Monday, June 16, 2014

Game of Thrones 4.10: The Children

[Spoilers for everything Ice & Fire]
Three minutes ago, I finished watching the episode. The last episode of the season. How time flies when Game of Thrones is a weekly event, and how time flies during the initial viewing of an episode! Even this one, the longest episode to date (if I'm not mistaken), felt like a twenty-minute episode. This, obviously, should be counted as a good thing. It is never boring. And, for all the radical changes made to the narrative and structure, it still has all the main characters right where they should be in the end, and mostly in a situation or location which is quite close to what the books told us. Quite an accomplishment, yet those radical departures from the book keep tugging at a reader's sensibilities, and once again (I have said this so many times before, but the point stands) the scenes that are the closest to the source material are the best. Martin really wrote a cinematic epic with A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords, and in my opinion certain changes to the narrative where completely unnecessary as Martin's solution was already excellent. That being said, there are changes for the better, too. All right, let's take a closer look at what episode ten delivered. A bit sad that it's over (again), but hey, the next season is under a year away and that's really short compared to the waits between books.

Dazed and confused, I have to say that overall, I both liked and didn't like the episode. There was good stuff that had me hailing the screen with the signature heavy metal hand sign (also known as "devil's horns" but fingers have very little to do with mythological dark lords), and there were scenes that had me go Huh?! and even a bit which I found almost embarrassing to watch. While a lot of the plot was wrapped up neatly and the characters were positioned for next season, that which rang the loudest was the absence of some pivotal material from A Storm of Swords. Material that could easily have been put into the series, what with all the short episodes that could have used some extra meat. The whole Craster's Keep mutiny detour is an example of material the show didn't really need and the time could have been used to, you know, actually put more from the actual book into the show. First and foremost, I had really expected to see Lady Stoneheart. I must have misread something yesterday, because I thought I read that she was in the show and so I looked forward to seeing this scene as it would have been a perfect ending for the episode instead of the rather cliched 'lone hero staring out across the sea on to new adventures' thing we got. Lady Stoneheart would have been disturbing, it would have made people reel, it would have people excited for the next ten months or so, and it would've brought the Brotherhood characters (some of them at any rate) back for a final scene, as their presence just kind of faded away. Anyway, they did give us a shocker in episode two this season, so maybe they are planning for Lady Stoneheart to make her ghastly presence known early in season five (though in this case I'd still argue that ending this season with her would have more impact). I do not miss the Tysha backstory, however; in the books, it comes up between Jaime and Tyrion during the rescue, and drives a wedge between them. I'd love to have the two brothers reunite in happiness, and keeping Tysha out of it might just foreshadow this. Also, it allows for Tyrion scenes free of the endlessly repeated mantra from A Dance with Dragons. I really don't care where whores go. So, having seen all episodes, I'd argue that the writers could have done a better job adapting the source material, fleshing out the episodes with more relevant stuff here and there, but at the same time they do an admirable job giving us these episodes and I respect their decisions even if I disagree at times. And the really good stuff is really good. So let's see what actually was in the episode as opposed to what could have been in the episode. But Lady Stoneheart and Coldhands, man they should have been in there. And Jhalabhar Xho, of course.

Scene 1: Jon and Mance meet again
Jon Snow trudging through the woods, passing wildling corpses, crows feasting. Great shots, good camerawork. I like it. Kit Harrington has improved a lot during this season and I have come to like him as Jon Snow, which I didn't before. Love how the camera follows Jon over his shoulder toward Mance's tent. Mance Rayder is fantastic, and the dialogue and the tension between the two characters is top-notch. One of the best scenes of the episode, if not the best. The threat is palpable, and the surprise when the horns blow feels real and now that Stannis comes charging at last, I don't mind it hasn't already happened, though I must say that I feel the scene would have been stronger if it ended episode 9 instead of opening episode 10. Still, fantastic shots, especially those lingering on Mance and Jon, there's a little shakiness to it that helps sell the tension, very well directed. The acting chops on display by CĂ­rian Hinds (sorry if I'm misspelling him) makes me forget he doesn't look like Rayder at all (to my mind, anyway). It's quite a long scene too, but it feels filled to the brim with necessary stuff, giving it enough room to breathe before the surprising horns are heard. I'll give these first eight minutes or so a score of 9.

Scene 2: Stannis the Mannis Has Arrived
Fantastic shots of Stannis' army riding into the woods, the Wall in the background. The overhead shots, the flying banners, it all looks pretty good, and a good choice to cut between Mance and Jon awaiting whatever's coming toward them so non-readers can wonder along with them. It is impossible not to think of The Lord of the Rings when seeing this, but it stands on it own due to being more brutal, and of course, colder. The closer the army gets to the center of Mance's camp, the closer the camera shows Mance's face, I like that. And then Stannis and Davos come riding through the haze. I think Stannis should wear his crown, but that's a minor nitpick. Them walking forward all cool while being attacked and narrowly saved by a horse trampling down an attacker: Silly and unnecessary! Priceless looks on people's faces all around. Mance is looking so much more regal than Stannis! Hinds is such a great actor, look at his reaction when Jon Snow kind of saves him (tells Stannis to imprison him rather than execute him). I love how the Others' theme is used to point out Jon's warning to burn the dead. Another good scene then, quite impressive when you consider this is a production for TV. Another scene deserving a 9.

Scene 3: Frankenstein & the Monster
I admit I am surprised they kept this scene in, and gave it so much time. Of course, Cersei and Qyburn's relationship is important for the next book/season so there's that. But what this scene really tells me is that Ser Gregor still has a role to play, all but confirming the identity of Ser Robert Strong (not that I ever doubted his identity). Creepy Qyburn is creepy. Cersei dismisses Grand Maester Pycelle, showing us that she rather trusts Qyburn's less savory methods of maestering. Still, I feel as if the scene is missing something; some tension, perhaps; maybe it doesn't work because of the preceding scenes. Some of the maester's instruments (especially that giant syringe) looked a little bit weird. Maybe they should've made the scene even creepier to bring it home properly. A 7.

Scene 4: Daughter & Father
Lena Heady has been consistently excellent as Cersei Lannister, in my opinion, even though it took me a while to warm up to her playing one of my favorite pre-A Feast for Crows characters in the series. When she shows up to have a talk with Lord Tywin her father, Lena really is Cersei Lannister. Emmy!! Tywin must be pretty frustrated that all his children are going against him in different ways. Some exposition here to help the non-viewers, and finally we hear something more about the betrothal to Ser Loras Tyrell. Love how Cersei interrupts her father (for the first time?). Charles Dance is consistently excellent as well. As for changes for the better, here's one - I think it was a great choice by the writers to have Cersei tell her father that the rumors are true. She is her brother's lover. Look at Charles' face when she tells him, refusing to believe, until she states it outright and even then he seems to refuse to believe it but Cersei knows now that he does know. Poor Tywin. All he did for the family, and now his family falls apart - because of him, partially. A solid 8.

Scene 5: Brother & Sister
For the third scene in a row we have Cersei Lannister played by Lena Heady and it's another good scene. I like Jaime and Cersei's interaction, and the much debated scene from earlier in the episode was, in my mind at least, not that big a deal after all. When Cersei tells her brother she chooses him, I believe her. It should be a disturbing relationship. Great acting from Lena again. To think it's already four years since we first saw them standing together, watching Jon Arryn with coins on his eyes. Another solid 8.

Scene 6: Daenerys Titles Titles 
It happened in A Dance with Dragons, and it seems to happen in the TV show: Daenerys' story is becoming less than interesting. Static is the word, I believe. First she has one former slave asking to become a slave again. I like the performances here, the lighting and the camerawork; and the point is driven home that Daenerys has a deal to learn when it comes to ruling Meereen. And, thankfully, the TV show can condense her story so we don't need all the boredom from the novel. At the same time this condensing of her story leads to a less complex Daenerys. She seems to be thinking only in black and white but maybe that's the point. Next up is the fellow with the child o' bones. I love the guy they found to play this fellow, he is so different; his voice, his face, great voice acting. BUT (and this goes for the book as well if I remember correctly) why would he be cradling a charred skeleton? I half expected a pristine body. Know what I mean? Of course he'd bring the bones to show Daenerys, but the way he holds those bones...awkward. Nitpick, though. Maybe it's realistic.
I love the gorgeous shots of Daenerys and the dragons entering the catacombs, fantastic location. Great CGI for the dragons (again) - and lovely music in the background (now I am sure this season has the best soundtrack). BUT those chains that handily await and the way Daenerys so simply fits them around the dragons' necks looks ridiculous. Also, why close the door. Give them a little light at least. I didn't like this solution in the books and I don't like it in the show. It just seems so overly stupid to chain them up in a dark dungeon like this, it should really go against Daenerys' instincts. Yes, she sheds a tear but there should be a better solution. Also it was fricking Drogon who killed that child, not Viserion or Rhaegal dammit. The warrior queen is gone now. Sad. So both good and bad in this one. Fantastic visuals, sorry plot development. A 6.

Scene 7: Their Watch is Ended
Maester Aemon presides over the fallen and Jon and (remaining) friends light the pyres. Again, the music adds that extra dimension of tragedy, but the real kicker here is Melisandre looking at Jon over the pyres, setting up season five. Short but sweet scene. 8.

Scene 8: Jon and Tormund (and Ygritte, kind of)
I like how they sell Jon's love for Ygritte in the aftermath of the battle, it works. Good scene. Jon is a little bit his old self with his grumpy voice in the scene with Tormund. Tormund tells him to go burn Ygritte out beyond the Wall because she belongs to the North and Jon complies. Lingering, sad scene with Jon burning Ygritte, tearing up. It brings his love story to a close, satisfactorily. 8.

Scene 9: Bran & the Skeletal Crew
Whoah, what the fuckety! I did not expect Jojen to die, so that was a surprise. They have finally reached the mystical tree (complete with high fantasy-esque tunnel below the roots, love it): Again we get a certain Lord of the Rings-ish feeling both in music and stunning visuals when they come up to the tree, their faces bathed in gold. I suppose the Jojen Paste theory will come true in the books then - they just ended him differently in the show. Not sure what to think of the skeletons. Loved the first surprise when the hands shoots up from the ice to grab Jojen; but I'm not sold by the CGI here. Once more the contrast between the "realistic" King's Landing scenes and the out-and-out high fantasy here is jarring. Like how Bran once more wargs Hodor to settle business; and I am absolutely relieved to see they went for a design with the Children that I can live with. I half-expected miniature Elves. This was good. The Children throwing fireballs was not very interesting though; not a very creative solution to the situation in the scene if you ask me. And then we're already in the tunnel and ready to face the Three-Eyed Raven. And I was dissapointed. It's just an old man sitting in a tree, looks like. I feel the character should have resembled the book description a lot more. He should have just one eye. He should be more visibly part of the tree, roots growing in and out of his flesh; he should look and feel much more...horror-like. Now he looks like an old doddering maester who couldn't find the Castle Black privy and ended up here to take a dump instead. I wonder what non-readers make of this scene. Music is excellent again. Hard to rate this sequence, both good and bad again. 6, then.

Scene 10: Brienne, Pod, Arya, Hound
Another surprise for me (I was relatively unspoiled) - Brienne and Sandor face-off! And behold, it was good. Mostly. Rory McCann did a great Hound this episode (well, he's been good all season to be honest); Gwendoline Christie does a great job as Brienne, too, notice the surprise on her face when she realizes who Arya is, listen to her voice cracking as she tries to convince Arya to come with her: Excellent! Lots of nice visuals, like Arya standing ready with Needle, Brienne standing there resting her hand on the hilt of Oathkeeper, Sandor twisting it all around so Brienne almost becomes like a Lannister lackey, and, once again, Maisie Williams is Arya by now. I love how the Hound and Arya still end up the way they did in the books, though. Makes me wonder what they will do with Brienne and Pod next season; of course, they haven't really done anything they actually did in A Feast for Crows so maybe I'm not really wondering at all. By the Seven, the Hound is fantastic in this episode. "Go on, Brienne of fucking Tarth..." ... "Safety? Where the fuck's that?" Perhaps my favorite sequence of the episode, tied with the first scenes with Mance and Jon and Stannis. Arya taking his silver and walking off...excellent. And I love how they are not making the Hound too likable when he begins talking about Mycah's murder and how he should have raped Sansa, but you can read it as him just trying to make Arya angry enough to kill him - ambiguity is good. 9.

Scene 11: Jaime, Tyrion Rescue
Short and lacking some tension (the characters seem a little carefree I suppose), but I like it; especially the hug. Made me tear up just a little bittle. 7.

Scene 12: Tyrion reunites with Shae a little
Intense, emotional scene. Good acting. While I like the way it was shot it does feel weird that they don't have a conversation. A "Whyyyy?" would go a long way. It was almost as if the episode suddenly lost its audio. The lack of dialogue took away something here rather than added, in my opinion. 7

Scene 13: Privy Council
The lord Hand sure had a long distance to cover just to take a dump. Also, those long corridors don't help sell the illusion they are in a tower. The interaction between father and son is fantastic, well acted, good choice of dialogue bits, can't complain too much about this scene. The story itself of course takes a nosedive after losing such a fascinating, strong character as Tywin is, but right now, this is a very well executed scene with niggles so minor I don't care mentioning them. 8.5

Scene 14: Valar Morghulis
I don't feels suitably cinematic. It looks good. But it doesn't punch you in the face telling you to pay attention 'cause next season will rock your bones to pulverized bits filtered out through your pores. But mostly this epic, yet tender, conclusion to the season serves to remind me that we should've had Lady Stoneheart here just about now. 6

Phew, and that's that! Overall a nice episode but my favorite this season's has to be #8. The Red Viper didn't leave my mind for a week. He made a lasting impression (and I don't mean his brains spattered all over the tiles).


  1. Some quibbles: Tyrion popping up through the floor without explanation I found a bit weak. Listening closely, we got the economical innuendo that Varys was in cahoots with Jaime to spring Tyrion. WAY too much implied story for me without the interesting aspects of Varys double life of the absentee Gaoler, and Tyrions soul searching/agonizing climb through the walls of the TOtH. REALLY sorry they dragged Ygritte's story further out, instead of further increasing the depth and tension prior to offing Tywin. (Or for that matter spent 5 useless minutes in a previous episode on a pointless budding romance between grey worm and missandei.) And Varys just plops down next to the Tyrion crate? Those sailors are surely going to blab that in ports all over the free cities and Westeros. (It could have been much more plausible with his Gaoler identity in tact.)

    HOWEVER - the show runners are hitting home runs on story editing choices generally.

  2. Is there even a Tower of the Hand in the series?

  3. Some kind of separate residence is mentioned a few times - during a council meeting for instance when Joffery shows up and Tywin offers to have him carried over for the next one? I just read the latest GRRM interview at Entertainment weekly. It sounds like we're going to get more of the event detail leading up to the Tywin take down in the book narrative. Likely they'll revisit the scene in flashbacks, or at least dialogue in the HBO series.

    Diverting here to the events planned for season 5, it's clear why the show runners had to have the sit down with GRRM to discuss the full arc of every character. The Northern arc notwithstanding, If they stick to the remaining documented events, it's going to be a relatively boring season. It makes sense to take a bit of a breather for season 5, however I think we're going to get much deeper into the untold story. AND... my prediction is GRRM actually never publishes TWOW. You heard it here first.