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Game of Thrones: Halftime

April 12, 2015

The producers of HBO’s smash sword and sorcery hit, Game of Thrones, have projected that the series will last seven or eight seasons, an output that will approximate the George R. R. Martin books that may or may not all be published by the time the last episode airs. This means that, having completed four seasons and about to embark on the fifth, the show is at the midway point — or close enough. Halftime. The coach has finished making adjustments and drawing up fresh plays in the locker room, the profanity-laced pep talk has been given, the players are coming back onto the field, and the fans are plopping themselves back into their seats.

It’s as good a time as any for all of us to take stock, see where we are, see where we’re going, and reflect on what has and hasn’t worked on the show with the dragons — and bewbs.

Like most shows, it took awhile for GoT to settle into a groove, for the writers, showrunners, directors, actors, grips and what have you to really get a feel for things, to assess the lay of the land and establish just what the hell it is they’re trying to collectively do. And the first season had a few fits and starts, made more acute by the sprawling, character-drenched nature of the tale. Looking back, this feeling out is perhaps most evident in some of the performances, as the actors, like us, were trying to parse just who the hell these people are. (Well, at least those of us who haven’t absorbed the chapter and verse of the books and post regularly on assorted Westeros-centric message boards.) Even Peter Dinklage, rightly praised for his work as Tyrion Lannister, about as close as we get to a protagonist in the morally compromised King’s Landing, was more than a tad affected in the first season. (The bad dye-job, to make him fit in more with his relentlessly blond kin, didn’t help matters.) It felt like you were watching him play the role of the Imp — but now he is Tyrion. Or, to put it more precisely, he’s made Tyrion, this Tyrion, his Tyrion. Like his castmates, the ones around from the start and who’ve survived this far, he knows what he’s about, and there’s no light seen between actor and character.

And it’s the characters that people latch onto with GoT, just as much as the much-vaunted bloodlettings, breasts, and hopelessly anachronistic Brazilian waxes. There have been any number of primary, secondary, and tertiary personae to grab hold of viewers’ affections. Brienne of Tarth. The Hound. The Onion Knight. The Face-Dancer of the Bene Tleilax — wait, I mean Jaqen H’gar. (Sorry, wandered into the wrong fictional universe there.) They’re the Saul Goodmans of this world. Me, if I had to cull the herd, I’d take it down to two, and you couldn’t find two more opposite characters in every respect. The first is Ygritte, the wild woman from North of the Wall, who stole John Snow’s heart and caught the eye of all us poor saps who can’t say no to a redhead. Rose Leslie went from Downton Abbey to GoT and made it seem like a lateral move, and performed the admirable feat of making the always mopey pretty boy bastard likable, and not merely the product of the R+L=J equation:

And then there’s Tywin Lannister, patriarch of the ruling clan and the real power behind the throne. Charles Dance has a long career of unheralded roles, which are often the best thing in whatever project they might be found. Even his evil henchman with the smiley face glass eye was a bright spot in the otherwise maligned Last Action Hero, the blockbuster cluster**** of 1993. From the first time we met him, draped in symbolism as he butchered a stag, to the last, with his britches down in the privy, Tywin was enthralling, a cold, ruthless man whom we loved for his cool calculation, his relentless drive, his respectable menace — and his unique ability to put that insufferable snot Joffrey in his place. I could listen to him lecture on the importance of establishing and preserving the Lannister name for hours. And his scenes with Arya Stark were some of the finest on the entire show thus far, revealing, if not his softer side, one slightly more human — “You’re too smart for your own good…”:

Of course, Ygritte and Tywin are both dead now, so this particular viewer will have to look elsewhere for favorites.

The biggest problem moving forward may very well be the rapid aging of the youngest members of the scattered Stark clan. The word is that Bran (his full name has always made him sound like a Colon Blow-type cereal) is going to be absent this year, and it’s a good thing, as this breather might mean that the elapsed time between two seasons will make his rapid growth easier to stomach. As it is he’s going to look like an Arthur-era Dudley Moore by the time the series finale rolls around — the cute kid long ago lurched into an awkward, voice-cracking puberty. (Poor Hodor is going to develop a thousand hernias carrying his carcass all over the damn place.) And Arya, heaven help her, is starting to look like a miniature Rosie O’Donnell. (Fortunately no one cares about Rickon, so he could morph into Frank Purdue and nary an eyelash would bat.)

Other things have drawn viewers in thus far: the intrigue, the sex, the fighting. Kudos have to be given to the production for going whole hog on the Wall battle at the end of last season — though the cost may singlehandedly have been responsible for the truncated final season of Boardwalk Empire. Those sorts of events often get short shrift and happen offscreen, while this conflagration took up an entire episode, and included giants wielding ballistae as crossbows(!), a priceless contribution to global culture. It’s encouraging moving forward that such largesse is available. But even though scheming is the name of the game, we could probably stand to have a little more attention paid to political wrangling and its real world (or fictional real world) ramifications, and a bit less of the pendulous breasts and emasculations. Perhaps a hundred fewer gratuitous bare breast shots per season? As it is, the show often feels like the fevered vision of a young teen who’s just discovered mammary glands — the SNL commentary was decidedly close to the mark.

At some point Daenerys is going to have to stop talking about reclaiming what is hers, and actually get started reclaiming it. (Just an aside, but her big eyes and thick eyebrows have always made her look to me like a Stingray character — the lost twin of Troy Tempest.) One realizes that her arriving back in Westeros to reclaim the Targaryen heritage will be the climactic struggle of the series and books, but there’s only so long we can wait for her to fart around in the deserts of Essos. (There have been any number of times where I’ve wanted to shout “YOU’RE GOING THE WRONG WAY” at the screen as she leads her dragons and her slave army deeper and deeper in the opposite direction.) But it’s something to look forward to, this long-heralded clash of ice and fire. And now, as we start to move beyond material already covered in the printed word and online encyclopedias, it’s a much more interesting journey, even if it’s taken without some we’ve come to know and love. The Game continues.

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 13, 2015 12:16 am

    Reblogged this on blacklightmafia.

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