Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

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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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Saturday

11

April 2015

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Varys and the Importance of Hedging Your Bets

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

This article contains spoilers for all five books. Though the upcoming season will deviate quite a bit from the books, there are some spoilers that could impact your enjoyment of the show if you hate spoilers. Proceed with caution. Also, I’ll be doing Game of Thrones recaps every Monday that focus on the relationship between the books and the shows so please subscribe if you are interested.

 While Varys is known as Game of Thrones’ most notorious schemer, both to the characters and the audience (Littlefinger is more trusted by the former than the latter), he loses a bit of his mystique by the epilogue of A Dance with Dragons, where he reveals his plans to a dying Kevan Lannister. I don’t mean to suggest that he’s not interesting anymore, but seeing his plan out in the open puts him a bit behind other manipulators such as Littlefinger, Olenna Redwyne, Marwyn, Doran Martell, and Mance Rayder in terms of intrigue. We know Varys’ plan. We don’t really know any of theirs.

With the knowledge that Varys wants to put (f)Aegon on the throne along with his decision to off Kevan and Pycelle in order to prevent them for cleaning Cersei’s mess, we can pretty much piece together why he disappeared after A Storm of Swords. Varys needed to create chaos in King’s Landing. Having accomplished that, sticking around only served to put him at unnecessary risk. Cersei would presumably rely on him or blame him for Tywin’s death/Tyrion’s escape, which put him in the position of either having to help Cersei at the cost of his own agenda or risk his life for not doing so.

There is one decision that doesn’t make much sense if Varys’ plan is to put Aegon and not Daenerys’ on the throne. Why send Ser Barristan to Dany if Aegon is the real objective? It seems to serve no purpose other than to make a potential enemy stronger.

Now the whole Barristan to Dany story isn’t 100% clear, but we know that Varys’ planted his dismissal in Cersei’s mind and then Illyrio Mopantis, Varys’ BFF, took care of getting Ser Grandfather, along with Strong Belwas, to Qarth to take Dany back to Pentos, which of course ended up not working at all. If Barristan knows that Varys has any involvement, he’s kept quiet. Chances are, he doesn’t know that Varys was behind all of this.

Why am I sure of that? In A Storm of Swords, Stannis tells Davos, “Ser Barristan once told me that King Aerys’ rot began with Varys” (Davos IV). Pretty damning right? There’s also the fact that Barristan knows that Ser Jorah is spying on Dany for Varys, adding another element of distrust. It’s hard to believe that Barristan, bold as he may be, would get involved in any plan spearheaded by the eunuch. That doesn’t mean that Varys doesn’t see value in having Barristan in the picture.

We know that Barristan came up with the idea to go to Dany on his own. It’s not really clear whether Illyrio found him in Pentos or if it was the other way around, but we do know that Barristan agreed to disguise himself as Arstan Whitebeard, a shady thing for a man of honor to do.

His logic for doing so is also kind of suspicious. Barristan claims that he adopted a pseudonym because Ser Jorah was spying on her for Varys and this sort of adds up. Though Jorah had stopped spying by A Storm of Swords, Ser Barristan wouldn’t have known this and probably would have been mistrustful of double agents, whether it be Varys or Jorah. Jorah was also pretty obnoxious to him for their entire boat ride. It seems as though the real reason could be that Illyrio and Varys viewed Jorah as expendable at that point and that they were better off without him and his weird lust for Dany, though Barristan could have been acting on his own accord. 

Which explains how they got Ser Barristan there, but it doesn’t really explain why. The answer to that is simple. I don’t think Barristan would’ve believed that Aegon was really Aegon, since there would have been no way of explaining that without involving Varys, who he doesn’t trust. The only way to get value out of the old knight was to help him get to a destination he was already determined to go to anyway.

The problem is that sending Barristan to Dany only strengthens her, which could become problematic for Varys when the time came to make moves with Aegon. It would be a shame for Aegon and the Golden Company to take the Iron Throne in the midst of all the chaos, only to have Dany, her dragons, and her Unsullied arrive to take it away. So why would Varys strengthen a potential enemy?

Varys, possibly more than anyone else, knows that plans go wrong all the time and there’s only so much he can do about it. There’s about a hundred different things that could go wrong with having two hotheaded Targaryen children running around Essos over the course of a few years. Angry Dothraki, angry stonemen, angry Qarth warlocks, slavers, and that’s only people problems. There’s ships sinking, pale mare, starvation, and plenty of other natural factors that Varys can’t do anything about.

What he can do is hedge his bets. In a perfect world, Varys has Aegon on the throne. Maybe he’s married to Dany, but one would think that a marriage to one of the great houses would a better idea, which doesn’t leave room for Dany at all. But that’s a perfect world and not one Varys lives in.

We’ve seen Varys forced to alter his plans before. He didn’t want the War of the Five Kings to happen at all and he would’ve had to clear out of King’s Landing completely if Stannis had taken the thrones. Varys has shown his prowess at gathering intelligence and long term planning, but he isn’t infallible.

Dany might be a problem for him eventually or she might be his only shot if something happens to Aegon, which at this point is a pretty realistic possibility. With that in mind, having a renowned knight like Ser Barristan protecting her makes perfect sense. The game of thrones is a gamble and problems will always arise. Having two Targaryens is better than one, for now at least.

 

 

 

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