Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Review: Game of Thrones "Fire and Blood"

Non Spoiler Review:
The season finale of Game of Thrones delivers on all fronts. Except being over too quickly. It was going to take a lot to top last week's emotional wallop, but they managed to, and I walked away feeling a little out of breath.

The news of events in King's Landing make their way north, bringing all sorts of repercussions. Jon makes a decision about his future, while Catelyn and Robb get an additional surprise from their army. The Stark girls are in a fine mess, and about to take very different journeys. Joffrey's reign of terror begins, and Tywin sets in motion some events to try to salvage an increasingly desperate situation. Daenerys is faced with the terrible consequences of her recent choices.

Politics, drama, revelations, a shocking ending—not much more to ask for here. Everyone seemed to get a final moment in the spotlight, no matter how brief. The series has left things in such disarray. Not just the Stark family is scattered, but now the Lannisters, too, and the unity of the kingdom is in a mess. There's nothing to complain about here. All the pieces were moved into place throughout the hour to set up next season (and thankfully there is a second season!). In some ways the emotional level was even higher than last week's, given Fire and Blood focused on characters dealing with grief and loss. 

A fantastic episode and an even greater season. This series has become my favorite thing on television right now, and it's going to be a long, long wait for it to return.

Spoilers Now!
Just in case there was any doubt, Fire and Blood opens with Ned's blood dripping from the sword, and the executioner holding up his head to the cheering crowd. Yoren grabs Arya and takes her inside as she watches Sansa collapse. Yoren orders her to keep her mouth shut and calls her boy, chopping off her hair. They're going north, he tells her.

Word of Ned's death spreads throughout the Seven Kingdoms. At Winterfell, Osha is carrying Bran around on her shoulders as he recounts his dream about the three-eyed raven, which showed him his father's crypt. He convinces her to go down into the passages, where he points out his grandfather's tomb (burned by the mad king) and his aunt (killed by Rhaegar). And the empty space for his father. But they're startled by Shaggydog, Rickon's wolf. Rickon appears himself and says he had a dream his father was down there and came to see him. When they return, they see Luwin, who has a raven's message, and gravely goes over to Bran to tell him the news.

Catelyn heads off into the woods to mourn in silence, but hears Robb slashing at a tree with his sword. He wants to kill them all. She embraces him, telling her son the Lannisters still have his sisters, and when they get them back, they'll definitely kill them all.

At court, Joffrey forces a bard to sing the unflattering song he was caught performing in a tavern regarding Robert's death. He has his tongue cut out, and leaves the rest of the business for his mother, summoning Sansa to come along with him (Cersei still wants him to wed her). He leads her to the wall where her father's head is on a pike, and forces her to look. Septa's head, as well as all the northerners, are there, too.

He gloats that her brother's head will soon join them. Sansa suggests her brother might bring her Joffrey's head. He instructs his guard to strike her (as a good king doesn't strike a lady). For a moment it looks as though she might walk over and try to push Joffrey off the wall. But Sandor steps forward and offers her a handkerchief. Joffrey leaves them, and the Hound suggests she keep it, as she'll likely need it. 

Robb's bannermen debate their next move. Greatjon wants to join up with Renly and swear loyalty to him, but Robb insists on the proper succession—Stannis. Bran can no more be lord before him than Renly can be king before Stannis. Greatjon admits Stannis and Renly mean nothing to him—they know nothing of the north and worship different gods. He once bowed to the dragons, but they're dead. He declares Robb is the only king he will bend his knee to—the king of the north. Others agree and begin to swear loyalty to Robb as their king. Even Theon steps forward, declaring him his loyal brother.

Catelyn watches, then goes to see Jaimie, who's been bound to a post. She hits him with a rock and he offers some sarcasm and insults. She demands to know if he pushed Bran, and he admits to it, though his intent was that he die. But he won't answer why he did it. He mocks her gods and tells her to rest, as it will be a long war.

Cersei has taken up with young cousin Lancel (who's quite excited about the war). She's reading a letter about Jaime's capture. Tywin is reading a similar message—the Starks have Jaime. He and his men debate their course of action, some of whom suggest they sue for peace. Tyrion advises that there is no hope for peace now that Joffrey's taken Ned's head. They want to pay a ransom for Jaime but also can't appear weak. An angry and frustrated Tywin sends them all out except for Tyrion. 

He admits his son has grown wise—he was right about keeping Ned alive—that would have given them time to deal with the Baratheons. He's having Sir Gregor set the Riverland on fire, and the rest will regroup. He's sending Tyrion to King's Landing where he will be Hand of the King in his place and rein in Joffrey. Why not someone else, Tyrion asks. You're my son, he tells him. But he orders him not to take that whore to court.

Daenerys awakens with Jorah standing guard over her. She immediately asks of her son, but Jorah reluctantly tells her the boy didn't live. The women say he was malformed and was stillborn. Mirri arrives, explaining he was scaled like a lizard, with wings, monstrous, and full of worms. She warned her that only death would pay for life. 

Daenerys demands to see Drogo—what she bought with her son's life. She's taken to her husband who is sitting alone by the edge of the cliff. The Khalasar has all rode away in the night, leaving just the slaves. Drogo is alive, but just an empty shell with a blank stare. Mirri says she asked for life and that's what she got. 

Daenerys talks to her alone. She can't believe Mirri would do this after she saved her. Her child will burn no cities now, Mirri says, and explains she was saved from nothing—she had already been raped before Daenerys came, and saw her temple burn, and all the people she knew killed. She suggests she take a look at Drogo and see what a life is worth when everything else is gone.

Shae convinces Tyrion that he should disobey his father. If he didn't mention her by name, then why not take her, so he agrees and asks her to accompany him to King's Landing.

Daenerys stays with Drogo through the night, attempting to illicit some response from him, but as time progresses she realizes there is no sign of life in him. She says good-bye and tearfully smothers him with a pillow.

Pycelle is enjoying the services of Ros, and lectures her about the kings he served—including Aerys, whom he sadly watched go mad. He seems to think Joffrey will be a decent king. Ros is bored and eventually leaves him to his day. He does some stretching, and appears quite limber for 67, but as he dresses and makes to leave his chambers he hunches down to appear more decrepit.

Jon prepares to leave Castle Black at night, despite Sam's protests. He rides off, but is pursued by Sam, Pypar, Grenn and Rast, and finally stops to convince them to go back. They remind him of his oath to the Night's Watch, and Jon is ultimately persuaded to stay.

As they await a council meeting Varys and Petyr trade another round of barbs. Varys admits he's one of the few men who doesn't want to be king. Petyr insults Varys' manhood yet again, but the two begin to debate the merits of the new king, until Joffrey arrives to begin their meeting.

Yoren tells Arya she's now an orphan boy named Arry, and she'll keep her identity secret as they travel north with a the band of no-goods he got for recruitment to the Night's Watch. Arya's smart enough to take to the ruse right away, but she quickly gets bullied by a fat boy who wants her sword. Given she's already killed a fat boy, she tells him she has no problem killing him too. That's when Gendry, Robert's bastard (!) shows up. He recognizes the craftsmanship of her sword right away, given he was an armorer's apprentice. Apparently his master got sick of him, so he's now given over to the Night's Watch. Yoren calls them all out and they begin their 1000 league march to the Wall. Arya leaves King's Landing behind her.

Mormont is aware of Jon's moonlight ride, but lets him know the Wall would be empty if every recruit was punished for running away for the night. He tells Jon that the rangers have found whole villages emptied, tribes are uniting at a secret stronghold, and fires burn in the mountains. Blue-eyed corpses were found that were burned. He asks if Jon thinks Robb's war is more important than theirs. No, he replies. It doesn't matter who sits on the Iron Throne when dead men come after them. Mormont wants Jon and his wolf with him when the Night's Watch rides in force against the wildings and the White Walkers. And he swears he'll find Benjen Stark alive or dead. Jon chooses his loyalty and accompanies them north of the Wall.

Daenerys builds Drogo's funeral pyre, and has the dragon eggs placed upon it. Jorah advises against that—she could live out her days as a wealthy woman in one of the cities if she sold them. He begins to see what she means to do, and says he can't stand by and watch her climb onto the pyre to burn. But she tells him not to be afraid and gives him a kiss, then addresses the meager crowd.

She announces they will be her khalasar and frees all the slaves. They're free to go if they wish, but if they stay it will be as brothers and sisters. Some leave immediately. Mirri smiles, but Daenerys has her bound to the pyre. Daenerys declares she is the dragon's daughter, and those who would harm her people will die screaming. Mirri says she won't scream. It's not her screams she wants, Daenerys replies. Just her life.

She lights the pyre, and Mirri does scream. Then Daenerys walks into the flames as Jorah watches. Come morning, the fire is out, and Jorah slowly walks over to the charred remains. They find Daenerys crouching, and she lifts her head. Then an infant dragon appears behind her shoulder. She has two others at her feet as she rises. Jorah falls to his knees before her, as do the rest of her people.

The Verdict:
Fire and Blood set up quite an interesting dynamic for next season. We have Robb being declared king of the north by his army. Will he chose to engage Tywin next? That whole scene got me choked up, but especially Theon swearing his loyalty to the Starks. I like the character, and was always a bit concerned he might betray them (though, given what's all transpired, anything is on the table, I guess).

I was equally impressed with Catelyn and her show of strength with Robb, and then with Jaime. She really conveyed a look of confusion at Jaime's simple admission that he pushed her son from the window, but with no explanation for her.

Tywin is a bastard, but he's a smart one. He realizes the grave mistake he made (and his daughter and grandson). I was half expecting him to order Joffrey's death just to correct it. But making Tyrion Hand of the King was a fantastic move to get the imp to court. I'm eager to see how he engages his sister and deals with the other council members. But Hand of the King isn't a safe job either, so I hope that doesn't mean he's near on the list of future cast culls. On that note, I'm not betting that Joffrey will stay around as king for any length of time at all.

The Baratheon situation is still up in the air. It's unclear what the situation is with Stannis and Renly—is it going to be two armies or one when all is said and done? The additional surprise was the appearance of Robert's bastard, Gendry, now accompanying Arya north. That looks to be a great dynamic duo. But surely now Arya must run into her wolf at some point on the road. 

Jon's choice of honor was an interesting contrast to Ned's failed decisions. It would have been so conventional to have him leave the Wall and join Robb's army, but the situation in the north looms far more important, he realizes, and Mormont (who continues to accelerate up the ladder of my favorites) has shown great faith in him. What will they meet on the other side?

Pycelle's scene was a curious moment. I took from that he's not as infirm as he leads Varys and Petyr to think, and his crippled demeanor his mostly an act. Yet he did ramble on and on about the kings without really saying anything of value, either (though that might have served as this episode's history lesson).

What to say about the Dothraki? This is perhaps the most unpredictable storyline. Given Ned's death, I can't say Drogo's passing came as much as a surprise, but it was a very touching scene. Mirri's role in it was pretty harsh, but after listening to her speech, who can blame her?

I'm always so torn with Daenerys, as I quite like her character strengths, but her hands certainly aren't clean, and I don't know if I would like to see her wage a war against Westeros for the throne. Can she manage to persuade the Dothraki to follow her? Or will she seek to inspire others to be her army, instead? Suffice it to say, the final scene was an amazing bit. I honestly didn't think they'd go the dragon route so soon—I figured that was in the cards at some point, but not for quite awhile.

Given things started out rather secular, I'm pleased that the supernatural has been used sparingly, so when it does rear its head it has some punch. Needless to say, with growing dire wolves and now dragons, HBO's CGI budget is going to take a hit.

Finally, I'm looking forward to seeing what develops with the host of supporting characters—Osha, Shae, Ros, and even Sandor Clegane (who might have a bit of compassion in him?). Everyone is composed of shades of grey in this series, and anyone could just as easily become hero or villain with the slightest push. While it's a bit stressful rooting for characters that could easily die at the drop of the hat, the tenuous nature of life in Westeros makes this series completely compelling and addictive. I'll definitely be revisiting these ten episodes for a rewatch prior to next spring.


  1. Enjoyed your reviews and insights. I've been going back and reading them. Nice to read some from someone else who hasn't read the books! Hope you continue next season...

  2. Thanks. I'm thankful I've been able to avoid spoilers from the books so far...


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