'Game of Thrones' Book Departures Continue To Choose Shock Over Substance
This is a book reader review for Game of Thrones, which means that below the dragon there will be discussion of plots from the TV show up to the most current episode that has aired on HBO, as well as spoilers from all five books that have been released. Chapters from books that have not yet been released are still off-limits. Thank you for cooperating!
Ramsay Snow/Bolton continues to be the luckiest motherfucker on this show, pulling off his stealth attack on Stannis’s camp even though there’s someone there who’s allegedly in league with a fire god and is supposed to be able to see the future in flames. THAT’S RIGHT, MEL, I’M CALLING BULLSHIT ON YOUR BULLSHIT and wondering why Stannis and Davos didn’t. Anyway, it’s the push Stannis needs to contemplate a truly horrible measure to try and win this single battle that may or may not be crucial to getting him on the Iron Throne while simultaneously depleting his fire witch of her one precious stash of King’s blood and ridding himself of his sole heir. Excellent strategic thinking there. He sends Davos away, because he knows Davos will try and talk sense into him, and sets about the work of undoing what all of us figured were efforts to humanize Stannis and position him as a genuine contender for the throne.
Jon manages to get the Wildlings back through the wall after a tense moment with Alliser Throne, and it seems that no one is happy. The Wildlings and Jon know how many were left to the army of the dead, the Night’s Watch is watching the people they think are their sworn enemies waltz through their home unmolested, and Olly has definitely got that stabbing look in his eyes. Alliser Throne tells Jon that he’s going to get them all killed, and I say “No, really, just him. And not even him.” Anyway, we get what may be our mopiest Jon Snow face yet, so I think we’re the real winners here.
Every time we visit Dorne I wait for them to set up something besides Jaime’s half-assed kidnapping plot or Ellaria’s even halfer-assed assassination plot but it keeps not happening. If Doran Martell doesn’t drop a “Fire and Blood” next episode I’m going to call the whole thing a waste. You cut out Arianne so you could show the Sand Snakes having slap fights in the dungeon? Ugh. It would be pretty great to see Cersei’s face when Jaime comes back from his “rescue mission” with Trystane and informs her that Trystane will be joining the very Small Council that she’s been slowly dismantling if Cersei weren’t about to be psychologically tormented into a shell of her former self. Anyway, at least Dorne is gorgeous, so I hope the show got some nice kickbacks from the Spanish tourism bureau.
Arya is on her way to kill the Thin Man when she sees Mace Tyrell arrive to meet Tycho Nestorius with Meryn Trant behind him. Last week I said:
“I have long suspected that Arya won’t complete her training as a Faceless Man because her personal mission will run up against her missions for the House. With Meryn Trant bound for Braavos (or possibly already there) I wonder if this will happen sooner rather than later.”
Turns out, it was sooner! Given the way this season has gone, I was EXTREMELY NERVOUS when Arya followed Trant into the brothel that the Madame was going to offer up the young Arya to appease Trant’s disgusting proclivities. But instead we get to see a young nameless, voiceless extra sent off to be raped because that’s the only way we can know that Trant’s a bad guy according to the rulebook of Benioff and Weiss. It’s not enough that Arya’s wanted to kill him since season one, he rapes little girls so he REALLY deserves it! I was surprised, though, that after all her training Arya let herself be seen by Trant as many times as she did. I wonder if he’s not onto her by this point. Maybe not that she’s Arya Stark, but that there’s some girl selling oysters following him who keeps giving him the stink-eye.
The question that Arya has to answer, though, is which version of herself she’s going to be true to. Is she going to become No One, forget Trant and her history as Arya Stark, and kill the Thin Man or will she carry out her vendetta against Trant and end up thrown out of the only home she’s had for the last four seasons? I suspect it will be the latter, and defying the House will cause her to flee back to Westeros at some point.
Then we come to a bewildering mid-episode major death. Apparently Martin told Benioff and Weiss that Shireen would die in the books. The problem is that there’s no way for STANNIS to sacrifice her in the books, they’re hundreds of miles apart. But Melisandre and Selyse are at the Wall with Shireen. Maybe they feel that this decision was necessary to show who Stannis really is, but I think it might be more interesting to set Stannis against his wife, a religious fanatic, or Melisandre, desperate to do anything to appease her god, particularly if the sacrifice brings the promised results. Stannis is obsessed with justice. There is not justice in this. And now a character who was previously reasonably sympathetic, who had his share of supporters among the viewers and readers (I see you, Stannis the Mannis people) is a villain through and through. It’s not like this show has a shortage of villains, but it has had a shortage of sweetness and now more of that has been lost.
I think that’s my biggest problem with a lot of these “shocking” changes. They seem to want to be shocking more than they want to be interesting. There was an interesting way to tell the story of Ramsay and Sansa, one that added shading to a character who is so fully a monster it’s nearly laughable, but they didn’t do that. There was a chance to show Meryn Trant as a typical bully, but nothing more, and see Arya actually struggle with the idea of killing a glorified palace guard and if it was worth losing her new life. There was a chance with the Stannis story to introduce serious conflict right in the middle of his leadership structure, between him and Melisandre or him and Selyse, but instead we’re giving a new darker side to Stannis over either of the women. Selyse’s last minute attempt to save her daughter was surprising, and touching, but I’ll be interested to see if they build on that at all in the coming season. It seems more likely that Stannis won’t get any push back on this decision until Davos gets back, which is a shame as Tara Fitzgerald seems to be up to the task of developing a complex and compelling woman in Selyse. Hopefully I’m wrong on this point, and we do start to see Selyse pulling away from Stannis and perhaps putting Melisandre on her back foot as she loses the trust of a woman who had been her most devout follower. Perhaps there’s a larger message here, about the way war and power change even the best people, but when they deliberately build up Stannis and Shireen’s relationship this season only to do this it’s hard to see it as anything other than pure cruelty.
But where this show stumbles, it sometimes also soars. In this case literally. The scene at the Pit was already good with the interplay between Hizdahr, Daario, and Tyrion (“my father would have liked you” may be the subtlest insult he’s ever laid down). Jorah’s near death got pulses racing before building to the crescendo when he speared an assassin right behind the royal couple, after which all hell broke loose. Changing the attempt on Dany’s life from a botched poisoning (miss you, Strong Belwas and your stronger stomach!) to an out and out public coup creates a far more palpable sense of danger for Daenerys and makes her escape via dragon her only good option. It seemed like the Sons were killing slave owners as well as freed slaves, and Hizdahr didn’t even escape their wrath. It was a total bloodbath, until it became a conflagration. And while the CGI was not uniformly great, it was enough to get across the sense of chaos and awe of a nearly full-sized dragon touching down in the middle of an arena. Even though I knew what was coming, I was genuinely worried at a few points for our characters and for Drogon himself. Watching him take off and glide triumphantly above Meereen with Daenerys made me almost as happy as the burning of Astapor.
I also think it was interesting to see Tyrion save Missandei before they flee into the Pit after Dany, Jorah, and Daario. Tyrion has gone from a depressed drunk with seemingly no will to survive to a man with a purpose strong enough to kill for. There’s been a very interesting character arc for Tyrion, bookended by murders. Peter Dinklage might be doing his best work this season in his reaction to Drogon, though. It was great in Valyria, and it was even better here; just a look of pure awe mingled with terror.
I want to take a minute here to mention that as uneven as Emilia Clarke can be in some scenes, she has 100% sold all of her work with the dragons, which is incredible given that you know she’s emoting to a tennis ball on a stick, or crawling around on a lump of green foam with that look of love, fear, and excitement in her eyes. Even when the CGI isn’t great, you believe her interaction with the dragons and it’s probably one of the most important pieces of her character. I’m halfway to believing that it’s a deliberate choice that she’s more open and emotional with the dragons than with people.
We have one episode left. Previews let us know we’ll be going back to Winterfell, Braavos, and the Wall. We’ll see Brienne again, Sansa’s saying some very dramatic things, but dear gods in heavens, please join me in hoping that they didn’t get the idea to “shock”-en up Cersei’s walk.