HBO’s Game of Thrones: “House of Black and White” (S5E2)

April 22, 2015 Pop Culture, Reviews, Science Fiction & Fantasy Comments (0) 279

house_of_black_and_whiteWARNING: As usual I play fast and loose with spoilers, so if you aren’t caught up on the TV series AND books (including the Winds of Winter sample chapters) you may want to sit this one out.

After a generally underwhelming season premiere immediately delivered on the showrunners’ promise to deviate from the books, the second episode really hammered that point home with significant changes to almost every character’s arc. As Varys remarks to Tyrion that their kind will never be allowed to rule, and Jon Snow finds himself suddenly in charge, everybody who’s actually holding power spends their time struggling with it. Episodes like this explain why HBO went with the title of the first novel, rather than the book series; the “Game of Thrones” is not only about who sits it, but what that person does while their butt is in the seat.

It’s definitely a change, as a book reader, not to know what’s about to happen next. I think I like it. I’m in agreement with Baylor Johnson (whose splendid review & recap posts I highly recommend) that the show has earned an uncertainty, like the books, about who will die and when–meaning I genuinely feared for Pod during an otherwise silly chase sequence with Littlefinger’s valemen.

Other random thoughts:

  • After being rejected and sitting on the porch in the rain, Arya gets to give up her name. Is she joining the Faceless Men, or Project Mayhem? Maybe “a man” is not named Jaqen H’ghar because his name is Robert Paulson. Also, her list is getting pretty short at this point, down to only four names. One wonders if there is a statement in there, that death comes to everyone eventually, even without her intervention–or perhaps there is some power in Arya’s wishing?
  • Oh, and the return of Jaqen H’ghar provides an opportunity for me to bring back one of my favorite GIFs.

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  • They got the purple sails right, at least on the ship Arya sails into Bravos. That’s a nice touch. It’s not consistent once they get there, but I imagine that’s a difficult thing to accomplish on a set. In general I think Bravos is very well done, although it looks a bit too much like King’s LAnding. I would have liked it to seem a little more different–more colorful, perhaps, or at least foggier.
  • Note Littlefinger turning down ale. It’s a small gesture, easily overlooked, but I’m pretty sure he and Roose Bolton are the only characters on the show (adults, at least) to do so. Are they signaling something? It’s echoed later in the episode, when Brienne asks Pod whether Sansa seems safe with Littlefinger. Pod’s response: “No.”
  • I’m loving Sansa’s new attitude. She and Arya have both found their confidence. I especially love how Sansa lords her power over Littlefinger. When told that ale makes some men feel strong, she replies unblinking, “Does it make you feel strong?”
  • The interplay between Brienne and Pod remains one of the most compelling parts of the show, and I will echo another of Baylor’s points, that their scene at the tavern introduced a Western feel that was very welcome, even if the chase sequence was forced and silly. But I’m enormously bothered by Brienne’s apparent stupidity, never anticipating that people will notice her GOLDEN LION SWORD and suspect her loyalty to the Lannisters. It doesn’t suit her character.
  • The interplay between Varys and Tyrion, meanwhile, is plodding and dull. I feel like the writers just assumed putting these two characters together would mean automatic entertainment, but two of the show’s biggest divas have dialed it down so low they are basically pilot lights. We should be getting Baby Jane, but instead it’s Gray Gardens. Blah.
  • When the Martells send a threat, they don’t mess around. I wonder if there’s an industry in Dorne manufacturing magic snake message boxes.
  • It’s nice to see the writers finally pressing the gas on the doings at Castle Black, after dragging their feet for so many seasons. In a single episode we get Stannis’s offer to legitimize Jon AND Jon’s election to Lord Commander. After the glacial pace Jon’s story has followed thus far [see what I did there?] I half expected this season to be Sam leading the campaign for his election.
  • On that note, is it weird that the Night’s Watch is so committed to democracy in a world that is so feudal in nature? Just a thought. Is it a heavy-handed way to win modern readers/viewers over to their side?
  • Circe. It doesn’t help that I know where this season will take her, but the writers are so heavy-handed with her at this point that it’s almost hard to watch her scenes. I can’t tell if she’s meant to be oblivious to her own loss of power, thinking that she can boss around her uncle and the small council, or if she’s just putting up a front after the death of her father. In the scene with Jaime I have a hard time buying her total lack of caution, but then the show writers have always drawn Circe with a broader brush than Martin does. I want to feel bad for her, alone and exposed as her family has fallen apart around her, but I really can’t.
  • …and Dany. Oh, Dany. Clearly you’ve been reading your Mann and Hobbes, going around saying things like “the law is the law,” but maybe you haven’t noticed where you live. Maybe you should pay more attention when Arstan Whitebeard Barristan Selmy mansplains, which is always and constantly. Even Drogon (in his incarnation as CGI from ten years ago, a natural part of the dragon lifecycle) can’t stand to be around you right now.
  • Joking aside, there is an interesting theme developing in this series around beheadings, and how they reflect a character’s nature and ability as leader. Dany is trying to be a Ned Stark, here, but she ends up looking like a Joffrey to her people. More on that theme next episode–but I wonder if the hissing of the crowd was meant to tie back to the Martells and their snake box? Probably not, but it’s a neat idea.

More next week, as we hit the thing I’m most excited for in Season Five: Jonathan Pryce joins the cast as the High Sparrow!

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