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Review: Game of Thrones, Season 2 Episode 6

Posted by msunyata on Sunday, May 13, 2012

Based off of George R.R. Martin’s 1,000-page opus A Clash of Kings, the second season of HBO’s Game of Thrones takes the first year’s intricate plot lines, character shadings, and thematic undercurrents and simultaneously expands and deepens them to a ridiculously exponential degree.  Or, at least, it’s supposed to – the actual doing just may prove to be a ways off from the source material’s being.

This column (It Is Known: An Analysis of Thrones) acts as a companion piece to both series, novel and television, analyzing the continuing story of the War of the Five Kings – and how it fares in the transition from the page to the screen.  What it will not do is spoil the story; the hope and intent is elucidation, not ruination.

Given the twists and turns, betrayals and sacrifices that await in the next five episodes, such illumination will be needed.

It is known.

 

Episode 206: “The Old Gods and the New”

Among slick acting, superb cinematography, and some remarkably adept dialogue, one of the brightest – and most impressive – facets of The X-Files was its location filming, one of the most notoriously difficult parts of the filmmaking process due to the long hours of scouting, negotiating contracts, and securing permits that it requires.  (Why engage in the act if it’s so mind-numbingly tedious?  Because the loss in time is routinely made up for by the immense savings in money – designing, constructing, and striking a set is always an expensive proposition, one that routinely eats up large chunks of the production’s budget – and because, well, everything in filmmaking is excruciatingly monotonous, anyway.)  Many television series have bragged at one time or another that they attempt to create a mini-feature film each and every single week; X-Files did it, and in large parts thanks to the varied landscapes that Agents Mulder, Scully, and Doggett would find themselves chasing aliens and monster against.

The Sopranos is a close second in this regard, but by the time its run is done, Game of Thrones can easily dethrone (no pun intended) its HBO predecessor.  Whether it’s Joffrey’s name day tournament at the Red Keep or, for the past two episodes, Jon Snow’s trek to the Frostfangs, the locations sizzle behind the set dressing, costumes, and, of course, performances, and they do much to add a remarkable level of realism to the medieval narrative.

The soundstage sets, however, are a (slightly) different story.  Some hit the same high level of quality in terms of authenticity (the Eyrie’s sky cell or Dragonstone’s map room, for instance) or, even, in blending constructed elements with locations (Winterfell reigns supreme in this regard), but others leave much to be desired in all aspects.  Harrenhal is, unfortunately, definitely and definitively one of these weak areas, a castle whose stones consistently look like plaster, whose lighting reeks of artificiality (unlike, say, King’s Landing), and whose larger-than-life towers and curtain walls look like a Hallmark production’s attempts at CG.  Scenes seem to take on a more stilted feel here, which, at a guess, has as much to do with the castle’s inferior screen presence as with Maisie Williams’s understated performance as the spunky and oftentimes-unrestrained Arya Stark.

At least Lord Tywin Lannister’s chambers are more in keeping with the vitality of Lord Eddard’s bedroom at Winterfell and Lord Balon Greyjoy’s chambers at Pyke.  Given its overwhelming monopoly of screen time at Harrenhal, this is no small constellation prize.

 

The Differences between the Novel and the Episode:

In a season filled with truncations, expansions, and outright fabrications, what is arguably the single biggest deviation from Martin’s A Clash of Kings is Bran Stark.

Yes, the narrative structure is (more or less) still there in Dan Weiss and David Benioff’s adaptation:  a young boy who has to play the lord while his elder brother is off waging a war of independence and his lord father is dead, fighting against the tedium of an adult’s responsibilities while attempting to run away from the ambivalent meaning behind his “wolf dreams.”  But the character beats are all different; Bran is more confident, more sure of himself as he ultimately confronts, thanks (in very small part) to the wildling Osha, not only those moments of apparently being a wolf, but also dreams of impending doom for Winterfell and its denizens.  He’s something more of a tragic figure here than a gawky adolescent going through a coming-of-age story (albeit one set against a horridly vicious backdrop), as do all the rest of the Stark children, from one degree (Arya) to another (Sansa).

In the book, Bran, a prince who is wont to getting his way, absolutely refuses to confront the mysterious possibilities of his dreams – which include Summer, a giant weirwood tree that seems somehow to talk to him, the ever-present three-eyed crow, and actually being Summer – until two brand-new characters arrive at Winterfell to partake in the traditional harvest feast.  Jojen and Meera Reed are siblings, just a few years older than Bran, children of Lord Eddard’s bannerman and close friend and from a people who are rarely seen, even in the North.  Jojen comes baring prophecies, particularly one about the sea rising to drown Winterfell (and, ultimately, Ser Rodrik Cassel, though a bit after Theon Greyjoy’s stealthy assault), and the accuracy of his so-called green dreams forces Bran to finally face the truth about his own special gifts.

(There is a scene from A Game of Thrones that details the dreams Bran has while in his coma.  This is the grand introduction of the three-eyed crow, who flies alongside the young boy as he is plunging from the tower to the ground, telling him that he can either fly or fall to his death  When Bran finally, desperately chooses flight, the crow pecks viciously at his forehead, right where his own third eye should be.  It turns out that Jojen Reed had a similar experience when very little and almost dying of a bout of sickness, and that it is the crow who is ultimately responsible for the Reeds’ visit to the seat of House Stark.)

Unlike the changes with, say, Queen Regent Cersei Baratheon and Tyrion Lannister, which seem part of a deliberate strategy to portray the characters in a specific light to the audience, the alteration in Bran Stark’s throughline might have been born out of the necessity of cutting as many characters out of the second season as possible rather than a thoughtful reconstitution – or rehabilitation, as is the case with Theon – of television storytelling.  There’s more to the decision, though, besides draining much of the meat, not to mention most of the drama, out of Bran’s journey; it also robs the show of one of Martin’s nastiest moments in the novel:  the revelation that the biggest “green dream” Jojen has yet is the death of both Bran and Rickon (and the mutilation of their corpses, a nice little bonus for the young Starks).

How the showrunners plan on delivering an emotional wallop of the same caliber is unknown – if they even, indeed, plan on finding a replacement or compensatory element at all – but one can only hope that it bears absolutely no resemblance to the travesty that befell Daenerys Targaryen in this episode.  The stealing of her dragons is a complete and utter invention on behalf of the writing staff, along with the carnage of Dany’s and Xaro Xhoan Daxos’s dead households (and Xaro’s vault, and Dany’s [very much repeated] confrontation with the Spice King, and the Dothraki attempts at plundering their host’s city).  The signs certainly aren’t good, but there is a slight saving grace in what promises to be a dragged-out (and probably unnecessarily gratuitous) story arc:  the fact that the last over-the-top cliffhanger ending – Jon Snow following and then being clubbed over the head by Craster – ended up being much sound and fury that signified very little follow-up in the succeeding episode, much less the rest of the series.

Again, one can only hope.

 

The Lore behind the Iron Throne

 

Previous It Is Known Installments

[Marc N. Kleinhenz has written for 18 sites, including IGN, Gamasutra, and Nintendojo, where he co-hosts the Airship Travelogues podcast.  He also likes mittens.]

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