Game of Thrones Season 2 ‘Thronedown’: Episode 2 – The Night Lands
Apr 2012 11

Building on the absolutely epic amount of scene-setting and character introduction of the first episode, this episode brought new characters and locales to the series in the form of the Iron Islands and Baylon Greyjoy. Patrick Malahide was excellent as Balon, bringing a harsh northern tone that couldn’t contrast more with Sean Bean’s considered and withdrawn Ned Stark from the first series.

After the airing of the second episode of this series, the million-dollar question for most people is “is it as good as the first series?” and the answer is… I don’t know. Honestly it’s too early to tell, both episodes have exhibited plenty of what made the original series so great, but maybe the lack of a de facto protagonist in this series is making it harder to tie all the plot strands together and give the plot its moral centre.

Arya: Left-Handed

Arya is growing as a character, and Maisie Williams is a very charismatic choice for what could potentially be a fairly obnoxious character. This Williams kid will hopefully go on to have a good career, an example of her moxie is evident in the fact that despite being right-handed, she learnt to sword-fight left-handed because Arya is left-handed in the books. Her budding unconventional brother-sister relationship with Gendry is a pleasure to watch, and has the potential to have great influence on events further down the road.

Peter Dinklage continues to be the star turn in this series, even though he has a low-key start in this episode, he has some great character moments which showcase what make him so compelling as a character. His wry humour, intelligence and sensitivity are all on show, as is his finely-honed survival instinct in his tete-a-tete with his sister.

The only problems I have so far are that the plot is building on such an epic scale at such a rapid pace, it makes me wonder where they can go from here. Having seen how they dealt with the first series, I trust D.B. Weiss and David Benioff , though. My other slight concern is Lord Baelish AKA Littlefinger. It’s something that’s a hangover from the first series, and maybe he’s a character who works better on the page than on the screen, but someone who uses his brain and strategic behind the scenes manoeuvring isn’t always as easy to realise in a visual medium. The end result of this problem is that there are lots of scenes of exposition, as he tells his life story to one or two whores who are usually being gratuitously sexy at the time. It’s not terrible or anything (I’m only human, after all), but it may wear thin as a narrative device.

Those (minor) concerns aside, the plot is very nicely poised, and the various factions jostling for position is compelling viewing. I advise you to tune in and get involved with all the opinionated shouting!

TA

Game of Thrones Season 2 Thronedown: Episode 4 – Garden of Bones
Apr 2012 27

*Bites fist in expression of extreme tension*… ARGH! All… this… buildup… don’t think I can take… any more… Benioff and Weiss are just playing with us, it’s the emperor’s new clothes, there is no matrix!

There, now I’ve got that out of the way, I feel a lot better. So after all my big talk last time out about the need to increase the ratio of payoff to buildup, we got another episode of… buildup. But what buildup! We finally got to see more of Joffrey, who plumbed new depths in his demonstrations of just how exquisitely evil he is. Poor old Sansa Stark, Sophie Turner puts in another affecting performance with, like, layers and everything, but even if she was a terrible actress, it would be hard not to feel sorry for her with the unique form of hell that Joffrey has engineered for her. My complaints about lack of dynamic story development were assuaged somewhat by some deliciously dastardly work from Jack Gleeson, as Joffrey is fast becoming an iconic screen antagonist.

It was good to see the remaining brothers Baratheon come together and have indulge a bit of verbal swordsmanship. Stannis has seemed quite one-note so far in this series, but later on in the episode, he starts to show why he could yet be a force to reckon with. If he continues in this vein, he could yet show beyond all doubt that while Ned Stark was a good man, he wasn’t a clever one.

Leave the poor lass alone!

Another character we haven’t seen much of is Tywin Lannister, but we got a much-needed glimpse of him, and Charles Dance brought that evil-charismatic-amitious portrayal that has made Tywin such a memorable character despite comparatively little screen-time. It was also good to see Daenarys finally get out of the desert, she is a character who has been repeatedly shat on from a great height, and Emilia Clarke could potentially have a thankless task in her hands with this character. Thankfully, she imbues Daenarys with a much-needed sympathetic edge, as otherwise her endless vacillating between victimhood and spoilt-child rage could grate. It will be fascinating to see how she grows from here.

Still, I did say last week that we needed a bit more plot, and a bit less character-development, and at this point, the slow-build is still in effect. It’s fair to say that we now know what most of the characters are thinking, most of the pieces are on the board, and everyone seems to be spoiling for a fight, so some story fireworks wouldn’t go amiss. The first season was impressive in its balancing of story advancement and character development, and so far this season has been weighted much more towards character than to actual plot. We’re still only at the 4th episode, which, (judging by the length of the first series) is not even halfway though, so there is still  lot of water yet to go under a lot of bridges. Stay tuned Thronerinos!

TA

The Oatmeal Does Game of Thrones
Apr 2012 28

The Oatmeal is a satirical/slapstick online comic that mocks popular culture, politics, grammar, and cats. As Game of Thrones is something of a favourite here at RBT, we thought we’d give a shout-out to The Oatmeal and showcase one of their recent Game of Thrones offerings:

This is about the release of the Game of Thrones Blu Ray, and how the Big Media Corporations are harming themselves by manipulating release windows:

The main character tries to watch Game of Thrones in all manner of legal ways, but is foiled. Only to resort to the illegal method, and find it easy, quick and high quality. This is something of a cause celebre for me, as I have always maintained that if Music and Film companies had reacted more quickly in embracing digital business models, piracy wouldn’t have proliferated anywhere near as much as it has. There is another one relating to Direwolves that doesn’t have the same level of cultural commentary as the first one, but it is funny.

Matthew Inman (him wot runs The Oatmeal) has made an online business work for him via content he has created. You can buy posters, calendars and t shirts from the site, and he has a large and loyal online following. There is a lot of entertaining content available on the site if you are in need of some serious procrastination material, I advise you check it out.

TA

 

Game of Thrones Season 2 Thronedown: Episode 5 – The Ghost in Harrenhal
May 2012 01

So, here we are, episode 5 at last. It appears that the writers planned all along to start ramping things up at this point, and now we have proof that the story is going somewhere. Buildup is only as good as the payoff, so the jury’s still out, but I thought a strong episode heralds the second half of the series nicely. With the death of Renly, and the continued desperation of Theon to please his father at the expense of the Starks, there were at least two things that happened in this episode that I didn’t like. Bad things happening is where good drama comes from though, and the death of Renly is a timely reminder that, as Arya said herself “anyone can be killed”.

Alas Renly, we hardly knew ye

In amongst all the foreplay finally giving way to intercourse, it was the first time in a while that I’ve felt genuinely concerned for the Starks. Jon is on dangerous (and icy) ground, Catelyn is alone but for Brienne, Arya is (literally) in the Lions’ den, and Bran is on the verge of drowning in the desire of Theon to win his father’s love. The first family of Game of Thrones (in the audience’s eyes at least) is under threat, and it has brought a welcome spike in the stakes of this show.

The untimely death of Renly was sad. He is portrayed as being charismatic in the books, and Gethin Anthony brings that to the screen to great effect. Weiss and Benioff clearly know that it’s good to leave the audience wanting more, and Renly is the latest in a long line of Game of Thrones characters to die seemingly before their time. Speaking of Baratheons, Renly’s death demonstrated heretofore unseen aspects of Stannis’ personality, and showed that dude’s playing for keeps. His one-note gruffness at first gave him the appearance of being a lesser power, but as each episode goes by, layers are added to his personality, and his ruthless streak is coming to the fore. Less flamboyant than Robert and Renly, his questionable devotion to this mysterious faith makes him hard to figure out, but his implacable removal of his brother shows him as a force to be reckoned with.

Stannis: emerging from the shadows

Qarth seems suitable exotic and decadent, and it’s good to see Daenarys somewhere other than the desert. Pyat Pree the Warlock was genuinely disturbing, and Xaro Daxos showed that nothing in life comes for free, and where Daenarys’ route to Westeros might come from. Ser Jorah’s speech to Daenarys was well-acted and heartfelt, and it’s true that she has a good heart, however whether she can stay that way in such a dark world remains to be seen.

One thought on the dragon: it was well realised and believable (as mythical creatures that have never existed go), and is a welcome reminder that this story has a long way to go, and many twists and turns yet.

TA

Game of Thrones Season 2 Thronedown: Episode 6 – The Old Gods and The New and Episode 7 – A Man Without Honour
May 2012 15

Sorry about the lack of an update last week, I was so shocked at the depths of Theon’s betrayal that I was rendered speechless for a week. Not that Episode 7 will have done anything to return my powers of verbal communication, that final shot will live long in the memory… if all is as it seems.

There’s a popular internet meme on Game of Thrones (unfortunately, I can’t find it to link to) that essentially says: “you know that character you like from Game of Thrones? Well, now he’s dead!”. Depicting in 3 panels the emotional roller coaster the viewer repeatedly goes on throughout the TV series. Bad things happen to good people, as anyone who saw last week’s episode knows only too well, and this week’s episode continues that trend. These last few episodes have moved the story at a rate of knots hitherto unseen this series, and in particular, the last three episodes have ramped up the tension.

We had more evidence that Bran appears to have an ability to see the future, with his dream of episode 5 proving all too prophetic. If anyone doubts that Bran is psychic, I’d like to show them the BIG BLOODY HAMMER that they have used to bang their point home. Problem is, if he and Rickon have been killed, it seems like a waste of a well-fleshed out and popular character.

 

Jon and Ygritte’s banter kept up unabated, with much teasing and poorly-hidden lust. It became obvious that there was something between them instantly, which I put down to the skill of Kit Harington and Rose Leslie, as the script doesn’t make it obvious until later. It’s times like this, that I have a brief flicker of hope that maybe George R. R. Martin isn’t creating the darkest fantasy world ever, and that there might be a positive end to all these dark deeds.

Tywin Lannister, played by Charles Dance, is undeniably sinister and irredeemable, but yet… but yet he does have a charisma to him. The scenes with him and Arya (clearly some kind of surrogate daughter figure) illustrate this very well, and Arya shows a valuable talent for making friends, whether she means to or not. One thing that continually marks this series out is the complexity of the characters, with only Joffrey displaying outright, unfiltered, uncorrupted, evil. Tywin is ambitious and cruel, but suggests a kinder side in this episode, hinting that he may have got on well with Ned Stark, were they not two sides of completely different political coins. Jaime Lannister, another ‘boo hiss’ character, seems more psychotic than evil in his slow dance with death, his good looks and skill with a sword the only things that salve his tortured soul.

While we’re on the subject of complex characters and Jaime Lannister, how about Catelyn Stark? Yes, she has been a great, strong mother throughout the series, and yes, also a loyal wife to Ned, but nowhere is this commitment to strong characters more evident in her obvious hatred for Jon Snow, something Jaime couldn’t wait to remind her about. Jon is clearly a good man, but as Jaime so gleefully pointed out, is living proof of her beloved husband’s infidelity, and her harshness towards him indicates a (perhaps understandably) flawed character .

This series has a different form of pacing to the first, probably necessitated by the endless procession of characters and story set-up. This is illustrated best by the fact that this series has had more episodes in which some characters have not appeared at all, compared to the first series. The first series also had a strong through-line of tension to it, something that gave urgency to the political manoeuvring and hooked the audience. This series has lacked that, perhaps intentionally at first, but appears to be saving some kind of climactic event for the final episodes (fingers crossed for a big old sword fight!). In the meantime, Throners, we wait with bated breath.

TA

TV meets EPG 2.0
May 2012 15

Linear TV maybe viewed as dead or dying, the next generation of customers want content when they want it and not when broadcasters say they should have it. It will still govern the supply and content of VOD (Video on Demand) for the foreseeable, but VOD first could be an idea if ratings continue to push higher in PVR & VOD. People tend to no longer base their lives around TV but rather fit TV in around their lives. This change to viewing habits has led to a drop in ratings in linear TV thus a drop in advertising revenue which means there is less money to make high end programming and we end up with cheap looking easy to reproduce “trash” TV like “Come Dine with me” or “Harry Hill`s TV Burp” although you might enjoy these shows they are cheap and easy to mass produce and fill time. They draw a steady audience and a minimal sponsor and ad revenue. Is this the grave yard of programming?

On the upper floor of TV, VOD is taking off, massive ratings are being reported with growth in all aspects, 1 broadcaster declared its having 2 billion requests from end users a year for content another with a much, much smaller possible audience is reporting over a billion requests.

 

We are in a time where the handheld device is the final platform not the TV. Bandwidth for these devices will grow to speeds of basic cable packages as 4G gets up and running and the old TV Analogue system turns off freeing up frequencies for new options. 30mbs to a Smartphone or Tablet will be epic and open a whole new world of content availability to the end user. But will content availability be enough, If the last few years have shown us anything with the rise of the social networking monster, it’s that interactivity will be the key to not only reaching our audience but growing the potential audience, thus increasing brand awareness and market position and ultimately revenue.

 

 

In “normal” TV transmission you will have seen little graphics bars pop up at the bottom or top of the screen during a program telling you what’s on next or on a sister channel or perhaps directing you to a website, either way adding to the interactivity of that brand and trying to tow you along and stop you from leaving that channel/brand at the end of the show. This generally works but we are becoming numb to its charms. This is where social networking will, and in some cases has already, step in, building up on linear TV and connecting with VOD. Forcing broadcasters to look at how the popularity, or trend if you will, of a programme sweeps across the internet via twitter or Facebook. This biggest weapon for this right now is Zeebox, not only does it take on the role of an excellent live EPG, but it also connects to all your social network sites so your friends can see what you are watching and you them. Trending the popularity of a show so much that audience viewings grow or fail as social groups fall in line, whether to create a discussion point or whether to just feel part of a group. Another great trick of zeebox is it uses wifi to connect to your “Connected TV” or “Virgin TiVo” meaning it will change channel for you or open up that VOD  content (Virgin TiVo only as I understand for VOD)  but still a brilliant perk to a free app!

The import thing here is the trend setting power of this type of tool, depending on the mood of the current online social group it has the power to force a swing in ratings, one well-placed tweet and ratings spike and drop dramatically. What will this mean for revenue and programming?

One thing for sure is programming will have to become better again to fight for ratings as well as maintain them, with luck pushing the elimination of the cheap shows as their ratings trend reflect massive fails or “walk outs”

All this change caused by the humble EPG catching on with the social network bug. So what next? What would you like in your EPG? Console interaction? VOD schedules? Would be nice to have a search function on a smart EPG that searched all your subscribed VOD services and found your wanted program for you and could this be a step towards slowing piracy, I know it will never rid us of piracy, nothing ever will no matter how smart DRM, ISPs or Studios think they are, but it may reduce it?

 

Ben

Creator Dan Harmon Leaves ‘Community’, Blogs About it
May 2012 20

The blogosphere has been set alight.

Picture the scene: outraged bloggers are typing ALL IN CAPS, the sirens and smoke of a cyber-riot are swirling, and the ‘Occupy NBC’ movement has had a surge in membership… all of this because Dan Harmon, the creator of a TV show called ‘Community‘, has been forced to leave the show by NBC.

“Whoa, whoa, what is Community?” I hear you say.

Well, that’s a good question. ‘Community’ is a sitcom set in an American Community College. Featuring the usual motley crew of misfits:

Jeff, the protagonist, is a disgraced former lawyer trying to pass the bar after being found to have faked his certificate whilst practicing.

Troy, a former high school quarterback, struggling to let go of his former glories.

Annie, an ex-classmate of Troy’s, used to be a legal pill-addict due to her inability to deal with the pressure to achieve.

Britta is a principled burnout who has run out of excuses to carry on travelling.

Shirley, struggling to avoid stereotypes as a middle-aged single mum trying to launch an online business.

Pierce is a retired millionaire dilettante whose antisocial ways have left him lonely.

Abed (my favourite) brings the fun: a Palestinian-Polish-American who has a form of autism that causes him to see life as a TV show, spoilers and all.

Note how they resemble an ‘unconventional, dysfunctional, modern family’

“So far, so standard sitcom”

Well, yes, but in practice, Dan Harmon and his cohorts have created a likeable and unusual comedy that contains numerous idiosyncratic references to films, music, TV, internet memes and other forms of pop culture. All whilst exploring themes of friendship and identity (and all that other ‘blah’ stuff). Whole episodes are satires, or tributes to, films (such as the episode that parodies ‘Goodfellas’), computer games, and mediums (an episode done in stop-motion animation). All of this, and Ken Jeong as Senor Chang gives the show some truly original comic moments. Dan Harmon has consistently been unafraid to insert these references, (often unexplained) into the scripts, and is a big reason for the show’s madcap appeal.

This kind of eclectic sight is not uncommon in ‘Community’

“I’m beginning to see why this has come so close to being cancelled”

Now you’re getting it! As a TV show that sets itself up to be an endless parade of in-jokes and unconventional humour, it’s perhaps not surprising it has struggled in much the same way as ‘Arrested Development‘ did before it. ‘Community’ has flirted outrageously with cancellation throughout its run, and it’s something of a miracle that, in the cut-throat world of American TV, it has taken this long for something like this to happen.

“Ratings don’t lie though, something must have been wrong”

I can see where you’re going with that, but in reality Nielsen ratings have long been considered flawed, and ‘Community’ has such an esoteric, oddball appeal, that it may even be a victim of its own success. A large part of ‘Community’s fan-base are the kind of people who will be able to laugh at an episode framed as a parody of ‘My Dinner with Andre’ and also know when ‘Call of Duty’ is being ribbed. People with that kind of eclectic and broad cultural knowledge aren’t as widespread as the legion of designer handbag-toting fans of ‘Sex and the City’ but there are enough out there to keep a show afloat.

Problem is, with standard TV watching receding in America, other methods of consuming media are coming to the fore: downloading, Sky+-like services, streaming, DVD rental and, let’s face it, torrents are all ways that young, tech-savvy people enjoy TV. The target market for ‘Community’ may not be watching in such a way that contributes to the ratings, thus meaning that their own targeted demographics are harming their brand in a world where an archaic and flawed measuring system is the industry standard.

“This is all very depressing, however, I do want to check ‘Community’ out now”

Yes, yes it is. However, we do some reasons for optimism:

1. ‘Arrested Development’, ‘Futurama’, ‘Family Guy’ and ‘American Dad’ are all recent examples of shows that have defied the “chew you up and spit you out” mentality of the American TV industry. With its loyal fans, perhaps ‘Community could be the latest phoenix from the ashes fan success story?

2. The show hasn’t actually been cancelled, there might be a possibility of it being as good as it was before. It can’t have all been Dan Harmon. Writers, actors and directors will have all contributed in some way.

3. Ken Jeong will still be involved:

It’s sad, it’s depressing, it’s the reality of the world we live in, but it’s always hard to take when interesting creators are prevented from doing what they do best by the economics of the situation. While we live in a world where the uneasy marriage of big business and creativity perseveres for the sake of the kids, this will happen again, and again, and again.

Let’s just hope that each time it happens, there are a few more laughs along the way. The link to Dan Harmon’s incandescent-rage-inducing blog post, is here. Drop a comment below.

TA

Game of Thrones Season 2 Thronedown: Episode 8 – The Prince of Winterfell
May 2012 23

So… After half a season of building tension, shifty whispering, and political manoeuvring, we finally have a couple of episodes where things happen, people die, and then… and then we… have another episode of the slow-build. I’m sure it’s all in a good cause, and in fairness to Messrs Weiss and Benioff, it had a lot of good talking in it. Which is always good in a talky episode.

Robb and Talisa finally got it on and dispelled some of the sexual tension that you could cut with a blunter-than-average spade. Often these kind of romances can feel forced or tacky, and even though it was obvious from approximately 45 miles away that they were going to get it on, I think it was drawn out long enough that the climactic canoodle felt satisfying. It’s not often I enjoy a love sub-plot (largely because they’re all so generic), but I thought this one was good, if slight. Word of warning: if you enjoyed that nice, warm, unfamiliar feeling otherwise known as happiness watching ‘Game of Thrones’, then it’s worth pointing out that this will not stand for long. Enjoy the love and positivity while it lasts because judging by the rest of the series, some sadistically cruel demise will befall one or both of those two.

Robb: finally gets some good lovin'

Now, don’t be alarmed, but this is probably my first genuinely negative criticism of this series, I can’t get past the following question: would Catelyn Stark really free Jaime Lannister? Really? Maybe it’s better explained in the books, but I found that very hard to believe that she would do that. Still, as missteps go, it’s not catastrophic, and the conundrum that it forced Robb into when he had her arrested was enjoyable in a masochistic sort of way. I think the fact that they didn’t actually show the scene where she frees ole Jamie, considering the way they left it the last time they were on screen together, is a tacit admittance that they couldn’t show it in a believable way.

Stannis and Davos had an illuminating man-to-man chat, Davos getting the promised reward that Stannis is so bitter about not getting. Stannis is a good example of the way ‘Game of Thrones’ reveals characters and then continually adds layers of nuance. As the initially gruff and uninteresting older Baratheon, he’s growing in stature all the time. His evident ruthlessness and potentially destructive faith are offset by a wisdom that shows itself when talking to Davos, and Davos responds in kind. It’s good to see that Billy Bragg would be able to find plenty of material were he to make a ‘Game of Thrones’ concept album (Billy, if you’re reading, the answer to your question is 5%; I’m not greedy).

The strange discovery made by the Night’s Watch north of the wall was an unexpected wrinkle, and with it not being immediately clear where they are going with that find, it’s a clever way to pique our interest. Mind you, I’ve been missing Samwell and his ‘jolly but wise and sensitive fat guy’ routine, so any excuse is a good excuse to see them. Jon Snow did a lot more trudging through snow with his Wildling captors while looking gloomy. It’s been planted that Jon Snow has a lot in common with them, including the fact that the Starks share common ancestors with Northmen, but it would be a rejection of his latest father-figure, in commander Mormont, so I’m not sure if I could get on board with him changing sides at this stage.

Whores very rarely do well in movies or TV shows. In fact, they usually die or have some other horrible deed committed against their person. It’s probably some kind of subconscious old-testament morality on the part of writers, but the fate of Roz in this slightly fortuitous (for Tyrion) case of mistaken identity by Cersei, the grand old tradition was clinically upheld. It was enjoyable to get yet another glimpse of Joffrey being gloriously, idiotically, exponentially evil. Some might say that having such a two-dimensionally bad character diminishes his believability and resonance, reflecting badly on the show as a whole, but I disagree. These days it’s so passe to have just plain evil villains that they always have to have some angsty backstory centred around some horrible event that shaped them indelibly. Problem is, after you’ve seen that play out a few times, it becomes just as old hat as 2D villains, and I applaud them for embracing pure evil with Joffrey.

Spoiler: not burnt

Tyrion and Varys have had some good exchanges in the way that I hoped Littlefinger and Varys might do in the first series. Let’s hope there’s more to come in this relationship. We were all very relieved when it turns out that the Stark lads are alright, but if you really didn’t see that story twist coming, then I’d like to recommend the works of this director called M. Night Shyamalan to you, I think you’d get a lot out of his films. Ending on another melancholy psychic Bran note, this episode has left me suitable hyped for the last two episodes in the series, I tremble with excitement as I type!

With that, I’m signing off, Throners. Feel free to comment below.

TA

Game of Thrones Season 2 Thronedown: Episode 10 – Valar Morghulis
Jun 2012 16

*** First of all, I want to apologise for the extreme tardiness of the Thronedown. A pesky and ill-timed house move deprived me of TV and internet privileges for a week or so, prolonging my agony at not watching the finale. Without the internet, life feels every bit as dark, cynical and un-technologically advanced as Westeros… However, with my Sky and internet safely installed, all the whizz-bang magic happening in my new place rivals that of the House of the Undying… Annnnnnnyway, without further ado, here is the final Thronedown for this season… ***

So, GOT, it has come to this. We all knew the ending had to come some day, and now we have seen it. Endings are notoriously hard to get right, often the best films and works of literature’s weakest parts are cited as being their endings. TV series have a real balancing act to maintain in their finales, wanting to keep people watching, coming back for the next series, without resorting to the potentially alienating climax. In tying up most of the plot strands (although not tying them too tightly), we can safely feel that there was a satisfying story there, but with our first good look at the White Walkers, the dragons and the continuing war, there are plenty of reasons to tune your TV to Westorsi-vision, next series.

It was good to know that Tyrion survived, with only a nasty scar to show for his unappreciated heroics. Although it has to be said that his marginalisation during this episode is a slight worry. As the de facto star of the series, we don’t want him to be pushed to the sidelines, groaning in bed all series long next time around. I’m also very conscious of the Bran and Rickon story strand, as it will be fascinating to see how that relates to the main story. I was slightly disappointed that Theon didn’t die, because although I weirdly sympathise with him, for his betrayal, surely the writers can’t spare us his death? (God, what has this series done to me?). Seeing more of Jaquin H’Gar will be welcome, as he has retained an air of genuine mystery (and who doesn’t love a good assassin?).

Jaquin: Kickin' it third-person-style

Structurally, this series was interesting. Keeping up the intrigue as well as weaving all the story-lines together is tricky, and I think they just about managed it, even if they did drop the ball where maintaining tension was concerned. Making such a conscientious effort to visit more or less every key character in each episode was admirable, as it developed all the parts of the story at once. But it meant that valuable screen time was swallowed up by Jon Snow and Danaerys wandering around, when perhaps a more focused approach would have allowed the writers to maintain tension and prioritise more interesting plots a bit more. I would have gladly condensed the Jon and Dany stories into two or three episodes of detailed attention in order to spend more time with the brothers Baratheon, or the Tyrells (and it’s not just because Margaery refuses to wear much in the way of clothes, she’s a genuinely interesting character!). Put it this way (and it might be unfair to say this): but the penultimate episode at Blackwater was the highlight of the series, is it a coincidence that it is also the most narrow in terms of its focus?

Yet another example of Dany walking... *yawn*

I only criticise because I love. Hopefully the writers can learn from this, or improve upon this approach, because the flaws don’t detract from what is a rich, dark and fascinating story. The ruthless cynicism that is rapidly becoming this series’ calling card gives it a fresh feel (is there anything else out there that is more ruthless?).

One of the interesting things about the first series was the way that dragons and magic had near-mythic status within the world, with much doubt over their existence. I quite liked that, as it mirrored our own attitude towards such things. This series slightly disappointed some by turning that on its head. ‘Game of Thrones’ is fantasy though, and the impending emergence of the dragons and the increasingly more common magic should be seen as fully intentional and thought-out. It sure has changed the plot dynamic though. So far, I’m not wild on the magic (although the dragons will be one hell of a wildcard at some point). I think that, because magic is potentially so infinitely powerful, strongly-defined limits need to be emplaced, so as to stop it becoming a crutch for lazy writers who are stuck on a plot point (you know who you are).

Still, once again the writers have kept us guessing. Seeing where they take it from here will be fascinating, and I particularly want to see what will happen with the White Walkers. How will we fill our lives, now that GOT season 2 has finished? Well, we’ll have to find something else to amuse ourselves, and remember that it’s a big, wide world out there. Until season 3, Throners, goodbye.

TA

Thronedown Smackdown!
Jun 2012 20

As the dust continues to settle on the 2nd series of Game of Thrones, I’d like to congratulate my esteemed colleague in his commitment to providing critical updates and reviews of each episode. A balanced view is to his credit, but I might suggest that the focus and obvious adoration of this long and rambling fable is somewhat misplaced.

Why I hear you cry?

Because it’s not really that good. Okay – it is good. But just how good?

As an adolescent, fantasy literature was my read of choice, with Terry Brooks’ Shannara series and Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy being my favourites. But I left it all a long time ago. My frustration with the lack of cinematic reproduction of this genre was bordering on painful at the time. In the 80’s Fantasy highlights on the big screen came in the guise of the likes of Dragonslayer, Legend and Ladyhawke. Not exactly great fodder for those lapping up the epic tales on paper. In the 90’s the bar was lowered even further with Connery’s talking dragon in Dragonheart.

As clichéd as it sounds, it wasn’t until Peter Jackson’s mighty Lord of the Rings trilogy hit screens in 2001, with The Fellowship of the Ring that things took a turn for the better. Suddenly alien landscapes, cultures and languages were done justice, with the scale and budget they truly deserved. It’s only a pity I’d left my fantasy obsession behind me the best part of a decade before. Still, I watched and appreciated with interest. Jackson’s Tolkien trilogy was good, but, they weren’t perfect, and the same problems that Game of Thrones suffers from, were evident here. Narrative. It’s all down to the writing. And as hard as screenwriters may try, epic fantasy is never, ever going to suit the big or small screen. And it’s the small screen which causes Game of Thrones to frustrate even more. But more on that later.

Television drama (in the US) has been reinvented in the last 15 years, attracting stars previously only willing to grace Hollywood and the big screen. The reason? Writing. Some of the best screenwriting in any format has driven the success behind the likes of The Wire, The West Wing, The Sopranos, Californication and one of my own personal favourites, Huff. Each of these series framed their characters (and what characters) in unique, but earthly and recognisable situations, providing a backdrop to the individuals telling the stories, while allowing some ongoing (and sometimes incidental) stories to roll along. In some ways the locations are backdrops only – allowing the small scale and intimate details of the characters to play out. Mcnulty is the main draw, not the crimes he investigates – true dat. Okay, so the West Wing is a fantasy of sorts – but there are no goddamn dragons.

It’s the writing which lets Game of Thrones down. Not that it’s bad – in fact some of the one-liners given to Tyrion Lannister in particular, are gems. It’s just the characters are rendered bit parts in a fantasy world that looks good – but not great. Because despite budget and scale – this world is not entirely believable. Why? Because too much time is spent framing characters who, too often, are stereotypes of the genre. Joffrey and Jaime Lannister are nothing more than pantomime villains, Cersei a poor man’s Lady Macbeth and Littlefinger the archetypal scheming villain. Tyrion is the one true character that intrigues. And he is the talk of the town by fans of the show. And by the way, Eddard Stark was Boromir-lite.

As my honourable colleague fairly pointed out – the plots of Jon Snow and Daenerys in this second season were irritating distractions – pulling us from any plots we might care about. No doubt in the novels, they were major draws, but for them to work on the small screen, you’d be better off taking all their individual scenes and editing them together for an hour long episode each acting as an epilogue to the whole series and it would have been better. For this is the problem with epic fantasy, and why it works on the page but not on the screen. Too much is going on. It’s what made the multi Oscar-winning Return of the King the weakest of Jackson’s trilogy, and The Two Towers the strongest. More of the latter was based in reduced locations, before the characters split off on their own epic journeys, which stretched viewing patience beyond acceptable levels. Game of Thrones Series 2 suffered from fragmented stories that diluted their characters beyond anything of any substance.

Game of Thrones looks good on telly, and it’s well acted with some nice dialogue. But it’s too ‘big’ for the small screen, or for itself. It’s ‘wow factor’ is wearing thin. How many people will persevere with it, who knows?

But in the meantime let’s save our celebration for the writing of truly great drama, which needs no massive budget to distract us from what we care about when committing hours of our lives to television – and that’s the characters, for it is they who are the true draw on any TV series. We care about them and grow with them, and for the most part, want to see them based in some sort of reality, because it means more. Game of Thrones is all style, spectacle and shock value, but increasingly often rings hollow.

Having said all that, I suddenly feel massively protective of one of my all time favourites – the re-visited Battlestar Galactica.

Go figure.

NP

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