Each week, Vulture brings you a postshow debate from Game of Thrones newbie Margaret Lyons and "Song of Ice and Fire" devotee Adam Pasick. This week, "The Pointy End" was stabbing people left and right, as the Lannisters and the Starks prepared for full-on war.
MARGARET LYONS "When you look at me, do you see a hero?" Oh, eunuch, you are full of wisdom. It's a question all of the characters were asking themselves this week — and some of them said "hell yes." Danaerys and her not-gentle heart certainly do, as does Khal Drogo; Arya and Bran both feel they're special; even Tyrion's new beardo associates had that "maybe this time!" glimmer in their eyes.
There are still a great number of things I find deeply frustrating about this show (like the sudden reappearance of the littlest Stark — who are you?), but it does two things astonishingly well: create and maintain anticipation, and deliver extreme and wonderful WTF moments. "The Pointy End" had plenty of both. (I'm not sure Tyrion lines count as a whole genre of excellence, but of course, there were some superb Tyrion lines this week, too.) Starting with: WTF attacked Jon? I thought maybe Arya had fled to the Wall because she didn't know where else to go, and that the "don't go in there!" vibes for the scene would be sort of a joke when Jon discovered it was his plucky half-sister. But nope! I can safely say that Zombie Uncle Fester is the exact opposite of Arya. I was equally horrified (in a good way) by Drogo's pile of heads and throat-slitting choreography.
Without spoiling anything, can you give me a quicky rundown on the animal symbolism? The houses have specific animals they ... revere? Are those associations known to everyone else? Like Tyrion's lion ring: Can anyone have a lion ring — say, Tusky Beardoson? — or is that strictly Lannister stuff? When strategizing about battleplans, how aware are the characters of the animal imagery they're speaking with? I'm guessing this is stuff that's more explicitly acknowledged in the books, but I'm not quite getting it.
ADAM PASICK A refresher: Each house has a sigil, like a coat of arms, which is usually an animal. Starks are direwolves, Lannisters are lions, and the Baratheons are stags. The sigil is supposed to shed some light on each house's character, and it is also really convenient for cryptic conversations. ("The lion eats wolf cutlets at midnight.") The sigil stuff can be a bit on the nose at times: One of the first scenes this season showed a pregnant direwolf who had been gored to death by a stag, and we met Tywin Lannister last week as he was butchering a stag.
If any heroes emerged this week, I'd have to put Robb at the top of the list, albeit with a big asterisk. Apparently proving yourself to your father's bannermen means having your wolf bite off some of their fingers — not that Greatjon Umber seemed to mind. Shouldn't those finger stumps have been geysering blood? Robb definitely seems a little wobbly (see: shaking hands and stifled impulse to hug his mommy) but this was the most life we've seen out of his character so far, and he seems to have the potential to be a GoT player, not a pawn: I don't think his decision to let the Lannister scout go had anything to do with mercy.
Other heroes: Syrio! Total badass with the wooden sword, though it doesn't sound like it ended well. Non-heroes: Sansa, obviously. Ned, who got Robert killed with his "mercy." And then some other people with blood on their hands, hero status TBD: Arya, killer of the stable boy; and Dany, whose attempt to de-rapify the Dothraki resulted in Khal Drogo killing one of his own men, and getting injured himself.
We're in the bloody homestretch: Are you eager for more, or just for this season to be over?
LYONS Oh, Robb. That moment of relief when he saw his mother? Aw. Poor guy. It should be okay to hug your mom, even in front of scrappy military folk.
Was Sansa really a non-hero this week, though? I mean, that took some serious courage to present her father's case, and while she did it wrong — and, crystal balling this, I'm going to say devastatingly so — she was trying the best she could. I still hate her mostly, but she put her life and livelihood on the line to save her dad. That's pretty heroic, even if it turns out she totally screwed everything up.
I'm torn between wanting more more more GoT, especially now that things are getting really exciting, and fearing that I'm better off walking away now, because the real battles are still a long ways off. This entire season has been about ominous overtones, fear, anticipation, being on edge, sleeping with one eye open; it's been about anxiety and paranoia, reluctant destiny, and most of all, impending doom. And it does those things well! But eight episodes of anticipation without any real payoff is just wearing me the hell out. I'm holding out hope that the next two episodes will release at least some of this tension. There's still this huge imbalance of, We're gonna go to war! And there's giants! And dragons! And we built this wall to keep evil out, but it might not be working! And there is a righteous fight afoot! But the big dramatic payoff is a guy getting forced into early retirement. It's a great scene, and I totally felt for Barristan (he's Frank Langella in my notes), but...where's my fucking dragon already? I'm trying really hard to love this, but George R.R. Martin is not the only one afraid of "[pulling] a Lost." I don't want to love this show and revel in all the glorious zig-zagging storytelling and get all into the mysteries and anticipation only to discover six years later that I should have just walked away when I had the chance; the lead-up was so massive that there was never going to be a payoff big enough.
But back to last night's episode. The costuming has been fantastic for the entire series, but the variety of armors in "The Pointy End" was astounding. The samurai-inspired red-accented suit, the Magneto-ish helmets, the menacing tusks: just all around superb. (I loved this interview with armor supervisor Simon Brindle.)
PASICK After 8 weeks of Westeros / Dothraki training, I am now thoroughly desensitized to violence (in a good way!) and have nothing but contempt for saps like Sansa and Ned. They thought they were living in a fairy tale world of honor and doing the right thing. But they're really in a Darwinian nightmare with only the very thinnest veneer of "civilization" on top.
Part of what's so frustrating about explaining Game of Thrones to newbies is that they expect the world to be what Ned and Sansa expect: Chivalry, jousting, knights, princesses, blah blah blah. And you know what? I'd be pretty bored by that world too. Last week's episode gave us the best evidence yet that Game of Thrones has more in common with The Walking Dead (zombie fight!) than it does with Camelot.
As for your fears of a "Lost"-style letdown. I am just as fearful, maybe more, because I'm four books deep and there's no end to the saga in sight. (George R.R. Martin wrote this episode himself, by the way, and he's writing one for next season too). But there is so much more fun to be had either way!
Oh, and in the interest of gender equality (?) that was some ridiculously gratuitous Hodong (TM) to make up for last week's Fingerbang Soliloquy.
LYONS True, that was some RGH tm. There's been a renewed discussion about GoT's sex and gender politics, and I'm starting to wonder what role exactly the needless nudity is playing. I mean, hey, free dong viewing, but still, GoT is definitely approaching the boundary of permissible nudity.