Game of Thrones S1E8 review
|REVIEWS - TV|
The Master himself takes on the writing duties this week...
WARNING: Spoilers follow. If you aren’t caught up on Game of Thrones, don’t read this yet!
"The Pointy End"
This week’s episode of Game of Thrones certainly gave everyone a lot to digest, and might have featured the largest number of characters across multiple locations in the series so far. Unlike previous episodes where the storytelling has fumbled by trying to cover too many bases at once, this felt like a tightly executed, well-crafted piece of storytelling. Possibly this is because the episode was written by George R.R. Martin himself, author of the novels on which Game of Thrones is based.
The only absence was Jaime Lannister, though he wasn’t particularly notable in his absence, as we had so much other stuff going on. Opening with Arya and Syrio perfecting their dance routine once again, Syrio manages to sneak in a valuable lesson to his apprentice before the Lannister men arrive to whisk her away: “seeing is the heart of true swordplay.” When the Lannisters advance on Syrio he manages to effortlessly batter four of them with a wooden sword in a fine bit of well-choreographed “true swordplay”. We last see him facing off against one of the Kingsguard, and much like in the novels, Syrio’s fate is left unknown. A cult icon among fans, this has scene resparked “SYRIO LIVES!” campaigns across the interwebs. Arya’s first kill may have been clumsy and accidental, but she did warn the stableboy to stay away. He had it coming.
Our only scene with Ned this episode was more focused on Varys than Ned himself, though we got to see Ned’s hope vanish on the discovery that Tyrion had been released from Catelyn’s grasp. Varys quite rightly points out Ned’s madness in confronting Cersei with the truth, but the most intriguing thing about this exchange is a very good question Ned asks Varys – who does The Spider truly serve? The eunuch’s only answer is “the realm”. Enigmatic indeed, but his meeting with Illyrio Motapis (Daenery’s host from the first few episodes) under the castle dungeons that Arya witnessed a few episodes back certainly hints at his long-term plans.
The only disappointing thing about this scene was this it didn’t include Ned’s flashback to the Tower of Joy, a scene of potentially crucial importance from the novels that may or may not be a core component to one of the longer running plot threads in the Game of Thrones mythology. Time will tell.
At the Wall, the White Walkers have not so much returned as made their existence known. When the Night’s Watch stumble upon the corpses of two of their men, men that disappeared with Jon’s uncle Benjen months ago, Sam makes the keen observation that their bodies haven’t decayed and don’t smell. Jon wakes in the night to find Ghost, his direwolf, practically dancing in a panic. Jon follows Ghost’s lead and finds himself in the Lord Commander’s chamber, only to be attacked by one of the dead men. When stabbing, gutting and cutting off limbs all fail, Jon finally uses fire and accidentally discovers the White Walker’s weakness. Fans of the TV show that are uninitiated with the books would do well to remember that the series goes by another name in print: A Song of Ice and Fire. Make of that what you will, but that are many potential connections to be made.
In Vaes Dothrak, we finally got to see Dany acting like a khaleesi, giving her own orders and not just following Jorah or Drogo’s lead. Emilia Clarke didn’t quite have me convinced in the beginning, but she’s really grown, and the glimpse of her we got when she was outright giving orders to the dothraki seems like a great indication of the things still to come. Thankfully the writers have managed to turn around the relationship between her and Drogo as well, and their relationship does have an air of true romance about it, not unlike other epics like Anthony and Cleopatra (even if Dany was raped on her wedding night).
It was good to have Tyrion back, and frankly overdue. Tyrion is the comedic black heart of this show, and his witticisms always feel missed when he’s absent. And now he has some new companions, including Shagga, Timmet son of Timmet and Chella, who has quite the ear-necklace. Once he’d brought them to Tywin’s camp, we once again got to see a Lannister squirming under a parent’s eye, just as Jaime had done last week. Tyrion’s relationship with his father is complex to say the least, and bound to be expanded upon in the future, but Tywin’s calm reassurance that he went to war not because of Tyrion but for the “honour of the house” is a glimpse. Tywin’s chastisement of Tyrion and comparison to Jaime was brilliantly deflected with Tyrion’s deft reply “He’s braver, I’m better looking.”
There are two things about this episode that elevate it beyond falling into the depths of being average, and both of them are characters that are often over-looked and underappreciated: Barristan Selmy and Robb Stark. It was great to see Robb finally step up and become the man he’s been threatening to become. His standout moments include the gathering of his bannersmen and our introduction to Greatjon Umber, who claims Robb is “so green he pisses grass” only to have Robb’s direwolf bite off two of his fingers…and laugh about it. When challenged again later after the capture of a Lannister scout, Robb shouts down urges to kill the man and points out that Ned showed mercy whenever possible. Again it’s the Greatjon who confronts him, calling him “boy”. Robb, about a foot shorter, stares the Greatjon down and encourages him to call him “boy” again. Mostly a background player until now, Robb Stark has been brought to life in a way that he never quite did in the novels, and the credit goes to the man portraying him, Richard Madden.
The other standout scene from this episode featured Barristan Selmy, head of the Kingsguard, being stripped of his title, replaced by an absent Jaime. Like Robb, Barristan is for the most part a background character in the books, but has really come to life in Game of Thrones, and again it’s in large part due to the actor, Ian McElhinney, bringing the quiet strength and reserve that defines his character. Each episode has one or two truly great lines, but this one was hands-down Barristan Selmy’s declaration when faced against his Kingsguard ex-brothers; “even now I could cut through the five of you like carving a cake” and it’s all the better because you believe it. Don’t fret, we’ve not seen the last of Selmy.
This was one jam-packed episode full of developments, and it’s definitely building towards what will hopefully be an excellent climax with only two episodes left in the season. Oh, and it was great to finally hear someone speculate about whether or not Tywin Lannister “really does shit gold”.
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