Sunday, 22 May 2011

Multiplayer Games

It's all downhill from here.  In the best way possible, of course.  The ascent has finished, and now comes six weeks of plunge, starting here.

(Spoilers galore after the fold)

It seems we've gotten a brief respite from wondering whether a common theme can be drawn from the multiple storylines this time around, since both the Wall and Vaes Dothrak are missing entirely. If you try hard enough, you could maybe actually argue that "absence" is key to the episode, but I think that would be a stretch even for me, even if the list of things missing include Tyrion, parenting skills, Alfie Allen's pants and acting ability, Renly's chest hair [1], and any idea of what a blowjob actually sounds like [2].

To expand a little on some of the points above: is there any character in this show more badly cast than Theon Greyjoy?  Theon is supposed to be an iceberg, not in terms of temperature (though he's not particularly expressive of anything beyond smug mirth and teenage anger) but in terms of concealment. Part of what makes him so interesting is the genuine difficulty we have in working out which way he'll jump (not unusually for a Martin character). Allen seems intent on playing Theon as a wannabe-wideboy (that, or Allen is a wannabe-wideboy, and someone just got him to repeat a script in-between attempts to buy guns from a Jamaican yardie).  The guy managed to make a scene with a pretty naked redhead unwatchable, for God's sake, and not because of the sudden arrival of "the little kraken".  Hell, if he agreed to talk less, I'd be happy enough for him to walk around naked for the rest of the season, though that might cause problems for him in the cold weather.

The only casting choice that comes close to being as poor is the oily squit somehow mistaken for Loras Tyrell.  I already thought the show had badly served him - in the book it's a very important part of Sansa's growing awareness of political reality for her to see how even a noble and skilled knight will happily pull a dishonorable trick for a bit of extra cash.  In "The Wolf and the Lion", in contrast, we know only that a) he's good, and b) he's on Sansa's increasingly laughable list of "Boys I would like to take home" before we get to c) he's a cheating prick. Whomever had the job of protraying him was going to have trouble recovering from that, but casting him as some kind of ghastly public schoolboy shaving another boy in his dorm after prep really hasn't helped - even if the scene was quite useful in setting up Renly's character, and in making it clear it's not all going to be fat men screwing five hookers at a time.

I'm increasingly sounding like a broken record on this point, I realise, but once again the scenes crafted exclusively for the show were the best.  Indeed, Cersei and Robert's conversation was by some distance the best scene of the show so far.  I said last week that we were getting a good look at just how difficult the Lannister's life has been since Cersei's wedding (and though the incest angle - to say nothing of the child-killing - makes Jaime fairly unsympathetic, how much must it fucking sting that he has to guard the husband of the woman he loves whilst said spouse engages in orgies that would make a Munich businessman blush?).  This furthered that thread, of course, but the show is smart enough to give us Robert's side as well.  We already know how badly he's dealt with power, but this time around we get a much clearer picture of exactly how much his title and marriage have destroyed him over the years.  His admission that he can't even remember the face of the woman he loves is heart-breaking, and all the more so because it proves what seemed likely all along: what Robert is really in love with is the past, no more, no less.

Why else does he explode so totally when Ned refuses to sign off on Operation: Stab Pregnant Teenager?  Robert might not be a king who deals well with defiance, but Ned has been able to talk him down before (just at the start of this episode, indeed).  What's different this time is his hate for the Targaryens.  How long can hate keep a thing together, as he asks his wife later.  At this point, loving Lyanna is the same thing as hating the Targaryens.  The latter has supplanted the former.  He might not know what the love of his life looked like anymore, but by the Seven, he remembers how to hate the fuckers who killed her.  Ned clearly feels an immense sadness for discarding the title of Hand, because he knows he's abandoning his friend as his King, little choice though he has in the matter.  From Robert's perspective, though, Ned's crime isn't abandoning him.  It's far worse.  He's abandoning Lyanna.

In short, then, the characters are beginning to click.  They're both clinging more convincingly to their novel equivalents and, paradoxically, taking on new dimensions.  I continue to think Cersei remains the high-point in terms of how much better her character is fairing, but the show is full of new and intriguing angles.  The aforementioned conversation between man and wife is one example, Varys and Littlefinger sparring in the throne room is another (though as Jamie has pointed out, it's kind of odd to see them revealing so much in a room both thoroughly trafficked and so afflicted by echoes).  This isn't universally true; Jory, Heward and Wyl all had more to do in the books than they did on-screen, but something has to give somewhere, and anyway they're all dead now.  No point crying over spilt blood.

Better spilt blood than suckled milk, anyway, at least when the performer of such mammarian mastication is an eight year old boy.  The Other Half and I had a brief argument earlier about whether Kate Dickie was wearing a prosthetic boob or not for that scene, but either way... eeeeeeeeeeeew. Dickie is a long way off-model for Lysa, but she owns the role entirely, all nervous moves and paranoid stares.  Annoyed as I was at the massive truncation of Catelyn's ascension to her sister's castle (I demand the Blackfish show himself, dammit!), the introduction of Sweetrobin and her mother left us (and Tyrion) in no doubt that things are going to get, oooh, all freaky and weird.  Again.

So, we're proceeding apace at King's Landing, the Eyrie storyline is clearly about to kick off (let's hope Tyrion doesn't kick off as well, as wonderfully pretty as the CGI job for the Sky Cells was, I don't think he'll want to see it at high-speed as he plummets to his death).  What more can we ask for?  How about a duel between the two best warriors the warring houses have to offer?  That will do nicely, thank you.

What I always thought was brilliant about the fight between Ned and Jaime (though in the book they don't actually cross swords, on account of Ned going down underneath his own horse) was the fact that Jaime was at least partially in the right, so long as you accept Tyrion is innocent regarding Bran. Certainly, you'd have to think he is, since his point about the sheer stupidity of arming an assassin with a knife that can be immediately traced back to you [3], and in any case it was implied pretty heavily in "Lord Snow" that Jaime was responsible for hiring the world's worst assassin ("You weren't supposed to be by your crippled son's bed, like you 'ave been for the last three fucking weeks!").  If that's true, then Jaime deserves his share of the blame for the duel outside Littlefinger's brothel, but it's still worth noting that the Kingslayer attacked because his innocent brother has been abducted by (as he sees it) a powerful lord with ample access to the justice system of the Seven Kingdoms.  Habeus corpus, Jaime might have pointed out, had he not been too busy punching people and riding off in huffs.

I'll end the post there, then, at the end of the episode, as only seems appropriate. Aside from the Tyrell misfire, then, and the proof that even one scene with Theon involved is one scene too much, I was very happy with episode 5.  The show is finally both finding its own feet and finding better ways to relay those scenes lifted directly from the book.  If the show can keep up this level of quality - and it certainly has the raw materials for it (tomorrow's episode is called "A Golden Crown", and I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to non-book readers finding out why), then this could be not only a truly worthy adaptation, but a truly impressive television show as well.

[1] Can people knock it off with the "Ick" comments on that, please?  More people have shivered in discomfort at that than at a man decapitating a fucking horse. To say nothing of the show having graphically dispatched more than a few people.  I don't care how finely people try to split the hair between discomfort of homosexual activity in general and discomfort at watching one consenting male shave another, I'm not sure it's the kind of thought that should be publicly and carelessly expressed.

[2] The Other Half pointed out that Loras might just be engaging in a little licking and kissing, but I still don't think the sound is right.  Besides, they played a nearly identical sound effect (if indeed it wasn't just the same one) back in "Winter is Coming" when Tyrion was similarly distracted in the Winterfall whorehouse, and I'm pretty sure that time there was more going on that a little bit of demure nibbling.

This may be the most time ever spent comparing the sounds made by a man sucking off another man, and a woman blowing a dwarf.  Of course, if any readers know of someone who has beaten my record, then on no account provide me with counter-evidence, kthanxbye.

[3] Shame that bloke in Snakes on a Plane wasn't as sensible.  If you want to kill a witness before they can testify against you in court, you probably don't want to choose a method of assassination so esoteric that only one man in the country can pull it off, and then use your own name whilst settling the bill.  But I digress...

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