Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Game of Thrones 2×08 Rewatch: The Price of Writer’s Block

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It’s time to double down on bad decisions in this week’s installment of The Wars to Come, our Game of Thrones rewatch project, revisiting David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D)’s show to contextualize its downward trajectory. Last week, an uneven episode landed for some but not others. This week, Kylie, Julia, Musa, and Alejandra analyze D&D’s build to their first battle episode, “The Prince of Winterfell.”

Episode Recap

War is nearly upon King’s Landing, though Tyrion does not seem to have much luck figuring out what to do with the guidance of books alone. Varys stops by to encourage him, and they both discuss how Stannis is likely to land at the Mud Gate. That night, Cersei and Tyrion have dinner where Cersei seems paranoid that Tyrion is trying to get Joffrey killed by having him fight. She reveals that she has found and imprisoned Tyrion’s “whore” and will see that everything Joffrey suffers in battle will be inflicted back on the sex worker. However, Cersei has her brought in and it’s Ros. Tyrion apologies to Ros, but plays along, telling Cersei that one day she’ll pay for this. He then hugs Shae, saying they need to be more careful.

The next day, he and Varys try to impress on Joffrey the danger of Stannis’s arrival, but Joffrey won’t listen. Varys tells Tyrion about Daenerys Targaryen and rumors of her three dragons.

On Stannis’s side, he and Davos recall Davos’s promotion to Lordship: how he smuggled onions (and other food/supplies) through the siege lines when Stannis was holding Storm’s End during Robert’s Rebellion. Though the other Lords look down on Davos, Stannis says he’ll make him Hand as his council has always been valuable.

Up at Harrenhal, Tywin realizes he must strike now, fearing Robb may march on Casterly Rock, with Stannis also two days from King’s Landing. Arya realizes her chance to “name” him to Jaqen H’ghar is gone. She talks to him all the same, and he confirms anyone named will die, but he cannot say the timeframe that it would happen. Arya gives her third name to him: Jaqen H’ghar. He asks her to un-name him, and the only way she agrees is if he helps her, Gendry, and Hot Pie escape. He tells her they’ll be able to walk safely out at midnight, and when the time comes, the three leave, realizing all the guards are dead.

In the Westerlands, the newly released Jaime is being taken south in the custody of Brienne. He tries to provoke her to anger so she’ll duel him, but she keeps her head.

Robb returns from the Crag to discover his mother let Jaime go and gets pissed, as exchanging him for two girls does not seem equitable to Robb. He orders his mother to be guarded. He then discusses the Boltons retaking Winterfell with Roose, and tells them to show mercy to any surrendering Ironborn except Theon, hoping he can encourage his men to turn on him. Talisa comes to Robb’s tent to talk, and after venting his frustrations, Robb asks her background. She tells him that she was a highborn from Volantis, a slave city, and when her brother almost drowned and was rescued by a slave, she vowed to not “waste her years” planning parties anymore. Robb is moved and tells her he doesn’t want to marry the Frey girl, and the two have sex.

Meanwhile in Qarth, Jorah tries to convince Dany to leave without her dragons, feeling the House of the Undying is too dangerous. She refuses and instead demands to be taken there.

Back beyond the wall, Ygritte brings Jon to the “Lord of Bones,” a wildling who wants to kill him on sight. Ygritte convinces him that because Jon is Ned Stark’s bastard, Mance would want to talk to him. Jon finds that Qhorin Halfhand was also captured, and it was all his fault. Qhorin tries to convince Jon that he needs to defect, even going as far as to pick a fight with him in front of the wildlings.

Elsewhere, the brothers of the Night’s Watch dig up a cache of dragonglass arrows and a horn.

Finally, in Winterfell, Theon has all the ravens killed so word of the murdered “Bran” and “Rickon” can’t reach Robb. His sister Yara then arrives, though did not bring the men he asked for to hold Winterfell. She tells him that the North will come to reclaim it, and they shouldn’t try to hold it. Ironborn draw their power from the sea, after all. Yara clears the room so she can try and convince Theon alone to leave with her, explaining that she cares about him. However Theon is in too deep and doesn’t want to look like a coward.

Later in the courtyard, Maester Luwin spots Osha, and follows her to the crypts, where Hodor, Bran, and Rickon are also camped out. They discuss quietly how Theon had murdered the orphan boys and disguised them as Bran and Rickon, but they don’t want to let Bran know, since he might blame himself. Unfortunately, Bran was awake and overheard the whole thing.

How will Theon get out of this jam? Will Dany get her dragons back? Will Stannis come to the Mud Gate? Find out next week, but for now, let’s dive into what we just saw.

Initial, quick reaction

Musa: Why does everything have to be shot in complete darkness on this show? The scene with Yara and Theon at the beginning would have been so good if someone had bothered to actually light the set that day. The scene at Harrenhal was slightly better, if only slightly because there was some sunlight coming in from behind Tywin.

Kylie: My brain is broken, I think, because Talisa is overshadowing the whole episode for me. What a nice love story! It just…felt so out of place, to almost hilarious levels.

Alejandra: At least it’s a better love story than Twi—wait, no. I’m not sure it is.

I was enjoying this one and then I wasn’t. Too big a chunk in the middle was too inconsequential and frankly a bit boring, until the very end when we go back to Winterfell.

Julia: Wow, the people of Weisseroff sure do have a lot of stories they want to tell each other. I guess this episode was mostly bridging and as that, it was… alright I guess.

Really, my main problem with season 2 so far is the lack of any emotion I’ve been feeling.


Kylie: I need to stop surprising myself with this, but as has been the case all season, my highlight was Theon’s plot. In particular, I loved the dynamic with Yara. There’s their competitive bs, but then there’s their interplay when they’re alone too. You see Theon’s vulnerability since she basically called him out on everything, and yet his determination not to be emasculated, to his own doom. Subtle, mostly written convincingly, and just really engaging in a way I don’t remember it ever being engaging before.

I’m going to take the low-hanging fruit as my lowlight: Qarth. Why did this scene exist? Why would Jorah honestly think the dragons are okay to leave behind? Nothing would be lost in translation if after those last events, Dany goes to the House of the Undying.

Yeah, us too, thanks.

Alejandra: I have to agree that Winterfell was by far the best part of this episode. But personally, I’ll pick Brienne and Jaime as my highlight just because I love the performances so much, and they are so quintessentially Jaime and Brienne since the very beginning (and until further notice).

My lowlight is most definitely Robb and Talisa’s Fairytale Romance. It really is comically out of place and also takes up so much time in the episode. It is played as so sympathetic to both characters, and yet I can’t help but still hate Robb for being such an idiot. One scene he’s chastising his mother for jeopardizing the war effort, and next he goes and does this. And I’m so certain that D&D did not notice the hypocrisy there. Eff you, Robb.

Julia: I was oddly charmed by Oona Chaplin, even when she was telling her endless story about how she discovered slavery is wrong so she should go time travel or whatever. Not enough to call it a highlight by any means, but good on you lady, for doing the best you could with the material you were given.

I know it would be déclassé to pick Winterfell as a highlight too, so I’ll go with seeing Cersei for a whole entire scene! And in a D&D episode too! Lena Headey was having such a wonderful time. She was so unreasonable and paranoid! There was one minor hiccup where they take the terrible thing that Tyrion was supposed to say in that scene and just piled it onto her, but it’s a D&D episode, I’ll take what I can get.

The lowlight might also be in King’s Landing. And it’s any scene that involves both Tyrion and Varys. Well, that’s not true, there was that moment where Joffery was being a hilarious poser and they were both rolling their eyes internally that I enjoyed, but let’s look at these two scenes. The first one we find out that Stannis is two days away and Tyrion is only now planning the defence of the city. What. They’ve known he was coming, and if not him Renly, for quite some time. It’s just stupid writing. Then the scene on the battlements is just Varys telling Tyrion how awesome he is. Pass.

Musa: My lowlight is easily also in that King’s Landing siege planning scene, specifically the bit where Bronn is supposedly somehow an expert in siege warfare. He knows everything cause he’s street smart(™) and totally knows more than anything any *phfffffft* maester wrote in any book. SEE HOW SMART AND WORLDLY THIS SWASHBUCKLING SELLSWORD IS! I hate that overemphasis on how street smarts are automatically more useful and important that knowledge gained from studying history from books. I also just have an increasing hatred for Bronn on this show just cause I know how off the rails his automatic expertise in everything is going to go later down the line.

My highlight is harder to find, but it’s probably the interaction between Theon and Yara. It’s the boring and safe option, sure; but honestly I do find it really compelling when Yara is telling that story about Theon as an infant. It actually made me feel something for half a second.

Julia: Also, did anyone else notice how both Bronn and Shae are literate now? Okay.

Quality of writing

Musa: Remember the time before everyone somehow just had access to all knowledge of their enemies somehow instantaneously? Tywin actually still believing Jaime is held captive right after a few scenes detailing Jaime’s escape reminds me of better days.

Julia: I have to say, as dumb as the scenes with Robb and Talisa were conceptually, the dialogue was… alright? I also liked the scene with Kevan (hi Kevan! Not that we know his name…) arguing with Tywin. It’s probably mostly book projection but you did get the sense that this is one of the few people Tywin listens to and takes seriously.

Kylie: I don’t think I was annoyed or put-off by the construction of the writing at all in this case, just the circumstances in some scenes. Talisa’s monologue should have been the worst offender, but it at least sounded like a person was speaking, instead of whatever garbled mouthful Dany was throwing at the Spice King. I think some of the set-up for the reminiscences within the episodes were on the clunkier side; still, had you told me this wasn’t a D&D episode I would have believed it, and if that’s not a mark of quality, then I don’t know what is.

Our 8th grade book report (on themes)

Julia: Um… like, um… wow I have nothing. The best I can do is maybe, like, planning, and how the best laid plans sometimes go wrong?

You have all the planning for the seige in King’s Landing, but oh no, Cersei is upsetting Tyrion’s hide-the-gf plans. Tywin is making plans for the war because they seem to be losing, Arya has to speedily change hers. What Dany’s doing in Qarth counts as planning, I guess. And Robb had these plans to marry a random Frey, and we see what’s happened with those. Cat’s plans with freeing Jaime took a turn as well.

And then Stannis is planning to make Davos Hand.

Kylie: That’s a really good effort, dear, though forgive me if it does feel a bit thin. Cause like, in every episode people are trying to accomplish stuff, so it’s just not all that novel.

Not that I can do much better! “Remember when” applies to Davos/Stannis, Talisa, and Yara (or more accurately, how the past shapes the person you become), but I’m not seeing it anywhere else.

Or doubling down on bad choices? Robb/Talisa have sex, Qhorin tells Jon he has to defect, Theon insists on holding Winterfell, Tyrion plays along with Cersei’s mistake (sorry Ros), and Dany commits to freeing her dragons. Even Arya sort of applies if we consider her bad choice in not naming Tywin. Obviously some are more damning than others, here.

Though hey, at least the title fully applies here.

Julia: I really wish Theon had burst into the room with a fugly crown, though.

Cracks in the plaster (the bullshit to come)

Julia: Cat made this momentous and game changing decision and most of the episode is focused on Robb and his love life? I think that crack is already pretty long and deep, though.

The Varys as the president of the Tyrion Lannister Fan Club conversation could have been in season 6.

Musa: Jon being relegated to moron who blunders his way through life to eventual success is clearly in its early stages here. Unlike in the books, it’s directly Jon’s fault that the Halfhand’s team get killed and he and Qhorin end up captured. Yet somehow, Jon ends up coming out ahead in the end. Through sheer stupidity and not understanding what’s going on until the very last second.

Julia: Wow. Robb, Tyrion, Jon… I wonder what these three characters have in common.

Kylie: I actually think this whole episode is a bit of a crack in the plaster, in that it sets the stage for building up their *momentous* shocks with very, very little planning. I’d say the rushed feeling of the King’s Landing plotline with all the battle prep at once is not unlike the “walking tour of the north” before the Battle of the Bastards.

Remember adaptation?

Musa: All the Northerners loved Ned, according to Talisa anyway. Funny they seem to have forgotten all their love for Ned when his children came knocking for help in rescuing one of his sons from being a captive of the Boltons. I do like the paternalistic outlook Ned instilled in Robb regarding how to conceive of the Lord’s position as being akin to father of all the people who fall under his rule and protection.

They also changed Ned’s words to Bran in the first chapter of A Game of Thrones to being addressed to Robb instead. Not necessarily a bad change, it’s easy enough to fit into the context as related by Robb. It does take another thing away from Bran’s character though. And I seriously just hate every time Bran gets something taken away from him in this show because of what ends up happening in season 7. Also is Karstark a worshipper of the Seven all of a sudden? Why the awkward reference to offering his heart up to The Father?

Julia: The new context for the iconic Ned line is a little odd. Ned had night terrors or something? And that made him brave. Sure.

I complained a few episodes ago that the Battle of the Blackwater doesn’t feel like it’s being built up enough. Well, I guess they decided to shove the whole season’s worth of build up into this episode. And not in a good way. It really gets me that Tyrion is reading reference books looking for tips on winning sieges when Stannis is two days away. His chain plan took weeks or months to execute in aCoK, if I recall. They seeded the wildfire, I guess, but that was so long ago that most people will have forgotten it. (All the better to shock us with next episode.) It makes Tyrion seem kind of an idiot.

Kylie: Far less proactive, too. Look at us, Julia, the show will turn us into book!Tyrion stans.

Also less proactive—like, hilariously so—is Arya with her escape from Harrenhal. I guess for the sake of wheedling down the plotline it kind of makes sense to merge her naming Jaqen with her escape, though we lose both her helping free Northmen and her first kill. And it’s just…that “oh darn, there goes Tywin” look is maybe about as opposite to what her aCoK king arc actually was.

Julia: It’s hard to buy the argument that they had no time for her plot when we spent multiple scenes of her shooting the breeze with Tywin.

Musa: I know I sort of already mentioned it above, but I still have serious problems with the Jon and Qhorin Halfhand stuff, and it’s all because it’s a terrible adaptation of an excelling book plot. Qhorin and Jon were supposed to be the last survivors of a slow whittling down of the Halfhand’s crew. Qhorin and Jon were supposed to spend entire nights together. Qhorin was supposed to slowly implant the idea of Jon defecting and spying on the enemy from the inside through application of the principle of the Night’s Watch vows and emphasis on Jon’s pledge to obey any order Qhorin gave him. It was supposed to be a tragic end to a great man who put his duties above his own continued life. Instead, we had all of that shoved into three lines of dialogue, where Jon doesn’t even understand what Qhorin is talking about! And why? Because they wanted to have more time of Jon and Ygritte futzing around the icy wilderness. Riveting.

Julia: So Jon and Ygritte and Arya and Tywin are two examples of the exact same thing. Who said D&D were bad at consistency?

Carol Watch: who is Cersei this week?

Kylie: This is tough for me to answer. The abuse of Ros is really not something I see Carol doing (Cheryl for sure), but comparing this scene to how it unfolds in the books is night and day. I do think the cruelty is hard to ignore here, so I’m going to lean towards Cersei. But my god, are all the teeth gone here. I guess in comparison to the sad sobbing we had last week, this is at least a good intermediary step to the Cersei that’s to come in “Blackwater”?

Julia: Really? I’m a little surprised you’re not learning a lot more heavily towards Cersei. I saw her there fully formed for at least a few lines. She was just so happy and taken with her own cleverness before Ros was brought in. Tyrion was definitely not Tyrion in that scene, but Cersei was Cersei, or so I thought.

Maybe it is just juxtaposing her to the poor weeping mom, trying so hard, from last week. Or maybe it’s just because I know this is the second closest thing we’ll get to Cersei, other than Blackwater.

Musa: Honestly, if I had never read the books before starting on the show, I’d never have gotten what “Cersei’s” deal is supposed to be with how much whiplash there is in her character. As it stands, when I first watched the show, I’d already read the books and essentially just ended up projecting my own conceptions of Cersei onto the show character and kind of glossed over how inconsistent she was. In the Ros scene though, I think the scene lost something more because of how Tyrion was handled. There was a declawing of the books characters’ going on overall, but in this case, declawing Tyrion had a sort of domino effect that toppled Cersei’s character too.

Julia: Maybe it was because Tyrion was so white-washed, that even a very toned-down Cersei seemed very unreasonable and paranoid to me.

Exposition Imposition: good or clunky?

Alejandra: Since I don’t have many thoughts on this, my guess is that it was fine. There was no point that made me roll my eyes or laugh in terms of exposition. With the exception of the Grandpappy Tywin scene, once more relaying battle plans in plain view of the help.

Julia: There was this super special moment where Varys just starts talking about rumours of Dany and dragons, just apropos of nothing. I think I laughed out loud.

I do approve a little of the way they reminded us of the whole Frey marriage alliance thing. Like, in a conversation where it sounded at least a little organic.

Kylie: Yara talking about baby Theon felt a bit more forced to me than how Talisa or Davos’s backstories were introduced, but honestly I think had it been in an episode without those two, it’d have seemed fine. On the better side was Jaime expositing on Brienne’s home.

I had the exact same reaction to Varys, though.

Musa: The one bit of exposition I didn’t really have a problem with was Jaime’s info-dump on Tarth and Brienne’s family. It makes sense to use the sigil of the ruling family as a memory device to recall details about that family. It’s a pity that it doesn’t actually do anything to serve Brienne’s character because we never actually learn anything about Brienne’s family or personal history at all! The laid the foundations and then straight up just left them there forgotten.

How was the pacing?

Kylie: I had problems with this one feeling endless too. It’s weird, since it’s supposed to be set-up for the big battle next week. But I felt like King’s Landing got the shaft again, and it was the other plotlines that were especially tedious. Maybe that’s because we had two very long, reflecting monologues?

Julia: I think I counted four times a character just stopped the plot to tell a story. Yara told us about how Theon had colic, Stannis reminisces about the siege of Storm’s End and how Robert didn’t appreciate him, Talisa told us her entire damn backstory, and—surprisingly the least bad offender—Tyrion told us about his time being in charge of the plumbing in Casterly Castle. I feel like I missed one.

Right! Robb told us some Ned stories too.

Musa: When GRRM does set up for a big momentous event in the climax of the book, it’s tense and you feel the character’s foreboding and a sense of doom lays over the narrative. When D&D do it, it’s wheelspinning.

Alejandra: A deep, dark pit of wheelspinning. A good thirty minutes in the middle of this episode are essentially empty. Tywin and his council are more tense about the imminent attack on King’s Landing than most of the characters in the city. They’re just chilling and having pseudo-meaningful conversations.

Julia: Wow, you’re so right about that. But considering they make it from Harrenhal to the city before Sansa’s period finishes, they really need that hustle.

Let’s talk about sex, baby

Musa: Robb gave up a very nice bridge for the girl. It’s definitely not the worst sex scene Game of Thrones has ever done. It’s actually kind of tasteful all things considered. It wasn’t until season three that the camera was really devoted to Talisa’s butt.

Kylie: I found it fairly tasteful, and you do get the impression these characters want to be schtupping each other, which is more than can be said for #BoatSex. Yes, Talisa sheds more clothes than Robb, and yes I have my annoyances surrounding the choices made in adapting Robb. But as a sex scene in and of itself, it was fine.

Julia: Yeah, I totally buy that they want to bone each other. And that convo Ned-story scene at the beginning made it seem like they’ve really gotten to know each other during this field trip to The Crag, even if Robb is only now asking her her backstory.

Musa: Is this the wrong place to mention that Talisa’s backstory is garbage?

Julia: It’s never the wrong place for that.

Kylie: It’s only an intense devalument of feminine coded skills to make a point that serves to wildly misunderstand the entire societal structure. Schmeh.

In memoriam… All those Harrenhal guards

Julia: It’s a big deal that Arya hasn’t done any actually killing yet, right?

Kylie: She killed the stable boy who was going to tell on her. But without a kill…without really doing much of anything for that matter…what the hell was this season for her? I think the “culmination” we just witnessed really highlights what’s been lost in her adaptation.

Musa: Arya’s character seriously feels the most wasted overall this season.

Julia: Yeah, I think her plot somehow became about Tywin? Like, through Arya he learns that he has to go help Cersei and Tyrion, even if it means abandoning Jaime? It’s not really there either, but it’s more there than Arya… knowing she has a magic killing machine while she learns how to pour wine and kind-of-sort-of lie maybe? There was that one time she thought about stabbing Tywin… and that didn’t make her think to use her killing machine? But it shows that she still loves her family, right? And we were supposed to think she’s the one misdirecting letters, right?

I’m trying!

Kylie: Perhaps others in the comments will try more successfully, but we’ll have to wrap things up here.

What did you guys think of this episode, and was there something in Arya’s plotline we’re not seeing? We’re happy to chat below, and otherwise, we wish you good fortune in The Wars to Come.

Images courtesy of HBO

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