Game of Thrones: “The Laws of Gods and Men”


GAME OF THRONES: 4.06 “The Laws of Gods and Men” 

Let’s think about laws in Westeros—about how laws, both those passed by men and those (presumably) inherited from the gods or from descendants, seemingly form the structure of this medieval society. People, particularly common people, believe in these laws and their belief allows this society, and the people at the top of it, to continue to function. And yet, look how malleable and mutable these laws are when faced with raw power, greed, and the simple desire for survival. Ancient laws of hospitality were no shield for Robb Stark in the face the Bolton’s desire for power and the Frey’s desire for revenge. Stannis may have the law of succession on his side in his quest for the crown, but for the Iron Bank, numbers in a ledger are more concrete than laws, and Stannis’s numbers don’t add up. It’s only after Ser Davos offers a practical, hard-nosed argument as to why Stannis has a better chance of outlasting Twyin and the Lannisters that the Bank opens up its coffers to “loan” some gold. In Tyrion’s trial, the laws of the kingdom may not completely be ignored, but they’re certainly bent and perverted to work against him. All the witnesses arranged against him repeat the many threats he’s issued throughout the series, threats that may have seemed like bluster at the time, but threats that stacked up together in the wake of a dead king make an innocent man seem awfully guilty. Cersei’s spent much of her time charming the judges into condemning her hated brother to death; Tywin, ever cannier, uses the mountain of evidence, plus Jaime’s sympathies for his brother, to arrange for Jaime to leave the kingsguard and marry a woman to produce Lannister heirs, in exchange for allowing Tyrion to take the black.

We shouldn’t be surprised by these continued examples of laws that are trampled or twisted by powerful people. It’s been happening since the beginning of the series, in practically every episode. It’s been happening since before the series started; what was Robert’s Rebellion but a powerful man, with a weak claim to the throne, wresting the crown away from the legitimate ruler (no matter how crazy he may have been). But I think there’s another side to this coin. If you push people too far, violate the laws of tradition and custom too flagrantly, they’ll snap. After all, it was years of crazed, lawless behavior from King Aerys that pushed enough support away from the Targaryan dynasty to allow Robert’s Rebellion to succeed. Shae’s testimony against Tyrion, rather than being a final parting insult before he left for the Wall, enraged him so deeply that he requested a trial by combat and blew apart his father’s carefully laid plans to secure the future of the Lannister dynasty. I think Dany was wise enough to realize that rejecting the burial request for the crucified Meerenese nobles, and therefore flouting their most closely held customs, might have been too much for the people to swallow. The Bolton’s and the Frey’s may be on the ascendancy, but as King Aerys learned, people have long memories. So, maybe upon reflection, customs and laws in Westeros do have some meaning, and if you violate them too often and too frequently, you’ll face a violent reaction, even if it takes years to catch up to you.


Game of Thrones: First of His Name

GAME OF THRONES: 4.05 “First of His Name”

“First of His Name” feels like a bridge episode, as it wraps up some storylines from the beginning of the season (the Night’s Watch deserters in Craster’s Keep, Bran’s kidnapping) while also laying out some new storylines to take us through the last five episodes (like Dany’s new-found desire to remain and rule in the East, Sansa getting a glimpse of Littlefinger’s plans to seize power in the Eyrie, and Brienne and Pod’s quest to find the Stark girls). It also serves as a pause in the Tyrion storyline; while Tyrion presumably rots away in the dungeon, we get to leisurely watch Cersei try to charm Margarey, Tywin, and Oberyn in an attempt to turn all three against him and ensure his guilt and resulting execution. Despite some of Cersei’s blundering political moves in the past, her charm offensive seems to work to some degree in all three cases, particularly with Tywin, who for once lets his guard down and informs his daughter how precarious the Lannister position really is now that their gold mines have run dry and they are deeply in debt to the Iron Bank. After what felt like a few seasons of unstoppable ascendancy, it’s nice to see that the Lannister’s have something of a crack in their golden armor. This admission is also, I think, is also a comment on how destructive and unpredictable war can be, even for the supposed victors.

Last week, when considering Jon and Bran’s seemingly converging paths, I found myself hoping that the two might have a reunion, however brief, before they went their separate ways again. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. In the chaos of the Night’s Watch attack on the deserters, Locke sneaks off to find and kill Bran, but before he does, Bran possesses Hodor and uses his giant-like strength to snap the man’s neck. It was sad to see Hodor’s look of horror when he came to and realized what Bran had forced him to do, and the fact that the show acknowledged this was a nice touch. The emotional consequences of violence are something that the show doesn’t hide from. Then again, Jon Snow jammed a sword through a guy’s head and out his mouth in this episode, so I suppose we can’t give Game of Thrones too much credit for being philosophical; it’s plenty graphic when it wants to be. Anyway, Bran realizes that if he sees Jon again, his brother will never let him continue north and do what he needs to do (whatever that is, exactly) so he and his group slip out of the compound before the fighting ends. It’s disappointing, but I suppose I shouldn’t have expected otherwise. Still, Bran’s little kidnapping adventure did add some excitement to a journey that, in the books, was fairly nondescript. I also really liked the visual effects of Jojen’s vision of the weirwood tree on the frozen hill, and can’t wait to see what it actually looks like when he and Bran finally get there.

Game of Thrones can be a pretty dark show, but it’s seemed especially bleak with all the murders, rapes, poisonings, and baby sacrificing of the last couple of weeks, so it was very refreshing to see the brief but often funny scenes between hapless Pod and gruff Brienne. It was a nice bit of comic relief (at least until Pod explained that he had killed a Kingsguard), and I think I’d be happy watching him burn a nice rabbit dinner every night on the road, from Dorne to the Wall. I hold out the feeble hope that the eager to please, puppy-like Pod we see here is actually one of future Westeros’s greatest, most honorable heroes, and we’re simply watching him in his awkward adolescence. It’s a nice hope, though considering how fate crushes most characters in this series, its probably an unlikely one.

Game of Thrones: Oathkeeper

GAME OF THRONES: 4.4 “Oathkeeper”

When considering this episode of Game of Thrones, I think I’ll start at the end. As I said in my preview to this season, I was very excited about the possibility of the writers adding in some more complicated non-book material, and… wow, we sure got some changes in this episode. Bran and his little party have been kidnapped by the fallen Night’s Watch brothers brutally occupying Craster’s keep, while at the same time Jon Snow leads a party north to eliminate the traitors before Mance Rayder’s army catches them. None of this happened in the books, and it seems likely Jon (and the under-cover Locke, hunting down Starks on behalf of the Boltons) will encounter his brother at some point, which is something I’ve hoped for in the books but have yet to see. A brief reunion between brothers would bring some light to what has been a very dark show, so I hope to see it. Either way, this new material is exciting, and I can’t wait to see more. We also got to see another new thing: the fate of Craster’s sons, all of whom were apparently carried off to some snowy Stonehenge and converted into monsters. It was a horrific scene, something very difficult for me, as a relatively new father, to watch. But it was really interesting because we get a bit of lore that hasn’t been revealed in the books. I’m fairly certain I’ve said it before, but I’m not bothered by the changes. I welcome them, in fact. Novels and television are two different mediums. Stuff that works on the page doesn’t work on the screen. As long as the show sticks to the general structure and theme of the books, I say bring on more changes, more new stuff.

As for the rest of the episode, there was a good bit of tablesetting. Things are still very cold between Cersei and Jaime, even though what happened in the sept last week isn’t explicitly mentioned, but it seems clear that their relationship is probably over. Later, in an almost touching scene, Jaime gifts his new sword to Brienne, charging her with finding and protecting Sansa from Cersei. I was very pleased to see Pod, the greatest squire ever, tagging along; he looked quite pleased to be of use again. I see a knighthood in that boy’s future.

The episode actually began far to the East, when Dany sends Grey Worm and some of his soldiers, laden with weapons, into Meereen where they convince the oppressed slaves of that city to rise up and rebel against their masters. The plan works, the slaves open the gates, and Dany marches her army in, adding a third city to her list of conquests. Ser Barristan councils mercy, but Dany demands justice by crucifying one slave master for every dead child she found on her march to the city. She watches from atop the tallest pyramid in the city, a huge black and red Targaryen banner flapping in the breeze behind her. It’s a bit of a chilling scene; we’re supposed to be pleased with her freeing slaves, but to me, her brand of justice seemed pretty harsh, and potentially foreshadowing of how bad things could get if she keeps demanding an eye for an eye. Sure, the slave masters were awful people, but as we’ve learned from experience a cycle of constant violence can quickly spin out of control.

Game of Thrones: Breaker of Chains

GAME OF THRONES: 4.4 “Breaker of Chains” 

So yes, the elephant in the room is Jaime’s rape (because that was what it was) of Cersei, an action that didn’t exactly happen in the books, and seriously complicates the redemption story that the show was developing so well. Aside from saying that I’m disappointed in this development, I won’t delve too much into this controversy because plenty of other folks have done it this week, but as despicable as Jaime’s actions were, I can’t help but wonder why people were expecting much better from this show. Many people in the series (and books) do horrible, monstrous things to each other, and just because we sometimes learn about extenuating circumstances that make them look like better people, and just because it looks like they’re acting slightly more ethically for a short period of time, doesn’t mean that they’re suddenly redeemed and noble people and that they won’t commit horrible actions again. People can be complicated; they can do repugnant things and honorable things at the same time, so I’m not entirely sure why this action seems so shocking, especially considering his gender, social status, and upbringing. He’s the first born son of the most powerful family in a feudal patriarchy who is used to getting (or taking) what he wants no matter the moral/societal prohibitions.

And I said I wasn’t going to talk about it too much.

Anyway, the rest of the episode was good, but not quite the barn burner of last week. We got a nice survey of everything happening around Westeros and Essos. Arya learns another harsh lesson as the Hound takes advantage of a farmer’s hospitality and robs him blind; Sam, afraid his “brother” rangers will take advantage of Gilly, sends her south to be a maid for prostitutes, just as Ygritte and her group of wildings begin to carve a cannibalistic path of destruction north into the Night’s Watch rear; Tyrion sends away his “loyal” squire, in a scene that nearly had me in tears; and Dany bombards the walls of the newest slave city with the broken chains of the slaves that she’s liberated. I’m not sure why Stannis and Davos haven’t acted on the very urgent letter they received from the Night’s Watch at the end of last season, but I expect we’ll see something on that front soon. Lots of ground was covered, and there was plenty of set-up, but I liked it.

Game of Thrones: Two Swords and Lion and the Rose


GAME OF THRONES: 4.1 “Two Swords”
GAME OF THRONES: 4.2 “The Lion and the Rose”

Game of Thrones came back with a bang, didn’t it? Personal life has forced me to consider both of the first two episodes back to back, and they were mighty entertaining. Between the two, we’ve caught up with pretty much everyone, and there were plenty of great scenes, but I keep thinking about the Arya/Hound scene that closed out the first episode. It’s always fun when the show decides to linger a bit longer on one particular event, and Arya and the Hound arriving at the inn begins as buddy comedy, moves into an exquisitely tense standoff, and ends in an abrupt spasm of violence. As satisfying as it was to see her reclaim her sword, and by extension her connection with her lost family, I felt a little sad that it was only earned back through the loss of her innocence as she killed Polliver in cold blood. And from the look of contentment on her face as she rode away from the inn with the Hound, it’s easy to surmise that she enjoyed the experience. Arya’s road ahead will be dark, I suspect, and likely littered with more of her “victims;” I can’t help but wonder how long it will be before she takes out someone who doesn’t deserve it.

And speaking of extended scenes, the wedding we’ve all been waiting for wrapped up episode two. It was a great example of slowly building tension. Joffrey was at his most petulant, evil, cruel, hurtful worst, so it was perhaps a bit of a relief to see him finally taken down by an anonymous poisoner in such a painful fashion. But like Arya, I wonder if we as an audience shouldn’t celebrate his demise with such gusto. Yes, Joffrey was a monstrously cruel sociopath who was a horrible ruler and only would have become worse as he grew in age and power, but if there’s one thing that Game of Thrones has taught us, it’s that violence begets revenge and greater violence in an ever widening, destructive cyclone that eventually spins out of control. Jaime’s simple yet careless act of pushing Bran out the window of a tower spawned a brutally destructive civil war, leading to countless deaths and, on a more personal level for the Kingslayer, the loss of his son and his sword arm. As we can tell from Cersei’s look at the end of the episode, Joffrey’s demise is likely to cause a great deal of trouble for Tyrion, whether he was involved in it or not. And what greater chaos will erupt now that another king is dead? How will the ripples that spread out from Arya’s quest for revenge affect the world? Will she leave behind a traumatized child who turns into a killer, or something worse?

Game of Thrones Returns Tonight


Season 4 of Game of Thrones begins tonight, and I’m so glad it’s back for a few reasons. I think it’s one of the most entertaining shows on television, but beyond that, I’ve been an avid reader of the books for years and I’ve always found it very interesting to see how the writers of the TV show have adapted the source material of the books. Most of the time, I think they do a great job inventing new non-book scenes that really capture the essential nature of the characters. They’ve even changed the motivations of some characters in better ways; in the books, Shae was simply a gold-digging prostitute, a very flat character, while in the show, she’s a bit more complicated, and truly seems to be in love with Tyrion.

Season 3 of the TV show ended about 2/3s of the way through book 3, so season 4 is going to finish up book 3, but it will also almost certainly parts of book 4 as well. However, book 4 is an aberration in the series because, timeline wise, it happens at the same time as book 5 and covers almost none of the major characters that the TV show has kept its focus on for three seasons. I can’t help but think that the TV show might draw in some pieces of book 5 into this season.

Even if this season of the show doesn’t integrate any book 5 material, this is the point in the books where plotlines begin to meander, and I suspect that the show writers will have to do a lot more stitching and combining of stories (and writing more original stuff) in order to keep the show entertaining and keep certain main characters at the forefront. Next season will be especially interesting, because I really don’t think there’s enough going on in book 5 to fill a whole season, and I highly doubt that book 6 will be out on the market within a year. So anyway, as I said, I suspect this may be the beginning of of a time where the writers have to be a bit more creative and inventive, and as a book reader, I find that really exciting.

New Girl: Has It Improved?

new girl

I wrote a while back that I was having some real problems with New Girl, one of my formerly favorite shows. I wrote that post right after episode 6 of this season, and now that we’re through 15 I wanted to revisit it. Thankfully, I think things have largely changed for the better. It seems like recently the show has found it less necessary to focus on the weird awkwardness in Nick and Jess’s relationship; when it does keep the focus on them, as it did in the post-Super Bowl episode “Prince,” the story seems to be executed in a better and more believable way. Winston is still somewhat insane, but the addition of Coach (who at first seemed like he was jammed in and out of place with the cast) has given him a nice foil to play off of; I loved their bake-off in the birthday episode, and their well-practiced scheme in “Prince” that they used to sneak into the party. I look forward to seeing them engage in more bizarre rivalries and sneaky plots.

As I predicted in my previous post, the show is already gearing up to glue Schmidt and CeCe back together which is a bit annoying because they never should have pursued the “double dating” plotline that broke them up for the second time. That said, it doesn’t bother me too much because the writers aren’t rushing into it so for now, it’s easy to ignore.

The addition of Jess’s sister in the most recent episode was a nice touch. I love Linda Cardinelli, so maybe I’m biased, but I thought she was funny while also showing a similar yet darker and more destructive personality to the bright quirkiness shared by her sister. I imagine she’ll be around for a few episodes at least and that should be entertaining. The loft and Schmidt’s neighboring apartment are getting pretty crowded (and that’s not even counting Winston’s weird, cab-driver love affair, who I assume will be showing up from time to time), but it hasn’t felt too overstuffed yet. Hopefully that will continue.

Overall, the show has improved a lot since its rockier episodes earlier this season. I’ve been consistently laughing at the last several episodes, which is not something that was happening during the beginning of the season. After watching this show for three and a half seasons, I think I have to accept that it is sometimes uneven. It can reach some great and hilarious heights, but it can also be fairly disappointing when it swings and misses. I can accept that, though, because on the aggregate, the show succeeds more than it fails.