Game of Thrones: Fire and Blood

“When dead men, and worse, come hunting in the night, do you think it matters who sits on the Iron Throne?”

Westeros—like our modern shared culture, regardless of country—has pushed magic to the margins. The Westerosi gods are as silent as ours, and the magical or miraculous has been moved to Beyond the Wall, to the distant eastern kingdom of Asshai, and to the memories of desiccated women like Old Nan. Dragons have died out. No one believes in the zombies Beyond the Wall. For all its faux-medieval trappings, Westeros has a thoroughly modern lack of wonder, awe, and faith in the inexplicable. It’s a fantasy with very few fantastic elements.

In the past few episodes, though, the magical has begun to push at the boundaries of Westeros and the land beyond the sea. First, the zombies infiltrated (and/or were brought to) the Night’s Watch. Then, Dany relied on a magical healer to cure her husband. And in “Fire and Blood,” Bran and Rickon shared a prophetic dream—and Dany brought three dragons into a world from which all the dragons had disappeared long ago.

The re-emergence of the magical has not yet touched most of our heroes and heroines, though. It remains on the boundaries, surrounding Westeros proper with ice in the north and fire in the east. The central lands are still occupied by the questions that are universal in the most fantastic worlds, and the most mundane: grief, love, family, and revenge.

Dany

Dany’s story this season has been beautiful. From a broken girl to a strong woman to an even-stronger risen phoenix, her arc has been both deeply personal and profoundly mythic. The price she paid to “save” Khal Drogo’s “life” was too high, but it was also necessary for her continued growth as a character (I’m thinking, as I often do, of Locke’s line about “the price the Island demanded”). Dany needed to be a wife and potential mother, but not for all time. She needs to learn to stand on her own, and when she killed Drogo she began the work of doing just that.

The Dany sections of the book were never my favorite parts, but watching the story unfold this season has been an entirely different experience. Dany’s walk through the fire, her “delivery” of the dragons, her deepening connection with her own ancestral power, and the image of her, naked, covered in soot and dragons, surrounded by worshipers—that was incredible. It felt like a myth for women without any of that namby-pamby earth-goddess stuff. Just raw power, riot-grrrl style.

Sansa

Whereas Dany has managed to fix parts of herself that she didn’t know were broken, Sansa has fallen victim to Joffrey and her own cowardice. By agreeing to submit from the start, and by mistakenly trusting Joffrey to do what he said he would do, Sansa has opened herself up to a world of hurt—so much, in fact, that she must become as numb as possible. Sansa is broken, but she’s also starting to learn that she must mask her feelings (with no little help from the Hound, bless his heart). She has the potential for strength, if only she could realize it.

Catelyn

Catelyn, meanwhile, has gone from strong to brittle. She nearly killed Jaime Lannister—and I think he knew that (and sort of wanted it). As Robb rises to power as the King in the North, she has to focus on supporting her son and re-gaining her daughters, which leaves little time to mourn and no time to recover her sense of balance. She is rather like Robb’s sword: broken but still sharp and jagged.

Arya

Yoren, as a man loyal to the Night’s Watch and therefore loyal to the North, has taken Arya under his wing and forced her to disguise herself as a boy headed for the Wall. She was even more brittle and cruel than Catelyn, threatening an unarmed boy with a sword and being more than honest about her murderous tendencies.

Dany has found an astonishing strength in her husband’s death—it is the last challenge she had to conquer as she becomes a woman and a queen in her own right. The Stark women, however, can have no such transformation yet: Catelyn, Sansa, and Arya all nearly killed men in this episode, not in the spirit of justice but out of white-hot, slow-burning anger.

Jon and Robb

While the Stark women are reeling from Ned’s death, Jon and Robb both began the hard work of learning to be their own men without Ned’s guiding hand. Jon nearly broke his vows, but returned to the Night’s Watch when reminded of the new family that he has created on the Wall, the oaths he took, and the sword that Mormount gave him.

Robb just wanted to continue fighting, but Greatjon Umber kicked his war campaign up a notch and declared him King in the North. Maybe it’s my inner anarchist (or my inner monarchist), but I love the idea of a King in the North. Why should the southron lords, with their sers and their courtesies, govern the hard-scrabble fur-covered northern yobos? Even Theon thinks it is a good idea.

Tyrion

As you can tell, the focus of this episode, for me, was the women—the three widows and the two orphaned daughters. But just as Jon and Robb must learn how to live without their father, Tyrion has begun to learn what it's like to live without his brother--and what that means for his own relationship with papa Lannister. Tyrion's scene with his father was hugely important for his character: Tywin managed to give Tyrion what he’d always wanted (approval and recognition) while still reminding him of his great shame and failing (“You will not take that whore to court.”) I nominate Peter Dinklage for an Emmy.

Littlefinger and Varys

I’ve written before about how their conversations are not about content but about power: bits of information exchanged in a constant series of one-upmanship. This time, the two sneakiest members of the king’s court traded insults rather than info, but the sense was the same. These are the men that rule in King’s Landing, not Joffrey. Robert realized it, and Ned realized it by the time he died. Joffrey has no idea, as his “Shall we begin?” shows. Joffrey doesn’t realize that the matters of state were being decided before he came in the room—and he doesn’t realize there’s more to matters of state than snide posturing and threatening pretty fatherless girls.

Bitter Peaces

• Minstrel: “Every man needs hands, sire.”
Joffrey: “Good. The tongue it is.”

• Lancel: “Was it this exciting last time, when you were young?” Lancel, one of the three things you shouldn’t say after sex with an older woman: “Gee, you’re old!”

• Oh, and: Cersei is sleeping with Lancel! Her cousin! Robert’s squire! Eww!

• Shae: “I’m funny now? I’m Shae the funny whore!” Shae’s fight with Tyrion was hilarious.

• Mormount: “Honor made you leave. Honor brought you back.”
Jon: “My friends brought me back.”
Mormount: “I didn’t say it was your honor.”

• I would like to thank the producers for not showing us Dany’s baby. The description is enough; a visual would just be in poor taste.

• I do not understand the point of the maester’s monologue on kings. It was asinine, it didn’t reveal anything about anyone except him, and I spent the entire thing wondering if he was sitting on a chamber pot.

• List of the dead: the witch, Khal Drogo, Dany’s baby, Sansa’s septa.

For most of this season, I’d assumed that Ned’s death would be the finale, if not the final shot. I appreciate the decision to spend this episode on the aftermath of his death, and the important development of the magical themes that are evidently going to be important in seasons to come. Dany’s rebirth, Mormount’s decision to take the Night’s Watch beyond the Wall, and Robb’s elevation to King in the North are all important points to establish—but this episode mostly succeeded in making me wish terribly that we didn’t have to wait 10 months for the next season.

Having said that, it was a strong episode. Each story it told, or finished telling, or developed, was fascinating. The plots didn’t interweave very much in terms of events, although the (related?) themes of women and magic kept the episode feeling fairly cohesive. And I can’t find fault with that final shot. Dragons!

3.7 out of 4 dragons.

By the way, keep your eyes peeled (ouch!) for a Season One wrap-up essay on Thursday or so, featuring all of the Doux Reviews contributing writers that I can trick into doing my work for me.

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)

12 comments:

Jess Lynde said...

Re: the maester's monologue. I think they just wanted one more chance to use their favorite exposition prostitute. :)

Actually, I agree with Zob. The point was to show that Pycelle is not what he seems and that he wants Littlefinger to think he's in the tank for Joffrey. Why? I don't know. But I thought the scene was interesting. Although I had the same thought about the chamber pot.

Great write-up, Josie. I'll likely have more to contribute to the discussion later, but couldn't resist a chance to take another swipe at Roz.

TVNerd said...

Loved your review as always, but I have to disagree about Arya. Throughout the season she has been treated like a girl, and has tried to not be. Now she is being treated like a boy, and she is showing her true nature. The world she is suddenly in, is harsh, cruel, and unblinking in it's abrupt violence. She has started to act in response to that, taking her own course of action instead of letting others act for her.

Now I may be projecting a little, since I'm a fan of the book. Arya was always one of my favorites, and I thought she was translated wonderfully here.

Anyway, thank you for covering this season, I loved it. Especially the final scene, it was exactly like I pictured (well except that her hair wasn't burned off).

Looking forward to next year!

TVNerd

Josie Kafka said...

It's funny you should notice that, TVNerd. In an earlier draft, I'd struggled with variations on "She's become the boy she always wanted to be...she's become the tomboy she always wanted to be..."

I wound up cutting it because I don't think Arya is thinking in terms of specific gender binaries. I think she wants to be Arya, doing sword-play and fighting stuff. Her identity is unfixed in either gender because she's lost her wolf--and because she's still young enough that many of the reproductive issues that define sex aren't at stake.

That's why she calls her sword "Needle": it's her way of co-opting traditional feminine language and tools for her own purposes. Rather than attempting to assume a masculine position, or even extend the definition of the feminine, she just wants to be herself.

(My own politics are, obviously, informing my reading of Arya as a gender-trickster.)

shawnlunn2002 said...

Loved this finale. Cannot wait for Season 2, which is starting filming next month in Northern Ireland.

Çağlar Çelik said...

Josie, thank you very much for writing reviews for GOT!!! I found myself reading your reviews right after watching the show and liked them so much.

Seems I have to read the book while waiting for the second season.

Thanks again, keep up the good work !!!

Josie Kafka said...

Thank you, Caglar!

Alexandra said...

Maester's monologue on kings was a bit much, I feel as though I was supposed to glean something from it that I did not. Although it is clear that he has seen many kings come and go and here he still stands. I think this is fascinating in a way, especially because it is now obvious that the man cannot only walk upright and without a cane, he can also make plenty use of Littlefingers' ladies. His affectation has allowed him to survive all the reigns of these various war mongering and insane kings. I do not see Littlefinger having similar success, but I would not count the eunich out (I should learn his name).

As for the Littlefinger/eunich exchange--it seems so trivial compared to what we saw happening at the wall and with Dany. All the politics, all the scheming is just so ridiculous when the masterminds cannot see beyond a petulant child perched on an uncomfortable chair to the actual threats to the kingdom (in Dany) and to society (in the white walkers). But I love that, the show has only given us the politics and hints of the magical threats. By grounding the show in the more mundane aspects of the kingdom, the viewers can experience the shock with the characters.

Last thing: Sansa has been almost intolerable throughout the show, but when she stared at her fathers head on a pike, refused to look away, and took the sub contracted beating (way to find a loophole Joffrey) without even a look of surprise or a tear of pain, I saw the Stark spirit in her. I think she could become very dangerous in the way that Cercei is (or was, times they are a changin' and Daddy Lannister is not happy with the way things are being run)...maybe someday she'll be able to set it up so that creepy youngest Stark can give Joffrey some **wine** while they boar hunt...

Actual last thing: Love Dany, love dragons, and love that the witch started screaming immediately.

Sooze said...

Back from my trip and finally got to watch the final episode...and...WOW!

I did end up finishing the book before watching, and I kept thinking how is HBO going to pull THAT off without it looking cheesy? But boy, they sure did it right. Dany with that dragon on her shoulder was perfect.

Loved Sansa's grit finally coming through, Robb's grief but then strength and pride when being claimed King of the North, Jon's friends bringing him back to the wall, Ayra sticking up for herself, Tyrion's interactions with his father...the whole episode what just fantastic.

As long as HBO has the ep's available on demand, I now want to go back and rewatch them all just to savor it this time.

Thanks for the great reviews, Josie, I am looking forward to Season 2.

ChrisB said...

I watched this episode last night, then again this morning thinking that I must have missed something epic last night. No -- this finale just left me feeling underwhelmed.

Reading all the reviews, it is clear that one of the things that people who are passionate about this show share in common is the fact that characters they know and love have now "come to life." There are so many characters and so many plot lines, that I find it difficult to invest too heavily in any.

I did find the opening montage of Ned's children's reactions to his death to be much more moving than the death itself. And, the final shot of Dany with the dragons was an amazing piece of filmmaking.

But, overall, this season lacked something for me. Perhaps it was the one storyline that would have held all the other narratives together; perhaps it is the one central character that I can believe in and root for. I felt that a lot of this season, and especially the last three episodes, was just setting up the next season.

I will watch the first episode of next season, but I'm not sure I will stick with it through to the end unless I am given something more cohesive in which to hold onto.

Josie Kafka said...

ChrisB, I'm obviously biased, but I'd recommend you give the second season at least a three-episode try. I've heard some great things about what they have planned, although it does sound rather like this just might not be the show for you.

ChrisB said...

Josie -- I've started the book, and can see why people are such fans of them (the books). Brilliantly written and I felt myself caught up at once, but that may be because I had seen the show. So, win/win.

I promise to give the new series three episodes. I do want to see more of those dragons!

:-)

Danielle said...

I read a lot...5 books this past week alone. BUT...I've tried and failed to read the first book three times. I LOVE TV/movie fantasy, but think the books of the genre are tedious. I may have to try again after watching the first season on DVD the last couple of weeks. Having seen the characters/places/etc brought to life, I might be able to enjoy it more.

All that said...my husband and I LOVED the show and will have to wait for the DVD to come out since we don't subscribe to HBO.

Enjoy the reviews and read each after watching the shows. Thank you.