Last week, we asked a Game of Thrones devotee and a total George R.R. Martin virgin to weigh in on the premiere. This week, Song of Ice and Fire enthusiast Adam Pasick and newbie Margaret Lyons are back to take on the direwolf-eat-direwolf world of the second episode.
ADAM PASICK Direwolves: So-so as packing assistants, great at assassin throat-ripping and prince maiming, and at making Ned Stark cry on the inside. This week seemed to be all about the canines.
• The Hound, Prince Joffrey’s scar-faced protector, reminds Tyrion that the cartoonishly loathsome Prince Joffrey is unlikely to forget getting triple bitch-slapped (canine theme!) by his uncle. Tyrion: “Be a good dog and remind him, will you?”
• Across the Narrow Sea, Danerys gets schooled by her servant/sex coach that only slaves do it doggie (or is it horsey?) style, and after a Skinemax-worthy tutoring session, she shows the Khal how queens like to get down.
• And, finally, a distressing scene where Cersei, in full villainess mode, orders the death of Sansa’s direwolf, Lady, as payback for Joffrey getting humiliated by Arya and her own direwolf. Ned Stark, proper in all things including pet-execution protocol, does the deed himself, somehow waking up Bran in the process.
After reading a lot of the complaints about Danerys, I can totally see the problem this week. She is often blank-faced and occasionally pouty (personally, I thought that horse jerky looked delicious), but I can’t tell yet whether it’s a reflection of Emelia Clarke’s acting, or a setup for the story line to come. How are you feeling about Game of Thrones after week two?
MARGARET LYONS I’m still having a hard time latching onto anyone. This week, everyone was pretty much miserable, an asshole, or a miserable asshole. Is anyone happy? Or good? Or worth rooting for? I don’t need this to be the Brady Bunch or anything, but it’s just so punishing sometimes, and I’m trying to see what’s here other than bloodlust and lust-lust. The only person who seems to have any real agency is Khal Drogo, and he exercises that agency by raping his wife. (Until she’s suddenly into it? Yikes.)
What’s chapping my ass about GoT right now is that it’s an elaborate fantasy world that for some reason kept most of the worst aspects of the actual world: You have to do arduous crap you don’t like, the government is corrupt, being married doesn’t look like any fun, people lie all the time, if you’re attractive you get your way, and children are sold into sexual slavery. Even fantasy-world crime-solving is based on finding hairs. Can something magical happen, please? Can those dragon eggs incubate in the warmth of Stockholm Syndrome already?
On the plus side, though, that last shot of Bran’s eyes flashing open totally got me …
PASICK A last-minute sign of incipient fandom — yes! Will “things get better” as Mormont tells Danerys, like an ancient version of Dan Savage? Well, no, not really. Game of Thrones is some dark material (speaking of another favorite book of mine, which woefully failed in its big-budget screen adaptation). There is going to be a lot more misery than joy. Pets and little children will be slaughtered. (R.I.P. Lady and Mycah, the butcher’s boy.) But who said fantasy had to be escapist? The magic is dispensed in very small and strategic doses, which is fine by me. People, and their motivations and faults and foibles, are a much more interesting story.
And there are definitely characters you can root for — Jon and Arya especially, and there have been glimmers from them so far that are promising. That scene where he gives her the sword was perfectly done. And what about Tyrion? I was feeling some very happy vibes from him when he was slapping Joffrey, charming his non-loathsome niece and nephew, and gleefully raking his brother and sister over the coals about Bran’s refusal to die: “My dear brother you wound me; you know how I love my family.”
If the doom and gloom is getting you down, Tyrion had some advice there, too, which I’ll paraphrase: Quitting Game of Thrones, like death, is so final. While sticking with it, like life, is so full of possibilities.
LYONS Okay, you’re right: I actually wrote in my notes for this episode “I hope Jon and Arya get a spinoff.” And I do hope that! Because you are right about other stuff, too, like the fact that people’s motivations are more interesting than magic. Jon and Arya are the only people whose motivations I really understand or care about. Interesting characters are driven by one of four main wants: to be seen, to be heard, to be touched, or to be loved. But most of the characters in GoT seem to have one want: power. They really want it! I’m hopeful that eventually, we’ll get to see what’s behind that desire for power — is that the only way they feel loved? or seen? — but so far, that’s been … it. It ties back into what we were talking about last week. How much are we seeing from the characters’ perspectives? Are we getting inside their heads? This week again, my answer is no.
Are you really saying I should try to root for Tyrion? He’s more interesting than the other folks so far, but that’s only because he seems to be the only person who ever enjoys anything. (And if you can’t enjoy bacon and beer for breakfast, I don’t want to know you.) But he’s still a jerk — why is everyone so mean to The Hound?! — and if he was really so awesome, why wouldn’t he tell his sister, “Hey, your son is a d-bag”? Oh, right, because he hates her, but he’s secretly jealous that she and handsome brother have incest love. (Just a theory! Just a theory.) Hmmm, maybe I do understand these characters better than I realize …
How do you feel about the pacing so far? I thought this episode had a better explanation-to-action ratio, but I’d really like to get to more of the meat of the story. When the King woefully muttered that war was coming, I got excited. I mean, I like the first act of Macbeth just fine, but I like the other four acts better.
PASICK If you’re going to go all Maslow on me, I think there’s one need you’re forgetting: survival. As you’ve noted, this world is grim and miserable, and there have already been plenty of murders, beheadings, and attempted assassinations. The drive for power in Game of Thrones is about securing your survival and that of your family. Of course some characters like Cersei seem to be pursuing it with slightly more malice than is strictly necessary. What was the point of that story she told Catelyn about her baby who died? It certainly isn’t going to garner any sympathy from the woman who suspects her of trying to kill Bran. You might want to file away Cersei’s “little black-haired beauty” comment away for future study, though.
As for the pacing, I will direct you here. By season’s end, no one will be able to complain that not enough happened in Game of Thrones.