April 27, 2013

Game of Thrones: "What is Dead May Never Die"

Game of Thrones has the best opening title sequence of the 21st century.

I am a big fan of opening titles: they're a crucial part of any television series in my opinion, because they give the viewer a little pause (30 seconds, or 60) to forget their day-to-day thoughts and concerns and settle into the fictional world of the TV drama. The opening titles also set expectations for the episode to come. A properly designed set of credits will let the viewer know the genre, the pace, the aesthetic and the emotional tone of what's to follow.

The credits to Game of Thrones achieve all of that, but they also do one other crucial thing: they establish geography. While the clockwork visuals nicely echo the 'game' motif of the series, they also show the viewer where each storyline of the episode is set, and where those storylines are geographically located in relation to one another. In a series where some storylines are set on different continents, and in which they regularly fail to link up in any narrative way, this kind of information is crucial.

So, in week three of the second season, what are the various storylines up to?

King's Landing
I absolutely love the manner in which Tyrion roots out Cercei's spy among the city council, as well as the clever narrative fashion in which the scenes play out. A dinner scene with Cercei, her children, and poor Sansa Stark, manages to drive home just how much I despise both Cercei and Joffrey. Every series has a character you 'love to hate', but Game of Thrones seems to have a solid half-dozen. Personally I adore it, but I suspect some viewers might struggle to find enough characters they like to keep watching week on week.

Beyond the Wall
Shock horror (actually not shocking at all) Lord Commander Mormont already knew that Craster gave away his incestuous boy babies to supernatural creatures. This whole subplot surrounding Craster, his wives and his daughters, and his daughters who are also his wives, is just deeply icky and unpleasant. It's effective as horror, but still very nasty to think about or watch. This isn't a character I 'love to hate'. This is a character I'm actively waiting to see die.

There's a lovely scene in this episode where Bran explains his dreams to Maester Luwin, and asks about magic, and Luwin tells him that magic is no longer real and the dragons have long since died. Of course as viewers we know that neither sentiment is true, but it's a nicely played scene showing a warmth that a lot of the series lacks. Isaac Hempstead-Wright does a great job as Bran.

The Stormlands
Renly Baratheon, younger brother of Stannis, has assembled his 100,000 strong army to challenge the Lannisters for the throne. Crikey, another episode and another wannabe king. In this case we have Renly being secretly gay with his wife's brother, and his wife knowing this and being ambitious enough to not mind - so long as he somehow gets her pregnant. It all feels very Edward II.

These scenes introduce the enormous and awesome Brienne of Tarth (played wonderfully by Gwendoline Christie). I was trying to work out whether she actually was as tall as the series made her out to be, or whether there was some camera trickery at work. In truth it's likely a mixture of the two: the actress is six feet three inches, and looms over the rest of the cast to an impressive degree.

The Iron Islands
I don't have a great deal to say about the Greyjoy scenes. Young Theon is still conflicted and petulant, his sister Yara is still creepy as hell (what is with that stare?) and their father Balon is mean and unpleasant. Theon does pick a side, however, choosing his father over the Starks. No spoilers in the comments, please - I strongly suspect he's made the wrong choice.

The Crownlands
Poor Yoren (Francis Magee). He's taken Arya Stark this far, but sadly his time in the series has ended. Now Arya, Gendry and the others are on their way to the Lannisters in Harrenhal. She does manage to rescue a prisoner named Jaqen, a mysterious French-accented knight who talks in a weird sort of third person manner. I like him, and hope we see him again soon.

While I'm loving the individual plot threads, one of the big weaknesses of Game of Thrones is that the storylines really don't cross over with one another very much. It's easy to argue this away as 'oh it's a novel for television', but that's kind of my point: it's for television. I'm not sure how they could adapt this more successfully, but some times it feels like the individual episodes lack focus because they've got so many different stories to push along.

Still, it's a massively entertaining episode, particularly Tyrion's spy games in King's Landings. That's three for three so far: 100%.


  1. I think Game of Thrones gets many things very right (though I agree the lack of crossover between storylines is often frustrating) but the casting is an absolute tour de force - the younger actors in particular have been very well chosen.

    I notice that Skins has been completely raided for the show! And a friend blew my mind yesterday by pointing out that Theon is played by Alfie Allen - AKA Lily Allen's brother, as in THE SUBJECT OF THE SONG ALFIE.

    The young actor who plays Joffrey is pretty extraordinary - for someone of his age to inhabit such a loathsome role is very impressive! And the Stark girls, of course, are both excellent.

    1. The Alfie Allen thing is a bit of a mind-bender, like when I found out that Richard Madden (Robb Stark) is dating Jenna-Louise Coleman (Clara in Doctor Who).


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