Tuesday, April 23, 2013

this week on game of thrones ...

I have to admit that when I heard that HBO was breaking up George R.R. Martin's third (and best) book of his A Song of Ice and Fire series, A Storm of Swords, I was a little dubious. Some amazing things happen in the book, and I wasn't sure that the impact wouldn't be diluted if stretched over two seasons. But I have to say, after four episodes into the third season any fears that I may have had regarding the show-maker's story-telling ability have vanished. There are quite a few characters and plot threads that have been emphasized or altered, and while such changes might ruffle the feathers of novel purists, they have actually made for some gripping and entertaining television.

Margaery studies Joffrey
Varys and Olenna are both masters in communication — and snappy dressers
David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, the show runners for Game of Thrones, have wisely realized that their television series can be a loose adaptation of the popular (and still currently being written) series of novels. Characters who hardly figure in the third or even subsequent books in the series have been pumped up for not only dramatic, but thematic effect. The most obvious and successful of these re-characterizations are Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) and her grandmother, Lady Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg). George R. R. Martin's books are so densely populated that the Tyrells, a family that aspires to power as much as any other faction in Westeros, have been pretty under-represented. Casting Dormer and Rigg has not only created the opportunity for some great new dialogue scenes, but has also added two very strong women to the cast of schemers in King's Landing. Watching Queen-regent Cersei (Lena Headey) seethe as Margaery wraps her lovely and under-clothed tendrils around her son, the gullible King Joffrey, (Jack Gleeson) is delicious.

What television and this adaptation has been able to do — what I would have thought impossible — is to make a repulsive character like Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) sympathetic. At least for a moment or two. Characters that were likable but rather slight in the books, like siblings Jojen and Meera Reed, are coming to life as they join Bran, Rickon, Osha and Hodor on their trek north to The Wall.

Sunday night's episode,"And Now His Watch Is Ended" was chock-full of scenes that built to an explosive climax. Viewers had to watch not just one, but many scenes where the characters' status quo was blown apart. Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) proved she could be both ruthless and compassionate as she closed the deal for her army of 8,000, The Unsullied. The starving and beleaguered men of The Night's Watch fell apart at Craster's Keep, with deadly results. Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie), the ultimate odd couple, became more united the more their captors exhibited their cruel side.

Varys shows Tyrion that it's never too late for revenge
Brienne and Jaime get to know each other better on the road
This season Game of Thrones seems even more successful at weaving in the various groups of people that we want to follow around Westeros and beyond. In King's Landing Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) is still fighting for his place in the government and his family, aided at times by Varys (Conleth Hill), but remaining always at odds with his sister Cersei and his father Tywin (Charles Dance). Arya (Maisie Williams) and Gendry have been scooped up by the Brotherhood without Banners, where they also see old enemy The Hound (Rory McCann). Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is playing a dangerous game beyond The Wall with the Wildlings and their leader, Mance Rayder (Ciaran Hinds), who is planning an attack aided by a large army and giants.

As the momentum continues to build, the audience can only hold its breath and watch. Even for people very familiar with A Storm of Swords there are no guarantees as to how exactly the story will spin out on Game of Thrones this season. This is actually a good thing, as the novel, and Martin's world, keeps one on the edge of their seat, with the knowledge that anything, and not necessarily anything good, can happen to a beloved character at any time. And we haven't even seen that much of the deadly White Walkers this season. Yet.
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