Saturday, 14 May 2011

Word Games

Well, that was certainly interesting. But was it any good?

In all honesty, I’m not entirely sure. I told people I’d enjoyed it immediately after it had finished, but after some reflection, it may be that “enjoyed” might not be the past participle I was searching for. I think what actually happened was that I appreciated it.

Whatever one’s opinion of my fiction, I can at least be described as having some experience as a writer, even if only in terms of how long I’ve been doing it. And you can’t spend too long as a writer, particularly one with a taste for science fiction, without coming up against the problem of exposition.

Exposition can kill a story faster than almost anything else. That’s true across the board, but with sci-fi and fantasy, the problem is massively magnified. Not just because of the increased amount of extra information the audience needs to process, but because so many writers can’t wait to show you their Big Idea. Take Peter Hamilton, for example. Yes, the idea of a network of wormholes allowing planets to be connected by a railroad is a neat idea. That doesn’t mean we need to spend more time on trains than the Fat Controller, now does it?

The point here is that once you’ve spent sufficient time deconstructing the genre, you start to really appreciate good exposition.

(Spoilers follow)

The vast majority of the frankly ridiculous amount of exposition in “Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things” was very much worthy of that respect, I think. Tyrion ripping Theon to shreds and Jaime and Jory trading reminiscences over the siege of Pyke were both well done, injecting plenty of information into conversations that made total sense.

Viserys’ conversation with Doreah in the bath-tub was even better, not only filling in important bath story, but also giving us our first (and so far only) glimpse of the Beggar King as anything other than a psychotic bully. It’s a sad reminder that whilst Daenerys has only an intellectual understanding of her birthright and her exile, Viserys still feels his loss viscerally. He was promised the world only to have it ripped away, along with his own father. It hardly excuses what he has done, but perhaps it goes some small way to explaining what he has become.

Not everything worked on this score. Sansa’s conversation with her Septa was horribly clunky, and “Do you remember your history lessons?” is only about half an inch better than “As you know, my lord” in terms of heralding massive information dumps. I’m also struggling to see why Littlefinger chose to tell Sansa the Hound’s story, though where Petyr is concerned it’s never wise to dismiss any action as pointless. Perhaps we’ll see.

Once again, the scenes created for the show held my attention the most. Viserys’ bath I’ve already mentioned. We’ve touched on Jaime’s lonely vigil too, but that’s worth greater consideration. By managing to achieve what should by rights have been a near-impossible task and manage to make Robert Baratheon even more of a drunken womaniser than he is the novel, the show gives greater depth to the Lannister twins. I’m not saying incest is an appropriate response to a husband/brother-in-law’s infidelity, or anything, but the series is doing sterling work selling me on how miserable life is for them with Robert on the scene, mocking and humiliating them by turns. Being King means never having to say you’re sorry, I guess. Though you do get to accuse the slattern you’re fucking of tasting of blackberry jam. [1]

Bonus points for Cersei’s olive branch to Eddard, too, however little she means it. The Queen of the novel may be cunning, but her inability to be anything but coldly dismissive of everyone she doesn’t have immediate use for was always something of a problem. This Cersei feels entirely more three-dimensional, which can only be a good thing.

So, like I said, much to appreciate. At the end of the day, though, however impressive an hour of exposition is, it’s still an hour of exposition. Only the Tournament of the Hand broke up the sense of information imparted and board pieces moved, at least until the (very effective) final scene, and as many have pointed out, the joust – compared to the book - wasn’t so much an anti-climax as Climax’s boyhood nemesis who screwed Climax’s sister atop their mother’s grave (something Jaime may or may not attempt by season’s end). Two lousy tilts? No amount of bubbling life’s blood is going to make up for that, I’m afraid.

Still, to use the tired analogy of a roller coaster ride, the first four episodes of this season has definitely been the climb. We reached the top an instant before Catelyn’s bannermen put a little bit too much into their game of Point To The Dwarf. From now on, it’s pretty much all the plunge, with time for a few loop-the-loops along the way.

Everyone hold on tight.

[1] Is that a hair colour thing, do you think? Does Cersei taste of honey? Will Ros taste of marmalade? And what would happen if Robert’s chosen floozy turned out to taste of Bovril?


Jamie said...

There was indeed a vast amount of exposition, but I agree that it was generally handled well. Bear in mind that the tournament hasn't finished yet. There are still key scenes to get through in the next episode, although I do think that it would probably have worked better confined to one episode.

SpaceSquid said...

I did think about there being more scenes this week, but as you say, it's problematic to split it. A disappointing start that is allowed to fester for a week can only be compensated for so far.

Jamie said...

Agreed. And where you are struggling to see why Petyr told Sansa the Hound's story, I am struggling to see why Bryan Cogman (and Weiss and Benioff) decided for that information to be imparted by Baelish rather than the Hound himself, who is currently being criminally underused. Admittedly its hard to give everyone their fair shake of the stick when there are so many characters to introduce in such a short time, but the man is one of the headline characters - stealing his lines and putting them in the mouth of someone else who already gets to speak rather a lot is an unfortunate choice.

Dan Edmunds said...

I'm in the curious position of having watched the first 3 episodes, not having read the book, at the weekend I decided to read the book, and am now at (what I guess to be) some point in episode 5 (Tournament has finished), so when I watch episode 4 this week I will have switched into "kind of having read the book" mode... Should be interesting to see if I notice a shift in my enjoyment of it...

SpaceSquid said...

Ooh. I smell a blog post, Spielbergo!

Dan Edmunds said...

Just watched this weeks episode and thought of this post. I think they may have set a new standard for how to keep the audience interested while Littlefinger does a bit of exposition!