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Review: Game of Thrones, Episode 8

Posted by msunyata on Sunday, June 12, 2011

Weighing in at just over 800 pages, A Game of Thrones is full of plots and sub-plots, primary and secondary (and tertiary and ancillary) characters, major and minor leitmotifs, and foreshadowing of foreshadowing – to say it is a dense narrative is an understatement in the extreme, particularly considering its status as only the inaugural chapter of a much larger tale.  This column (It Is Known: An Analysis of Thrones) will act as a companion piece to both series, novel and television, analyzing each installment’s character beats and plot points as well as scrutinizing the transition from page to script.  What it will not do is spoil the story; the hope and intent is elucidation, not ruination.

With two further episodes this season, and a second year already greenlighted (and the much-anticipated and oft-delayed fifth book, A Dance with Dragons, due to release immediately following the season finale), such illumination will be needed.

It is known.

Episode 8: “The Pointy End”

The third-to-final episode of the season marks a big occasion for the series:  it was penned by George R.R. Martin, the writer of the novels, himself, a distinction made all the more distinguished by the fact that it is his first teleplay in some 15 years (after originally getting his start as an author, Martin made the jump to Hollywood, working as a writer-producer on The Twilight Zone and Beauty and the Beast before pitching his own series and films.  A Game of Thrones was his first published book after returning to his home in New Mexico).

Strangely enough, “The Pointy End” is, of all eight installments to date, the one that feels the most like a television episode; rather than being composed of several lengthy, dialogue-driven scenes, the episode jumps from location to location, character to character, in almost rapid-fire succession, making for long sequences of intercut material that can easily be found in any other modern-day series.  This is partially to do with the nature of the material itself (Lannister guards sweeping the Red Keep and purging it of all Stark retainers is a development that tends to be told with a lot more action and a lot less dialogue), and partially with scenes written and shot for previous chapters being pushed back due to time constraints (such as Tyrion Lannister and Bronn making their way through the Valley of Arryn), but it just may also have to do with a veteran television scribe reengaging his visual storytelling instincts.

There is another possibility, of course, one much more promising and intriguing:  showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff, former writers of novels and screenplays, are becoming much more comfortable with and accustomed to their newly chosen medium and the process of adapting Martin’s dense literary tale to it.  If so, the audience should expect much more visually intensive sleights of hand in the season yet to come.


The Differences Between the Novel and the Episode

In the book, Khal Drogo receives his wound, an arrow in the arm and a slash from a sword that would have sliced off his nipple if it were not for a small flap of skin that keeps it attached, off-page, during the sacking and plunder of the Lhazareen village.

That it is so drastically changed in the series is understandable, given the rigors and limitations imposed by production realities; such a make-up as exposed muscle and a flapping nipple would be next-to-impossible to pull off as well and as convincingly as other details have thus far been realized.  And the usage of Maggo, one of Drogo’s riders who complains of Daenerys stopping the rape of the conquered, as the vehicle for the khal’s injury – an important plot point for next week’s installment – is a deft narrative compression, along the same lines as the aforementioned condensation employed by Zack Snyder in his Watchmen adaptation.

Although such a change obviously does not touch the integrity of the narrative structure underneath (or make the viewer question the believability of the show’s world, such as having a midget and his sellsword walk for miles through valley and hill without the accompaniment of horse does), it does have an unfortunate side-effect:  it helps widen the rift between the level of detail – often exacting, unsettling, and gruesome – between the page and the screen.  And Martin’s series of books is, by his own admission, nothing if not a collection of details.

The rape of Mirri Maz Duur, the “witch” (in the book, the “maegi”) who volunteers to treat Drogo’s wounds, is an even better example.  In A Game of Thrones, several men have had a go at her, bending her over and taking her in the rear – “as a dog takes his bitch,” as Mirri herself puts it – in the Dothraki style (contrary to what the series inexplicably depicts, the only predominant usage of anal sex is by the horse lords; the lordlings of Westeros were never once, across all four published novels, described as engaging in the practice), helping to seal the brutality and viciousness of man’s plunder, on the one hand, and Daenerys’s bold stand against it, on the other.  In Game of Thrones, however, not only is she not raped, there is the tried-and-true Hollywood cliché of it-almost-happening-but-the-good-guy-strides-in-at-just-the-last-minute-to-stop-the-bad-guy-and-save-the-damsel-in-distress.  It is, of course, a jarring intrusion of conventionality into a story that does much to oppose the traditional, but it also is an odd choice, given the showrunners’ and HBO’s decision to include so many other graphic scenes in previous installments, particularly those not seen in the source material and which don’t have as large an impact on the overarching plot (if, indeed, any at all).

The series has, up until this point, been more deliberate than wanton.  Hopefully this will not change in the final two episodes – or in the season to come.

Previous “It Is Known” Installments:

Episode 1: “Winter Is Coming”
Episode 2: “The Kingsroad”
Episode 3: “Lord Snow”
Episode 4: “Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things”
Episode 5: “The Wolf and the Lion”
Episode 6: “A Golden Crown”
Episode 7: “You Win or You Die”

[Marc N. Kleinhenz is a freelance writer and videographer who will be reviewing HBO’s Game of Thrones for us.  He has also written extensively about George R.R. Martin’s books for other sites.]
 

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