Friday, March 23, 2012

Game of Thrones, Season 1, Episode 2: The Kingsroad

I will begin by again linking to HBO’s most excellentguide to the 10,000 characters on this show, to help people keep up with who is who.

The second episode begins with Daenerys, new Khalisi of the Dorthraki. Daenerys, as per contract, is wearing a slip of virtually nothing – in full sunlight with that complexion? The Dorthraki better have SPF50 on hand. She is clearly troubled by the new life she’s living travelling on horseback, eating dried meat. I actually quite like this – too many stories have pampered princes and princesses put on their Hero Gear and venture forth to a life of sleeping rough, scavenged food and constant peril (yet surprisingly meticulous grooming) without it being a massive culture shock. Of course, less ideal is that her brother, Viserys, is adapting far better – though is still as petulant and whiney as ever. Daenerys is comforted and reassured by Ser Jorah Mormont who is quickly settling in as a pseudo-father figure.

We move on to the best character in the series, Tyrion, sleeping off a hangover in Winterfell’s stable. And laying down a literal slap down to his despicable nephew Joffrey demanding he meet his social graces and for Joffrey to present his condolences to Lord and Lady Stark for Brandon, who fell (well, unknowingly) was pushed from the tower last episode. While I can’t approve of the violence against children, Tyrion is still so very awesome in so many ways and, despite being a Lannister, shows grace and compassion at least. He goes to breakfast and tell his siblings Cersei (the Queen) and Jaime (her twin brother, the kingsguard and the Queen’s lover) that Bran may well live (which troubles the Cersei and Jaime, naturally, since they pitched him off the tower to keep their little secret). Surprisingly, it appears that Cersei’s other children, Joffrey’s younger siblings, are quite pleasant children. Jaime expresses how Bran wouldn’t have a life worth living since he’d be “crippled” by Tyrion counters that in his usual awesome fashion

Cersei goes to comfort Catelyn Stark who is sitting vigil over Bran’s bedside and reveals that she herself lost her first child – a boy with black hair. It’s a very powerful, touching scene (with a big clue in the middle of it).

Jaime goes to taunt Jon Snow before he goes to join the Night Watch – clearly Jaime knows more about the state of the Nights Watch than Jon does. And Jon gives Arya a sword – a light little needle. I can really believe these 2 as actual siblings- and the person who realises how stifling the enforced gender roles are on Arya. Similarly I can see the same excellent acting and emotion in Jon saying goodbye to bran – and in Catelyn’s rejection of her husband’s illegitimate son. And yet more great acting and great rapport between Rob and Jon – and the clear separation Jon maintains by saying “you Starks” always an outsider in his own household. And then nicely redeemed by Ned Stark making it clear he regards Jon as a Stark, despite his name.

We see further emotion with Catelyn and Ned Stark –  yes broken record, but some incredible acting. And Catelyn wonderfully dismisses the “no choice” excuse that, as she says, so many women have had to swallow over the years. Further by Ned saying “you can, you must” showing who it is who truly lacks a choice here.

So the two parties set off – the party north to the wall and the King’s party back to Kings Landing – where the King continues to not be the most refined man in the world, talking about the women he’s known – as well as the Jon’s mother. The King and Ned do have a great relationship as friends, but Robert has few topics of conversations. Except the message he receives about Daenery’s marriage (and more reductive language of her) and Robert’s desire to have her killed. We get a nice bit of history about how some people see him as a usurper still – and a nice assessment of the Dorthraki power being limited by their lack of navy. It’s a really nicely done infodump that fits the story.

Switch to said Daenerys, we see her having sex with Drogo, crying and clearly less than enjoying the experience (and it wouldn’t be Game of Thrones if we didn’t see some breasts) – but smiling at her dragon eggs (that be foreshadowing folks. With extra breasts).  And her discussing with her attendants – including one who was an ex-prostitute in a brothel. Who, at Daenerys’s urging, teaches her how to please Drogo. Here was a brief discussion about dragons before we got down to discussing sex. On with the pseudo-lesbian scene – where Daenerys will be empowered by seducing Khal Drogo with her sexual wiles which she then uses on Drogo when he comes to force her into sex again.

And on to the party moving north. Jon Snow is less than enamoured with the criminals who are also going up to join the Night Watch (a choice they’re given instead of castration for rape) and Tyrion is there (going to look at the wall) and being awesome (as always). We get some more info-dumping, again very well done (Jaime killed the last king, his father served the last king and his sister became the new queen) – and he is awesome about his own strength and power using his mind and intelligence. And he does a fair job of puncturing Jon’s illusions.

Up in Winterfell, Lady Stark is still distraught over her son, and Robb, her eldest, has to take over some of the basic running of the keep. Robb tries to rouse his mother to look after Rickon, his 6 year old brother. Before they can continue the discussion, a fire is set – drawing Robb from the room. Supposedly leaving it clear for an assassin to kill Bran – but Catelyn struggles with him and Summer, Bran’s direwolf, makes short work of him

It does encourage Catelyn to think, she goes to investigate and finds a long blond hair with her super-CSI eyes. They put 1 and 1 together – Bran had never fallen before and why assassinate a child? Catelyn presents the thoughts to her council and they conclude that he must have seen something and the Lannisters are probably involved (hey, crime programmes have as little evidence) – and Cersei will ride off with 1 guard to tell Nedd because she doesn’t trust a raven. Don’t they have servants or soldiers who could do this? Catelyn, collect a Spunky Trophy.

In the train moving south to Kings Landing, the despicable Joffrey is being all romantic with Sansa, and Arya is practicing the sword with a butcher’s boy. Unfortunately they meet up and Joffrey is his usual wonderful self. He bullies Micah, loses his temper when Arya stops him and is stopped from attacking Arya by Nymeria – Arya’s dire wolf. Arya has to drive Nymeria away because she knows she’ll be killed for biting Joffrey.

Joffrey lies about what happened to the adults, Arya tells the truth – Sansa refuses to speak up. In Cersei’s ridiculous “justice” they kill Lady since any dire wolf will do. And Micah, the butcher’s boy, is killed.

We end with Bran waking up.

On the Dorkthraki. There seems to be a prevailing meme in high fantasy in a medieval fashion to have some savage, backward dark heathens menace the good, civilised, white world (and yes Tolkein was a prime instigator of this) and could there be a bigger example of this than the Dorthraki? And yes, while there were times with the Almohad Caliphate, the Ottoman empire and the Golden horde there were encroaches on Europe from outside – but predominantly history has certainly been on the other hand. It would help more if these Fantasy places under threat by the scary brown people weren’t all so very very very homogenous. (And I know someone is running now to talk about realism to which I will say a) it wasn’t that lacking in diversity and b) we have undead snow people, direwolves, 10 year long summers and dragons – but POC in Kings Landing would be unrealistic?)

It’s an unfortunate meme that is repeated far too often in far too many places. Especially adding in to the constant “savage” reinforcement.

On Tyrion – how awesome in so many ways is he? I love how he counters any comments that Bran’s live won’t be worth living being disabled, to demanding Joffrey pay respect to the Starks. He’s so often the moral compass who counters and challenges the other character’s failings.

On women –we see some strength from Catelyn as a wife and mother, and her statement on the helplessness of women is a telling commentary. But while Ned is going forward with his duty, Catelyn is distraught and incapable, neglecting not only the running of the castle but also her 6 year old son. Robb actually comes to try and snap her out of it There is the interesting story of Arya challenging gender roles which is developing excellently but it’s balanced by Sansa fawning over the prince no matter what he does. There is also the constant reductive language most of the men use to refer to women – especially from the King, but including Tyrion and much of the cast is pretty unrelenting. And I do not even begin to understand why it was necessary to change Daenery’s loving, respectful relationship into what it is now. Add in the pseudo-lesbian- teaching of Daenerys (lesbian sex for a man’s pleasure) which is in the book but just adds to the problems in this portrayal.