After watching Game of Thrones episodes 8 and 9 I can only conclude that George RR Martin had a very traumatic wedding experience. You’d think weddings would be a joyful time, full of love, feasting, music, and quality family time. Things you do not expect to see at weddings usually include stabbings, screaming, threats of castration, and tears.
But George RR Martin and the show’s producers seem determined to ruin your conception of weddings, and they make a compelling case for elopement, at least if you happen to live in Westeros. Game of Thrones episode 8 starts off the soul-crushing tear-fest by giving us the equisitely awkward wedding between Sansa and Tryion. Everyone at this wedding seems to be having a terrible time. Tyrion fights with his grumpy father, and then gets rejected by his new bride, who is practically in tears about the fact she has to marry not just a dwarf, but a dwarf from the family that murdered her father. Cersei is unhappy that hse has to marry a gay knight, and fights with her husband-to-be. Oelnna Tyrelll seems bitter over the forced union between Cersei and Loras orchestrated by Tywin, and spends the dinner making sarcastic quips. And then there’s that awkward moment where the love of Tyrion’s life is forced to clean up after his sexless first night of marriage with another woman.
What could possibly be worse than this? The wedding between King Robb’s uncle Edmure and Roslin Frey. It starts out well enough, which, nwo that I think about, is actually a pretty good sign that something is amiss in Game of Thrones world. Here, at least, everyone knows how to have fun, and have fun they do–until a bunch of musicians pull out crossbows and shoot everyone in the room. Ouch. I guess it looks like Robb Stark just got robbed of his and dreams. Or is it too soon?
Seriously, these traitorous bad guys kill everyone, even the cute wolf and Robb’s pregnant wife, because there is really no better way to cement your status as evil than puppy-shooting and wanton wife murder.
It makes me wonder–why is everyone in this world so evil? Can’t anyone just relax and enjoy a bit of music and feasting? Why is it that everyone seems to enjoy stabbing people more than drinking fine wine? Do these people take evil pills with their breakfast? Joffrey, Theon’s torturers, the Mountain, the guy who cut off Jaime’s hand, and now the ever-suspicious Lord Bolton and Argus Filch–yeah, I guess Robb probably should have seen this one coming, but catching traitors in his ranks has never been his strong suit. Admittedly a hard task, since there may be more traitors than there are ranks. It’s getting a wee bit absurd just how dastardly half the population of the world appears to be.
This is the moment the entire season was building up to, the game-changer, the plot twist to end all plot twists? How was it pulled off? In all honesty…I was a bit underwhelmed. I mean, the scene is hard to do wrong. It’s a shocking moment there to shock you, and it does that by its very nature. But it all felt a bit flat and routine, as if the episode’s director thought the moment was so bold on its own that he didn’t need to add any flair to it. The music was generic “bad-thing-is-happening” fare mixed with a few obligatory violins. And then everyone just…died. With fountains of blood that would make Tarantino jealous. Couldn’t we have a dramatic King in the North theme playing, or, y’know, the titular Rains of Castamere in the background, except sung, as it was in the book? Maybe a dramatic closing shot of a burning wolf banner flapping on the ground or Robb’s camp going up in flames? Anything?
In all, though, the past two episodes were very successful, and far surpassed the lackluster Bear and the Maiden Fair. In these episodes, the show finally did what I’ve been wishing it would do all along–focus on some characters in each episode while ignoring others. It’s okay not to show every main character every Sunday–just let us really get immersed in one or two plotlines, instead of tantalizing us with six or seven. The first episode is centered around King’s Landing, while the second around the north, and the divide works perfectly (both episodes feature Danaerys Targaryen and her harem of badass man warriors, who apparently are capable of conquering an entire city all on their own).
Not only do we get more emotionally invested in the characters this way, but the plot is able to progress more noticeably as well. Instead of each plot taking little baby steps forward, two story-lines are able to take a giant stride ahead, and the effect is a more suspenseful, taut, and exciting episode.
Hopefully the coming season will take this lesson to heart. In order for scenes and characters to be remembered, they need to take up more than 3 or 4 minutes of our attention a week.
It’s also worth noting that Game of Thrones’ fight scenes (which originally paled next to shows like Starz’ Spartacus) are gradually improving in quality. The fights this season have been consistently better than those in seasons 1 and 2–and in a show where sword-fights are surprisingly rare given the number of swords on display, making each battle good is important. Jon Snow’s confrontation with the wildlings was well-conceived and well-executed, as was the scene in which Dany’s three lieutenants took Yunkai by storm. Admittedly, the plausibility of this second scene was just about nil–are we expected to believe that three men fought their way through an entire city of enemy soldiers? I thought they were supposed to use stealth and subterfuge? But the actual fighting was hard to fault.
The past two episodes have proved to be some of the season’s strongest to date, more than a compensating from the uneventful Bear and the Maiden Fair. All that remains to be seen is whether the finale can manage to top (or at least equal) episodes 8 and 9, or whether it will end in disappointing anticlimax, as Season 2 did.