a little bit confused about the whole Old Gods/Children of the Forest/Bloodraven /Heart Trees thing, maybe there is more that needs to become clear, but that it is all linked is for certain; note how the word 'heart', for example, is found both in heart trees and in High Heart. Anyway, the little ghost of the hill has been dreaming (which is kind of weird since she's just said that she couldn't sleep) - her visions are clearly "true visions", but other characters have also had "true visions" - but this little lady's dreams / visions seem to be very precise and spot-on with little room for alternative interpretations: "I saw a shadow with a burning heart butchering a golden stag" has already happened and is obviously Stannis, by way of shadow, murdering his brother Renly. "I dreamt of a man without a face, waiting on a bridge that swayed and swung (...)" can't be anything else but Balon Greyjoy, assassinated by a Faceless Man (most likely Jaqen H'ghar since we haven't really come to know any other faceless people); Euron Crow's Eye seems to be involved in the assassination. However, it feels kind of weird that the little lady speaks of a "man without a face" because, you know, the faceless men do have faces, even though they are borrowed. I understand why Martin writes it this way though; can't get too complicated, either. Then we have "a roaring river and a woman that was a fish," a clear reference to something we'll see later in the same book. I would love to get, say, ten more of these lines of mystic prophecy. They are intriguing, entertaining, and fun. Unfortunately, we're only told that the little lady has seen more things; instead she wants to listen to Tom sing for her (he really has to be a good singer, the way so many women like to listen to him and/or swoon before him; but don't tell Edmure). The most important thing - for Lem and Tom and the gang at any rate - is that the lady revealed to them the whereabouts of Lord Beric Dondarrion. Arya thinks it strange that they don't know where their boss is hanging out, but she gets an adequate and believable reason for this secrecy; and if you're not reminded a little of Robin Hood and his merry men, well...then I think you are strange. 

Arya tells Harwin about her experiences at Harrenhal with the Tickler, and it really is a feat that she's able to tell them without breaking down. The experience is summed up rather bluntly: Just thinking of it, she could hear the shrieks again, and smell the stench of blood and shit and burning flesh. I'm by no means a fan of violence or depravity, but I do wish they had given the scenes with the Tickler more weight and time in the television show. I never got that sense of terror that A Clash of Kings presented so ably. 

We skip ahead again, and after another day's long ride the group arrives at Acorn Hall, where they meet upfeel how Arya dislikes it, rascally thing that she is. You also get the sense that Arya's become feral in a sense. They receive supper in the hall, where the group gets into talking, revealing little bits of information for the reader (and Arya); most important perhaps is Lady Smallwood's explanation of "tansy tea" which is a cue for us when it comes to unraveling the mystery of Lord Hoster Tully who's talking about "tansy" in his fever (Martin is explaining to us that Hoster gave tansy tea to his daughter Lysa Arryn - correct me if I'm wrong, this is just my interpretation). There's more about how sexy awesome Tom Sevenstrings is, and they learn where to look for Beric Dondarrion; the Karstarks are in the area too, looking for Jaime; Arya learns that her mother freed Ser Jaime - and then she is promptly kicked out of the room so she can't hear more. Angry, she stalks away and ends up in a smithy with Gendry who followed her out. They talk a bit about Thoros of Myr - very clearly setting up the character, almost too obvious that it's setup because it feels a tad unnatural the way they talk about him); Gendry talks about his life as an apprentice to Master Mott (feels so long ago); they end up in a bit of a fight, him strong as an ox, she agile as a fox - it's a very friendly fight though; it adds to their friendship, I'd say. When they return the others burst out laughing when they see how she's torn up the dress Lady Smallwood gave her - she really is Arya, all the way. Gendry gets chided for fighting with her, and reading between the lines they are just worried that their "goods" (ransom) will be damaged. Harwin tells them she was "much the same at Winterfell"; Tom winks and sings a song about 'the maiden of the tree' which could be about Lyanna Stark and add to the sense that Arya is most like her aunt in terms of personality though I feel I'm on rotten ice here because I am not sure Tom is actually singing about Lyanna here.
with the wife of a bannerman to Lord Vance (who are bought off fighting). The wife is Lady Smallwood, an old acquaintance of Tom Sevenstrings (how does he do it?!) and the rest of the chapter takes place in this setting. In a refreshing turn of less gritty/less dangerous, Arya is dressed up in nice clothes and given a bath and you can just

Arya has to take another bath - and cut and comb her hair besides - she's like a cat, really. At least those cats I've known. Fortunately for Arya, she is given breeches, a belt and a tunic the next morning for riding. Lady Smallwood tells her that these clothes belonged to her son, which subtly reinforces the point that Arya is boyish, but it is also laden with sadness as the boy died when he was seven, and Arya suddenly feels bad for Lady Smallwood, and sorry for tearing up the dress - which is nice because it reminds us that Arya is still also an emphatic person. 

And that's where the chapter ends - no cliffhanger in sight and that's perfectly fine. The chapter is more like a glimpse into Arya's travels with a few tidbits, "spoilers" in the form of visions on the hill, setting up Beric and Thoros. There is a sense of "epic fantasy", but it remains grounded in the harsher, medieval world of Westeros; my only complaint here is that the "treetop town" feels out-of-place. A very nice read. 

Coming up: Daenerys and foul-mouth Kraznys. I think I'd like a chapter where Kraznys and Shitmouth go at each other verbally. For a few pages at any rate.. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

To Read or to Read More

My reading of novels is going slow at the moment. I'm still infected by the Forgotten Realms-virus and so I have been reading through my old source books (and a few new ones I ordered from the fantastic online store for used/out-of-print/new gaming material, Noble Knight Games - excellent service) with an interest in reacquainting myself with the setting since I've started a campaign in it. So while novels have been languishing, I've had a good time reading Cormyr, The Ruins of Zhentil Keep, Anauroch, The Bloodstone Lands, The North, Volo's Guide to the Sword Coast, Adventures, The Moonshae Isles, Elves of Evermeet, Secret of the Magister and heaps more. There really is a lot of setting information available and it is full of good and not so good inspiration. I'm restricting this investigation to 2nd edition material (that is, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons) which is more than enough. There are boxed sets, campaign expansions, pre-written adventures, accessories and everything in between and this has kind of accelerated so now I'm hunting for those books I'm missing. 

However, yesterday's Game of Thrones season three premiere had me itching for some good old George A Storm of Swords to bed. It was like revisiting an old friend...in bed. Kind of. First there was the Arya chapter that I'll post about next, and then came the chapter where Daenerys goes to buy Unsullied, which was extra fun of course since I watched the episode twice yesterday. The book did confirm what I said in my post yesterday, that this scene (and the Tywin/Tyrion scene) were very close to the source material. In the book, Kraznys has even more lines of foul dialogue but all in all the scene followed the book closely dialogue-wise; I had forgotten that Daenerys understood Kraznys' words, so it was a fun experience to re-read the scene right after watching the show. 
R.R. Martin so I brought a copy of

I did a little rearranging of my bookshelves last night before reading as well, and I re-arranged my outrageously large to-read-pile. I'm about 3/4 done with another Realms novel, War in Tethyr, and halfway through yet another Realms novel, Shadowdale, but I want to get cracking on those fantasy novels that have been lying around for so long that I believe will be good reads, and of course I still have to finish Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings (three years now it's been on my night table). While checking out them shelves I also felt a sudden urge to re-read Joe Abercrombie's The First Law trilogy and R. Scott Bakker's The Prince of Nothing trilogy. Ack, the days are so short and the fantasy worlds so large. No, I have to get on with it and read fresh stuff. Until Steven Erikson's Fall of Light appears, of course. In the to-read pile I found a few interesting titles that I have stacked on the night table for the coming months, now all I have to do is actually read them (Winterbirth, The Stormcaller, The Broken Council and The Mongoliad - I believe I have started at least three of these without ever getting further). And then there is the brilliance of an entire row of Malazan books that I'd like to revisit. They are whispering to me with all their magnificence. But I can't just roam around in the Malazan Empire all the time either, those books are so long and complex...but they are so good...when I discovered how joyful re-reading Gardens of the Moon and the first half of Deadhouse Gates was...oh man.

Ah well. Having too much to read is a luxury and I really can't complain. But if more fantasy series were turned into TV shows, now that could save some time. So here's to seeing the worlds and characters of Abercrombie, Rothfuss, and all the others on the TV screen, made possible through the success of Game of Thrones.

Monday, April 1, 2013

[Review] Season III, Episode I: Valar Dohaeris

Spoilers galore! Ye have been warned.

All right, it's Game of Thrones time again. Feels like only a few months since I was all excited about learning that a TV show based on A Song of Ice and Fire could become a reality. And now we're hitting A Storm of Swords already. I know at least one guy who should be feeling stressed about that.

I liked the first season well enough, despite the changes to the book. I've always thought the books are pretty much ready to go as script material, and I think a lot of great dialogue from the books should have been kept intact (alas!), but they managed a nice balance in the first season. I also think they did an outstanding job with casting, and many of the actors of the show now pop up in my head when re-reading the books.

I was disappointed with season two, thought they strayed too far from the books, and some of the new actors didn't have "the look" I was hoping for - whereas people like Varys, Littlefinger, Bran Stark, Sansa Stark and Ser Barristan Selmy (to name a few) looked like they were teleported out of the books and onto the TV screen, I found it harder to wrap my head around the look of the actors portraying Ser Davos Seaworth, Melisandre, Margaery Tyrell, and Xaro Whatshisname Ducksauce. That, together with the aforementioned straying from the book (A Clash of Kings) made me less invested in the series to the point that I have only rewatched it once (see a post from not too long ago) - but I admit it improved massively on a second viewing. 

So there I was ready for season three. And no matter how many disappointments being a fan of the series has brought me personally (mostly in the form of long waits), I was still hyped up and ready - if apprehensive.

Valar Dohaeris was a pleasant surprise. The increased production values, the acting, and a core that felt more in harmony with the book (even though, again, there were some massive changes), some solid dialogue, interesting set and costume designs and a nice pace between scenes all had me digging this episode as much as the first season. 

The strongest scene by far was a simple verbal confrontation between father and son - Lord Tywin Lannister and Tyrion Lannister. The producers should take note that this scene was perhaps the closest to the book, and it worked like seven hells. As I said, Martin's prose is already so good, why go around and change so much of the dialogue? In this scene, we finally get to see a little of the Tywin as he is in the book, and Peter Dinklage's acting here is just icing on the cake. 

In contrast, perhaps the weakest scene is the opening of the show with Samwell Tarly running, getting attacked by a wight, and then rescued by Ghost and Lord Commander Mormont. It felt very cheap, what with the black screen and sounds, and all of a sudden there's only one wight around after season two gave us at least a hundred. However, it was the dialogue that irked me the most, with Mormont asking Sam if he got the ravens off and Sam saying, uhm, no? I wonder why they changed this. And I miss Chett, dammit with his angry boils. 

Daenerys' scenes were enjoyable, and the second strongest scene has to be her going to check out the Unsullied - and again, it is a scene that is quite close to the book. Take note, producers! The books are in fact better than your changes, and maybe just maybe the show can work with more of the books' dialogue intact. Just saying. 

Oh well; when an hour's episode feels like ten minutes, it has to be somewhat entertaining am I right? I liked Davos' scenes (though I still don't "see" the actor as Davos), Margaery Tyrell's scenes were enjoyable (again, I think they found the wrong actress for the character look-wise, but she did a great job I admit); Bronn was and remains a highlight, and once again Tyrion Lannister had some fun lines ("You must be proud to be as funny as a man with his balls hanging to his knees" or something to that effect had me chuckle). 

It is hard getting over the fact that this is an adaptation; I still think they are too far away from the source material and hopefully they drag themselves a little closer to the line. The only apt comparison I can think of is The Lord of the Rings movies, which also had drastic changes but more often than not were closer to the book they were based on (or I'm remembering this all wrong, could be). 

A Storm of Swords is just so damned good, it feels like a shame not to stick close to it even for a TV show.
I am well aware that non-readers find the series confusing enough, and they have a schedule and a budget and yadayadayada, but, again, there's a fine line between adaptation and "inspired by". There was a sequence with Bronn and a whore and Pod picking him up that could have been spent on more dialogue or character actually from the book....

...it's so weird to both like and be frustrated by Game of Thrones. All in all, I call Valar Dohaeris a successful premiere episode, perhaps the best of the three so far, and I am eagerly anticipating episode two next week. I do wonder why they chose to call it Valar Dohaeris though. My guess is the Unsullied and Ser Barristan Selmy's return. 

Oh, one more note; gotta love the shout-out to Tyrion's not-hacked-off nose from Cersei. And the dragons looked great. And I have almost gotten over the fact that King's Landing doesn't look like King's Landing at all. And I loved the panoramic shots of Astapor, the Red Keep, Robb's host...and the surprise appearance of Qyburn did come as a surprise. I hope this doesn't mean we lose the Bloody Mummers...

Episode I, Valar Dohaeris: 8.8