‘Game of Thrones’ Precap: Sharp Swords, White Walkers, and Young Romance
Ser Pounce and the Little Things
Andy Greenwald: I didn’t want to make a big deal about the cat. Can you blame me? The Internet has a funny way of overreacting to anything even remotely feline. (Peggy Olson sat next to a tabby for five seconds on Mad Men once and the damn thing has its own Twitter account.) And so my first thoughts upon the introduction of brave Ser Pounce, defender of royal virginity, scourge of House Mouse, were negative. On a show that traffics in the kind of hacking that ends in dismemberment, not hairballs, was there really room for something so cute? Yes, direwolves are furry, but they also will turn a human limb into kibble. I had real concerns that three-plus years of epic drama and heavy dread would suddenly be washed away in a sea of snuggly GIFs. Would the fearsome reign of the Lannister lions be undone by a persistent kitten? (Can you imagine Jaime Lannister using his gold hand to open fresh-forged tins of Fancy Feast?) And how do you say “I can haz lemoncake” in High Valyrian, anyway?
Clearly, I was being irrational. (Though it is worth noting that Ser Pounce currently has nearly 11,000 more followers on Twitter than the writer of the damn episode that introduced him.) The truth is, Game of Thrones needs fuzzy distractions like Ser Pounce, particularly as it continues its bleak luge into the depths of winter. Last year, before lopping off Theon’s littlefinger, Ramsay Snow announced, “If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.” The same could be said of any fan who thought the savagery of the Red Wedding represented some sort of floor for how low this show could possibly go. Last week alone featured mass rape and crucifixions, the sight of a mentally challenged man chained to a post and being stabbed in the leg, and the abduction of a crying, innocent baby whose reward for not freezing to death was transformation into a glittery-eyed ice demon. Game of Thrones is devoted to depicting the very worst humanity has to offer. Who could fault its audience for latching on to Ser Pounce like the shedding life raft he is?
I’d even take it a step further. One of the things George R.R. Martin’s readers decry above all else is the way beloved characters and scenes are continually discarded by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss due to time constraints. But even though I (say it with me) haven’t read the books, it’s not hard to imagine that the real crime of Game of Thrones, as is the case with any literary adaptation, is the painful, if necessary, loss of the sort of atmosphere and culture that can be captured only in writing. Even without knowing any of the specifics, I’m sure there’s been a consistent ignoring or at least eliding of all the little world-building details that keep true fans enthralled and Wikipedia in business. This is entirely understandable, but also a little bit disheartening. Some people wish HBO’s generous budget allowed for more epic battles, but I’d settle for a little extra time to sink into the society that exists around the characters, a better sense of the stray pleasures and everyday routines that are apparently worth dying for. It’s why I appreciated the Arya/Hound rabbit stew scene and even the brief mention of the deliciousness of boiled potatoes before Random Citizen No. 5 got a Wildling arrow stuck in his throat. Ser Pounce may not seem like much — and, in fact, we’re unlikely to be seeing him again anytime soon — but in his inimitable, purring way, he’s representative of the compelling little lively details that make a vicious, death-dealing show so appealing.
Let’s Take Some of the Terrifying Power Back From the White Walker’s Coke Nail of Death
netw3rk: If a spoiler falls in an icy forest north of the Wall, and some portion of the people watching on television don’t know it’s a spoiler, is it actually a spoiler? The answer is an emphatic “kinda.” After last Sunday night’s episode of Game of Thrones — which, as you may have heard, was the most drastic departure from the source material yet — HBO’s official show synopsis page used a name, familiar to book readers, to identify the Darth Maul cocaine-finger White Walker who appeared in the episode’s end reveal. Now, I won’t reveal that name here, because I don’t want any (alleged?) spoilers on my conscience, but this is the Internet, and if you really want to find out what the name is, you know what to do. HBO quickly altered the page, replacing the name with “A Walker,” leading book readers into a sort of logic-argument ouroboros where altering the website meant the detail was either a huge spoiler or a typo or retcon or all of those at once.
If the name used by HBO on its show page really corresponds to the book character of the same name — and, again, sorry for being vague, but if you have to know, Google exists — then this would be the first time the show has ever spoiled the story for book readers instead of vice versa. The reaction on the various ASoIaF Internet gathering places was a mixture of “Oh, cool” and “HOW COULD THEY DO THIS?!?!” This is interesting because HBO’s revelation of the character’s identity has spoiler value only because fans of the books created that value through years of kabbalah-esque parsing of the text. The character has not yet appeared in the books and is mentioned only briefly as being a possibly legendary figure. Finding out who this character is isn’t like finding out about the Red Wedding or Ned’s death; it just negates a few alternate realities that exist only as fan speculation by removing that barely mentioned character from the lists of possible suspects featuring in various other fan theories about other characters’ identities. Which is to say, as the show increasingly blows by George R.R. Martin’s writing pace, book readers better get used to this feeling.
Disney’s Game of Thrones
[Artist: Fernando Mendonca]
[Disclosure: Grantland is owned by the Walt R.R. Disney Company.]
Superfan Crazyperson Power Rankings of the Week: Swords!
THE SHARPEST SET
Literally everything about Longclaw is awesome. It’s Valyrian steel, which makes it one of the most valuable and precious weapons in the land. It belonged to House Mormont before the Lord Commander gifted it to Jon, which means that Jorah and Jon have both touched it, which is notable because they’re both super hot. The pommel used to be a bear, but that big softie Jeor Mormont remodeled it after Ghost before giving it to Jon. It’s a “bastard” sword, since it’s longer than a longsword but shorter than a greatsword, and since it belongs to a bastard boy, that’s pretty perfect, I think we can agree. Plus, it killed the Halfhand, enabling Jon to deceive the Wildlings into accepting him as one of their own and, infinitely more importantly, putting Jon in position to finally get his freak on with Ygritte. Longclaw, indeed!
The wand chooses the wizard, and if the sword chose the swordsperson, there’s no doubt Needle would have picked Arya Stark. They’re perfect for each other: light and skinny, sharp and saucy, underestimated but deadly water dancers in a world full of hacking and whacking fools. Jon gave Needle to Arya, and in turn Needle gave us some of the best sword-related quotes in the series, like “Stick ’em with the pointy end” and “Maybe I’ll pick my teeth with it.” Plus, the name “Needle” is a total subtweet at Sansa. This weapon may not be great for chopping off heads (or hands), but it’s plenty good at poking men full of holes until the water leaks out of them and they die (thanks for the inspirationally colorful language, Syrio!), as we saw when that rat-faced heathen Polliver stabbed Lommy through the throat, and when Arya later returned the favor. It’s hard to pick your teeth when you’re dead, Polly.
Did Oathkeeper’s golden shaft look extra shiny on Sunday night, or did it only seem that way through my veil of tears? Jaime’s decision to give Brienne the Valyrian steel sword his father had custom forged before their falling-out tugged at the ol’ heartstrings, but it was nothing compared with the gesture Brienne made in turn, naming the sword Oathkeeper to convey with one word that the man they call Kingslayer and Oathbreaker had won her over completely and truly. What? She didn’t see what happened in the sept in Episode 3, you guys.
Lightbringer is a lot like Stannis: The logic and the legend are there, but at the end of the day, it feels like a cheap party trick. The original Lightbringer was wielded long ago, and prophecy states that it will be wielded again only by the Prince That Was Promised, the Son of Fire, the Warrior of Light. Basically, it’s this story’s Excalibur. Stannis and Melisandre earn points for having the stones (in his pants, in her necklace) to spray some Zippo on a blade and call it a miracle, but they lose as many or more for cheating fate. There’s a “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” joke to be made here, but I’m tired, and still very afraid of Melisandre’s magic vagina.
Widow’s Wail has two things going for it: (1) It’s Valyrian steel, forged in the fires of Mount Doom … er, forged from Ice’s melted-down remains, and (2) it’s the perfect endnote for the Joffrey Baratheon Sliding Scale of Stupid Sword Names. They say every great sword has a name, but someone clearly forgot to tell that to Joffrey when he named his first sword “Lion’s Tooth,” which is about as scary as “Direwolf’s Dump” or “Dragon’s Breath.” (Actually, Dragon’s Breath would be an awesome sword name; Dany, please get on it.) Of course, Joffrey needed a second sword after Arya threw Lion’s Toenail into the river, and he named his green kangaroo of weaponry “Hearteater.” He then ordered Sansa to “kiss it” in a way teenage boys everywhere surely began mimicking immediately. Charmer.
For four centuries, the Valyrian steel greatsword was the heirloom of House Stark. Ice was used to execute a Night’s Watch deserter in the series’ first episode and to teach important lessons, such as “The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword.” It was later used for more nefarious purposes, like beheading its owner, Ned Stark, and providing the steel to make two swords for House Lannister. Tywin may not actually shit gold, but he sure knows how to vomit up symbolic gestures.
BONUS! Borderline Weird Mallory Rubin Game of Thrones Memorabilia of the Week:
Margaery and Tommen: A Love Story
Margaery slinks into the new king’s bed late in the night. Young Tommen wakes with a start.
“Ser Pounce? No, you’re not Ser Pounce!”
“I don’t think you’re supposed to be here. Mother doesn’t allow me to have visitors at night.”
“I’m not your visitor, Your Grace. Word has it I’m to be your bride.”
“But you were supposed to marry my brother … ”
“ … and he just … ”
“Did you know that people in arranged marriages often never meet until their wedding day?”
“ … but Joffrey just … ”
“Before we decide to spend our lives together, don’t you think we should get to know one another?”
“Get to know one another?”
“Not like to know know each other — we’ve hardly met, silly boy!”
“But if Mother … ”
“We’ll have a few secrets from her, I hope! Not like secret secrets — let’s not push things too quickly, my king.”
“Tell me a secret! It’ll be fun.”
“I like cats.”
“Do you know what happens when we marry, Thomathon?”
“Of course. I’ll call you Thomathon; it’ll be our secret name. But when we marry?”
“When we marry, we’ll say our vows in front of the septon. Then there will be a dwarf troupe reenactment of my brother’s murder, and we will eat a pie made of live pigeons … ”
“No, no. When we marry, I’m yours.”
“Wait. How old are you again?”
“In the books or on the show?”
“The show. We don’t care about the books in here.”
“I don’t know, maybe 16? Could be 15.”
“Oh. I should go. But it’s very nice to meet you!”
“Will you come visit me again?”
“I have to do some research on the royal age of consent in King’s Landing first.”
“Books or show?”
“Show, silly boy. Show.”
They shake hands awkwardly. She leaves. The cat jumps up on the bed and meows.
“You’re right, Ser Pounce. That was a little messed up.”
’Ship DenialWatch: Jaime x Cersei
Emily Yoshida: If you thought the uproar around the Jaime-Cersei septrape was heated in the TV Twitter/blogosphere, try living a day in the shoes of one of their ’shippers. Do a quick Tumblr search for “lannicest.” This ’ship is in worse shape than Littlefinger’s, and no amount of inspiring GIF sets can turn it around.
But you know what can? FANFIC CONTEST!
Holly Anderson: I read The Silmarillion at a tender age and, despite that experience devouring pages full of absolutely nothing happening, and several valiant efforts as an adult, I can’t make it through the second book of this series, ever. So at the risk of putting myself at the mercy of those of you who might actually have an answer here: What’s Hodor’s deal? For all those of us who are adhering strictly to HBO know, he has a richly layered backstory and plot lines sprinkled with thunky hints of future glory or ignominy, but on the show, at least, he functions as a literal device. He’s a human carriage for Bran throughout the first two seasons and becomes a means of astral conveyance for the little Stark lord in Season 3, when Bran uses his warg abilities on him by accident but to great effect. And that’s about it, unless he has some future significance in the books of which I’m completely ignorant. (Such is life when you’re only in this for the set decoration.)
AND YET: Is it his caring for Bran, his obvious bewilderment, or just the body of work Kristian Nairn has put in over the past three years that gives his treatment at the hands and spear-points of the mutineers its impact? When he’s getting stab-poked by the new tenants of Craster’s Daughterin’ Ranch, it’s a moment of real distress for the audience, and it’s all the more remarkable for being felt on behalf of a character whose onscreen function is largely mechanical.
“What, you thought I was dead? Go ahead, try to kill me. You can’t. I will live forever. Dreadfort, you’re on the line.”
John Lopez: With the conquest of Meereen, Daenerys’s celebrity liberation tour of Slaver’s Bay has come to an end. All this makes for good rah-rah moments every few episodes, but it makes me wonder: What now? Obviously, I’m one of the illiterate non–book readers, so George R.R. Martin has already answered my question. But now Daenerys has her army and, story-wise, it would seem to be time to U-turn back to the Narrow Sea and start laying some furious dragon vengeance on King’s Landing.
But what about all those cities she just liberated? My guess is they won’t just quietly sit down to the wonky task of setting up a constitutional democracy. But will she (and the show) just leave Slaver’s Bay behind? Game of Thrones has been so good at bringing the realpolitik of statecraft to a fantasy world, I’d hate to see the show stop now. I mean, even successful slave rebellions aren’t exactly a happily-ever-after proposition. Cough. Haiti. And remember that joyous time in American history known as Reconstruction? Or our more recent fun little sojourns in Iraq and Afghanistan? “Kill the masters” makes for great TV, but not so much social stability. You can’t just one-armed-crucify the old oligarchy and hope for the best.
It would be easy, from a narrative standpoint, to just spirit us back to Westeros, but I really hope the show gives us a taste of the quagmire; let Ser Jorah and Grey Worm start wrestling with the unknown knowns for a while. What about all the religious factions and cultural differences of the slaves themselves? (I’m assuming Essos is a little less homogeneous than, say, Japan.) And what about the economic consequences of switching from a forced-labor economy to … well, to what I don’t know. Maybe I’m wonking out here, but Ser Barristan’s little warning about mercy gives me hope that’s a road the show will follow, even if it means a few fewer man-versus-horse showdowns in the future.
You Don’t Need to Speak Italian to Understand This, Just the Common Tongue of Bewildered Amazement