|A more honest title would be "The Door of Black and White"|
Seeing another episode based on my favorite book series is of course always a treat, though just how well I like the treat varies from episode to episode (sometimes wildly). While I think this is the best show that was ever offered on TV from a technical viewpoint (the episodes looks like proper movies these days), I do not always agree with the characterizations (and, linked to that, their dialogue) and certainly not with all the design choices made at Team HBO. Fortunately, so far, they have done more right than wrong in my opinion and it has been fun to follow the series. I'm more apprehensive now that the show is moving into unwritten territory, yet at the same time I'm too curious not to watch - which is a way of saying I really wish we had The Winds of Winter by now. Unfortunately, George R.R. continues to write novellas about black gates (that's so Tolkienesque), kennels and sundry. I get it, he's really concerned about the Hugo Awards or something but think of all that time and all those words spent on this subject matter - I'd wager he's written, in terms of length, at least one Ice & Fire chapter, maybe two - if Winds ends up as long as Dance, that constitutes a whopping 2.7% closer to completion if he had spent that time on the book. Oh well, I guess we can wait a few more years. What's a few years between an author and those who he is not a bitch of? Let's soothe our aching souls with another GoT episode then - but it does get harder and harder to momentarily forget that what we are actually doing while watching, is waiting. And waiting some more. AND now. The House. Of Black and also White.
|The Titan of Braavos says, "OH Hell's yea! SHOWtime!"|
Scene 1: Arya arrives in Braavos.
The scene opens somewhat unexpectedly with a close-up shot of Arya looking up at the Titan of Braavos, last seen when Stannis and Davos went to Braavos. It surely is a tourist magnet, but I find the rest of Braavos - what little we see of it anyway - more interesting in terms of seeing if the writers/producers "got it" - and they did - Braavos, for my part, looks exactly as I imagined it from the books, and feels much more faithful aesthetically than, say, King's Landing or Winterfell. As always with the show, characters aboard ships look obviously filmed against a green screen with the sea added in post-production, but I don't really care about that. I do wonder if the non-readers are able to mentally visualize where Braavos is compared to Westeros? They do have several minutes of maps in the show's intro, of course, but still. Anyway. The captain who accepted Arya as a passenger because she had Jaqen's coin is giving her (and the viewers) some exposition and reminding us a little bit. I enjoyed the shots of the captain rowing her through the city so that we could get a better look at the city, giving us a real good impression of the place. What I'm trying to say is that I like that they let us savor this culture for a little while, instead of hastening on to the actual point of the scene. We are kind of on Arya's shoulders, looking with her at this new and strange place. When the captain finally puts her ashore before the House, we are ready to move on. I had learned beforehand, somewhere on the web, that we would see the return of Jaqen, so the moment that sour-faced fellow opened the door I knew that it was Jaqen wearing a different face, since the show is being economical with the characters. It may be the slowest start to an episode in the history of the season, with Arya not allowed inside and the episode spending a lot of time on Arya just sitting outside waiting, and waiting some more, but it adds strength to the scene in my opinion, as it allows us to really feel how long Arya is patient. I think they shouldn't have abbreviated Arya's kill list, though, but maybe that's because they know which characters are necessary for her to mention - The Mountain, Cersei, Meryn Trant, and Walder Frey - for the god of death surely will hear her prayers (incidentally, this means we will see Walder die, which is something the books haven't hinted at in such an obvious manner, correct me if I'm wrong).
Hewing close to the books is of course another good thing about the episode's slow-simmering start, and thus the first scene (or collection of scenes involving Arya) earn a solid 8.5.
Scene 2: Brienne/Pod at Westeros' Only Inn and what-do-you-know-there's-Littlefinger-and-Sansa-too.
This scene, however, is so totally not in the books. Pod is looking up at a tavern wench with this huge silly smile on his face (foreshadowing him becoming the eventual owner of the place, or falling in love with this girl/woman? I don't know; but they added this little detail for a reason I suppose); as he follows her with his eyes (oh wait a minute - that's why they did it, of course - to have him follow her with his eyes in this manner allows him to notice Sansa and Littlefinger sitting at a different table) he notices the Lord of the Vale. Another little detail that I like is that we see Petyr fishing out bits from the stew (or whatever it is), adding a little characterization here. Sansa isn't really Sansa anymore, is she, becoming an "observant young lady", as if seeing Littlefinger receive a message (previous episode) was hard to notice. They are really hastening Sansa's growth into a player of the game of thrones now, whereas in the books she still has much to learn. Brienne walks over, tries to convince Sansa she's come to rescue her, but Littlefinger plays her and Sansa so that Sansa decides to stick with Littlefinger. Brilliantly acted by Gwendoline Christie, she's really one of the best in the show, but I can't say I like the scene much, and while he still looks perfect for Littlefinger, I just can't get myself to like the character as he is acted. Still, the scene works - it is not hard to understand why Sansa decides to stick with Petyr, or why Brienne gets so angry in failing to convince Sansa - thereby not being able to fulfill her oath to Catelyn Stark, the Seven rest her soul (apparently). The scene builds nicely in tension, though. I can feel Brienne's frustration, Gwendoline's just that good. I hope her acting skills are put to good use in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
This scene, I give a 6.5. And I can't help but wonder if we'll see Brienne and Pod moving north in the books as well. And where did the Jaime/Brienne-plot go? I assume, based on this episode, that in Winds, Jaime will tell Brienne to go find Sansa or something and then he goes to Dorne? I wouldn't be surprised, to be honest.
Scene 3: Horse Chase Scene
Lots of good camera moves and shots, good sound effects, and after two slow scenes the episode needed a little action, which we get. Brienne sees Sansa and Littlefinger escape and decides to follow them. Pod is getting a little better at riding, at least it looks that way until his horse throws him off and into a river. I have to say that Daniel Portman does an outstanding job as Podrick Payne as well; I particularly liked his feeble attempt at throwing a rock at one of the Arryn knights. A little bloodshed reminds us of what show we're watching. But will we see Brienne and Pod ride north in the books, to follow Sansa? It seems that Littlefinger is going to Winterfell with her - what plan could he possibly have there? Has he allied with Roose Bolton? Time will hopefully tell.
Scene 4: Cersei summons Jaime
Cersei is distraught, having received a snake idol with Myrcella's medallion hanging from it. Cersei tells Jaime it's a threat, the Dornish blame them for the death of Elia Martell and now Oberyn Martell, the Red Viper. We are reminded that Jaime is Myrcella's father, but that he never was a father to her (or the two boys) because "they would be stoned in the streets". I kind of chuckled because I imagined Joffrey in some dark alley smoking pot, but I suppose Jaime is talking about actual rocks being thrown. The point of the scene is to send Jaime to Dorne, to rescue Myrcella from the clutches of the Martells - in secrecy, so as to not start a war with Dorne. I have no idea why sending Jaime to Dorne seemed like a good idea to the writers of the show, considering the fact that Jaime's story in A Feast for Crows takes him in the opposite direction - to the Riverlands north of King's Landing. Is his story in Feast of so little importance that they can give him an entirely new storyline? If yes, why? The acting here is solid, but I can't really enjoy this as it's not the story of the Kingslayer and the Justice going north to lift the siege of Riverrun.
Scene 4: Jaime fetches Bronn
A scene with Bronn automatically gains points - actor Jerome Flynn really made Bronn his own. He always gets some nifty dialogue, and plays the role to the hilt. Jaime comes to ask him to go with him to Dorne, knowing how good a swordsman he is. So having Bronn train him (instead of Ilyn Payne) ended up being an idea that actually anchored this scene - the writers have an actual reason to have the two go together on Cersei's stealth mission. I like the interplay between Bronn and his new wife, and how Bronn insinuates that he can remove the sister who stands to inherit the Stokeworth lands. That's pretty cold, but entirely in character. Well, I might not like the huge changes to the books (even though I don't particularly care for Feast and Dance - although I'm feeling a change toward being more positive now on my re-read), but I do like the pairing of Bronn and Jaime (not as good as Tyrion and Bronn, but still - I like duos made of awesomesauce).
Scene 5: Dorne!
And finally we get to actually see Dorne. A tiny part of Dorne, anyway. Ellaria Sand has been given Obara's role from the 'Captain of the Guards', with some dialogue lifted straight from the books - and again, it makes the scene stand out as better than the material written by D & D. The water gardens look good, new actor Alexander Siddig does a good job portraying the Prince of Dorne himself, Doran Martell, older brother of Oberyn. Since the show introduces the three Sand Snakes - Obara, Nym, and Tyene - as seen in the teasers, I wonder why they didn't have Obara come up to Doran in this scene; obviously it makes more sense since Ellaria was already introduced thirteen episodes ago and witnessed Oberyn's fall, thus there are higher emotional stakes at play...and now I wonder where Ellaria is in the novel - can't remember. I don't care that they made Areo Hotah be a totally different looking fellow from the book as his role is brief and of little importance yet somehow I'm annoyed that he doesn't have a longaxe. Well acted scene, giving the viewers the Dornish point of view (but perhaps not showing us enough of who Doran truly is behind that somewhat blank face), and I do like the aesthetics here which are suitably Dornish in style and coloration. Perhaps the most important bit here is Ellaria telling us that the Sand Snakes will have the support of the people, and that the Prince isn't as popular as he would have liked to be. Doran does come across as a more benevolent man than most any other leader we've met in the show (aside from Robb Stark and Jon Snow); he seems even nicer than Ned Stark. "We do not mutilate little girls, not here." But ... elsewhere? Perhaps not as nice after all.
Scene 6: Daario and Grey Worm looking for Harpies
Daario has the proper swagger here, more so than in the previous season, and while Huisman is an excellent actor I still can't get over the fact they changed actor between seasons three and four. Still, Daario in the show is a whole lot easier a pill to swallow than the one we got in the books. I like the design of the Harpy masks. It's a short scene, meant to enlighten the viewer on the newest threat to Daenerys' rule of dreaded Meereen, the Sons of the Harpy.
Scene 7: Daenerys' council re: the Harpies
Dany is looking worried, Ser Barristan is kewl, love his deep dark voice. They argue back and forth around the table, including Hizdahr, who I assume they are setting up as the secret leader of the Harpies, and the viewers learn that the political dynamics and culture of Meereen is quite different from Westeros, as shown through the contrast between Barristan Selmy and that former slave. Who the hell is he, anyway? The council is adjourned and Barristan asks for a word. He tells Daenerys that the Mad King was indeed a tad mad. "Your enemies did not lie." He tells her the truth about her father, and it isn't a nice thing to hear about your own dad I suppose. Their talk is the highlight of the scene in terms of acting with Barristan stealing the show. Daenerys turns around quickly after the speech deciding the Harpies will have fair trials and not executions.
Scene 8 - Tyrion and Varys in a box
The other comical duo (beside Jaime and Bronn; I don't count Brienne and Pod, as Pod's funny but Brienne's not) is Varys and Tyrion. Any duo becomes fun if Tyrion is one half of it, I suppose. I've always liked his interactions with other characters. His wit and sarcasm is always nicely juxtaposed with whatever traits the other characters have - Bronn's pragmatism, Cersei's suspicions, and now, Varys' riddles and droll wit. Tyrion, inside "this fucking box", is still drinking. Varys reminds us that Cersei has offered a reward for Tyrion's head. Varys seems annoyed with Tyrion's incessant complaining. Some snappy dialogue in this scene, some from the books, some new - every pile of shit next to the road carrying someone's banner is pretty funny. Tyrion seems to regret killing Shae; the scene shows that Tyrion is struggling internally with the monstrous crime he has committed. Varys seems to have a lot of faith in Tyrion's skills. Peter Dinklage is great, again, making an otherwise static scene interesting.
Scene 9 - Cersei receives dwarf's head, Qyburn is creepy
Straight from the books, we have someone show up with some dwarf's head, Cersei immediately telling them it's "wrong". Oh, the compassion for the innocent, murdered man! Ser Meryn Trant is given a little dialogue to remind everyone just what a despicable man he is (this, coupled with him still being on Arya's list, makes me suspect he'll be on the receiving end of a certain Needle as seen in one of the Winds preview chapters). I really like show-Qyburn; he doesn't come off as this occult, disgusting maester, but I think it works anyway, in the sense that Qyburn looks like a nice grandpa yet he wants the dwarf's head for his experiments. Love that look he's got on his face, one eyebrow slightly higher than the other, as if he's constantly thinking, judging.
Scene 10 - Small Council getting smaller scene
Uncle Kevan, Pycelle, Mace Tyrell await as Cersei and Qyburn arrive. Pycelle gives Qyburn a withering look. Kevan asks if Cersei is the Hand of the King, but she says he is helping her son. Mace immediately asks for the title, but she says he is now both Master of Ships and Master of Coin. She flatters him, obviously lying through her teeth about her feelings, Mace seems quite honored. She goes on to say Qyburn is the new Master of Whispers (Varys is gone in this alternate reality), Qyburn's smile is so smug, love it, Pycelle tries to protests; Kevan is asked to be Master of .. War or something? Kevan won't hear it, though. He is not very pleased with what is going on, sending her brother away; he's very grumpy today, Kevan, a man of tradition it seems, telling Cersei she's the queen mother, "and nothing more". In fact he is so displeased he leaves for Casterly Rock. So much for Kevan's return. A good scene, showing us how Cersei is attempting to take control of the council, how gullible Mace Tyrell is, and, through Uncle Kevan's dialogue, that this might go wrong for her.
Scene 11 - Shireen, Gilly, Sam
Meanwhile, at Castle Black, Shireen is teaching Gilly to read for some reason. Sam is reading a book so that he can spout a little exposition, setting us up for Jon becoming the new Lord Commander. But why is Gilly learning to read - what kind of setup is this? Will Gilly find something interesting to read at the Citadel in Oldtown? Maester Cressen is name-dropped which is kind of nice. We are reminded that Shireen has greyscale, and how it works, so it's a safe bet the disease will feature prominently later (I suspect a certain Lord Connington will bring it to Westeros). The Stone Men are mentioned; will we see people covered in greyscale - thus, looking like Stone Men? Selyse interrupts, clearly not pleased with her daughter hanging out with a wildling. "You have no idea what people will do," Selyse tells her daughter, "All your books and you still don't know." So, Shireen likes people despite their status, and Selyse warns her off. Are we being shown that Shireen is gullible and is this foreshadowing that "people will do" her harm? Is she going to be a sacrifice? How does that serve plot? We know that only death will pay for life - will Shireen be sacrificed to resurrect Jon Snow somewhere down the line? It might just be so, and this scene seems to hint at it. At least that's how I interpret it. Nice scene, a little slow, Sam's exposition a little clumsy. Great acting.
Scene 12 - Jon and Stannis have a chat
"Stannis." It sounds like a reproductive organ. Stannis goes on about fear as a way to rule, Jon Snow being the opposite, in a sense. Another scene setting up Jon as Lord Commander. I like that they added Lyanna Mormont's letter, a small detail from the books - but is it a "cameo letter" or a foreshadowing? Will the Mormonts have a larger role later down the line? We are reminded that the North is difficult to hold, Davos reminds Jon that life will be unpleasant if Alliser Thorne wins the election for Lord Commander, and Stannis asks Jon to give him the North - if he pledges to Stannis, Stannis will make him Jon Stark, Lord of Winterfell. The scene doesn't have the oomph I'd like - after all, it's a pretty big deal - but it doesn't give me the feels like it should, for some reason I can't quite put my finger on. Perhaps the camera should have lingered on Jon for a little while longer, with Kit Harrington trying to act conflicted or something. But Jon remains a passive-looking character. Which may be why they added...
Scene 13 - Night's Watch Election
...this scene, where Jon tells Sam that he's always dreamed of being the Lord of Winterfell, and now he's had the offer.
Maester Aemon leads the ceremony where the men will cast their tokens for the 998th Lord Commander. Janos Slynt holds a speech for Thorne, and gets a round of applause and "Yeahs". Ser Denys Mallister is also being proposed, I'm not sure if it's Bowen Marsh doing the speech for him; the actor playing Denys sadly passed away after filming, if I'm not mistaken. And then Sam interrupts and gives a speech for Jon. Slynt is being an idiot, but man do I love Sam giving Slynt his comeuppance, revealing to the men how Slynt cowered in the larder during the battle. Sam is great here. I'm sure there were many fists pumped in the air during this speech. He also reminds us how heroic Jon actually has been throughout the story. Kit Harrington shows us he's learned a new facial expression: "Eyes Closed". Now he has two.
Thorne rises to argue against Sam, having one ace up his sleeve: "Everyone knows he loved a wildling girl." He sows doubt about Jon because Jon was with the wildlings; painting Jon as someone not to be trusted.
The tokens are eventually cast, and for some reason Maester Aemon saves his own token until everyone's done, this is of course to make it interesting/tense for the viewer when we see two equal piles and Aemon's decision will end up deciding the whole thing. It's just a little bit awkward the way it's shot, with a tie followed by Aemon's token but what the hell. Point is that Jon Snow becomes the new Lord Commander, with some nice music added toward the end here to drive the point home. Fairly nice sequence this, with Sam standing out, as he should, in this scene. Jon Snow winning the election comes across as about as believable as in the books (which is not quite, but okay I can live with that plot).
Scene 14 - Arya in Braavos
The episode comes full circle kind of when we return to Braavos, with Arya catching a pigeon, being accosted by three young men in a vivid, tense scene. When the grumpy fellow from the House of Black and White appears, the three men look scared and run off. Arya follows him back to the House, and he reveals himself to be Jaqen. Tom Wlaschiha did a pretty good job playing Jaqen back in season two, so making him the Kindly Man of the books seems like a good idea, and is another trimming of characters from the book. While this, too, is a dramatic change from the books, it is not nearly as annoying as Jaime's trip to Dorne, because Jaqen being the Kindly Man doesn't disrupt the narrative as much. And for all we know, Jaqen in the books is the Kindly Man of the books. In that case, we've been spoilered without knowing it, people. Damn. I hate not being sure what holds true to the books. But the point is, there are changes that actually improves the story in the sense that they tighten the plot and you don't lose much because the content is simply transferred to another character, as in this scene, and then you have the changes that deviate from the characterization of the books (Littlefinger is a good example of a character who no longer is the same), or plotlines that are changed so drastically it no longer is the same story (Jaime and Bronn going to Dorne, Lady Stoneheart missing, Sansa being set up for an adventure in the North) and those changes I feel hurt the most as a fan of the novels. I didn't mind the Bran/Karl sidetrek in season four because it didn't really take away anything (it just added to the material, no matter if it was entertaining or not), but now we don't get to see Jaime's trip to the Riverlands; his chat with Brynden Tully; the Strongboar, or him meeting up with Brienne again and so forth and I feel that this should be there as it is in the story, but hey. I don't have to watch. But I feel I must. Valar Mustwatchthis.
Scene 15 - Against the Sons of the Harpy
Slave boy enters cell where the captured Son of the Harpy is held; slave boy looks angry. Next we see the prisoner nailed to a door with his mask on, "Kill the masters" written in (presumably his) blood next to the corpse. Obviously, Daenerys is going to be upset because in the previous scene with her, seemingly on a whim, she decided to give this man a fair trial. So, while Arya and Jon get fairly long scenes that help sell their story-lines, Daenerys is kind of given a short shrift. Barristan goes "Your dad was bad for reals they were right all along" and she goes "Okay" and that's it...A scene with Dany struggling with the truth of her father, something to give some substance to Barristan's reveal (which comes a little out of the blue, as well, like, why didn't he tell her before?), would be useful in giving Emilia Clarke something more to work with. Oh well, you can't have it all, eh.
6.0 (1 bonus point for cool mask)
Scene 16 - Daenerys learns of the dirty deed done cheap
The actor who plays the slave boy is doing a great job, though - I believe in him, and why he decided to go in and kill that Harpy Son. Dany wants to show the people of Meereen that she's a just ruler, and since slave boy killed the Harpy Son, the slave boy, no matter the how's and why's, must be executed for the crime. A short transitional scene.
Scene 17 - Execution of Slave Boy
And so he is brought forth outside to the same place where she condemned the masters to be nailed to the posts, so that the people of Meereen can see that slave boy must pay the price for the murder of the Harpy Son, even though said Harpy Son is an enemy of her rule. Enough shots of Emilia's face displays her dislike of what's she's doing for - hopefully - the greater good, the camera lingering on her cherubic face that makes my heart flutter just slightly and then, the crowd falls silent as Daario cuts slave boy's head off, and the crowd begins to hiss, like snakes, before erupting into noise again. I like that hissing part. Unusual. The crowd, clearly divided in two, literally speaking (I suppose to make it easier for the viewer to have a clear image of the factions here - the former masters and the former slaves), begins to fight, and Dany escapes escorted by shield-carrying Unsullied. It's not a scene I feel really invested in. But it's better than the seemingly unending Dany chapters in Dance. You know, that novel from three or is it four already years ago. With stuff and shit.
Scene 18 - Nighttime, atop the Meereen pyramid
Missandei's looking sad, as she has all episode long. Dany's looking sad. Both are looking good. Dany tells everyone to leave. I guess we're supposed to be thinking that Daenerys is sad because no matter what she does, it doesn't quite work as she wants it to work: And this is precisely what the story in the books tries to tell as well; though I will forever wonder at the necessity of it. Maybe it will become clearer as I re-read. Anyhow, the hottest queen this side of Westeros is standing there alone and forlorn, she hears some noise outside (on the roof?), enters a balcony, looks up, and there's Drogon. He's big. Much bigger than he is in the books at this point, or am I recalling incorrectly? He is looking more like ye olde standard fantasy dragon now. The little brother of Smaug, maybe. It's a cool scene, though. And it reminds us that, no matter how much she is trying to be a just and well-liked ruler in Meereen, she is the Mother of Dragons. And that means fire and blood, not politics and static throne room scenes.
Right. I admit I liked the episode a little better on this second viewing. Now I wasn't impatient for the next scene (which I sometimes become when scenes go on for a long time) and was able to enjoy the scenery a little more. The longer bits were necessary, and helped propel the plot, and some of the shorter bits needed perhaps a little more exposition. Favorite scene at 8.5, Arya arrives in Braavos, followed by Drogon Returns at 8.3.
Final Score: 7.4
(Mmmm, while I feel it's an 6.0 overall.)
Coming Soonish: The first chapter from the point of view of none other than Cersei Lannister. Hail to the Queen, baby.
(Mmmm, while I feel it's an 6.0 overall.)
Coming Soonish: The first chapter from the point of view of none other than Cersei Lannister. Hail to the Queen, baby.