Thursday, 5 May 2011

The Game Of Life

Hmm.  Well, my correlation theory from last time around seems to have struck again.  There is again a general sense of dissatisfaction over "Lord Snow", but only from those of us who already know what's going on.  Amongst the newcomers, it seems to have hit the mark.

(Spoilers follow)

I can kind of see why, to be sure.  For all that plenty of people are complaining that the show has "too many characters to follow" (which I find difficult to hear without replacing the gripe with "too many characters to follow the very instant you start watching it"), it's probably doing a better job of easing people in than the book.  Not only are there fewer characters, but the back story is being drip-fed rather than simply thrown at us.  Frankly, I'd be happy either way, but it's probably a good idea overall.

Once again, though, the only moments I find myself truly interested in when we deviate from the book (more so than even last week, this felt like a simple, competent re-telling of each chapter).  Cersei's scene with Joffrey was particularly good, at least in concept (Jack Gleeson still isn't selling Joffrey, for my money) - changing the book's implication of Cersei simply spoiling her firstborn with her attempting to mould him into a good king (at least as she sees the role), only to undercut it by telling him repeatedly that his opinion is all that will matter.  Once again, it brings a greater depth to Cersei than is evident in the novel, so far she is by some considerable distance the character who has been most improved by the move to television.

Robert might come a close second, however.  His scene with Jaime and Barristan Selmy about the horrors of war, and the horrors of growing old, is nicely done, all petulant rage and obvious self-loathing. Is there anything more contemptible and pitiable than a king lamenting his fortunes?  Jaime too is well-served, his brief conversations with the King and Barristan here, and with Ned in the throne room, do expertly well in highlighting the contradictions he represents, at a point where in the book he's still just little more than a hissable villain.

The last wonderful addition involved the conversation between Ser Mormont and Jakharo on the relative merits of their fighting styles.  No right and wrong answer, just two warriors comparing cultural notes.  For those waiting for the Dothraki to grow beyond their initial appearances as Generic Asian Culture #1, this was a very welcome development (even if their chief slaver was apparently hired from the Village of Iberian Shoutiness made famous in Resident Evil IV).

Speaking of the Dothraki, Daenerys' increasing comfort with command reflects the overall theme, loose as it was, of the episode - the responsibilities of command and of power, and how little they can have to do with one another.  Of course, this is very much a central issue in the whole series, but it's becoming more and more clear (not that it was ever anything else) that Ginia Bellafante was idiotic beyond belief to claim the major message of the show was that "power is hot".  Part of the message is that some people think power is hot, but then power is a mercurial thing.  Who has more, the dwarf sister of the queen, or the farmboy who could break his neck without a second thought?  Does the Hand have any power if they simply act as a mouthpiece (or as Jaime suggests, an arse-wiper) for the King?  If Robert rules the Seven Kingdoms, why can't he order someone to make him happy.  On and on and on.

It's about more than that, though.  It's about how power shifts.  Ned himself remarks that "War is easier than daughters".  He has all the power he could want, except to make his family and safe.  The scene where Daenerys stops the horde and is attacked for it by Viserys is a tricky one to grasp because she gives no explanation as to why she's doing it in the first place (I get the impression some people have therefore concluded it was just a cheap way to force a confrontation with "the dragon", which is a reasonable deduction), but the truth as I see it is that it works precisely because she doesn't explain why.  She's the Khaleesi now, explaining is beneath her.  You do what you're told, or you get a whip round your neck, your claim to rule the continent next door be damned.

An awful lot of things are shifting here.  Jon is preparing to earn his way up the ranks of the Wall.  Arya might not be planning on replacing her father, but Ned sees his past in her future (important bonus note: Syrio Forel is fucking awesome, the exact middle ground between Inigo Montoya and a Spanish rent boy).  Daenerys has replaced Viserys as the most powerful member of their family already, and Cersei's grooming of Joffrey reminds us that the fat, drunken and somewhat paranoid king isn't necessarily going to be around forever.

Change is in the air is Westeros.  Winter (and a very important baby) is coming, which is a genuinely scary prospect no matter how much Maester Aemon manages to make it sound like the introduction of a Fighting Fantasy novel.  "Pale spiders, big as hounds", or so we're told, and Old Nan doesn't mean Varys.  By my reckoning, the dominoes start falling next week.  Let's see if the descent works any better than the climb.  After all, we'll be falling for a very long time.

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