Monday, May 23, 2016

The Door

This week's Game of Thrones contracted the number of story threads in play in order to spend more time on the remaining few. It made for an even more emotional hour than usual.

Things began up north with a confrontation between Sansa and Littlefinger that continued the former's "spine-ification." I have to wonder how much of the dialogue was culled from internet reviews of last season's episode which saw Sansa wedded to (and raped by) Ramsay Bolton. Much of what Sansa hurled at Littlefinger was exactly what fans hurled at the writers last year. Still there was tremendous satisfaction in watching her say it, and in watching Brienne threaten Littlefinger into responding. The one criticism I have is the laser accurate criticism of Littlefinger: "If you didn't know, you're an idiot. If you did know, you're my enemy." It's not very like Littlefinger to be caught unawares, so I suppose for now, we have to assume the latter.

Toward the end of the episode, Sansa and Jon set off to gather forces, leaving Dolorous Edd as Lord Commander of the Night's Watch. They seem to have forgone an election there in favor of an appointment, but it's all for a good joke for the audience. Meanwhile, Sansa has dispatched Brienne to Riverrun on a separate mission, which might just spark a small group of book readers to hope that the show might pick up the Lady Stoneheart plot line it jettisoned a while back. (I myself bet against it.)

Over in Braavos, Arya (after yet another beating at the hands of the Waif) received a new assassination assignment, a final chance to prove herself. She's to kill the actress playing Cersei Lannister in the local production of "Game of Thrones, Season One." On the one hand, I disliked that so much screen time was spent showing us that play; we got very quickly that the entire scenario was a twist of the knife in Arya's emotions, but the scene kept going and going. On the other hand, it was a really fun scene, with the writers taking a big risk in lampooning themselves so thoroughly. And the presentation of "medieval theater" felt quite authentic.

But I'm unsure of just what the endgame is in Arya's latest adventure. Yes, we did get the scene in which Arya seemed to empathize with Actress Cersei and gently push for her to be spared. So on one level, this would be a test of Arya's dispassionate mercilessness. And yet, did Jaqen H'ghar really know Arya would be tempted by kindness in this way? I mean, wouldn't the more natural expectation be that Arya might enjoy (too much) a chance to kill a proxy of Cersei Lannister? And where's the test in that, unless someone is watching Arya and judging her level of enjoyment in her task? I suppose we'll find out in a future episode.

In the Iron Islands, the Kingsmoot took place, with Yara making a fair showing (aided by Theon's speech) until Euron swooped in to seize the day and the throne. Euron's plan to build a fleet and sail for Daenerys and Meereen tracks with the books (and the melding of two book characters into one show character). But the wild card here is that Yara and Theon stole ships of their own and are now on the run. Bound for where, and to do what, who can say? (Side note: I wonder how many past kings of the Iron Islands have died during their coronations? I'm sure the Ironborn would say that if that happened, then the deceased wasn't worthy of the throne anyway. Still, the show quite vividly and uncompromisingly depicted a harsh idea from the books.)

After seizing her new army last week, Daenerys didn't do much this week but face down the situation with Jorah. I wonder if we're going to be seeing any more of him. His quest to cure himself hardly seems of narrative importance at this point, with so much else in play. On the other hand, making this Dany's only scene this week certainly seems to ascribe a lot of importance to the idea that Jorah might just be able to find a cure. Unless this was all just meant to be a poetic goodbye... in which case, this particular poetic end paled in comparison to what would come later in the episode.

Politics continue in Meereen, where Tyrion attempted to reach out to a local Red Priestess. Plot wise, this felt like the most stalled of this week's narratives, yet it did give us more fantastic "reaction acting" from actor Conleth Hill. He showed us Varys' emotional barriers stripped away as the Priestess revealed knowledge of his past she shouldn't possibly have.

Lastly, we had the (mis)adventures of Bran beyond the Wall, the tragic culmination of a story we didn't even really know was tragic until now. First, we learned that the Children of the Forest are responsible for the creation of the White Walkers -- and while the origin of the Walkers doesn't do much to alter the threat they pose, it does add an element of tragedy to learn that even their own creators are now threatened by them. Tragedy continued when Bran's own actions caused his training with the Three-Eyed Raven to be cut short. Curious to go poking around in visions, he found the Night King and his army, bringing them right to his door.

Or should I say, The Door. The final tragedy was the simultaneous revelation and sacrifice of Hodor. In a round of interviews that dropped as soon as the episode aired, the showrunners were quick to credit George R.R. Martin himself for this plot twist: Bran's own meddling in time is what turned Hodor into a simpleton. Whatever nobility there was in Hodor having a purpose in life and finally fulfilling it was undercut by the fact that the sacrifice of his life was one that ended up lasting almost his entire life. Hodor was an object of derision for decades, all because of Bran's lack of responsibility.

It's interesting to me that of all the new material so far this season, the showrunners made a point of saying that this one is from books yet to be published. Perhaps they're sharing credit because I suspect the show's handling of this reveal will be better than whatever Martin will published. (Some day. Maybe.) The juxtaposition of the attacking wights in the present with Hodor's collapse in the past, thorough tense back and forth cutting, was presented in a way that can't possibly be so tight in written narrative. And more so because of Martin's writing technique in this series, to restrict his narrative to certain character's points of view. I suppose one day, we'll see. (Maybe.)

We'll also see whose loss the fans will be mourning more today, Hodor's or Summer's. We're losing Dire Wolves at an alarming rate this season. (A creative decision, or a budgetary one?)

Though not every story line this week packed the punch of Bran's, it was still an excellent episode overall. I give it an A-.

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