Game Of Thrones Season Five - Episodes Five And SixBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 16 June 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
5- Kill the Boy, 6 - Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken
HBO/ Sky Atlantic - 2015
The middle section of this season starts to make good on its promise; tantalising as to what fates and allegiances will concern the many characters involved.

Kill The Boy is a title with several references to actions and decision. Most obvious is Jon Snow's growth as the Lord Commander, telegraphed by Maester Aemon uttering the phrase. Tormund is now truly developing respect for Jon, after already having been through a period of investing trust in the youth, only to have it damaged by the eventual actions of one who meant his sworn loyalty to the Night's Watch. 

There is some build up to the Hardhome set piece, which was a major event in the books, albeit one that never took place in the present. Jon needs Stannis to lend him ships for this controversial and risky mission. Enough good-will means that his wish is granted.

A rather more ham-fisted development sees Olly continue to despise the Wildlings after he lost his village to their attack. I wish I could assert that he is anything more than a thinly characterised and blandly acted entity. The Jon Snow storyline overall though continues to be both compelling and enjoyable. Despite his resolution in executing Slynt, he still has much to prove to his Brothers in Black, as he is distinctly youthful, and happened to break a clutch of vows not that long ago.    

In the much warmer climes of Meereen, we quickly find out that Barristan Selmy is indeed deceased, following his one last show of fighting skill against the massive group of ne'er-do-wells.  

Grey Worm though has just managed to escape death's door and is nursed back to some semblance of health by Missandei. I find this work featuring new characters to be quite shallow and underwhelming. The acting is fine here, but there just is no real reason to care about two stereotypes' relations, when their past and deeper thoughts can only be guessed at.  

However, I do find an improvement in the one on one dynamic of the Khaleesi and Missandei. Dany struggles to make decisions with two major players now gone from her own 'Small Council' - one exiled by her and the other slain by the rebellious Sons of the Harpies. Thus she has need of another young woman's opionon. Some off-screen connection between the two actresses may be playing out in a positive way now on-screen.

But the most arresting scene of episode five concerning the Targaryen Queen is when she scares major nobles of Meereen, by feeding one of them alive to her entrapped dragons. It truly is a standout visual moment, as the hapless man is burnt and torn to bits. Perhaps this is due to her anger over losing Selmy, or just knowing she has some major trump cards in her fire-breathing 'kin'. Also powerful is the about-turn when the Queen allows Hizdahr zo Loraq to be her intended - not out of love, but political expediency. He certainly has endured a memorable few hours, but will he still have a chance to assert authority as he did before Meereen was overthrown?

Jorah may be exiled, but he proceeds ever closer back to the Queen - with Tyrion in tow. A wonderful bit of poetry plays out as both men muse on the rich history of the land they are passing through. Also striking is the surprise appearance of Drogon flying far above the river they are on; seemingly disinterested in these desperate men.And come the bridge between these two episodes, Mormont is suddenly exposed to his first real danger in a long time.

Firstly he makes the mistake of passing through old Valyria, and thus being exposed to attack by Stone Men. He manages to save Tyrion and himself, at the cost of getting infected with greyscale. The question now stands as to how long Jorah can keep this hidden.  Also will he will infect anyone else and to what extent?

Secondly in losing their boat, the two men are forced to eat humbly as they march on the long road towards the City of Pyramids. Tyrion reveals that Jorah's father, the-then-Commander of the Watch, was murdered some time ago by mutineers. Tyrion also establishes that he was driven to kill Tywin after the betrayal with Shae. Mormont's actual opinion of this crime is not touched upon - a fine example of less-is-more writing by Bryan Cogman.

Despite this plotline being strong, a slight hiccup occurs when the duo are overcome by stealthy pirates/slavers. One would expect them to be more careful than they end up being. Thankfully the Imp rescues the scene by using a bit of ingenious logic that he should be intact for verification. It also cleverly makes the glib remark about his 'dwarf manhood' in episode three now look a little careless. Jorah needs no such cunning. Season trailers have depicted Jorah in a fighting arena, so it would appear that he will have a chance to prove how able a warrior he is, despite his grizzled old exterior. 

Stannis, his court and army have plenty to do at the Wall in before marching away to deal with the Bolton 'obstacle' that blocks the capital, in episode five. It seems they will not return until a week or two's absence from our side. In the lead-up there is a well-performed scene where Samwell reverently greets the 'Baratheon King'.

He commandingly encourages Sam to carry on finding out as much as he can on dragon-glass and other methods of defence against the Others. Also Sam's relationship with Gilly has been portrayed very well once again throughout this latest season, the chemistry between John Bradley and Hannah Murrah being truly endearing.

These two instalments also perform a welcome character exploration of the twisted 'father and son' duo that is Roose and Ramsey. Just as with Tyrion and Jorah, the casting and acting is stellar, although they are instead meant as figures of contempt. Initially Ramsey seems to have command of those seated at the dinner table, and makes Sansa and Reek suffer equally by forcing a 'reconciliation'. But this is overshadowed by Roose's carefree revelation that he is expecting a child with Walda, clearly hoping for another male heir. The earlier excitement Ramsey demonstrated when holding his (nude) lover Myranda and reminding her he must marry someone of similar status is suddenly undercut. 

And there is more. Roose explains later to his 'now-legitimate' son the exact circumstances as to how he was conceived. Ramsey's mother was forced to see her lover killed, moments before being assaulted by Bolton; the end-product being this sadist of a man.  This theme of women being treated as objects is an uncomfortable one, but Thrones is based on such real life time zones as the War of the Roses where such barbarism was still common in real-life history. 

All the same, the final moments of Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken make that episode title seem a misnomer. Sansa, now-married, quickly suffers a terrible fate. She may have dreamed once long ago of giving her maidenhood to a virtuous man of good title. Such hopes have disappeared with the last of autumn though.The ultimate indignity of Ramsey taking her innocence in a derogatory and humiliating fashion is worsened, as eunuch Theon is ordered to watch the act throughout. Whether this is because Ramsey was not satisfied with 'Reek's apology at dinner or just another way of torturing his 'plaything' is left open to discussion. Of course the main thoughts evoked as the closing credits come on with sad music are those of sheer disbelief and horror. Sophie Turner warned viewers some time earlier of an upsetting scene, and she was not misleading anyone. 

This is all the indirect work of Littlefinger abandoning Sansa to the mercies of the Boltons. We only find out what is happening with this schemer in episode six, as King's Landing is given a rest for one week. Baelish does indeed meet with Cersei as expected. He quickly shows a new approach in giving away Sansa's location and 'her actions' in siding with the Boltons. Given Littlefinger's seemingly deep love for Catelyn this surprises, but how much he means it is anyone's guess. He does placate Cersei's dark thoughts of revenge on the 'last 'of the Starks, by promising Sansa's head on a spike. But could this be done by someone else first, given the impending battle at Winterfell?

In one of the few truly funny moments of late, we have fan-favourite Olenna Tyrell return to court intrigue, as she curses the stench of King's Landing on the road leading to the city. An enjoyable verbal clash soon ensues as she denounces the Queen Mother as a 'Tart', upon being referred to as the 'Tart-tongued Queen of Thorns'. But Cersei is playing her cards just right perhaps. 

Despite both Margaery and Olenna's calm when Loras is forced to answer questions in a small enquiry run by the High Sparrow, a sudden turn of events sees trouble loom. Olyvar, the man who helped run Baelish's brothels until recently, testifies against Loras and gives enough evidence to satisfy the religious order that a full trial is justified. The precise detail could only have been known by someone who lay with Loras, and as we know from earlier episodes this union has happened quite a few times. Margaery puts herself in a corner by indirectly conceding she was aware of these actions, and is arrested for trial as well. This is one of the strongest King's Landings moments all season. Tommen is confirmed further as a weak boy, letting Cersei orchestrate the whole thing from start to finish.  And at the risk of repeating myself, Jonathan Pryce is just magnetic, boosting whatever he can without seemingly trying too much.

There is some improvement in the Dorne sequences that come in episode six. However the Sand Snakes still fail to excite as they perhaps should. Jaime clumsily tries to 'rescue' daughter Myrcella from the Dornish capital. But viewers now know just how much she has fallen for Trystane Martell. The love shown between two attractive, seemingly normal people is rare for this show. Perhaps only Ned and Catelyn, or Robb and Talisa have truly virtuous relations. Just as the pointlessness of the mission becomes clear to Jaime, he and Bronn must try and survive a lethal attack by the Sand Snakes. The fight plays out well enough, if lacking in any real tension. Having Bronn receive a likely venomous wound is very effective though. 

The casting of Alexander Siddig as Prince Doran gets further validity in his fleeting appearance; being everything I imagined from the books. Hopefully he gets a scene lasting longer than a minute or two before long, as the potential for such a fine actor looks stronger than what he had to do in Atlantis.

Perhaps the real disappointment lies in the Braavos sections. Sometimes what works well on the page, i.e. a narrative related in rather loose chronology, can be hard to adapt for the small screen. We care about Arya thanks to Maisie Williams' screen presence, but her change of image and lifestyle is so solemn and slow, it almost seems like no-one carried out the editing work.Jaqen's influence over Arya is undeniable, as she proceeds to play her part in giving the gift of death. But the lack of audience investment in characters we meet fleetingly before their deaths take away a lot of the effect presumably intended.

'The Room of Faces' sequence is almost the exception to the rule, an eerie set piece with many hours of production work, which demands to be seen on the biggest and best TV sets one can find. There are other moments of interest, but still perhaps not quite for this medium. The sequence where Arya tells the truth and lies in equal measure, being hit moderately by Jaqen whenever a falsehood is uttered. The complex feelings over Sandor Clegane, who she undeniably bonded with, get some welcome attention. Other past events from long ago see acknowledgement as well. And Ned Stark's shadow hangs over the show yet again.

To some extent the further material with the Waif intrigues, as Arya has a potential glimpse at what she might become: a servant of the House and its Gods who may not entirely know their own identity any more and yet knows how to present any number of personas. The lack of connectedness to new events in the show is a definite problem though. Once Mace Tyrell and Meryn Trant arrive, the better this storyline will be I feel.  

Lastly I will touch upon the likable heroic duo of Brienne and Podrick. They have very little to do, after a promsing start for them earlier on. Presently Brienne is keeping an eye out for developments at Winterfell, but as yet she has no confirmation of the need to take drastic action. 

As the final episodes are awaited by viewers worldwide, some of the anticipation will centre on how the 'true' Theon may help Sansa, or whether someone like Brienne or a Northener may respond to a lit candle in the broken tower. Also notable is the potential danger Cersei may face as earlier episodes established that cousin and sworn-Sparrow Lancel knew exactly what she intended against King Robert (and indeed other schemes). 

Overall this long-running show is doing respectably enough. Hopefully it finds another gear or two with the concluding four episodes.




Game Of Thrones Season Five - Episodes Three and FourBookmark and Share

Sunday, 31 May 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Game of Thrones3) High Sparrow 4) Sons Of The Harpy HBO/ Sky Atlantic - 2015.
Note - Again, this review contains spoilers for the episodes, and some brief discussion of the source book material.

Season 5 progresses steadily enough with this next batch of Westeros Wonder. However some uncertainty is perhaps generated as the pace continues to be slower than the previous two years, and there is a firm choice by the producers over not being as faithful to the source material as they once were. An added problem also exists in that presently books six and seven are only available as speculation, and not as anything corporal. Some big decisions have been made therefore over quite how to achieve foreshadowing and keep the present story lively in its own right.

Arya having had a kind farewell from the ship's captain who she met at the end of last season is now trying to forge a new life in the markedly different city of Braavos. At first her entrance to the House of Black and White looked helpless, but come the third episode she is now getting somewhere in her quest to complete her 'hit' list of those who betrayed her family and friends. It certainly appears that Jaqen H'ghar is indeed back after a long break from the show. Of course it needs to be stressed that the actual person who had that name and face is almost certainly long dead. But for simplicity's sake I will henceforth name him Jaqen until any changes to suggest otherwise are implemented by the show. The chemistry between Tom Wlaschiha and Maisie Williams is as strong as ever. However the most memorable scene involves Arya on her lonesome, as she is parted from Needle for the short term; wordlessly hiding amongst some rocks.

Having hailed Williams forthcoming turn in the second Peter Capaldi series of Doctor Who, there is a further link between the two iconic shows with the presence of Faye Marsay, as the sullen 'Waif'. This actress impressed as Shona in the most recent Who TV story we have to date - 'Last Christmas' - and is given some excellent dialogue. She also tests the resolve of neophyte Arya to the limit. 

Having said all this, I do wonder just how much traction this Braavos section of the show has. In the books it worked well as a series of developments which made the reader do some of the guesswork as to how much time has passed. In a show like this, the 'knitting together process' a viewer is obliged with in order to comprehend the array of locations may lead to some weaknesses in terms of overall impact. However I must praise the sets, lighting and music, which all conjure a strong and brooding atmosphere.

Returning yet again to King's Landing, it appears that there is some potential for excitement after all, as most have come to hope for by now. The Tommen and Margaery storyline is very well done in this pair of episodes. Clearly the Boy King was feeling euphoria upon consummating the marriage, and  finally resolving the lust he had for his far more mature partner. She had stoked his fires initially when he was lined up to replace his murdered brother, visiting his bed and talking of their likely future together in 'Oathkeeper'. The brutal reality though, is that Cersei's one remaining son is little more than a pawn in others' games now grandfather Tywin is deceased.

Tommen is acted increasingly well by relative newcomer Dean-Charles Chapman. Also credible is his remorse over Joffrey's death, as clearly there were a few shreds of love that the 'mad idiot' had for his nearest and dearest. Margaery clearly likes her latest husband to a certain degree, but also knows just how to wrap him round her little finger and use him as a way to undermine Cersei.

Except.... that the Queen Mother does not take long to get her own 'back' on opposition, especially on someone like the Highgarden girl; believing the witch's gloomy prophecy. In order to set the record straight, Cersei accosts a very shabby looking individual who has the satirical title of 'High Sparrow'. This man is both very mysterious, owing to the lack of an official name, and yet very clear in his prerogative as he serves the Faith of The Seven. Jonathan Pryce is another newcomer in this episode and what a big asset the show has gained. I have always enjoyed his work, as he is always strong even when given some shaky material. His subtle style in 'Thrones' is most welcome when some veer near overacting, if remaining very watchable. This collaboration with Cersei is wonderfully portrayed in both episodes and it is crystal clear to the audience, if not the 'Queen Mother', that the High Sparrow will be quite a tricky customer, and more than able to wriggle his way round the powder keg that is Capital Politics. 

So, just as the new Queen feels she has the Court pandering to her whims, she finds out that brother Loras was arrested for being an affront to the 'Seven Pointed Star' with his 'deviant' sexuality. This then sees Tommen utterly powerless to reverse this development. He is not informed about events like he would have been with a proper Small Council and Tywin still around as his Hand. The King's attempt to get Loras out also sees him confronted with verbal abuse from the poorer citizens of King's Landing. The 'terrible twincest' of Cersei and Jaime is now seemingly common knowledge.

Meanwhile, in case some were wondering, Qyburn is still involved in some skulduggery. He seems to be attempting his own 'Doctor Frankenstein' project. The body lying in his laboratory is so large that is more than likely meant to be the grievously wounded Mountain. While just another instance of set up, the viewer will no doubt recall this brief moment later on when events become more explosive.   

Game of Thrones The Nights' Watch and Wall sections continue to ring true and    showcase excellent characterisations. Most dramatically,      Janos Slynt finally gets his comeuppance, after years of    scurrying away and favouring who had the greater money and    riches. Although Jon Snow does not yet know how Eddard  placed his trust in Slynt, it still feels like a major moment  forward for our favourite illegitimate son. He is now the Lord  Commander through and through, and people can't mock  flippantly and expect to get away with it. Stannis' approval of  Jon is also true to the books, and yet another moment where  silence in a scene is able to generate  considerable  impact.

 Also engaging is  the dynamic between  Stannis, his stern wife  Selyse, his sweet only child Shireen and the  unsettling presence that is Red Woman Melisandre. I do like  the slow burn pace that features, as it really seems as major  developments in both plot and character decisions' will unfold as the season comes to it's climax. The Jon and Sam relationship is still there too, and remains very entertaining. These two men are bound by being the outcast child. Jon struggled with 'stepmother' Catelyn and Sam was demeaned by his own father (who has never been directly featured on the show). A lot of changes have taken place that have nullified the opening season's relationships permanently, but these two kind-hearted men remain friends for life it would appear.

The definite highlight of episode four in terms of character development is when Shireen is reassured by monarch and father Stannis that he truly loves her, and explains exactly how he managed to spare her a terrible fate with greyscale. Both the old hand actor in Stephen Dillane and virtual newcomer Kerry Ingram absolutely convince the viewer of the complexity and depth that lies in that relationship. A bit more disappointing however is the throwaway scene where the Red Woman attempts to seduce Jon. It just comes off as sensationalism, and adds nothing to the scene where they were conveyed to the top of the Wall in the first episode. 'You Know Nothing Jon Snow' is uttered at the end, and it just feels pretentious. The showrunners seem obsessed with one significant character needing to show her bare bosom before long...just because. I give 'Thrones' more leeway than some other programs, as it never was meant to represent the underlying morality and societal standards of our world . Yet some artistic choices should be made with integrity at the same time.

There is no nudity to be found in Winterfell in this crop of episodes though. Not unless one counts a flayed corpse anyway. The Boltons have truly made this place 'home' now, and they are joined by Sansa Stark and Littlefinger. Yet another scheme is being implemented by the reigning Lord of the Vale. Although straining credulity a touch, there is some real conviction in the various scenes that culminate in Sansa meeting Roose Bolton, and her new intended husband Ramsey. One should remember that she never officially divorced Tyrion, but this is glossed over as she now encounters someone potentially even more dangerous and twisted than the late Joffrey.

The recently empowered bastard son of the treacherous Bolton lord makes a hollow promise to be kind and devoted, almost at the same moment as his 'partner in crime' Myranda gazes on with seething jealousy. If this were not bad enough, the audience also is seriously questioning what Littlefinger's plans are in all this. "Avenge [your family]" he tells his ward just before they get to Winterfell, but surely that will be a lot easier said than done...  Before he does abandon her though, there is a very well cinematographed sequence set in the lower depths of Winterfell as Baelish ruminates on the past and then the future he hopes to achieve. He kisses Sansa on the lips once again, and she even appears to enjoy it. But will she remain fond of him once events progress without him around to intervene at Winterfell?

Brienne and Pod are on the periphery as they still continue to fret over what will happen to this Stark girl they are tracking for now. Some exposition features as the statuesque woman explains just how she came to be indebted to the (late) Renly Baratheon, and was thereafter looking to serve him till the end of her days. This is a bit of an odd scene, as it seems to clash with the striking debut of Brienne in Season Two when she revealed just who she was to Renly in her victory over a male knight. I do appreciate however the intrigue over her wish to avenge the most charismatic of the three Baratheon brothers, and perhaps Stannis had better watch his back if he were to go and attack the Boltons in the North. 

In a Volantis brothel, much further south, a certain erudite Imp utters "I need to speak some one with hair". And this latest come-back actually signals the 'Varys and Tyrion' show coming to an end. The exiled Jorah Mormont unceremoniously kidnaps Tyrion, just as he finishes urinating from a balcony, and bundles him from a beautiful city into a decidedly modest-looking boat heading somewhere perhaps less glamorous. Just before this downturn in fortune for Tyrion, his self pity is something to behold as he admits to a forlorn prostitute that he no longer has the same set of desires that he once had for women of her trade.

It really is quite a shame the show only has a few fleeting moments in Volantis; a by-product of the show's big budget and the enforced ten episodes a season. The sets and models for this city certainly stand out on any half-decent modern TV and show just how many talented people work behind the camera. Also, we get to witness the sermon of another 'Red Woman' - one who in our world is of Japanese ethnicity. The manner in which she stares back at the refugee Lannister is a terrific moment, and one that featured in early photo previews of the season for good reason.

And yet the kidnap by Jorah is a great development, featuring a wonderful cliffhanger generating confusion over whether it is Cersei or Daenerys who will receive Tyrion. Once Tyrion has a chance to speak, after being bound on the boat for an extended period of time, there is a lovely exchange as he realises why Jorah is doing all this. The only responses he gets are constant aloof glances away. At least until he makes one provocation too many, and gets a full-on strike of Mormont's fist to his bearded head. 

The Jaime and Bronn scenes in 'Sons of the Harpy' are very enjoyable if a bit thin on anything truly memorable or thematic when considering what the show is capable of. A link to Tarth features, as their incognito passage over sea to Dorne features a view of a neighbouring isle. Tarth was referred to by Jaime and Brienne during their excellent story arc together in Season Three, most memorably during the saving of the 'Maiden Fair' from the bear pit in Harrenhal. Another subtle link features in the accidental saving of Jaime's life with the golden hand. It works as a funny moment, with Bronn forced to fight the majority of the four Dorne warriors who realise that the newcomers' story is bogus. It also functions as a subtle way of showing how the late Locke - lackey to the Boltons - was not as smart as he thought he was when deriding the Kingslayer over what options he had left with a prosthetic right hand.

Less successful, and for sure the clumsiest scene thus far in the new season, is the introduction of the 'Sand Snakes'. To be fair to the producers of this show, they had a rather weak platform to work with in the first place as the books did not break much new ground with these cliched personalities. This still does not excuse the weak dialogue, delivery and production values - all of which  stick out badly for a series of this calibre. It also is underwhelming given the amount of hype that was generated in the build up promotions and featurettes that came out during this year.

Thankfully the Daenerys storyline continues to work more than well enough and culminates in a 'shock cliffhanger' with Barristan Selmy and Grey Worm victorious in battle but also seriously wounded. As preceding events unfolded, the Queen of Meereen seemed to be getting complacent, and perhaps being too 'pally' with Hizdahr zo Loraq - a man many viewers would suspect as knowing a lot more about the Harpy attacks than he would ever admit. There is a fine scene between Selmy and his Queen where he shows his gentler side, and she wishes him farewell, asking him to 'go and sing a song'. When things are this warm and fuzzy, it usually bodes very ominously. Overall this whole section of the show is at least a level up from last year's counterpart, and also happens to be less tedious than the books (to my mind). 

So we are four episodes in, and wondering just what will be the dominant story arcs of the latest season. Some weaknesses are certainly on display, but a lot of work has been put into making the adaptation of GRR Martin's broad vision work properly for TV. Perhaps the steady pace that is opted for presently will have bigger dividends later on. Time and Winter alike will tell.




Game Of Thrones Season Five - Episodes One and TwoBookmark and Share

Monday, 4 May 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
1) The Wars to Come  2) The House Of Black And White HBO/ Sky Atlantic - 2015
Note - This review does contain spoilers, and some discussion of the books' storylines.

"I will bury him. I will mourn for him... [but we will not go to war]"

"The Sand Snakes.. will avenge their father [unlike you].... [let me send Myrcella to Cersei] one finger at a time.."

"I loved my brother and you made him very happy. For that you will always have a place in my heart. But we do not mutilate little girls... Not while I rule"

- Prince Doran Martell arguing with Ellaria Sand.

There has been a lot of talk of Dorne in preceding seasons of the global hit fantasy serial; most notably when a select number of their people showed up led by Oberyn Martell. With the headstrong but charismatic Viper slain so memorably in last season's trial-by-combat, there are some immediate consequences that will shape ensuing events in this new season of the show.

Yet it may surprise many that this entire section of the Westeros map and wider society was at one point considered for the chop. That fate has befallen the potential developments that involved Balon Greyjoy's wider family from the Iron Islands. And other intriguing storylines from the fourth and fifth books in the 'Song of Ice and Fire' series also have been omitted or reshaped into pre-existing characters' arcs.

This is still thoroughly entertaining and engaging TV though. At some point the books were getting so elaborate in scope that even attempting two-thirds of all the storylines and subplots would be impossible. This show must concede that it has certain confines. Just ten episodes fill a season, running at fifty minutes; give or take a slither more, depending on what needs to be achieved on the weekly basis.

'Thrones' has reached a peak thus far in terms of audience reaction and following, with the premiere episode gaining around eight million viewers watching live transmissions in the U.S. But those viewers must have been somewhat surprised by the choice of flashback in the very first scene.

Rumoured flashbacks have persisted for a while now, with Ned Stark being amongst those that most tantalised. Charles Dance is named in the premiere's credits, and hoped to see the child version of Cersei interact with her authoritative father. No such luck as Dance is only required to lie in a state of 'rigor mortis', his eyes covered with painted stones. The past memory we do get is still important though, and gives some real context to the Queen's politicking thus far. More specifically it builds on the cat-and-mouse game of wits and plotting between her and Margaery, who has been looking to supplant Cersei as monarch ever since the finale of season two.

As for the man who played his part in King Robert's demise, a lot has changed since he last crept off-screen during the sublime 'Blackwater' episode. Cousin Lancel is now no longer easily cowed by harsh words and dismissive looks, and has a new direction in his life - religion and prudence. His hair is short, and he seems to have a focus and sobriety that would deter even the most powerful of harpies (should such creatures exist in this fantasy realm).  Uncle Kevan is also back, albeit only briefly. He now seems to recognise that he has the power in Casterly Rock, and rightly see's his niece's authority in Small Council meetings as losing solidity. A very good performance from returning Ian Gelder, but one that is brief for plot reasons that make perfect sense, 

And in general King's Landing feels an oddly sterile and empty place nowadays. Even with Tyrion in chains for  much of last year, he still made a massive contribution to proceedings. Now he is missed. King Tommen may  be a likeable lad but he quite frankly lacks either his uncle's or his grandfather's charisma. The absence of  Lady Olenna is somewhat noticeable too, as she was played so well by Diana Rigg. I still can hope that she will  be called in by one of her grandchildren to dispense more brilliant and forthright advice. And of course now  Jaime and Bron have left the city as well, in order to try and rescue Myrcella. As the quoted dialogue shows,  she is far from being safe nowadays.  

However Qyburn (Anton Lesser) has seemingly graduated from a minor character to one having  notable influence. He takes advantage of the latest bungled attempt to return Tyrion's head to Cersei, and there  are some strong indications that someone assumed dead not so long ago, may be under the care of this very  strange 'maester'.  He also now has a seat at the Small Council and that will infuriate Pycelle (Julian Glover  - brilliant in this role). Despite putting on a front of frailty the old Grand Maester is still relatively spry, but he may  have to readjust his game plan if he wants to make a mark in any seasons that follow this one.

So what can we say that is new concerning Tyrion (once again played by top-billed Peter Dinklage)? His departure from the capital in the preceding finale saw him return to being a traveller who must decide which people he meets will aid him and not betray his confidence. For now he must rely on the supremely wily Varys. Their interactions play out almost like a buddy movie; another sign of 'Thrones' transcending its dungeons-and-dragons stereotype label. Both men can produce come-backs without barely mustering any visible effort and the result is TV gold. It also helps that they are both in a beautifully sunny part of Pentos, and free to drink wine and gaze at the Narrow thanks to the hospitality of Varys' associate Illyrio Mopatis. There is also a terrific establishing 'point of view' sequence as Tyrion's tiny box/home is carried around shakily from the ship he escaped on. Lovely direction from Michael Slovis and his team.

But being free to walk and talk again cannot hide the fact that the former Hand of the King is in a dark place mentally and totally unable to forget the way he murdered treacherous lover Shae and bullying father Tywin. How this impacts on Tyrion's actions in later episodes and events to come will be something to anticipate keenly. My only issue with the subplot is that once episode two checks in on these two in their carriage, there is no energy or revelation. It feels a waste of two first-class actors in Dinklage and Conleth Hill.

One cast member who has really grown on the show and continues to do so is Kit Harrington. His Jon Snow character has gathered considerable momentum for some time now. Admittedly he barely registered with me in the second season (with flame-haired Ygritte stealing the show), and was also somewhat handicapped by the Night's Watch scenes being oddly static for much of the original season. 

Nowadays much enticement is generated by having all of Stannis' court and army, plus the nefarious Red Woman. This section of the show is a real treat. Davos is also still firmly at 'King Stannis' side, and being as measured and wise as ever. Liam Cunningham is such a terrific actor who never makes the audience feel they are watching a performance. Most of us surely want him to be around till the final stages of the entire run. Stannis himself is still brusque, dour and lacking in that intangible that all great rulers have. But Stephen Dillane is very good in developing this role and his acting chops are more than sufficient, as various dynamics play out with the surviving Baratheon's family, advisors and those he aims to rule over.

The striking end of Mance Rayder is a good move arguably for the show, even if he was played by a particularly talented actor from a cast that has few weak links. He may have briefly survived season four's finale with some dignity, but his determination was never going to keep him alive for much longer. His hope for the Wildlings to be living south of the Wall was his prime intent, and without concessions - quite  unacceptable to the unflinching Stannis. Jon's actions in sparing Mance a horribly painful death are a further development of his man of action and add more requisite gravitas.

And Jon's heroism and decisiveness in last season's key set piece battle are now bringing dividends. Stannis knows he needs this man very much on his side. Jon eventually is voted in as Lord Commander proper in a snappy, engaging sequence set in Castle Black. Yet the eldest of Ned's surviving sons knows just what a poisoned chalice leadership and authority can be. His reserved response to the vote's outcome ties in strongly with the show's key themes.

On the opposite side of the map is the storyline concerning Queen Danaerys' court, which of course has banished Jorah Mormont. I was far from overwhelmed with the various political intrigues and soap opera romances set in Meeren last year on the show. But maybe things are picking up quickly now, as 'Khaleesi' must make some difficult decisions and risk alienating her devout citizens. Although the Unsullied are an awesome fighting force on a battlefield proper, they are beginning to look a little restricted in more intimate surroundings. One of their number tries to find a substitute mother figure in the shape of a prostitute, and pays for it with his life. Eventually one of Dany's newly installed council takes the law into his own hands and avenges the murdered warrior, and this boldness is punished by a public beheading.

Rather clear parallels are drawn in showing how Stannis' and Danaerys' courts are both alike and unalike simultaneously. Choosing to end back-to-back episodes in similar fashion is ultimately a smart idea, although the second instalment does have a fine coda in the fleeting return of the renegade Drogo. Dany still loves all of her three dragons - the other two remain imprisoned - despite all the devastation and death Drogo in particular has caused.

Moving onto one of the more unpredictable pairings of the show, I will discuss next Littlefinger and Sansa. Further stark deviation from the source material is notable. Sansa clearly trusts Baelish despite all of his ruthlessness and self-serving plotting. He clearly loved her mother and sees her as another in that mould.

It remains open to interpretation just what Brienne achieves in demanding that the elder Stark girl come home, on the wishes of the late Catelyn. The entire section in the tavern does feels forced and indeed far-fetched. Despite being performed and presented well on-screen it seems to ignore the reality of Westeros' scale as a kingdom. The chance meeting with Hotpie that set Brienne on her way to the Eyrie last season felt rather more natural. Luckily the show turns its fortunes around immediately with the strong set piece in the courtyard and neighbouring woods. Brienne's slaying of Littlefinger's lackeys is exciting and pleasing, as is her timely rescue of ever-faithful squire Pod who had struggled to fend for himself  

For now I will leave a proper exploration of Arya's new storyline for next time, but she certainly makes an arrival in Braavos in style, looking ever more like a fully-fledged (if somewhat diminutive) woman. Her determination to gain entry to the eponymous 'House of Black and White' draws the viewer in, and Maisie Williams has lost none of her poise. A lot of things have gone right in this young lady's career. She has proven her range in several TV shows and even a feature film proper in 'The Falling '. I am also sure that all 'Doctor Who' fans will not miss her two episode debut in Series Nine later this year. 

A lot of characters have now been written out, and only a smaller proportion have been introduced but this epic still demands full attention from viewers.  By the same token it is thoroughly re-watchable and never fails to provide a twist or two. As grim as much of it seems, there is plenty of wit and dark humour to prevent even the slowest episodes from feeling like a drag. Must-watch entertainment.




Game of Thrones - Season 4 - Episodes 9 and 10Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 4 November 2014 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
9 - The Watchers on The Wall
10 - The Children


And so another run of well-acted, sumptuously designed and thrillingly unpredictable fantasy stories comes to an end until next spring as Game of Thrones signs off with a reliably strong final pair of episodes. There is a lot of ground to cover, and these instalments for the most part manage to get the job done. Some details perhaps are left out which certain viewers would have wanted, but information is readily available online on specialist websites and indeed the original books are as good a fantasy read as any. The show may come across as slower-paced in this season, particularly the second half, but a lot of game-changers have either cropped up or continue to play out, and long-term fans will be more than satisfied. The double-edged sword continues to be the notoriously huge roster of players - both major and minor; and yet an excuse to re-watch episodes time and again for clarification is one of the more enjoyable scenarios available in this digital age.

‘The Watchers on The Wall’ does work more overall as a singular episode, and tells a solid story with a beginning, a middle and an end. It benefits from being so focused on the small number of Nights Watch and Wildlings concerned, and gives their characters proper room to breath with substantial dialogue and thrilling action set pieces. There has been plenty of good material for Kit Harrington this season, even if the excursion that almost saw him meet Bran was effectively a frustrating red herring, with barely any impact on the overall storyline. This episode is instrumental in delivering a finish to the Jon/Ygritte story and pay offs to other threads that have dangled for at least a season if not longer. Sam Tarley goes from being a noble youngster with a bumbling nature to a noble man with some real backbone in him. Thus despite his overt fear, he shows true heart. This cannot be said of the rather slimy Janos Slynt who was shown up quite some time ago by Tyrion as a rather hubristic and sulky individual, with a rather warped sense of his own importance and gravitas. Even more detestable however is the Thenn leader - Styr - who has exuded pure evil since first emerging on screen at the start of Season Four. His threatening words towards Yygritte on the eve of battle, and barbarous methods towards enemies or defenceless victims mean that his demise - through Jon's improvisation with blacksmith's tools - is richly satisfying.

The resolution of the Jon/ Ygritte story is done quite well if somewhat requiring suspension of disbelief as the battle around them allows them to have their final moment. ‘You know nothing Jon Snow’ is one of the great quotes of the saga and surely will resonate in Jon’s head for a fair amount of time to come. The original death of Ygritte was rather vague, so the show really does well to involve a fatal arrow shot by the young boy orphaned in the Wildling attack on an exposed village (from 'Breaker of Chains'). The survival of Torbund - such a wonderfully written and acted character is very welcome as he may have a political role to play even if his humour and hobbies in life are on the primitive side. Not all fan favorites get let off so lightly; with some rather shocking deaths for Pyp and Grenn that would not be expected by book readers who have 'read ahead' of the show's timeline. Nonetheless the set pieces, music, mood and all the little showcases of the show's hefty budget are wielded effectively to ensure that this is a fine companion piece to ‘Blackwater’ by returning director Neil Marshall.

* * * *
'The Children' is ever so slightly inferior on its own terms due to several areas not being quite up to full potential. But it is still by far the best closing episode to a season, with the other three being mere codas which just laid things in readiness for the next year. Stannis moving up North to settle the current battle between the Wildlngs and the flagging forces of Jon Snow is very welcome (and perhaps overdue) after all his skulking back at Dragonstone for the majority of two seasons. His 'divinely regal' arrogance versus Mance’s more down-to-earth form of pride is one of the better clashes of the series. It involves some intense body language with actors Stephan Dillane and Ciarán Hinds showing utterly excellent acting craft. Furthermore having Mance back on screen after such a substantial absence is very pleasing, and probably crucial for this story-line now that other key players have bit the dust.

Somewhat confusingly Arya was not detained at the Eyrie when she and Clegane met with the guards at the lower end of the Mountains. There is also no hint that she tried to check if Sansa was around - thus creating an issue of weak continuity that is rare for this show; excepting various recasts(!). Another issue I myself have is that the final scenes we saw of Littlefinger and Sansa really called out for some kind of development. In all fairness though Episode Ten has already so many different balls to juggle, it is almost acceptable and at least leaves some 'hooks' for next year. If HBO were perhaps a little more charitable we would have 11 or even 12 episodes a season, but the writers and producers still generally make the best of their resources,

So the Hound and Arya arc has operated splendidly as an intriguing sub-plot going back to Season 3 (and arguably back to the scene where she mourned the death of her friend Mycah). Clegane's stubbornness in not getting his wound treated has led to him becoming a shadow of the fearsome fighter he had been known as. When Brienne fails to persuade him of her credentials concerning Catelyn's wish for her children to be returned, there ensues a fight to the death. And this amazingly strong woman who has been ridiculed by so many men similar to the Hound gets to stand up and walk away when all is said and done. This unlikely union had to end eventually, and despite the Hound's amoral/immoral nature, we feel real pity for him as he writhes in agony on a jagged boulder. And Arya probably feels the same way too. The look both the performers give one another is utterly spellbinding and I will miss Rory McCann as much as any regular actor who no longer participates. However the lack of a truly conclusive onscreen death leaves a glimmer of hope; were we to follow the logic that GRR Martin himself maintains. The eventual escape of Arya to Braavos is well done and a very fine closing scene to the season. Maisie Williams is just so wonderfully natural and compelling as Arya and it scarcely seems credible that a single viewer can be indifferent to where this character's journey will take her, both literally and psychologically.

Having last seen their tribulations in the middle section of this season, we finally catch up with Bran's party as they locate the mystical tree which was hidden to most who brave the cruel regions North of the Wall. Despite seemingly getting some reward for their long struggles, there is a major twist in the tale that sees Jojen Reed perish. Rather grimly it was something he actually accepted all along, such were his clairvoyant powers. His sister Meera is seconds away from perishing as well, but manages to get to the safety of the heart tree with the others. And once again Bran's ferocity through the use of Hodor as his warg host is plain for all to see. A huge game changer appears as the crippled Stark boy now knows where his powers will take him next. We are all left to wonder just where this arc will go now, given the re-arrangement and new material that has distinguished Season Four.

Any review of Game of Thrones must however be mindful of the many intrigues taking place at King's Landing. When last we saw Tyrion it appeared he was but a hair's breath away from execution. Fortunately he has been allowed a little time left for an unlikely act of rescue. Jaime is the savior that we all anticipated - letting his brother out at great personal risk to himself. Rather less logically - for both long-term fans and for book readers - is the crucial aspect of Tysha being retconned out of this sequence. Originally there was a major revelation that she really was in love with Tyrion, and Tywin had manipulated the whole situation. That is to say that the dwarf's first wife was apparently a simple whore - bribed to make Tyrion experience intimacy with a woman for the first time. This would then be more than enough reason for the vicious actions that we end up witnessing, from the condemned 'murderer' of Cersei's son.

What instead transpires is a simple conversation where Tyrion is led to the route of safety - with Varys being the man to help him escape King's Landing safely by boat. Thus Jaime and Tyrion seem to remain on good terms and there is less obvious reason for the pragmatic dwarf to go into the 'lions' den' of the Tower of the Hand. Given the dramatic events that took place with Tyrion's courtroom trial, and his narrow loss in the trial by combat, there is some motivation to a small extent for him to seek out his father. Before that critical event can happen, Tyrion first discovers the worst thing possible: his former girlfriend Shae is now lying in bed waiting for Tywin to rejoin her. She realises he will try and kill her and takes action to finish him first. Tyrion is too quick a thinker though and uses the chain-necklace round her neck as a makeshift weapon to strangle her.

Rather more conventionally, he chases down his cruel father with a crossbow to hand. Although Tywin is still an able enough warrior and would have a very strong chance against Tyrion in a neutral situation, he is utterly exposed and defenceless when Tyrion finds him on the privy(!). This final sequence where father and son spew venom at one another, after Tywin feebly tries to suggest that there would be no execution for any Lannister is reasonably well-done, but could have been so much better. Dinklage and Dance both seem fine, but the intangibles that make the show really sizzle at times are curiously lacking. Nonetheless the ignominious death of Tywin Lannister is a pivotal moment in the show and will not be forgotten. There is thankfully some good pay off from the Tyrion and Varys conversations that occurred in Seasons 2 and 3. It feels absolutely right that these two misfits should depart for pastures new across the Narrow Sea. A rather uncertain and dangerous path awaits; regardless of the inevitable vengeance of Queen Regent Cersei.

And what of one of the shows' principal leads - Emilia Clake - and Daenerys' situation in Meereen? I will not add anything new to earlier comments of mine making out that these events are not exactly the hottest ticket in town. Yet with the departure of Ser Jorah Mormont and her frantic responsibility to now harness her three dragons – the fiercest of which has decisively evaded her clutches - she is not having an easy time of it in maintaining her rule of the slaver cities. The stylishly shot sequence where she chains her dragons so that they are confined to a cave with no light is however one of the most memorable moments of the show thus far. Dany's story has tenuously connected with other material but without giving too much away, Season Five should find a way to make events dramatically more relevant. Perhaps also we will find Emilie Clarke in better form again as she certainly has the screen presence, if not the range of some other principles, when everything is clicking around her.

So this season has been and gone some months now, and yet it is still all too long a wait for the next batch, as winter is coming for us in the real world. I had hoped that the 2014 sequence of the show would be the best yet, and it certainly is at least the match of last year's. There is a lot of consistently good elements - although Season 3 did have an utterly riveting twist in the form of The Red Wedding. The show is confident with various actors that have grown into their roles, and it has established its own path and voice now. Upcoming episodes now have the challenge of finding the best bits from the later books and getting a quite dense plot to make sense. This show must have looked almost impossible to pull off at one stage not so long ago, but is now a true global phenomenon and deserves every accolade it gets and more.




Game Of Thrones Season 4 - Episodes Six, Seven and EightBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 22 July 2014 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
6 - The Laws of Gods and Men/ 7 - Mockingbird/ 8 - The Mountain and the Viper

''If you want justice you have come to the wrong place'. Tyrion Lannister addressing Prince Oberyn Martell.

Tyrion is caught between a rock and a hard place and events only further decline for the diminutive quipster in these three segments of the epic fantasy adaptation. Outside the confines of King's Landing, quite a few other events play out in the wake of the Battle of Black Water Bay and The Red Wedding; as the denizens of Westeros struggle to adjust.

A lot of ground is covered in episode six, progressing various notable storylines. Since his heavy loss in attempting to capture King's Landing, Stannis Barratheon has been licking his wounds. Now he seeks new provisions and capital via the bank of Braavos (featuring a typically memorable cameo from Mark Gatiss). Having mentioned Braavos before, as well as featuring several characters from there, the show now transports the viewer properly. Another bonus is that loveable rogue Salladhor Saan briefly returns - still as shameless and promiscuous in lifestyle as ever.

Then the long-awaited reappearance of Yara features as she attempts rescuing Theon/Reek from his captors. However she is simply too late to connect with any remnants of the brother she once knew - he denounces her as a mirage and so she leaves empty handed. There is a rather curious moment where a bare-chested Ramsey turns his back on Yara and threatens to unleash his wild dogs. It strains credibility and indeed overall the set-piece is rather redundant.

Across the Narrow Sea we catch up with the latest challenges facing Daenerys as she tries to preside over her subjects in Meereen. She must accept that her dragons are regarded as being loose cannons and even her crucifixions of the seemingly malicious slave-masters is not met with universal acclaim.

Before Tyrion can face his long-dreaded trial some interesting political machinations appear on-screen first. Varys, who has been inactive for much of the season, tells Oberyn how his lack of romantic desires - even pre-castration - allowed him to focus on bettering himself in the wider scheme of things. Then there is a small council scene featuring Tywin, Pycelle, Mace Tyrell, and Cersei - along with Varys and Oberyn. Welcome mention is made of Daenerys, and also of the Hound being a rogue element since Blackwater. There is also a reminder of Jorah spying on his Khaleesi for the late King Robert which becomes important eventually.

At last former 'Hand' Tyrion is brought into the courtroom bound in chains but appearing to not be one to meekly accept a sad demise. He is formally charged with regicide and must accept his own father is doing his best to make the trial damning for him. Nonetheless he cross-examines Ser Meryn on his evidence but is told to maintain silence by Tywin. Later on he requests just the one question of Varys concerning a conversation they had. The answer perhaps is a rather neutral one but Tyrion can't blame the eunuch for looking out for his own interests first. However the testimony of Tyrion's unhinged sister Cersei certainly is ominous. Tyrion is portrayed as malicious in his method of defending King's Landing from Stannis' forces. The actual facts cannot be disputed. He placed Joffrey at the vanguard of the city's defence - having previously told the Queen Regent that her 'joy will turn to ashes in [her] mouth'. Of course we all know how boisterously Tyrion's nephew declared his intentions of cutting Stannis down personally, but that is glossed over.

There appears some hope for Tyrion when before final proceedings he has Jaime visit his cell with a potential compromise: Jaime will leave the Kings-Guard and resume his status as heir to Tywin, and in return Tyrion can be granted banishment to the Wall for admitting his 'guilt'. However, what seemed like an 'out' for the defendant is dashed to the rocks when Shae of all people sells him out - and also demeans their truly heartfelt romance.

This leads to possibly the best ever speech in a show full of quotable material. Peter Dinklage has not been called upon to do his very best work more recently, but the brazen confession of 'being a dwarf' and declaring his right to trial by combat is truly majestic. Fans of the show are all too sympathetic with Tyrion for brilliantly outwitting Stannis in combat and can only smile when he unleashes a terrific insult towards the city's inhabitants wishing that they perished after all.

**

'Mockingbird' is the very best episode all-round this season; featuring first-rate acting and character development.

Tyrion receives a trio of significant visitors who each care for him to some degree: his older brother, then Bronn and finally the effervescent Prince Oberyn. This is his time of greatest need for someone to lift his spirits and these scenes are very intimate and moving for such an epic fantasy show, 'Thrones' doesn't always require money to be put up on the screen for it to cast its spell on the audience.

It is clearly established that despite their firm friendship Bronn ultimately sees the status quo as a Lannister providing him money (and a title) for personal protection. In that regard Tyrion has never taken a risk that compares enough to facing the Mountain. Despite this disappointing and inevitable confirmation, there are no grudges between the two. However were Tyrion to survives into season five there is a sense that these two characters have come to a parting of the ways.

Cersei -typically immoral - forces peasants to try and fight the Mountain to the death with the odds firmly stacked against them. He is a remorseless titan who cannot be brought down with conventional swords or punches, and effortlessly rips the smaller men with his blade. Gregor has been recast twice now but still is an imposing figure that will prove difficult to best to 'prove' Tyrion's innocence. Thus when Oberyn tells Tyrion of his own sense of loss and how he seeks retribution for Gregor' Clegane's murder of Elia Martell and her children the audience is thoroughly spell-bound by the determination of a clear underdog who just oozes personality.


There is a fine section featuring Brienne and Podrick as they continue to bond together. They meet Hot Pie - who previously travelled with Arya Stark - and happens to mention his friend when being told of the search for Sansa Lannister. Brienne has not forgotten her promise to the late Catelyn, who wanted both daughters to come 'home.' A little later on the duo are back to following the trail and there is good character development as Pod's more practical and analytical qualities emerge. He identifies the Eyrie stronghold as the likely place Arya would head and Sansa may also be finding refuge in.

Indeed the Littlefinger/Sansa storyline is developed strongly once again and another relative/ally of the Stark household is silenced forever. Excellent visual work showcases Robin Arryn, Sansa Lannister and Littlefinger congregating in the snowy Eyrie courtyard. Despite having to grow up fast since her betrothal to Joffrey, Sansa still has a childish side to her as she constructs a striking 'snow-castle'. There is a hint of stability in Robin as he enquires about his cousin's handiwork.. until the spoilt and maniacal persona takes full force. He spits out all his dark obsessions about killing people he dislikes through the 'Moon Door' and proceeds to obliterate the snow-castle before stomping off.

Almost immediately Littlefinger provides his brand of comfort'. He kisses Sansa full-on knowing that Lysa is bound to see him, and is rather creepy - more so having called out the word 'children' moments earlier. Littlefinger is one of the smarter villains of the show; he can be as influential as even the most shrewd monarch or regent, despite his lowly roots. Yet he also avoid the spotlight and can stand back as major events envelop the relevant areas of the globe.

In the event it is Lysa that falls prey to the Eyrie's most rapid method of reaching 'ground level'. Littlefinger has secured his position of Lord by marrying and bedding her and now can actually enjoy himself. The climax to 'Mockingbird' features Littlefinger step into the fray as Lysa accuses Sansa of going after her man and threatens her with the full meaning of falling outside. Baelish first reassures Lysa that all is well in their marriage, before crushing her ego by declaring he only ever loved Catelyn. The final push of Lady Arryn to her certain death is treated as a mere formality, and no doubt many viewers cannot help a feeling of 'Schadenfreude'.

The Hound/Arya 'teamup' continues to be supremely enjoyable. Once again longer term continuity is relevant as Rorge and Biter - former prisoners of Yoren - resurface with malicious intent. Sandor Clegane suffers a neck wound, but is still more than a match for his assailant Biter - breaking that neck clean through. Rorge is not the first grown man to underestimate Arya, and pays the price for cruel threat made some time ago; facing the 'pointy end' of Needle. These events are engaging and also make the earlier episode's Small Council meeting doubly effective. Clegane faces steeper odds of living on as a renegade. He doesn't help matters by refusing to have his neck wound cauterised by Arya - such is his vanity.

**

The eighth installment is somewhat weaker independently. Certain subplots have little relevance overall, and I will not mention them here. Nonetheless the payoff for all the talky scenes is more than satisfying enough. The fallout of Lysa's death is well handed as Sansa places her trust in Baelish and makes him out to be an unwilling witness to Lysa's 'suicide'. Three important nobles with ties to Lysa hold an inquest into what exactly happened, they being Yohn Royce, Anya Waynwood and Vance Corbray. Strong acting helps make these scenes work, as in lesser hands things would feel rather stagey. Littlefinger is the person who gets 'grilled' but Sansa expertly defends him by blending some truth with a selective portrayal of Lysa's irrationality. Now it is obvious that Sansa is a willing player of the game, and will seek further advice from Littlefinger.

The effect of Lysa's 'suicide' also leads to a moment of humour when the younger Stark daughter laughs at the bad luck of hearing of her aunt's death before she and Clegane could claim refuge. Rather oddly it would appear that the two sisters are to miss meeting each other - an echo of the Bran/ Jon Snow 'near-misses'. Then a rather eyebrow-raising moment features Sansa casting aside her dowdy and innocent image by dressing in black clothes that are borderline-risqué, yet complement Baelish's attire as they walk down some steps together.

Although Theon Greyjoy fell down a slippery slope making redemption near-impossible the saga has made him into a tragic and pitiful protagonist with a major part left to play. The systematic emasculation - in all senses - of last year has paved the way for a shell of a man who is now an agent of the vicious Boltons. Dark humour sees Theon imploring his fellow Iron Islanders to surrender peacefully from their base of Moat Cailin. Of course there is no mercy from sociopath Ramsey and the bastard of Roose gleefully reminds Theon of 'tradition' as he pokes one of the dead flayed soldiers in the chest.

For those viewers that grew to like Ygritte as she bonded with Jon and later spared him from fatal harm, recent events have perhaps portrayed her as rather cold-blooded. Again chaos ensues as the workers and clients of a brothel/ pub are attacked by her core group of Wildlings and the Thenns. Nonetheless Ygritte shows spares a single mother and baby. We of course know these two survivors - they are Gilly and the infant she conceived with Craster. Sam's carelessness in depositing his female friend will not be punished on this occasion and one wonders where next Gilly will reappear.

Although I have mixed feelings about the Daenerys storyline I will praise the long-running dynamic between her and Jorah. Despite all Mormont's best efforts in trying to get her to reciprocate his feelings for her, he will always simply be an 'uncle figure'. But now comeuppance for lying to her has arrived, with a pardon-scroll from the late Robert Barretheon reaching Meereen - and Selmy has intercepted it first. Barristan Selmy allows Jorah to prepare for the inevitable by giving him notice of the truth being divulged to Dany. In the event the queen chooses to banish Mormont instead of executing him. The sequence as he departs the city into the unknown is suitably disheartening, not least because Iain Glen is a classy actor.
As Jaime comes to see Tyrion potentially one last time, the younger of the brothers reveals his regret in making his rather impulsive decision. Although Oberyn has a just cause and a reputation for fighting smart and decisively the odds seem poor. Then a rather unexpected conversation ensues where the brothers' late relative Orson is mentioned - unsurprisingly he was yet another sadist who smashed beetles for fun. This conversation threatens to slow the episode down, yet it demonstrates the show's willingness to portray the unusual bond between two very different Lannisters.


Martell prepares himself for the deadly fight, rather bizarrely choosing to wear minimal armour, eschew a helmet, and take a good gulp of wine. Tyrion is petrified and yet the opening events would seem to point to an 'innocent' verdict. The well-staged fight simplifies the original book-version somewhat but works perfectly for television - with good reaction shots of those either supporting 'Viper' or 'Mountain'. Just as it seems that the ogreish Mountain is beaten, 'Game of Thrones' reminds us that likeable and/or charismatic characters are still mortal. By standing alongside his fallen and impaled opponent, the 'Viper' allows himself to be brought down suddenly and lose his teeth and eyes before having his head crushed in a horrendous manner. To add further dismay, Clegane makes it clear that he knew who Oberyn was after all and that he enjoyed committing rape and murder. Although the Mountain is close to death himself, Oberyn perished first. Tyrion is now facing imminent execution - but the camera lingers on Jaime looking thoughtful, perhaps hinting at another way out...

The final two episodes of the show will continue to feature the myriad other storylines - including the Bran subplot which has been put to one side for a while now. Having now seemingly played out the bulk of major developments in King's Landing this very impressive epic now has a sizeable task on its hands to do something with the Wildlings/Night's Watch plot thread which has brewed steadily for over two series now. Based on the consistent quality of the eight episodes in this current run, I think I am not alone in being confident about the execution.




Game of Thrones - Season 4 - Part 4Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 24 May 2014 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Reviewed by Martin Hudecek

4 - Oathkeeper 5 - First of His Name

Following the 'Purple Wedding', the ramifications are felt by many players in this top-notch medieval fantasy fare. Elsewhere in Westeros, other developments and older plot lines from years gone by are thrown into the mix. Whilst the show meets expectations on a consistent basis it is also able to conjure up surprises - even for the most ardent devotee of the written works of G.R.R. Martin. Although perhaps neither of these particular episodes are world beaters there is much to take on board and reflect upon.

Jon Snow is given a lot to do this time round - despite the malicious interference of superiors Janos Slynt and Alliser Thorne. Kit Harrington is improving his portrayal significantly and Jon has grown considerably as a result of being the 'insider' amongst the Wildling antagonists. Locke is given further development and shows a rather more charming, if ultimately manipulative side. Experienced actor Noah Taylor excels as Bolton's minion; whilst possibly a sociopath and sadist he can still pretend his reason for being at the Wall was down to a relatively small crime. The viewer can but wonder what Locke really did in his past given his true dark nature.

Although Jon seems to have a different set of problems to last season, it seems those with power like Thorne regard him as a nuisance at best. Consequently there is strong dramatic tension as Jon appears to be going on a suicide mission to Crasters Keep with the explicit goal of stopping Mance finding out key information from the estranged Nights Watch. Jon eventually musters a respectable group but there is the caveat that Locke is tagging along and clearly has his own agenda.

Bran Stark and his party were given the short end of the stick last season with few really effective scenes. This current run however has done a nice job of mixing supernatural elements that Jojen can assist Bran in mastering, with the danger that may come from Wilding hordes or from the thugs that hold Craster's Keep. The changes with Sam telling Jon about Bran's mission may upset some of the book purists, although not myself. I would agree that leaving Gilly in proximity to the Wildings who have crossed over southward is inexplicable but it is a good way to balance the kind, educated Sam with the boyish bumbler making rash decisions.

There has been a lot of other re-arranging done by the show-runners, so in addition to Jon, Daenaerys is given some material which took place somewhat later on in the original timelines. I continue to regard the 'Mother of Dragons' as a protagonist from another show, and Clarke's brand of acting is relatively theatrical. Some compensation comes in the development that Dany and her court now know of Joffrey's death. What initially appears an opportune time to retake King's Landing is actually a reminder that Khaleesi must deal with the 'here and now'; rather less welcome news arrives of Yunkai and Astapor regressing back to slaver cities.

Indeed Dany seems to be in control of events around her as much as at any point since her very first appearance, There is no cruel brother to treat her as a bargaining chip, nor fickle alpha-male Dothraki. She has a greater band of warriors and advisors and need not place confidence in duplicitous and ruthless tricksters as she did in Qarth. She doesn't need to bargain or plan risky night-time attacks as she did when acquiring the previous slaver cities. She seems to be someone born to rule - despite being originally third-in-line. The main tension is based on her decision to trust either/both of Jorah and Daario - each man loves her but has shown signs of not being truly dependable; especially in the case of Jorah who even now could still be reporting back to Varys.

Arguably the defining image of the Meereen sections presented is Dany's decree that the deposed slave masters of Meeren be nailed to a cross and left to die slowly to avenge the slave children she witnessed on her journey previously. Despite plot twists aplenty the viewer never doubts that the Mother of Dragons is someone who 'walks the walk'. Overall there is a definite up-turn in making the Khaleesi story line work as effectively as it did in Season One, although I personally do not prize it as the very best component of any given episode.

These episodes' most obvious sources of tension and excitement centre around the character of Karl and his fellow traitors, who maintain an atmosphere of sadism at the late Craster's stronghold. Karl continues to be played ably by Burn Gorman- a dependable actor in various genres - even if he is somewhat of a caricature in both script and performance. There is some nice black humour with Gorman tempting fate by saying he has remained undefeated in a fight since he was nine. Under his rule the women who suffered previously at Craster's hand are treated no better - possibly even worse. There is even a glimpse of Commander Mormont's broken skull being used to dispense some red wine - a clever reminder of the sad and violent fate that Jorah's father suffered.

Once events culminate at Craster's Keep in the final moments of 'First of His Name', it is richly satisfying that one of the female victims helps Jon in overcoming Karl. Perhaps the grotesque death suffered by the renegade is rather more worthy of a horror film - even if on-screen violence is usually justified in the show. Of at least equal controversy is the graphic depiction of how imprisoned women are being raped. Yet by the time the dust has settled there is an excellent moment of empowerment where Jon wisely concedes that these female survivors will now make their own proactive way in the cruel realms of the North.

Locke also has a very violent death which certainly surprised me in coming at this point in time. Hodor is horrified to see his hands bloodied - the result of Bran using his Warg powers to avoid being carried away to certain doom. This also works as a strong moment showing how tough Bran really is - even bearing in mind the battles fought by his older brothers and late father. Even more unexpected is the brand-new material featuring a White Walker converting one of the male babies banished from the Keep into one of its own kind. Whether this intermittent story line will be picked up by season end is no doubt a deliberate mystery thrown into the mix by the showrunners.

King's Landing continues to provide much of the meat of the show. There is an amusing but purposeful bedside visit made by Margaery Tyrell to imminently crowned Tommen. Whilst he is clearly too young to consummate a relationship just yet, it is obvious that Margaery is someone he trusts and likes. The viewer know just how manipulative and yet warm the Tyrell noble is, and should take note that she herself is acting on the and the wishes of grandmother (and supreme game-player) Olenna - who is now moving back to Highgarden.

Once Tommen is crowned proper there is a smart litle scene where Margaery seems to redress the balance of power between her and Queen Regent Cersei, Some may recall the stern threat in the last season over the younger woman's wish to be 'sisters'. For now Cersei is rather less threatening, appreciating the value of allies in these troubled times.
This approach is also demonstrated when Cersei later on decides to be liberally affable and diplomatic when meeting with Oberyn Martell. The Red Viper of Dorne is not given the most compelling of material in comparison to beforehand, but it is clear that he is making the most of his position of influence in being around the royal court. The reminder of middle child Myrcella being relatively 'safe' in Dorne is also a welcome counterpoint to other scenes involving the innocent in these episodes.

Episode Four's title 'Oathkeeper' points out the touching moment where Jaime passes on the sword that Tywin gave to him recently. This is an excellent scene for those who have bonded with Jaime over the course of Season Three - a fine counterpoint to his description of saving the capital from wildfire and the 'Mad King. As Brienne and Pod ride off in search for Sansa, Tyrion is conspicious by his absence. In fact the 'Imp' has but the one scene in 'Oathkeeper' where he is all too aware of the less than judicious court proceedings he can expect to be subjected to very soon, and how his sister is putting emotion above all other thoughts with the goal of silencing him once and for all.

As serious, disturbing and plot-heavy as the show is, there are still some very enjoyable lighter moments. Pod and Brienne have both been improved markedly in television format; providing some distinctive moments of modesty and valour. However when put together, it would appear that Brienne now is demonstrating a sense of superiority - owing to Pod's awkwardness. Once they have spent some time together on the road, there is a lovely moment where Brienne realises that Tyrion owes his life to the quick-thinking, surprisingy powerful squire during the chaos that was 'the battlle of Blackwater'.

The Hound/Arya sections which worked well last time round, is perhaps lacking in real direction. There is no real changes to their status quo except for the addition of Beric and Thoros on her 'kill list' - owing to their siding with Melisandre Syrio Forel is praised to the heavens by Arya (in a call-back to season one), that unsurprisingly features Sandor showing little admiration for a man who trusts his life to a wooden sword. One feels that a confrontation must come between this odd couple, and of course the show has a strong theme of alliances not being bound to last.

On the other hand, Arya's sister Sansa is given some rather strong material - with actress Sophie Turner continuing to improve her range. The audience is made to think that the older Stark girl will at some point become more proactive. Perhaps there is some degree of capability and decisiveness which so clearly exudes from Arya, but up to now the machinations of the Lannisters have been too strong. Her brave defiance of jealous Aunt Lysa accusing her of being sexually active despite her truthful denials is a fine scene which is played just right. The confirmation that Jon Arryn was killed by his wife Lysa at the behest of Baelish, and that the Lannisters took the blame is done in a low-key manner but is ample reward for viewers left scratching their heads since 2011.

Demented Lysa, and her son Robin - unseen since the middle of the opening season - are such memorable grotesques that viewers will be almost transported back to those proceedings as if the had happened recently. Furthermore the sequences with just Littlefinger and his 'ward' talking to each other are well done in both these episodes. Clearly the wife of Tyrion is wondering whether she has leapt from the frying pan into the fire. The viewer however is confident that Littlefinger prizes Sansa above anyone else as an asset, so even if he doesn't have her own interests at heart, he would never let harm come to her.

Watched together these episodes complement one another nicely and set up some potentially intriguing story lines for later on. On an individual basis they are rather routine by the show's lofty standards, with episode Five being static and talky - if necessary in terms of exposition. The books may be more complex but this is still a very dense show with a lot going on at once.

The program continues to make the majority of rival evening fare look pedestrian and routine, although it clearly expects loyalty from viewers dating back to events in the very earliest episodes. There are many elements of the show that have been retained after judicious adaptation of very dense source literature and they for the most part come across crystal-clear to the viewership. Some television shows cynically play out the same old formulas and rest on their laurels. 'Game of Thrones' takes chances and rewards loyalty and emotional investment in the actions of its characters.