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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 four episodes, such illumination will be needed.
It is known.
Episode 207: “A Man Without Honor”
If you’re an actor or a director, and if you’re extraordinarily lucky, just one scene will come along every once in a great while in the film or television worlds that will literally explode with potential: an opportunity for an emotional outpouring or for a vividly composed frame, teeming with detail and light and performance. If you’re an audience member, and if you’re extraordinarily lucky, you’ll reap the benefits of such professionals bursting at the seams to knock such a rarity out of the park.
“A Man without Honor” benefits from such eagerness to realize such material, and it manages to deliver on that potentiality in spades. When Alton Lannister is thrown into the same makeshift prison cell as his cousin, Ser Jaime, a seven-minute – seven minutes! – scene ensues, filled with compassion and lack of empathy, backstory and characterization, thematic development and worldbuilding (such as the mention of Ser Barristan Selmy, who hasn’t been seen since “The Pointy End” [episode 108]). Then there’s action and there’s quiet and there’s surprise and there’s even touching moments of revelation – to say the scene has it all would actually be an understatement. And that it is allowed to play out for literally three times the length of a normal scene, without the interruption of intercuts or cutaways, is quite literally mindblowing; the amount of creative discipline and instinct on display here is far beyond what is normally evident in other television series or, even, films (such as, say, Peter Jackson’s <i>King Kong</i>, which suffers from a severe case of attention deficit disorder, among many, many other creative fallacies).
The fact that it was a complete and utter invention by showrunners Dan Weiss and David Benioff is all the more astounding.
The Differences between the Episode and the Novel
If A Clash of Kings is a roadmap and Game of Thrones, a(n abridged) sightseeing tour, then a constant phenomena witnessed this season is the substantially different – and, at times, wholly divergent – routes taken to hitting the major landmarks of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. The arrival at the House of the Undying, the home of Qarth’s warlocks, was preordained 14 years ago, but just how Benioff and Weiss are getting there is novel (no pun intended).
It’s also a bit on the turgid side. Xaro Xhoan Daxos colluding with Pyat Pree, killing his own household servants in the process, reeks of a certain prosaism that is seldom seen in Martin’s source material and is only rivaled in the series itself by the tedious “duel” between Ned Stark and Jaime Lannister (“The Wolf and the Lion,” 105). The outsiders-go-for-the-win-by-(literally)-cutting-everyone’s-throats slant is stale and blatant and, in retrospect, seen a mile off (though one hoped that it was a mirage in the Qartheen sand as opposed to an obvious pitfall).
Then there’s the small fact that it simultaneously manages to undermine one of Martin’s prime directives in handling characterization. If an individual – take Ser Jaime, for instance – is presented as being, say, glib and haughty and superficial, it’s not too long before the grizzled author turns the audience’s perceptions on their head and reveals a whole new character beneath the deliberately built-up epidermis of perception and assumption and revulsion. It’s a beautiful thing to behold, particularly as it meticulously unfolds across some 5,000 pages. With Benioff and Weiss’s story, though, what you see is what you get, bit by telegraphed bit.
If Xaro being transformed from a representation of the more refined and abstract stratagems of the merchant class – think Magister Illyrio Mopatis (last seen in the previously mentioned “The Wolf and the Lion”), but on a smaller, more intimate scale, one simultaneously (and paradoxically) gentler but more devious than his television counterpart – to a cardboard cutout of the prodigal immigrant is anticlimactic, at least one can easily see how the showrunners’ hearts were in the right place (if not necessarily their minds). Xaro, in this telling, is a player in the game of thrones, working his way up the hierarchy by any means necessary – and in an interesting reflection of Queen Regent Cersei Baratheon, who similarly murdered her royal husband to assume the mantle of authority. It’s a nice, albeit clumsy, reverberation.
But it also runs the risk of becoming yet another in the greater trend of repetition in the showrunners’ fabricated elements this year. Arya’s arc, for example, has been significantly pared down from her traveling along the Kingsroad up North and has instead been replaced by her growing relationship with Lord Tywin Lannister (whom she never meets in any of the novels) in a series of scenes that all largely play identically the same, starting with her first meeting with him in the peasants’ pen.
Still, Daenerys Targaryen is solidly on track to visiting the House of the Undying… and that’s all that matters, right?
Expanding the Story
Care to see what Wired, the Huffington Post, and Realms of Fantasy have to say about Game of Thrones’s second season thus far? Then you should check out the new roundtable that Marc N. Kleinhenz put together for this here very site. It’s long but very informative, and it contains some little nuggets of insight that should prove enriching to your Thrones viewing experience.
The Lore behind the Iron Throne
- A Game of Characterization: Roundtabling Game of Thrones’s Second Season (Thus Far)
- What Has Been Known
- Game of Thrones: A Primer
- Season Two Roundtable
Previous It Is Known Installments
- Episode 16: The Old Gods and the New
- Episode 15: The Ghost of Harrenhal
- Episode 14: Garden of Bones
- Episode 13: What Is Dead May Never Die
- Episode 12: The Nightlands
- Episode 11: The North Remembers
- Episode 10: Fire and Blood
- Episode 9: Baelor
- Episode 8: The Pointy End
- Episode 7: You Win or You Die
- Episode 6: A Golden Crown
- Episode 5: The Wolf and the Lion
- Episode 4: Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things
- Episode 3: Lord Snow
- Episode 2: The Kingsroad
- Episode 1: Winter Is Coming
[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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