Road to the Iron Throne S1E2: The King’s Road

Summary of the Episode

The main host of characters are now beginning to splinter off into separate journies. Ned Stark, accompanied with his two daughters Sansa and Arya, travel with the King Robert Baratheon and company back to King’s Landing. But the venier of the royal family slowly unravels as the journey south continues.

In Winterfell, Catelyn discovers the conspiracy that left Bran in a comma. After an attack by an assassin and a quick investigation everything seems to be coming up Lannister. Afraid to deliver the message by raven, she begins to make travel plans to see Ned in secret.

Meanwhile across the Narrow Sea Danny and the Dothraki continue their journey to…. wherever it is that they are going. The show does not make this extremely clear, instead it spends this travel time focusing on Danny and her need to adapt to her new surroundings. This is primarily focused on sex with Khal Drogo.

Discussion

Just as episode 1 was all about getting to know the characters and getting them together, this episode is continuing to know the characters and breaking them down to smaller interactions. And this is accomplished in the narrative through travel which forces characters to interact with one another where they otherwise would not.

This dynamic of characters interacting is arguably one of the best parts of early Game of Thrones seasons (and arguably its largest failures later on). And out of all the characters Jon Snow has the most of them this episode and some of the best in the show. Two notable interactions are Snow’s interaction with Bran, more appropriately Caitlin, and his conversation with Jamie Lannister. Tyrion and Jon’s relationship will be discussed in later episodes when it becomes relevant again.

In the Catelyn/Jon/Bran interaction there is talk of the future that creates a thin veil over the past experience between these characters. In the books it is clear since Catelyn is a POV character for her dislike of Jon Snow because it is his bastard son that lives with the rest of the family in Winterfell. This is referenced in the episode after the scene but props to Michelle Fairley to really make the hatred work subtly.

Jon’s interaction with Jamie Lannister is a conversation about the future tethered to the past. Jamie is battle hardened but has this experienced naivete about war. Quick to point out how green Jon Snow is but also not disturbed enough to consider the consequences of battles that he seems to have fought. At the same time, Jon is inexperienced but is wise beyond his years, unwilling to dive into a conflict without reason.

This naive view is a tragedy throughout the early part of this season. The youth of this world, having lived through roughly two decades of relative calm in the realm, are now facing situations in which war seems to be the best option. In the scene where Caitlin reveals her theory on what is going on both Robb and Theon the youngest of the circle remark that this could be war. Both of the elder statesmen in the mix voice the refrain of even using such language.

On the opposite end of this spectrum is Robert Baratheon, the man so obsessed with his successful rebellion that he continues to hunt down the tyrants ancestors abroad. When it is revealed who Jon’s actual mother is the scene of Robert and Ned talking in the field makes it crystal clear why Ned did not even trust his wife with the information that he knew.

But in the context of this world Robert’s want of destroying the remaining Targaryens makes sense. Robert openly admits later that he is not a good king. His kingdom is facing extreme debt, there are clearly a lot of interkingdom rivalries flaring up, and Robert is not particularly use to nuance so why not go after the old boogie man that got you to where you were anyways?

(NOTE: If this seems extremely familiar in a political context you are probably just thinking about it too hard.)

Even in the final dispute of this episode Robert remains a bystander to the justice that is being delivered. Where the King in a medieval system should be the final word, Robert remains unclear on the punishments. In his neglect to reflect on the decision to make he is allowing tensions to simmer. All to avoid the blowback from the decision he makes.

Speaking of the Joffrey fight with Arya, this is where a lot of the fantasy tropes of good triumphing over evil begin to become undone. In that scene Sansa is the stand in for all of our selfish innocence about the world. In fact, when Arya fights back against Joffrey for nearly killing the Butcher’s boy her remarks are “You are spoiling everything.”. The rose-colored glasses have yet to fall off for Sansa just like many viewers who may still be watching this expecting last minute saves and good guys overcoming evil.

Finally, in terms of the Dothraki, this episode subtly shows a lot of nuance within the Dothraki that people and even the show eventually abandon. When we are first introduced to them the audience is meant to take subliminal cues from other forms of media and history. They are nomadic horseman a rough historical representation of people from the Asian Steppes such as the Huns and the Mongols. Aggressive and savage nomads with little care for the lives of those they conquered let alone anyone in there own society.

But here the images of nomadic warriors galloping on horseback are replaced with groups of people making a slow ride through the grasslands. Whenever camp is set up there are scenes of people tending to food, preparing clothes, or even just talking amongst themselves.

Danny’s handmaidens even represent the strange and misunderstood aspects of the Dothraki. Her handmaidens appear to be slaves but from different areas of Essos. They all greatly variate in skin tones, accents, and even belief structures. (For it is known.) The Dothraki society if not multinational is clearly open to integration in a world that seems to lack a lot of it.

 

Next time: Lord Snow

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Road to the Iron Throne S1E1: Winter is Coming

The very first episode of Game of Thrones and what an episode it is. Looking back at it now a few years later after all the craziness of the later seasons it is incredible what this episode does and does not do.

The first notable thing is that the show figures out how to do locations, characters, and interactions without leaning too much on title cards or awkward conversations. The only title cards are for three locations, all of which are going to be noteworthy later this season and beyond.

Without going through too much spoilers let’s get into a basic plot summary.

 

THE PLOT AND NOTABLE POINTS  

Opening shot. We see three men on horses walking through a tunnel and exiting what seems to be a wall into a dark woods. After some unspecified amount of time they come upon a scene of gruesome death, notably a little girl impaled on a tree.

After two of the people seem spooked about what could have killed those people the leader and obviously younger and more trained one decides against it. As they split up one hears the screams as his fellow men die. We then see a mysterious dark figure behead the leader throwing his head at his feet. He also sees the girl impaled on the tree walking, her blue eyes pierce the camera. Great Opening, one of the three best scenes I take from this episode.

Opening. Now we get to begin to meet the whole Stark clan. Pretty simple, we meet Eddard “Ned” Stark as he looks at his children. There is a deserter from the Night’s Watch that was caught. Ned’s face becomes sullen and he prepares to ride.

Fast forward. It’s the guy we saw earlier. He claims that these “white walker” things attacked his group and nobody even bothers to take it seriously, the ravings of a mad man and criminal. Ned Stark, the warden of the North, is the one that delivers the execution.

On the way back there is a scene of a dead stag and dire wolf, something that has nto been seen south of the Wall for centuries. The wolf has five (six) wolf pups, one for each of the Stark children. Seems important.

Catlin gives Ned word that John Arryn, his mentor, has died and that the King of the Seven Kingdoms, Robert Baratheon, is heading North to Winterfell. Ned knows the king will ask him to be the new Hand of the King, essentially a Vice President but does all the leg work and is advisor to the king.

Before the king arrives Catlin receives a message from her sister and John Arryn’s wife that she believes Arryn was killed by the Lannisters and did not die of natural causes. Second important scene from this episode.

King and his crew arrive. We meet the Lannister siblings. Not much here to discuss right now.

Final important scene Bran Stark is climbing around Winterfell. He hears a bunch of grunts and moans from a tower he is climbing. He sees through a window the queen and her brother shagging. Being ten and a little weird he lingers too long allowing them both to see him.

When it seems that Jamie Lannister would let the kid go he is thrown out of the window, falling to what appears to be his death. End of episode.

 

Discussion

Obviously there is a lot to unpack here. Hyper spoilers ahead, if you have not watched everything Game of Thrones turn back now. Final warning.

Anyways, as I mentioned in the beginning of this post there is so much leg work this episode has to do. It has to establish this world, introduce the core group of characters, and make all of that interesting.  

Most stories, especially serialized television do not have as many main characters throughout their entire run as Game of Thrones have in the first episode. It is in my opinion one of the greatest parts of the books and the tv show. As viewers or readers we have a bit of omnipresence through different characters perspectives. Notably though, George Martin and to a certain extend the showrunners do not give us omniscience.

We may know things about certain events that characters only hear as rumors or legends, but as we venture later on in the show we realize we do not know everything. In fact, the most critical character that starts the feud between the Starks and Lannisters later in this season is not even mentioned in the show yet. Littlefinger is a discussion for a later time though.

This episode and most of the first season of the show is cleverly using common cultural markers to mask the trajectory of the show, but it is a rewarding rewatch when looking at the future of the show.

The two patriarchs of the show and who would traditionally be the main characters are clearly Ned and Robert. The show actually continues this guise up until episode nine when Sean Bean loses his head on the chopping block, paralleling the execution in this episode as well. But both these men are clearly not typical infallible heroes.

Ned is honor bound, taking traditional structures and taking them too seriously. Ned feels duty bound to become the new hand of the king despite the fact that the king seems to be a great friend that would not act in reciprocity against Ned if he said no.

Robert is way worse. This portrait of a king that won his throne against a tyrant but now the weight of governing is boring to him. The solution to this is not to govern at all but to instead hunt, feast, and fuck his way to an early death as he puts it himself. When we first meet him the fat man can’t even get off of his damn horse without people and a staircase.

And a lot of what these two guys say is so clearly false and are proven false later on. Robert predicts that young Bran will become a warrior jokingly after asking the boy to show his muscles. But Bran will not be a warrior, in fact he will become a warg and the three-eyed raven, able to see the past and present from great distances away.

The trust that viewers put on these characters is continued to other characters as well. Jaime Lannister is dressed as the literal archetype of a prince charming. The first time the Starks see him he is donned in gold armor on top of a white horse. What other ques do you need from a fantasy series to say that this is a good guy. This clearly is thrown out the window quite literally at the end of the episode when he throws a ten year old out the window.

The dialogue between the Jamie and Cersei is perfect. On a first time watch it appears that they are in on the death of Jon Arryn even though later on we will find out they had nothing to do with it. This works in favor of the audience further solidifying the support to the Starks as the heroes of the story.

Danny’s storyline is the least interesting in this first episode which says a lot. This subdued character that does not say a lot and is literally treated as property to be sold to marriage to Khal Drogo will eventually be a dragon’s ride away from the Iron Throne. It speaks a lot about the growth of her character that we will continue to see later this season and later on as well.

 

Next time: The King’s Road.

The Road to the Iron Throne: Introduction

Saying I love Game of Thrones is an understatement. After hearing rumblings of it during its second season on HBO, I eventually found myself not only binging my way through the show but even reading through all of the books. There was a point in my life when I actually took it to heart to memorize any and all information about the world created by George RR Martin.

Like most things that exist in our current pop culture zeitgeist there has become a shorthand for what the show is about to casual onlookers and surface-deep watchers. “It’s the show where everybody dies by violent circumstances, there are dragons, a lot of female nudity, and of course a wide array of attractive characters.” Oh wait did I mention the female nudity?

There isn’t anything wrong with this understanding, all of those things are accurate, but boiling down the show to its simplest components is a fundamental misunderstanding of what makes this show so interesting and a standout in fantasy specifically and tv more generally.

Looking at the source material ( which would be a different series onto itself) there are many things that make the Game of Thrones series unique. First off, for a fantasy setting it is subversive of typical tropes found in the genre. Protagonists (at least early on in the show) that are for justice and all that is “good” meet unexpectedly swift deaths to their shock and the viewers. This is groundbreaking in some ways but it paralleled with many of the other shows that started during this time period like The Walking Dead where it feels like no one is safe. This actually gives a sense of suspense or dread when anticipating the next death.  

But on a much deeper, and more important level, Martin is able to flip the common archetypes in fiction and change the formula. When was the last time in any form of media that the outcast of society was ever deemed the protagonist or at the very least a part of the “good” team? Aside from Toph Beifong from Avatar: The Last Airbender not many come to mind.

Typically, throughout fiction those who are differently-abled are meant to represent the evil side or a strange force of nature. One does not have to look too far in the past to see examples of this. Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game and its Netflix movie adaptation is an extremely recent example.

Yet here we have a show with multiple characters facing traumas either by birth or circumstance and there is not only a feeling of support for them but they are some of the fan favorites of the series. The series is able to do this in a way where the character’s disability is not their key attribute, but just a part of their complex character.

Characters! Characters matter in this world, especially in relation to other characters. Relationships are old and at times complicated between different characters or groups of characters. This makes for some of the most memorable moments in the books and the show itself. And these characters live in a complex world where each action has ripples throughout the rest of it. The world feels like it is genuinely lived in and fleshed out.

Part of this feeling is due to GoT being a great piece of historical fiction. Martin is not unfamiliar with the turbulent times of the Middle Ages and early Modern Period. Not only does Martin create events and allegories for actual historical events, but he takes it a step further by thinking a few steps ahead in this crazy world. For example, what are the political impacts of having three flying, fire-breathing war machines at your disposal. Or what about an unconquerable magical enemy that is approaching a kingdom splintered by civil wars and disagreements.

Game of Thrones takes us there and it does it in an entertaining way.

That’s why I am writing this, before the final season of the show bombards our brains and preoccupies our time I want to start from the very beginning of the show and work my way up to the finale of season 7 and into the final season itself.

 

With that being said here are a few caveats/ things I will be adhering to:

 

  • Spoilers of course!: I am not here to slowly unravel the story for those who are unfamiliar with it. This is more of an exercise in re-living something that I already like and talking about it more deeply. That means anything from any GoT series is up for grabs.

 

If you don’t know what the phrase “R+L=J” is turn back now…or don’t, it’s the internet I can’t control what you do. But here is the fine print saying that anything and everything is up for grabs.

 

  • Yes the books and the show are different: I have read all the books, which is not necessary to enjoy the show. But, if I find it necessary or interesting I will reference the books during a review or season recap.
  • Structure: So since I have seen every episode/ season of the show I figured the best course of action is to do as follows. Create my impressions from what I remember about that season from my memory, then do an episode by episode summary/review/ thoughts then finally an end of season thoughts on the season as a whole.
  • Time: If I was a student still or actually did not work a billion hours I could probably get this monster of a thing done within a month or two, alas I have a full time job so it probably will be relegated to weekends or late nights.
  • What about the books: Since Winds of Winter seems nowhere close to being done (George Martin is a busy guy these days) I do not really want to go through the full swath of text without an end in sight. A few dozen hours of television is one thing but five books numbering in a few hundred pages at least per book is daunting. If you are interested in a chapter by chapter summary of the books check out GOTacademy on YouTube.

 

 

So I hope you will embark with me on The Road to the Iron Throne.

Narcos: Who’s Afraid of Escobar?

Pablo Escobar is easily the most infamous character of the final decades of the 20th century. His lavish gangster lifestyle coupled with his elusiveness allowed him to become an international vocal point for the international war on drugs and the mythos surrounding it. Many shows that follow similar paths such as Breaking Bad try to draw parallels with Escobar, but nobody in western media has attempted to actually tell the story in a dramatic way, until Narcos.

I had the benefit of watching Narcos two seasons uninterrupted which wraps the story of Escobar in a nice bow.

I think the show altogether is great, if you are looking for a series to binge watch it is one of Netflix’s best, but there are some problems with it.

The biggest one is a disjointed narrative that exists within the story. The show is trying to do two things at once which leads to this disjointed narrative that is being told. We are initially introduced to Agent Murphy, the DEA agent sent to Colombia to assist in finding Escobar and his story through it all. Murphy voices over a lot of the show to explain plot without ruining the drama of the story, but the story is never solely about Murphy. In fact, Murphy is not really the main character. The show gets into longer and longer sessions of events from Escobar’s point of view.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it creates two shows within one. You’re never sure what the show is trying to say. Should we kind of feel sorry for Escobar since he himself is human and we have humanizing moments even when he is committing heinous acts? Should we look down on agent Murphy as we see him go to a dark place as he tries and hunt down Escobar?

The show never seems to get a clear answer, in the end the final episode of season two felt like a lost cause. All this work for the past couple hours seemed to fizzle away as the payoff didn’t really seem to, you know, payoff.

Maybe I’m just over analyzing, anyways I give Narcos a 7/10

Tarantino Continues his Wild West Rampage

If someone had asked me years ago if I wanted a modern Agatha Christie mystery set as a Western I don’t know how I would’ve responded. But after watching Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight I can safely say that I would want even more movies like this.

Tarantino is one of the most interesting and talented directors and writers of our time. His films are always so over the top and have such memorable characters along with his distinct directing style. They call back to so much film history and you can tell there is an overwhelming passion in the director about what he is putting onto the screen.

The movies been out for a while now so the rundown for those of you who haven’t seen it is pretty simple. A bounty hunter, known as the Hangman, is taking his current bounty to the town of Red Rock, Wyoming in the middle of a blizzard. Through unlikely circumstance he ends up having to hold out in a lodge with questionable characters who the Hangman feels might be there to aid in the escape of his current captured bounty.

But what this movie does so brilliantly is not give a clear perspective of who is someone you can support until the end of the movie, which even then considering the “good” guys final act is questionable. There is no one main character and the characters all bring something questionable to the table to make you think they might have something to do with it.

As with all Tarantino movies, the blood flows like water down a waterfall but unlike other works of his, the gore and deaths are a payoff and not really the main attraction here. Despite the nearly three-hour time span of this movie I still had a great time.

I’m gonna give the Hateful Eight a 8.0~8.5/10.

Ali Wong’s Baby Cobra Review

As Comedy Central has moved away from the typical stand up specials it had in the 2000s, Netflix has begun to take up the vacuum. It is difficult to find a stand-up comedian that hasn’t done a stand-up special with the streaming service. But instead of one of the many comedians I love, I decided to watch someone new, Ali Wong.

Prior to this special I had no idea who Ali Wong was. I was only vaguely familiar with the show Fresh Off the Boat, which she is one of the writers for, and besides that had never heard of her. But this special got me interested in her comedy and I look forward to more performances by her in the future.

Since comedy is highly subjective, my take on Baby Cobra might be very different than others. Frankly, the special was an hour of almost constant laughs and good jokes. It is clear that Wong has a persona on the stage that she sometimes goes out of in between jokes that is noticeable.

The show also seems to follow a basic storyline of how she “trapped” her Harvard husband into marriage in order for her to quit her day job in order to become a housewife. Most of the laughs come out of this basic premise.

In a world where Amy Schumer, someone who in my opinion is not that funny, I am glad that there are other female comedians getting some spotlight that are hilarious.

I am going to give Baby Cobra the rating of a hilarious time.

Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood: Something Great to Binge Watch

Full Metal Alchemist was one of the animes and manga that I followed when I first became interested in the genre. While like most other animes and manga, it fell out of interest to me when I caught up on the manga and anime and was encountered with filler or at least what felt like filler. But I decided to give Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood a try on Netflix to see what the difference was with the original series. (I should also note here that the American Netflix is missing like the last season of the show, leading to having to find it elsewhere.)

The show is about a world in which alchemy is a legitimate form of science with some humans able to actually change the material and composition of matter. One of the fundamental laws of alchemy, equivalent exchange, essentially says that for every transformation there must be an equal cost paid. Alphonse and Edward Elric pay the ultimate price in the idea of equivalent exchange when they try to bring their dead mother back to life, causing Edward to lose his right arm and left leg and Al losing his entire body and having his soul entwined into a suit of armor. Now they are on a journey to look for the legendary Philosopher’s Stone as a possibility of getting their bodies back.

The world that FMA takes place in continues to be flushed out as the show progresses and with it the characters as well. The characters might be the largest strength of the show with both the heroes and villains being complicated and having goals that just aren’t about being the way they are just for the sake of it. There are surprisingly human moments in a fictional world where a talking suit of armor is the norm especially tense issues like genocide and war.

My largest complaint (not even that large really) is the trope in anime where characters facial expressions alter out of the normal art style to a more cartoonish one when something offensive or funny is said. For FMA, this can happen in serious moments when a character could possibly die and it takes the tension out of it.

Regardless, if you are looking for a good time on Netflix and are looking for a show to marathon through, give FMA a chance.

I’m going to give FMA: Brotherhood a 7.5~8.0/10.