A Song of Ice and Errors: Game of Thrones Season One, Part 2

So after the first five minutes of screentime, things looked up. Or rather didn’t seem as egregiously wrong as before.

Instead of explaining minutiae of the world I am going to assume that if you’re bothering to read a rant on Game of Thrones you have at least a passing familiarity with the characters, the world and general flow of the series (if not the books, which you should because they’re much more rewarding and rich in their experience).

Alright, that out of the way, things actually flow fairly well in line with the source material. Little character details are missing though, things where the writers felt the need to tell rather than show us aspects that would become important later.

For instance, Theon Greyjoy (also known by his aliases Reek or Walter Peck):

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Pictured Above: Theon before and after his stay at the Dreadfort

When Ned Stark beheads the Night’s Watch deserter with Jon Snow, Bran, Robb and Theon present, in the show its fairly sterile and straightforward, the emphasis mostly on Bran’s reaction to the grim business of passing sentence on lawbreakers in the world of Westeros. In the books this moment is used a bit more effectively in showing us character traits for everyone. There’s a moment in the book where Theon punts the head of the deserter like he’s kicking a soccer ball.

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Pictured Above: A comic retaining more faithful representation of the story than the show

It’s a perfect little encapsulation of his personality. He’s a Greyjoy, the Westerosi equivalent of a uber-viking who live on nothing but reaving. “We do not sow”—can’t get any more straightforward and definite words to describe than those. He’s lived for years a ward (read: post-war hostage) of the Starks, among them but not of them. This is pretty much his whole self-justification for betraying them later, that he wasn’t treated like another of the Stark boys.

He idolizes the Starks but there’s a foreign bloodlust to him that colors his actions, a real love of violence itself. The Starks kill because they must, the Greyjoys because they love to. Its interesting enough that the only people who see that are Jaime Lannister and Catelyn Stark, both ignored by those they tell.

Why was it not included? Because the writers decided it would be better to have everything about Theon explained in painfully stilted exposition, as if this was going to hook us into the arc of Theon Greyjoy better than say him punting a deserter’s head down a hill. The later bit with him shooting the Wildlings taking Bran hostage is perfect, spot on—but it still doesn’t excuse the sheer expository dead weight that came before.

That’s what this show became for me: a looming dread of future disappointment sprinkled with both brief flickers of hope and quality. I would make excuses for it, on the slim hope that maybe they would get it right eventually. Not anymore.

I have little else to say about the first few episodes. They’re solid, good characterizations for the most part, excellent visuals, Westeros actually feels like a huge continent as opposed to the very compressed and relatively lifeless world it becomes in later seasons.

It’s minute details like that early Theon scene, a missing line of dialogue here (“While all dwarves are bastards, not all bastards need be dwarves”), the oddly uniform and sterile design of the knights and soldiers of Westeros—-

—-Okay, big bitching segue coming: the medieval armies that are the direct inspiration for the armies of Westeros, were comprised of many landed knights with their retainers, each sporting devices of their houses in the form of banner or sigil to represent them on the field. A medieval army looked like a parade of iconography, each beautiful and individual even if they fought as a cohesive whole. The book details this so richly your imagination really goes wild picturing a vivid mix of colors, themes, icons and beautifully colored banners, barded horses and armor. The show on the other hand—partly due to the cost of making production armor most likely—just creates a “uniform” set of armor for each kingdom or major family. Read Jon Snow’s description of Stannis Baratheon’s army smashing Mance Rayder’s host: it’s brilliant in describing the multi-colored and bannered army of knights with their individual devices, all fighting under the much larger banner of the king. In the show they look like a video game army, all perfectly identical. Even Medieval Total War 2 did a better job of giving the armies more appropriate diversity in their look—–

Okay, take a breath, take your meds….

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Alright, so I’ll close out this segment with a really important aspect of these stories the show’s writers apparently either don’t know or don’t understand:

YOU CAN NEVER FULLY TRUST A POV CHARACTERS OPINION

Nope, not even Ned “Headless yet Honorable” Stark.

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Pictured Above: Not Ned Stark, also a wonderful literary example of a man whose actions would appear villainous to some (Samwise and Frodo) or heroic to others (Merry and Pippin).

Every single POV character is a fully fleshed out human being. And human beings come programmed with a lifetime of experiences, beliefs and tics that color how they perceive themselves or others.

Remember this whenever you think about these main characters: Jaime Lannister, Tyrion Lannister, Stannis Baratheon and Melisandre of Asshai (one of whom the author himself says more people misunderstand than any other).

Jaime is our Subject Zero for the untrustworthiness of POV character opinions (including their opinions of themselves). Ned sees them through the prism of his own biases and prejudice. The Lannisters seem to everyone like an archetypical arch-ambitious, rich, arrogant, vain and ruthless noble house—all qualities they themselves want everyone to believe about them. The Lannisters want people kowtowing to them or at least shitting their pants whenever the Rains of Castamere is played.

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“For you, the night the Rains of Castamere played and your whole family was slaughtered at their wedding feast was the most important night of your life. For me, it was Tuesday.”

But its not the whole story. Ned’s opinion, and events like Bran getting pushed out a tower upon witnessing Jaime and Cersei’s incest, color our opinion of him thereafter. It’s only later we realize just how much more there was to the man than Ned ever allowed himself to suspect, how truly heroic the (known) actions for which he is universally despised really were, the real stakes behind the relatively unknown actions we as readers despise him for, and just how much these have poisoned his soul over the years.

The redemption of Jaime Lannister, and the really dark and messed up turn Tyrion Lannister took, were not arcs you were expecting, but they happened—-in the books, the show fucked them up royally. Call it reason 2,391,131 I’m writing this.

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How it all Began…to go wrong: Game of Thrones Season One, Part 1

In the beginning, there was a pretty good show…

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Pictured Above: Sean Bean as Not Boromir, still dying though

It had an excellent opening adapted from George R. R. Martin’s own Game of Thrones prologue, one that lets us know right off the bat that this was a fantasy world where the threat was a bit more than just who’s ass happened to be polishing the Iron Throne. But even in that first few minutes of precious screen-time, there were signs that the showrunners didn’t quite get what made the books so good.

The plot beats were all there in that opening section (Spoilers): In both book and show, the opening focuses on three members of a military order called the Night’s Watch going through the gate beneath a massive, artificial wall made of ice. They are Rangers—the night’s watch’s eyes, ears and sometime offensive skirmishers.

This particular band is led by a newly minted Ranger from a noble southern house, Waymar Royce. His two companions are Gared and Will, two peasants who through various circumstances ended up manning the wall (the Night’s Watch gets most of its recruits from dungeons throughout Westeros, the main setting of the story).

So far, so good. Waymar is a newly-minted Ranger and eager to prove himself in his first command. Gared is a crusty old veteran who knows that the “Haunted Forest” they’re ranging in wasn’t named thus just to scare off travelers. Will is your POV character both in the book and in the show at this point.

Here’s where problem 1, the veritable Patient Zero of this show’s intrinsic flaws is made evident: the White Walkers and the Wights.

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Above: Season 1 White Walker & Wight

As simply as I can state it: David Benioff and Dan Weiss (the two men responsible for many an abomination, also the creators of the show) don’t understand which of these is scarier.

GRRM is a very talented writer of both fantasy and horror, and understands how to blend the two. That’s a huge part of the book series’ success. In the book prologue, Waymar, Gared and Will come looking for the remains of a group of Wildlings (humans living beyond the wall), get separated in the search, and Waymar alone meets a band of White Walkers. The book describes them beautifully as pale, gaunt humanoids with armor whose scales seem to change pattern and color, whose swords are crystal and whose eyes glow like blue stars in the night.

The show’s White Walkers look like snow mummies with glowing blue eyes. Of course their appearance is so swift that except for that freeze frame above, they just look like tall Wights with swords—exactly what an old coworker of mine once thought they were until I explained the difference between them. The show White Walkers have gotten a bit better as time’s gone on, but that’s like saying the last Stars Wars prequel had better FX than the first—sure, the battles are bigger and better lit, the story still just sucked all the life out of a truly awesome fantasy universe.

We see our first wight (a reanimated corpse under White Walker control) before we meet the White Walkers. The show assumes the White Walkers are the really scary part of the story…except they’re not. They’re an external force, frightening in their abilities to be sure, but still something alien you can fight with all your courage and ability. Which is exactly where the series decided to botch its first characterization.

Poor Waymar Royce.

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Pictured Above: (Left) BookWaymar’s “For ROBERT!” moment, (Right) ShowWaymar about to die in the ignominy of an edit cut.

In the book he’s just as much of a (formerly) privileged asshole as he is in the show. He’s part of the One Son Too Many Club of the noble families of Westeros. His family is the ancient House Royce, bannermen to the House Arryn, the ruling house of the Vale.

Waymar, without land or titles to inherit thanks to being the youngest of several male children, decides to join the Night’s Watch voluntarily as a way to pursue honor and do his duty. He is arrogant, cocksure and more than a little shitty in his treatment of his two underlings of humble background.

When the White Walkers catch him alone (Will’s seeing this from s tree he climbed), he draws his sword, telling them to stay back. When they don’t oblige, he bravely challenges them to a fight. Where most of the Night’s Watch would have promptly tucked tail and made for the wall, Waymar in a brave (and perhaps stupid) move stands his ground and decides to fight these “demons made of snow and ice and cold” as one very important character much later describes them.

It’s a rich character moment. It shows both vulnerability from the usually cocksure young knight, but also true courage and resolve. When he is wounded by his White Walker opponent, the other White Walkers mock him in their native tongue. Waymar cries his king’s name and fights even harder. Eventually his sword shatters and he is slaughtered as Will looks on.

How does the show portray this moment? A White Walker stands up behind Waymar during their search for wildling corpse-sicles and kills him in a cut to black.

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Pictured Above: Me when I paused the DVR at that exact moment.

So, yeah….fuck Waymar Royce. Who needs him? It’s not like he’s an important character after all. Only the important characters get to do brave or inspiring things…right? ….Right? Oh no…..

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Pictured Above: Important Character not Allowed to Do Brave or Inspiring Things He does in the Books.

There’s a saying rolling around in my head right now: How you treat the least of us informs how you will treat the best of us. And it really does. This happens a lot to several very important characters.

Waymar Royce might not be the least important character in the books, but he’s pretty damn low on the scale of important players in this saga. His life began and ended in the prologue. But even with that short, sad and painfully ended life, GRRM allowed his character to show depth, humanity and dare I say it….die with some dignity?

David and Dan (Henceforth known by their forum acronym, D&D, also because calling them Dumb and Dumber might actually be doing them a kindness), decided to scrap it and save about a minute and a half of screen time. How much did that minute and a half cost? One doesn’t even need to show the White Walker to at least give us a defiant, bloodied Waymar crying out “Robert!!!” in his last moments—or as Will observes in the book “truly a man of the Night’s Watch”.

Which brings us to the B side of this particular problem. In the books Waymar dies heroically, the White Walkers ganging up on him and slaughtering the poor man. Will, too frozen with terror to even think of assisting Waymar, stays up in his tree till they go away. When he climbs down, he is suddenly attacked….

….. by the Wight of Waymar Royce. It’s a chilling moment, its downright terrifying. This young knight who a few minutes before was a warm-blooded, flawed but nevertheless brave human being is reduced to an ice-cold marionette whose strings are pulled by the White Walkers with one purpose: to kill any living creature it finds.

That’s the moment, the moment the Wight’s hands close on Will’s throat—ice cold to the touch—that the existential horror is realized. Its reinforced over and over again throughout the books. At one point a character watches as Wights literally tear a horse to pieces. Why? Because it was alive.

The true terror that lies north of the wall is an enemy whose purpose is not political, or economic or even religious. It doesn’t want to redraw borders or put its candidate on the Iron Throne. Its enemy isn’t a house or people or place—its enemy is life.

Instead we get Wights who are pretty much just foot-soldiers for D&D’s snow mummies. And then later with the CGI budget increased just turned into cool Ray Harryhausen skeletons.

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To Be Continued

The Great Bitching War Begins…

I started this blog to share my love and disgust in equal parts, tempered by the fires of passion and cooled in the cold embrace of intellect.

Thoughts not only on the Song of Ice and Fire series and the abomination born of bad writing besmirching its name to record viewership on HBO, but on all my fandom interests in general, on politics, on philosophy, on sex, on love….on,  on piglets eating ice cream cones?:

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You will bend the knee to the cuteness!

I am an aspiring author, an unreformed nerd, a dabbling amateur of everything and married to the greatest woman in the world.

If there is worth in my words, then I pray you enjoy them.

—-RyanBaratheon