As we head past the mid-season mark on HBO’s epic Game Of Thrones, it’s clear that no one will emerge unscathed.
Let’s bitch it out…
“If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.” The Boy (Iwan Rheon)
This line, spoken by one of the son’s of the deceased Lord Karstark to Theon (Alfie Allen) could be describing the entirety of ‘The Climb’ and perhaps even the series. Game Of Thrones is many things – a thrilling fantasy, a dazzling adaptation, awards bait – but it is not the kind of story that has a happy ending. There are fleeting moments of joy and happiness (the view from the top of The Wall that Rose Leslie’s Ygritte has been waiting all her life to see), but for the most part it is bodies (RIP Ros) and crushed dreams (all those unhappy betrothals!!!). If you’re expecting happy things for these characters, then you haven’t been paying attention.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been amazed by how well showrunners Benioff and Weiss have balanced the demands of the story with the sheer number of characters. Early in the season it appeared that they hadn’t yet figured out the proper equation, but as we move into the second half, the scenes are longer, and the characters and conflicts are getting fleshed out (this does occasionally mean that some sit a week out, such as Emilia Clarke’s Dany this week).
The confidence exhibited in this third season means knowing when to cut scenes short and when to let them breathe. A great example of the latter is when Melisandre (Carice von Houten) meets with the Brotherhood – and Arya (Maisie Williams). It’s an integral scene for revealing more about not only Thoros of Myr (Paul Kaye), but also Melisandre, who reveals a completely different side to the confident, all-knowing seer we’ve seen in her scenes with Stannis. Her interactions with Thoros, Arya and Lord Dondarrion (Richard Dormer) need time to play out, so that even though the interchange between Melisandre and Arya may not be absolutely integral to the plot in the immediate future, there’s some clear groundwork being laid. Plus: more Arya (always a good thing).
Contrast this with the scenes of Loras (Finn Jones) and Sansa (Sophie Turner) sharing a perfectly lovely moment discussing their upcoming nuptials in the King’s Landing gardens. At this point we know that they’re planning for an event that will never occur, so we’re provided enough time to feel for them before cutting away to the more important conversation between Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Cersei (Lena Headey). Similarly, when Tyrion goes into Sansa’s room to tell her about the change of marriage plans and sees Shae (Sibel Kekilli) there, we don’t need to hear the entire conversation. Just his muttering is enough to satisfy. In this way we’re still getting the all-important background (and time spent with our favourites) without feeling like we’re sacrificing other important storylines.
For me the strength of the show resides in the amazing little character beats hidden among the larger scenes: Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) spearing Jamie’s (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) food for him, Ygritte (Rose Leslie) mocking Jon’s (Kit Harrington) sexual prowess and Arya defiantly defending her archery accuracy by exclaiming that she hit the dummy in the “head, tits and balls” just like she meant to. Whether or not you enjoy these scenes may depend on your sense of humour, or your appreciation of the characters, but for me they really help to bring this world to life.
At this point in the season Game Of Thrones is running like a well-oiled machine. The narrative threads are picking up steam, even as they’re still being fleshed out and given room to breathe. Very few moments feel like missed opportunities (this week’s excision if I were editor: Sam and Gilly’s opener, which helps to set the scene, but goes on for too long). At this point it’s just a question of where things will end up in three episodes time…and who will survive to see a (somewhat) happy end to the season.
- The climb up The Wall is exceedingly well done – the CGI is simplistic, but the moment that Jon looks down and the ground rushes up towards us is vomit-inducing. The collapse of a large section later in the episode is similarly tense and both contribute to the wonderful final image of the valley below as the sun rises
- While I love the playful combativeness between Baelish (Aidan Gillen) and Varys (Conleth Hill), I didn’t much enjoy Baelish’s final monologue about “the ladder and the climb” as it intercut with the literal visual of Jon and Ygritte on The Wall. I prefer my parallels a little more subtle. This felt rather heavy-handed
- The “conversation” between Loras and Sansa is a bit like Best In Show: “We could not talk or talk forever and still find things to not talk about”. Pretty…but not the brightest pair, so it may be best that they don’t marry
- Winners of best dialogue of the night goes to the exchange between Lady Oleanna (Diana Rigg, having a good week) and Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance). The low blows come out early and often when these elders tackle the thorny issue of wedding negotiations, using the sordid pasts of their children (incest) and grandchildren (homosexuality) as leverage. BTW Tywin’s indignant reaction to Oleanna’s questioning if he ever experimented with other boys in his youth is hilarious
- What’s harder to watch Theon’s flaying or the reveal of how terrible a man Joffrey (Jackie Gleeson) is turning out to be? My vote is Joffrey. Even though I squirmed throughout the flaying, using Ros like one of Arya’s target dummies is reason #8,241,702 why we hate that little brat SO MUCH
- In the Rob Stark (Richard Madden) storyline, I can barely focus on anything else because Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) looks so dejected and, pardon my french, crappy. Also, selling Edmure (Tobias Menzies) into marriage as retribution to the Freys screams bad idea to me, even if he is such an ass that he probably deserves to marry an ugly girl
- Finally: Brienne in a pink dress. That is all
- Oosha (threatening physical violence on Meera): “You’ve got a big mouth girl. And too many teeth.”
- Lord Blackfish (threatening physical violence on Edmure): “The laws of my fist are about to break your teeth.”
- Bolton (when Jamie makes demands): “I had hoped you’d learned your lesson about overplaying your…position.” Ouch – an amputated hand joke? Too soon!
- Lady Oleanna (when Tywin demands she deny Loras’ homosexuality):“Oh, not at all. A sword swallower through and through.”
- Tyrion (about to broach the subject of marriage with Sansa in front of Shae): “This…this is awkward.”
- Varys (describing the Iron Throne to Baelish): “Ugly old thing, yet it has its appeal. The Lysa Arryn of chairs.” Catty!
What are your thoughts as we pass the halfway mark? Do you feel better about the balance between the storylines? Which secondary or new character have you fallen in love with this season? (My vote is Rose Leslie: I’m all in!) Could Diana Rigg be any more perfect in this role? And if you could vote for one character to get their happy ending, who would it be? Comment away below
*Reminder: This is a spoiler free zone so please don’t contribute anything about the books or online spoilers about upcoming episodes
Game Of Thrones airs Sundays at 9pm EST on HBO