Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

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Monday

4

May 2015

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Game of Thrones Season 5 Recap: Episode 4

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This recap features analysis from a devoted book fan. Spoilers will largely be kept to comparisons between the show and the books within the episodes themselves, but if you hate spoilers you should probably not read these articles. I encourage you to subscribe so you never miss a recap. Thank you for reading. 

This episode was more or less completely off book, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though I’m pretty upset with idea of losing Ser Barristan (less so with Grey Worm, but I’ll get to that later). It looks like the changes made to the King’s Landing plotline have been made to speed things up, but there have been some puzzling changes made in the process. Let’s start with the Faith Militant.

In the books, Cersei allows the Faith Militant to be reformed as a concession for the Faith forgiving a rather large debt to the Iron Throne. It’s also worth noting that at this point in the books, the Iron Bank of Braavos has not thrown in with Stannis. Having Cersei be the one to suggest reforming it is the complete opposite, but it actually fits well with the Queen Regent’s inevitable downfall.

The plotline in King’s Landing through A Feast For Crows is largely summed up by Cersei being paranoid that Margaery is trying to control Tommen. The militant hasn’t done anything drastic and Margaery and Tommen haven’t had sex and don’t even share the same bedroom. We’re not even really sure that Margaery is scheming at all. Tommen is much younger and mostly plays with his kitties throughout the books, though it looks like the age of the actor and HBO’s desire for more sex scenes were the main causes behind the change.

The show isn’t tethered to Cersei’s POV and has chosen to cast Margaery as a legitimate force of opposition to Cersei instead of allowing her to simply cause her own demise. The Faith Militant actually serves both of these purposes, creating more problems for Cersei as well as fueling the feud between the Queen and the Queen Regent. As I said last week, it also makes sense to utilize the talents of Jonathan Pryce, which is also why Olenna Tyrell appears to be headed back to King’s Landing. More Diana Rigg is always a good thing.

The show took a weird deviation last season when Tywin told Cersei that the Lannister’s mines were empty and they were broke, when in the books it’s the just the Crown that has money problems. The Tyrell alliance was forged for military purposes and nothing else. Perhaps the show didn’t want to include the Faith’s loans to the Crown because it’s confusing that a religious organization would do something like that or because it heightens the Iron Bank/Stannis problem.

It’s also worth noting that Loras Tyrell is a member of the Kingsguard in the books and his homosexuality is never used a big plot point, though most characters seem to know about it. Cersei sends him away to take Dragonstone and it’s claimed that he was severely injured, but there are plenty of reasons to think that wasn’t the case. I still think it’s possible that he could be elevated to Kingsguard, but more on that in future recaps.

Sending Ser Merywn to Braavos with Mace Tyrell seems to suggest that he’ll run into Arya, which follows her plotline albeit with different characters. That’s from a The Winds of Winter sample chapter though so I won’t go into it here. I don’t care much for Mace so it’s nice to have him out on King’s Landing.

Time for some Stannis! There’s another weird deviation when Melisandre brings up being left behind at the Battle of the Blackwater and tells Stannis not to do that again. In the books, she stays at the Wall when Stannis rides south to Winterfell.

The show’s emphasis on Shireen seems to reinforce fan speculation that Melisandre will sacrifice her to the Lord of Light. The show went out of its way to mention that she should come to the Wall last season, which also suggests that she’s important. That scene with Stannis and her was maybe the most touching scene in the whole show. If you didn’t shed a tear, you might not have a soul.

I think that Jon will join Stannis and march on Winterfell, which is both a deviation and a violation of his vows. This seems fitting as Jon doesn’t have much to do at the Wall and I don’t think there will be anymore fighting between the Night’s Watch and the Wildlings for now at least. Jon does decide to go to Winterfell eventually in the books, but that turns out to be a not so good idea. I do think that Melisandre will eventually cast Stannis aside as Azor Ahai in favor of Jon, but probably not until the end of the season.

I continue to find Sansa in Winterfell completely implausible from Littlefinger’s perspective, but nothing really happens so I won’t spend too much time on it. Something worth noting is that in the books, a large part of Roose Bolton’s army in comprised of Frey’s after he makes a deal to give them the Dreadfort after he dies since Ramsey will inherit Winterfell (though it’s doubtful that Ramsey would ever honor this).

Since Littlefinger is Lord Paramount of the Trident, he’s actually the Freys’ overlord. Though neither the books nor the show pay much attention to Littlefinger’s possession of Harrenhal, this is a possible reason why there aren’t any Frey’s besides Fat Walda in Winterfell. Or maybe they’re just overlooked like Dany’s Dothraki bloodriders. Maybe I’m reading too much into this.

Time to talk about that horrible moment when Ser Barristan and Grey Worm get stabbed, which most certainly did not happen in the books. I hated every bit of it. The show has never done justice to Ser Grandfather, who’s a complete badass in the books. I don’t think the show will kill them both off and it seems more likely that Grey Worm will survive.

So why kill perfectly awesome living characters? There’s a couple reasons. In the books, Dany has by far the best supporting cast, which makes up for the fact that she’s pretty annoying herself (I covered this in an article last year on Strong Belwas, who isn’t in the show). The limited screen time makes it impossible to do justice to all her great characters so they’ve cut most of them. With Tyrion, Ser Jorah, and possibly Varys on the way, perhaps they wanted to make room for new characters in Meereen, though with Tyrion there it stands to reason that there would be more screen time to accommodate them. Ser Barristan also doesn’t like Ser Jorah and wouldn’t trust a Lannister so maybe they killed him off to avoid having to address that.

Another reason is the fact that there really hasn’t been a ton of action so far. All the action scenes including Brienne’s weird killing spree, Jaime and Bronn in Dorne, the Faith Militant’s Occupy King’s Landing Movement, and now with Sons of the Harpy, have all been created just for the show. AFFC and ADWD don’t have a lot of action. The action was kind of mindless in the case of Brienne, but for the most part it’s been nice.

The big problem I have with Ser Barristan’s highly probably death is the fact that it could serve as a spoiler for the books. Ser Grandfather commands Daenerys’ forces in the Battle of Meereen (a battle that will not be happening in the show), which takes place at the beginning of The Winds of Winter (three sample chapters depicting the start of the battle are available already). There’s a ton of fan speculation of how the battle will go and much of it pegs Barristan the Bold as a goner. As someone who was skeptical of Ser Barristan dying during the battle itself (though I’m much less skeptical that he’ll survive all of TWOW), I’m annoyed that the show has caused me to reconsider.

We’re almost at the halfway mark for the season. It feels like it’s going rather fast, but things are certainly shaping up to be exciting. As a devout book fan, it’s kind of nice not really knowing what will happen, with only Cersei’s plotline heading in the same direction as the books (possibly Arya’s as well).

 

 

 

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Sunday

19

April 2015

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Game of Thrones Season 5 Recap: Episode 2

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones, Pop Culture

This recap features analysis from a devoted book fan. Spoilers will largely be kept to comparisons between the show and the books within the episodes themselves, but if you hate spoilers you should probably not read these articles. I encourage you to subscribe so you never miss a recap. Thank you for reading. 

While I’ve generally been completely fine with the deviations from the books, this episode featured two that I thought were mistakes. Since the beginning, Jon and Cersei have been two of the show’s favorite characters. This generally means that deviations will work to these characters’ benefit as much of what needs to be cut from the books will come at the expensive of a different character.

Which made the ten seconds the show gave to the election for Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch puzzling. This is a big deal in the books and it should be a big deal in the show as well. Yet for whatever reason, the show gave it just about as much time as Brienne’s dinner with Podrick.

Naturally the election is far more complex in the books. It’s worth noting that Lord Janos Slynt, not Ser Alliser Thorne, was the bad guy candidate in the books. It was also heavily implied that Jon would have been executed if Slynt were elected.

The show did allow Samwell to play a part in the election, though it stripped him of his elaborate plan inspired by Maester Aemon. In the books, Samwell convinces Denys Mallister, commander of the Shadow Tower, and Cottor Pyke, commander of Eastwatch-by-the-Sea, to drop out of the race and support Jon because neither alone would have the backings to beat Slynt. This House of Cards style manipulation was reduced to a simple heartfelt speech in the show.

Samwell has never been a favorite of mine and the scheme would’ve been too elaborate for the show to pull off. The only problem with the election itself was that I don’t really think a convincing argument was made for picking Jon over Ser Alliser. Janos Slynt probably should have still be the candidate as he’s not an experienced Brother who didn’t play a pivotal role in the defense of Castle Black.

The more important problem was the neglect of Stannis’ offer to legitimize Jon. This is also a big deal. Jon could avenge his father, brothers, sister(s), and fulfill a lifelong desire to truly become a Stark with one word. He doesn’t and ultimately, we know why, but the show decides to scoot right by this without giving it the proper attention it deserves.

Honor is a big theme in Game of Thrones. Characters like Ned and Robb pay heavy prices for choosing honorable decisions. Cersei and Littlefinger get ahead by ignoring it. It shouldn’t be surprising that Jon chose to stay true to his vows, but we missed out on the grappling that should have occurred. This would have been a great opportunity to have another heart to heart with Maester Aemon about duty and family.

The pacing of the Wall storyline kind of explains this. The election happened in A Storm of Swords and I don’t think lingering much longer would have been a good idea and other storylines even at the Wall are well into A Dance with Dragons. Problem was that it was really only mentioned in passing last episode. The seed for this could have been planted last episode, possibly instead of burning Mance, which didn’t need to happen this early.

The other deviation in this episode that really bugged me was with Cersei and Kevan. In the books, Cersei offers Kevan the position of Hand of the King, which he says he will only accept if Cersei also makes him Regent and goes back to Casterly Rock. This offer also happened in a private conversation rather than during a Small Council Session. There is no “Master of War” in the books and its presence in the show is strange, but not particularly important.

It goes against the Lannister commitment to family to have Kevan call out his niece in front of the Lord of a rival House, though the show has made no effort to make Mace Tyrell look like any threat at all. Kevan isn’t a character that the show, or the books for that matter, have paid much attention to, but he is a Lannister and Lannister’s don’t pull that kind of nonsense. As the person Tywin trusted most, he should have known better. The seeds for Cersei’s fall have been planted, but in a weird way.

The Daenerys stuff is pretty straight forward, though sort of boring. I like the Sons of the Harpy plotline as a war with Yunkai would be difficult to pull off in the show given Dany’s resources and allotted screen time. In the books, Dany has a relatively large force behind her, but the show has reduced this significantly to merely her Unsullied, the Second Sons, and Ser Grandfather.

I liked the rest of the episode. It’s pretty clear (and disturbing) what Littlefinger is planning to do with Sansa. Brienne is following her because she has nothing else to do. Roose and Ramsay are having fun in Winterfell with Reek being Reek.

At first, I disliked having Jaqen H’ghar take the place of the Kindly Man in the House of Black and White, but it makes sense. That storyline is weird and having a familiar face around makes it (sort of) less weird. He and Arya are great together too.

It was nice to see Bronn, who isn’t shown in the books after his departure prior to Tyrion’s trial (though we hear about plenty of amusing Bronn antics). Jaime’s plan seems farfetched, but he and Bronn have great chemistry. The Dorne stuff isn’t an interesting as I’d hoped, but that was true of them at this point in the books as well.

That’s it for this week. If you enjoyed this recap, I encourage you to check out my other GOT/ASOIAF related articles.

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Sunday

12

April 2015

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Game of Thrones Season 5 Recap: Episode 1

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones, Pop Culture

This recap features analysis from a devoted book fan. Spoilers will largely be kept to comparisons between the show and the books within the episodes themselves, but if you hate spoilers you should probably not read these articles. I encourage you to subscribe so you never miss a recap. Thank you for reading. 

For all the talk of how different this season would be from the books, the episode got off to a start that pretty much paid homage to A Feast for Crows. One of AFFC’s strongest attributes is the intimate look it gives the reader into Cersei’s thoughts/backstory, as it’s the first book to feature her as a POV character. The flashback with Maggy the Frog is certainly foretelling of things to come for the Queen Regent.

This episode largely played catch-up, setting up the plots for the season. GOT premieres and finales are tricky as they generally involve the entire cast, which makes screen time problematic. Balance wasn’t much of a problem as the episode allotted a fair amount of time to just about everyone.

I particularly enjoyed the Varys/Tyrion scenes. Varys disappears from the tail end of A Storm of Swords all the way until the epilogue of A Dance With Dragons and it would have been a waste for the show to abandon him for that length of time. My mouth did salivate a bit at the thought of future Varys/Daenerys scenes.

I haven’t written at all about my thoughts on scrapping (f)Aegon from the show, largely because I approve of it. The last thing this show needs is more characters and this season will already introduce Dorne and the rest of House Martell. Condensing Tyrion’s long and problematic voyage to Dany seems to be in the best interest of the show.

The Castle Black plotline also seems to be accelerating rather rapidly. Parts of it aren’t caught up to A Storm of Swords while others are well into A Dance With Dragons. By the time Mance was “burned alive” in the books, Jon had already been elected Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. That plot was hinted at, but played a backseat role to Stannis’ need for more troops. I did find it odd that the idea of legitimizing Jon Snow wasn’t brought up, though I imagine that’s coming fairly soon.

Like many, I’ve criticized the show’s handling of Stannis, who’s affectionately known as Stannis the Mannis to many. Stannis and Jon develop a mutual respect for each other in ADWD that makes the often quite boring Wall chapters far more enjoyable in the books. The potential bromance will undoubtedly be called in question after Jon mercy killed Mance, though it’s unclear whether the show will follow the books with what happens to The King Beyond the Wall.

The Littlefinger scheming is also very interesting and so different from the books that comparing the two almost seems silly. I sort of gathered that they could be heading to Essos, which makes me wonder if Littlefinger will head to the Braavos to consult with the Iron Bank or try to throw in with Dany. I really liked the way that Sansa has grown as a character, treating him like more of an equal than a protector.

Dany’s plotline was mostly like the books, though I detest the show’s love affair with Grey Worm, who isn’t really all that interesting in the books. A certain large eunuch by the name of Strong Belwas would have been useful when the fighting pits were brought up. I can’t be the only book fan who thought of nothing but him during those scenes.

The pacing of the King’s Landing plotline was pretty flawless. The show took its time setting up the inevitable Cersei/Jaime conflict and the reintroduction of Kevan and Lancel Lannister without biting off more than it could chew. I also like that it kept the Mountain/Qyburn stuff for another episode, though I’m sure viewers are wondering what is up with Frakenstrong.

It remains to be seen what Brienne is going to do with herself, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see her involved with Sansa in some way if for any other reason than she doesn’t appear to have anything else to do. This was a strong opening episode that did everything it needed to do to set up the season. The changes were welcomed as they all appear to work toward translating the often uneven plot progressions of AFFC/ADWD to television. As a fairly hardcore fan of the books, I didn’t have a problem with any of it, though I am concerned that the show will try to villainize Stannis, who will soon turn his full attention to the Bolton’s, who are the actual bad guys in the North. Well, them and the White Walkers.

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Sunday

8

June 2014

1

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The Case for Strong Belwas

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones

As Ser Jorah took his leave from the service of Daenerys Targaryen, I found myself weeping for a reason unrelated to the fate of the exiled knight. With Grey Worm’s expanded storyline to include a peculiar and implausible romance with Missandei, it’s clear that the show has deviated from the books in an effort to expand the appeal of Daenerys’ supporting characters. Which makes the exclusion of one of her most interesting companions all the more puzzling.

In the Song of Ice and Fire books, Strong Belwas is clearly one of Daenerys’ better retainers. The massive eunuch former gladiator provides comic relief in a storyline that’s often desperate for it. And yet the show excludes him even though its elevated the humor in characters such as The Hound and Bronn.

The problem is that the show didn’t have a natural point for Strong Belwas to enter the fray. In the books, Strong Belwas arrives in Quarth in season two along with Ser Barristan, who is disguised as his squire. It’s hard to fault the show for doing away with Ser Barristan’s disguise given that it’s rather unnecessary in the grand scheme of things and would be hard to pull off on television. Introducing Strong Belwas alongside Ser Grandfather wouldn’t have been impossible, but it wasn’t entirely necessary either. Remember, the books have much more downtime with the Targaryen plotline than the show does.

That doesn’t mean that Strong Belwas couldn’t join the show at any given point. His association with Illyrio Mopantis gives him a fair bit of leeway to join the show far later than he did in the books. The show could simply have him come at the bequest of Mopantis. This of course could easily be worked into the show next season when Tyrion Lannister makes his escape from King’s Landing.

The big reason I think that the show doesn’t want Strong Belwas around is that he’s a eunuch. The show has two eunuchs already and has explored the horrors of that practice with Varys and Grey Worm. Strong Belwas is largely a comedic relief character who mostly wants to eat and kill things. He doesn’t care about being a eunuch. The show would care though.

The show has cut back on the importance of Daenerys’ party as a whole. Her Dothraki bloodriders and Brown Ben Plumm are absent from her storylines, choosing instead to focus on Ser Jorah, Ser Barristan, Grey Worm, and Daario Naharis. Given the fact that the show has limited time to devote to Daenerys, this isn’t surprising and it isn’t necessarily a bad thing either.

Strong Belwas isn’t a character who needs a lot of time devoted to his development. In the books, he doesn’t do much that isn’t involved with the aforementioned gluttony and lust to commit homicide. He doesn’t have a lot of depth. And yet, he’s a fan favorite.

It’s unclear as to how much of a void Ser Jorah’s departure really creates. But his absence is one less character involved with Daenerys that we care about. Given the slow pace of her story for the foreseeable future, it’s hard to argue that he wouldn’t have improved her storyline.

Deviations from the source material are to be expected, but those deviations should serve to improve the experience as it’s translated to screen. Excluding a beloved fan favorite doesn’t serve anyone. There’s simply no reason not to utilize the talents of Strong Belwas on Game of Thrones. The mother of dragons knows it and so do we the people.

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Thursday

22

May 2014

1

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The Troubles of Book to Screen in Game Of Thrones

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As a bibliophile and a TV/film fanatic, I’ve always tried to curtail my expectations for adaptation of books I enjoy. It’s always been my belief that a good adaptation tries to capture the essence of a book rather than mimic it. Blade Runner is a good example of this. The film bears little resemblance to Philip K. Dick’s novella, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? but is excellent in its own right.

When it comes to George R. R. Martin’s epic Song of Ice and Fire, ten hours is simply not enough time to cover everything. More importantly, it would be foolish to even try even if more time was allotted. The show does cover most of the main points with min
or deviations, but that will likely change and the show progresses, even without taking into consideration that the final two books haven’t even been written yet.

There are many differences between TV and books, but the most important with regards to Game of Thrones is pacing. For a series that has hundreds of characters that covers thousands of pages, there’s a lot of downtime in A Song of Ice and Fire. We see this particularly with Daenerys Targaryen, who is given relatively little to do compared to the rest of the series’ major characters. The TV cannot have a character who sits around all season and thus deviation is required. We saw this in season two with the captured dragon plot in Quarth. People can criticize it for not being in the books, but without it we’d be left with a character who mostly roamed around with nothing to do all season.

The pacing also becomes increasingly more confusing with the fourth and fifth books, which take place over roughly the same amount of time and introduce several new POV characters. While the books can get away with this, keeping in mind that neither book received the kind of critical acclaim that the first three received, a TV show can’t. Television doesn’t just one day decide that the lead isn’t the lead anymore.

This requires the show to move certain plotlines along faster than the books do. Theon Grejoy is elevated to POV character in A Clash of Kings, only to disappear for the next two books before becoming important again inA Dance With Dragons. Game of Thrones can’t get away with this. If the producers tried to tell Alfie Allen that his character would be gone for two years, he would go find other work. Further more, people would naturally lose interest.

That’s part of what makes Game of Thrones such a groundbreaking show. Both the books and the show clearly have the Starks as the main protagonists when the story begins. The Starks are responsible for six of the eight POV characters (not counting the prologue) of A Game of Thrones, yet only three of the fourteen in A Dance With Dragons. The books show an increased effort to explore their depth and from the looks of season four, the show does as well.

As the depth expands, so will the deviation. For characters like Theon, Brienne, and Daenerys, we’re starting to get close to where they are in the series as a whole rather than just where they left off in A Storm of Swords.That’s going to anger some fan purists, who want a strict adaptation of the series. But it shouldn’t, especially since the show is going to catch up with the books sooner rather than later.

Game of Thrones should make plot decisions that work for the show and not strictly because that’s the way things happened in the book. Performances from actors like Charles Dance, Diana Rigg, and Richard Madden elevated their character’s significance and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Robb Stark may not have been a POV character, but it’s hard to argue that he isn’t a more interesting character to watch than his brother Bran.

The big advantage of having POV characters is that the reader is given access to the inner thoughts of a wide spread of characters. We get to see what the Starks and the Lannisters are thinking. In TV, we only get to see what they do. That’s not to say that the POV system isn’t without flaws either. Characters like Sansa are often passive characters in specific scenes between non-POV characters. We have to view these scenes through a biased source. The show doesn’t have those limitations.

The biggest problems with deviations occur when they don’t work. Talisa Stark wasn’t a figure of controversy, but Jamie’s rape of Cersei was a whole different story. While, “it didn’t happen in the book,” is far from the only point of objection to the latter scene, things like that are when the differences between book and show are fully exposed.

While personally, I’ll almost always prefer the book to the screen adaptation, I don’t make a comparison between the two a deciding factor. Book purists should avoid the show entirely, because anger at something for not limiting itself strictly to the confines of what came before it isn’t really fair. Books, movies, and television are all very different mediums that don’t flawlessly translate into one another and that’s okay.

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