Tuesday, April 21, 2015

GAME OF THRONES More than "Black and White"

Article originally written for Seat42F.

In the latest installment of HBO’s GAME OF THRONES, Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) arrives at “The House of Black and White” in Bravos. This, while Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) and Varys (Conleth Hill) head to Myreen, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) makes a controversial ruling, the Night’s Watch elects a new leader, Jaime Lannister sets off on a quest, and Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) encounters someone she doesn’t expect to. So, as usual, it’s a very full hour.

The scene between Tyrion and Varys as they ride in a carriage may be my favorite in “The House of Black and White.” The two men discuss being in a box and what that means, as well as the qualities of leadership. There’s a lot of subtext in the moment, as one might expect from two fellows as intelligent and calculating as this duo. But that’s why they get along so well; they understand each other and the world on a level that few others do. It makes their moments engaging, even if they’re just talking.

Brienne is kind of the opposite in that she needs action to move her story along. She and Pod (Daniel Portman) sitting in a tavern? OK, fine. She and Pod running into Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) in said tavern, and then fighting for their lives against Littlefinger’s men? Much, much better.

None can blame Littlefinger for sicking his guards on Brienne and Pod. Viewers know Brienne is noble and just wanting to help Sansa, fulfilling the promise Brienne made to Sansa’s late mother, but Littlefinger, who has been removed from the capital and much of the gossip he used to hear, has no way of knowing that. His assessment of her makes sense given what he’s heard, and he is not one to risk trusting someone unnecessarily in such a dangerous realm. His motivations may be a bit cold and in the interest of himself, but even a kinder man may make the same decision.

For her part, it’s cruel that Brienne has now encountered both Sansa and Arya and not been able to protect either. For a woman who wants nothing more than to live by her word, no one is making that easy for her. She is quite capable, but apparently not enough to actually fulfill her mission. Even though everything that happens with the girls is no fault of hers, Brienne surely feels guilty, and actually seeing both is rubbing salt in her emotional wounds.

This encounter is (spoiler alert!) not in the books. Nor was the one with Arya. Varys, Bronn (Jerome Flynn), and Jaqen (Tom Wlaschiha) have exited the narrative by this point, so what they’re doing now is treading new ground. Jamie never goes to Dorne. Some of these choices make sense, as it’s pleasing to see familiar faces again, rather than continually introducing new ones into an already-gigantic cast, and there are no main characters in the Dorne chapters, so Jaime will help fans invest in those events. But other choices are less satisfying, such as the election of Jon Snow (Kit Harington) being rushed through without all of the stuff surrounding it.

As a fan of the novels, it’s getting hard to enjoy GAME OF THRONES. On one hand, the showrunners have made an excellent show that is exciting and fun. On the other, they are now throwing out huge, and I do mean huge, portions of the novels that would be very compelling in their own right. Instead of taking their time through ten seasons or so, as HBO is willing to give them, they’re sprinting towards the finish line, with little regard for the lovers of the written version. They’re going to give us an ending to the saga long before the last book is released. It’s disrespectful and very sad to see how much is getting cut.

Is this justifiable criticism of the show, though? I admit, I liked Jon’s election, and felt that it was OK to skip over some (though perhaps not all) of the events surrounding it. It does help the pace move along. But for a character like Sansa, who has already moved beyond what has been laid out for her on the page at the expense of what is, admittedly, a lesser story, I almost don’t want to see those scenes because they’re likely giving away parts of the sixth book, which will likely not be released until early next year.

But then there are plots like Daenerys’, which don’t completely follow the page, and yet get the spirit of it right. This young ruler, who has known nothing but success since she gained her strength, is now at a loss as to how to run a city. Decisions that logically make sense only further alienate her from the people she in judgment over. This is really good stuff.

GAME OF THRONES remains an entertaining show, and “The House of Black and White” is a solid installment. If only the showrunners showed more respect for the contingent of the audience who have loved these characters and stories the longest.

GAME OF THRONES airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.

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