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Game of Thrones review: Season 3 Episode 2

Posted by msunyata on Sunday, April 14, 2013

Based largely off of the first half of George R.R. Martin’s behemoth of a book, A Storm of Swords (which is longer than the entirety of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy!), the third season of HBO’s Game of Thrones brings all of the plot lines, character beats, and thematic developments from the first two years to a climatic head.

And as the show’s lingering questions are answered and bombshell revelations are dropped, this column (It Is Known: An Analysis of Thrones) will help wade viewers and book-lovers both through the narrative overload that will be at hand.  What it won’t do, however, is spoil the story; the hope and intent is elucidation, not ruination.

Given the death, destruction, and – gasp – hope that await in the next 9 episodes, such illumination will be needed.

It is known.

 

Margaery from Game of Thrones

 

Episode 302: “Dark Wings, Dark Words”

The character of Margaery Tyrell exemplifies, in many ways, the breadth and depth of not only the changes Game of Thrones brings to George Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, but also the life the series contains as its own separate entity.  Seen only sparingly in the novels, Margaery gets a significantly expanded presence in the show that somehow works to simultaneously entrench her carefully sculpted public persona of naiveté and establish the almost cutthroat cunning that characterizes her personal life.  Indeed, despite Tyrion Lannister’s penchant for strategy and Petyr Baelish’s raw thirst for power, few are as accomplished in the game of thrones as is the Lady of Highgarden.

And few scenes crystalize character as effectively or as perfectly as the one in which King Joffrey Baratheon receives his betrothed in his personal chambers.  Margaery is welcomed warmly, rebuked coldly, and finally outright coveted by the young tyrant in one smooth, continuous transition, which is itself seamlessly realized by the warm lighting, detailed set design, and careful – though minimalist – camera work.  All combine to establish a mood and theme of seduction, making the audience recall Lady Tyrell’s previous attempts at regal manipulation with Renly Baratheon (“What Is Dead May Never Die,” episode 203), though this particular scene almost immediately throws the theme on its head, completely defying viewers’ expectations.

The key to this wonderful twist lies in its staging.  The director, Daniel Minahan, places Natalie Dormer on the opposite side of the set until she is put on the defensive, being forced to explain her former allegiance to King Renly – which seems, at first, to be a play on the new boyfriend being jealous of the old.  Joffrey being Joffrey, however, he cares little for romance (or, for that matter, emotion writ large) and is instead interested in the politics surrounding Margaery’s first marriage; he has little reaction, either dismissive or lustful, to her talk of sex, but it is the talk of power that revs his motor, leading him to speak of even more power in the form of having all homosexuals be put to death.

And it’s here that Margaery, at last, senses an opening, framed beautifully in a close-up and realized even more beautifully by Natalie Dormer.  “You must do whatever you need to do,” she tells him, in a direct echo of that first scene with the other Baratheon monarch.  “You are the king.”  And it is here where the blocking comes so deftly into play again, with Margaery tenderly caressing Joffrey’s elaborate crossbow while delivering her lines.  Unlike Ros and her whore accomplice, Daisy, from the previous season (“Garden of Bones,” 204), who attempt to go directly at Joffrey by baring their breasts and grabbing his crotch, the future queen knows that indirection is best and playing for sheer, unadulterated, brutal dominance is the key to his heart.  The crossbow here is much more than a proxy for his genitalia – it’s the instrument through which he exerts his dominion over others, which, in turn, is the only way that makes him truly feel alive (it’s also the same weapon that he used to threaten Ros with, not incidentally).  When she asks him to show her how it works, Joff shows genuine excitement – real titillation – for the very first time.  By the time she asks the king if he would like to watch her shoot and kill something, he’s hers.

And by the end of the scene, the writer-producers, actors, and the director have all made the audience theirs.

 

 

Theon from Game of Thrones

 

 

The Differences between the Episode and the Novel:

As mentioned in previous columns, there are several commandments that Game of Thrones adheres to as it charts its course through the adaptation process.  While one of the most fundamental is the Principle of the Conservation of Characters, another, perhaps equally strong edict is the Law of Linearity.

George Martin’s books are peculiar beasts, following only specific characters in specific locations at specific times.  Since Ser Jaime Lannister, for example, is not one of the several “POV characters” in the second novel, we have absolutely no idea what he’s up to in the Riverlands while the Battle of the Blackwater rages on in King’s Landing; it’s not until the third book that we see he is being escorted down to the capital by Brienne of Tarth, and this particular development is preceded by a note directly from Martin letting his dear readers know that his continuity is being rewound a bit before being speed back up to see what Tyrion, Jon Snow, and his other spatially dispersed characters are up to.

Showrunners Dan Weiss and David Benioff actively work to avoid this temporal jumping back and forth, laying down all the myriad story threads from all the various volumes in real-time, as it were; the inclusion of Jaime’s meanderings and the carnage on the Fist of the First Men at the end of season two are prime examples of the writer-producers pulling material that would have normally been in the third season in a more literal adaptation.  And such a small-but-nonetheless-drastic change might very well be necessary, given just how thoroughly overwhelmed book-virgin viewers tend to be with the literally dozens of characters, locations, and plot developments, though there are some, more cynical literary fans who tend to detect the faint odors of pandering and dumbing-down wafting about that “mainstream” adaptations tend to encourage.  (It should be noted that these Martin fans are not without their fair share of justification in being so suspicious, given just how abhorrently Peter Jackson’s filmic translation of the Lord of the Rings material has turned out – a translation which included, by the by, a linear transformation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s oftentimes-nonlinear plot.)

Given all this, it’s extremely interesting to note that the showrunners have opted to not continue – not completely<, at least – this trend in the first two episodes of the most important season yet.  Yes, on the one hand, including Theon Greyjoy’s imprisonment and torture in the Dreadfort carries on the spirit of the Law of Linearity (in the novels, Theon is wholly absent from A Storm of Swords and has only recently reappeared in subsequent installments), but it simultaneously disrupts the letter of the Law:  the audience has no idea how, exactly, the so-called Prince of Winterfell managed to make his way from being a captive of his turncloak Ironborn crew to being a captive of Ramsay Snow, Roose’s bastard.  Similarly, there is no connective tissue between Daenerys Targaryen’s stay in Qarth and the sudden decision to buy a slave army in Astapor, or between Lord Tywin Lannister’s command to Ser Gregor Clegane to hold the ruined castle of Harrenhal and the Mountain That Rides’s abrupt departure from it, leaving behind only the corpses of captured Northern men.

And there may even be evidence to support the claim that the writers are not only incorporating this newfound phenomenon as a storytelling device, but that they’re also expanding upon it, applying it to scenes instead of around them.  When Lord Petyr Baelish, for instance, pulls Lady Sansa Stark aside in the third season premiere (“Valar Dohaeris,” 301) to have some sort of hushed conversation, presumably about her planned escape from the capital city, the audience is delegated to the sidelines along with Shae and Ros, left to wonder just what, exactly, is going on.  (Not that this is anything new in the context of A Song of Ice and Fire, as Martin routinely employs the trick of withholding critical bits of information from his readers, even if it may seem, on the surface, to fly in the face of such storytelling elements as inner monologues..)  There is little doubt that Benioff and Weiss will backtrack in due time to disclose all the hidden narrative points in all these missing sequences, but that episodes 21 and 22 would suddenly find themselves so powerfully shaped by the device when the first 20 installments didn’t is eyebrow-raising, to say the least.

It just may be that this is a permanent addition to the showrunners’ tool belt, being utilized to help craft each subsequent chapter with a greater sense of finesse – just as the second season seemed to bring the power tool of intercutting so forcefully to the forefront – but only time, of course, will tell.

 

Jojen from Game of Thrones

 

 

Season Three Reviews:

 

 

Season Two Reviews:

 

Season One Reviews:

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