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Game of Thrones review: Season 3, Episode 8

Posted by msunyata on Sunday, June 9, 2013

Based largely off of the first half of George R.R. Martin’s behemoth of a book, A Storm of Swords (which is longer than the entirety of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy!), the third season of HBO’s Game of Thrones brings all of the plot lines, character beats, and thematic developments from the first two years to a climatic head.

And as the show’s lingering questions are answered and bombshell revelations are dropped, this column (It Is Known: An Analysis of Thrones) will help wade viewers and book-lovers both through the narrative overload that will be at hand.  What it won’t do, however, is spoil the story; the hope and intent is elucidation, not ruination.

Given the death, destruction, and – gasp – hope that await in the next three episodes, such illumination will be needed.

It is known.

Game of Thrones Daario

 

Episode 308: “Second Sons”

The commentary track for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon may have more than its fair share of flaws – most of them owing to screenwriter James Schamus behaving in a way that can only be labeled as a schmuck – but it tends to stick out in a film lover’s memory for an entirely different reason:  an exchange between the writer and director Ang Lee (about two extras having a somewhat silly and certainly inconclusive fight) that calls attention to a facet of filmmaking that tends to usually be glossed over in behind-the-scenes material – background action.

The behavior and general conduct of all the extras, speaking or not, of any given scene can do more to establish realism or tear down believability than nearly any other single element, a star’s performance included.  Instructing day players on how – or, perhaps more importantly, how not – to carry themselves and giving them bits of business to perform require a huge amount of coordination and dedication of the entire production team, starting with the assistant director(s) and moving on up the chain of command to the highest suits.  For this reason alone, creating quality background action can be a nearly insurmountable task.

(For more on this, and in keeping with the commentary vibe, check out the track laid down by Ronald D. Moore, David Eick, and director Michael Rymer for the Battlestar Galactica pilot miniseries, in which the performance of the extra who plays the co-pilot of Colonial One is addressed with much gusto and insight.  It is guaranteed to make one look at movies or television in an entirely different way forever more.)

Game of Thrones is a production that has tended to hit the background nail on the head more often than not, and to typically do so in a creatively satisfying way; whether the slaves of Astapor or the smallfolk of Winterfell, there is a level of believability achieved that would otherwise be impossible to attain (yes, even with the usually exquisite set dressing taken into consideration).  The makeshift camp of the sellsword company the Second Sons outside the city walls of Yunkai is arguably the strongest example yet, with servants hustling and bustling and horseback mercenaries riding hurriedly to and fro in a continuous – and graceful – fashion.  It sells the realism of a hastily-thrown-together settlement on the verge of war, underscores the dialogue-heavy emphasis of the scene with some kinetic energy, and furthers the viewer’s immersion in a faraway land that never existed without the slightest of hiccups.

Well, almost; if there is one critique to make, it would be that the production team was a little too worried about crisscrossing its horseback traffic throughout the entirety of the scene.  Once noticed, the viewer is left with the unmistakable impression that he is watching a medieval version of the city-planet Coruscant’s incessant sky traffic from the Star Wars saga rather than the real comings and goings of a real camp erected in the real Middle Ages.  Call it hyper-realism, a pitfall just as important to avoid as asynchronousity, and one that has already robbed the series of the flamboyant, Swiss Guard-esque dress of a number of characters, Daario Naharis chief among them.

 
Game of Thrones Cersei
 
The Differences between the Episode and the Novel
 
In the Song of Ice and Fire books, House Tyrell has been a minor though substantial player in the game of thrones:  after a disastrous failed alliance with Renly Baratheon, Margaery is betrothed to King Joffrey Baratheon; Loras, the youngest male heir, joins Joff’s Kingsguard; Garlan, the middle son, wears Renly’s armor in the Battle of the Blackwater and is awarded his own castle and, therefore, his own lordship; Willas, the oldest (and crippled) heir, is secretly proposed to marry Sansa Stark – assuming that the Tyrells can spirit her out of the capital first; Mace, the Lord of Highgarden and the Warden of the South, is brought into the royal fold as Joffrey’s Master of Ships (replacing the traitorous Stannis Baratheon); and, finally, Olenna Tyrell, Mace’s mother – and the so-called Queen of Thorns – also takes up residence in King’s Landing, attempting to ensure her family’s head remains above (royal) water.
 
It is obvious that showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss have picked and chosen which of these narrative tidbits to apply to their adaptation – including, not surprisingly, which characters to include in the series at all; Mace, Garlan, and the much-talked-about-but-never-actually-seen Willas have all been conspicuously absent from the small screen.  But they’ve also decided to play up the Tyrells’ overall presence in the story, devoting more screen time to those individuals that have survived the transition to the new medium (Lady Olenna’s protracted back-and-forths with Tyrion over the rising cost of the royal wedding [“Kissed by Fire,” episode 305] and with Lord Tywin regarding the proposed Loras-Cersei marriage pact [“The Climb,” 306]) and even giving them more opportunity to anchor entire plot lines (the battle between Margaery and Queen Cersei Baratheon over control of Joffrey [“And Now His Watch Is Ended,” 304]).
 
The most interesting of this expanded material, however, is arguably the littlest touches.  Seeing Margaery attempt to work her magic with the likes of Lord Petyr Baelish (“Garden of Bones,” 204) and, in this episode, Queen Cersei is enthralling – but Cersei’s reaction is priceless.  After nearly three solid years of slowly getting to know the character and to see a wide, though usually muted, range of emotions from her, the showrunners are finally allowing the casually cruel core of her personality to shine through and through, with little modulation attempted (though they did arrange for nearly a full season of tug-of-war with Margeary to play out before permitting Cersei to go into full-blown bitch mode).  And her response to Loras’s rather half-hearted attempt at conversation is even more exquisite, with actress Lena Headey hitting the exchange right out of the park.
 
And this, ultimately, is the point – or should be the point, at any rate – of the newly created scenes for the series:  not only further embellishing the overall thematic motif that is playing the game of thrones (which is why, but of course, that the show is called this instead of Song of Ice and Fire), but also taking an extra opportunity to get at the very core of characters both major and minor in ways that George Martin either wouldn’t or couldn’t in the novels.
 
Let the game continue.
 
Game of Thrones Sansa and Tyrion wedding
 

Season Three Reviews:

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