Sunday, May 24, 2015

Game of Thrones Power Rankings (S5, E6)




Season 5, Episode 6: "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken"


Last Week's Rankings: "Kill the Boy"


In the Game of Thrones, you win or you die. In that spirit, here’s your weekly look at who’s winning and who’s (slowly, painfully) dying.


Winning!

(Disclaimer: This was a pretty depressing episode where basically everyone lost, so I had to get a bit creative to find five "winners")

1. Living

Well, let's start with the good news: for the first time in memory, no one died this episode!

And that concludes our good news for the week. Thank you, and please drive safely. 


2. The Return of Lady Olenna

She's just enough of an ancillary character that you don't really notice the long stretches of episodes she disappears for, but the second she starts launching verbal barbs at Cersei ("Put the pen down, dear. We both know you're not writing anything."), she reclaims her status as possibly the show's best supporting character. And the look she fires at Cersei following the inquest into Loras Tyrell's sexual proclivities portends a great many things to come. Don't forget, she already killed Joffrey, and without the level of ego that necessitated taking credit for it. She's a very dangerous woman. 


3. Tyrion's Rhetoric

Once again, Tyrion's quick wit saved him. But "Guess again" cock-size jokes aside, Tyrion's quick verbal reflexes and persuasive abilities also saved Jorah, redirecting their captors from Volantis (where they would've been totally screwed) to Meereen, where Jorah is likely to be noticed by the Powers That Be. It's those little victories that keep Tyrion alive and relevant, and they help illuminate why he might eventually be of huge value to Daenerys' campaign to take back the Iron Throne. 


4. Tyrion's Cock

It has magic powers! (Allegedly.) And it's not dwarf-sized! (Also allegedly.) And it's worth a fortune at the cock merchant's! (That one, apparently, amazingly, is factual.)


5. Arya Stark

I mean, that's a pretty cool basement she gets to hang out in, right? And lot's of faces to try on, amiright? And maybe soon she'll learn how to slay people more effectively? (I'm grasping here.)

Okay, enough of that. Let's get to the many, many, many (many!) losers this week… 







Losing/Dying

1. Show Viewers

Look, Game of Thrones has never made it easy for us. The first episode alone saw Daenerys traded into glorified sex slavery by her own brother, and a young boy thrown out a window by a guy fucking his sister. Four and a half years later, we really should be used to this by now. And yet, Sansa's wedding night somehow seemed to tread new ground of Good God, why are they doing this to us?? territory. 

As I'm sure everyone knows by now, that did not happen in the books (nor did Sansa's entire engagement to Ramsay), which means it was proactively decided on by the showrunners. Smart, creative people sat around a room and debated whether or not to include this as a plot point in the show, and they ultimately decided yes. They wanted us to see that. Or, at least they wanted us to see Theon seeing it. After four and a half seasons of truly excellent television, to say the showrunners get the benefit of the doubt is a massive understatement. But this is also the first moment where it makes you wonder if veering off course from the books is a wise idea, and that, just maybe, the people who chose to give us that scene might be going a bit too far with the nihilistic elements of George R. R. Martin's story. 


2. Sansa's Virtue

This is totally my fault. Just last week, in these very rankings, I joked that Sansa's virginity was becoming the biggest prize in Westeros. That joke is no longer funny, and it never will be again. I'm the worst. 


3. Loras Tyrell, Queen Margaery, Tyrion Lannister, Jorah Mormont, Jaime Lannister, and Bronn (just Bronn)

Hey, look, it's six characters who ended last week as captives! Loras & Margaery are now imprisoned in King's Landing, Tyrion & Jorah are being held by a band of pirates and praying they reach Meereen before finding a good cock merchant, and Bronn & Jaime's bromantic holiday in Dorne seems to have reached the end of it's cheeriness. It's easy to be optimistic for Tyrion and Jorah, because they're at least headed in the direction of help. The other four… not so much. 


4. King Tommen and Theon Greyjoy Reek

And here are two characters who emphatically proved last week that they have no balls. (Well, Theon literally doesn't have balls. Or does he? Is it just the main member that got lopped off, or the whole set? Can we get an official ruling on this?) Both characters had a perfect moment last week to step up and prove their worth to the show, and instead they both sat and watched their world spin out of control, without a fucking peep. 

With Tommen, I'm not totally surprised. But I have to admit, I'm starting to wonder why Theon is actually still in the show at all. Two seasons of torture felt like it only could have been there because there was a real payoff looming at a key moment, but that moment should have been while he was watching Sansa get raped on her wedding night. That was his moment to step up and redeem himself by killing Ramsay and saving Sansa, earning back every awful second we spent with him in Seasons 3 and 4. But he just stood there and watched. Like his sister last year, I'm becoming convinced Theon's beyond saving at this point. 


5. Cersei Playing the Short Game

Cersei's the best. There's just absolutely no long-term thought put into anything she does. Kate Moss once famously said, "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels." But Cersei operates on the exact opposite side of that logic spectrum. While Moss can prevent herself from eating to maintain the longterm goal, Cersei just ravenously gobbles up every bite of revenge she can get her hands on, no matter how bloated with enemies she becomes. Actions have consequences. 


Confirmed Kills: Zero! (Unless you count Sansa's virginity)

Season Death Tally: Still 51






Sunday, May 17, 2015

Game of Thrones Power Rankings (S5, E5)





Season 5, Episode 5: "Kill the Boy"

Last Week's Rankings: "Sons of the Harpy"

In the Game of Thrones, you win or you die. In that spirit, here’s your weekly look at who’s winning and who’s (slowly, painfully) dying.


Winning!

1. Hizdahr Zo Loraq, Future Mr. Mother of Dragons

He started the episode as an advisor, then almost got fed to a pair of dragons, then got imprisoned, and then was improbably informed he'll be marrying the most powerful woman in the world. All without his say. In a single episode, he basically lived the entirety of the Sansa Stark experience. As all of the "Bill Clinton as First Lady" jokes start ramping up, Hizdahr will provide a nice trial run for how that might go. 


2. Stannis Baratheon

When we first met Stannis in Season Two, he wasn't the most likable character. He was totally humorless, power-hungry, cheating on his wife and making smoke babies with a walking red flag, and plotting to kill his own brother, who, by the way, was one of the most fun characters in the show. As Stannis took a back seat in Seasons 3 and 4, nothing really happened to make him more engaging. He was just an important chess piece, nothing more. 

But this season has been different, and not only has Stannis' personality emerged, but also his depth and integrity. We first saw it a few weeks ago in his conversations about duty and honor with Jon, then it came to the forefront in the last two episodes, with his dramatic "You are the Princess Shireen of the House Baratheon, and you are my daughter" speech, and his recognition of the value Sam Tarly brings to the protection of the realm. And now, suddenly, he's one of the most likable characters on the show. Which almost definitely means he'll die in the next few weeks. 


3. Greyworm

He kissed Missandei! For a guy with no guy parts, that's pretty much a home run. Or at least like getting to first base and then watching someone grab the rest of the bases and pack them up in a truck, then watching that truck drive off and never come back. 


4. Lord Commander Jon Snow

The 998th Lord Commander of the Night's Watch will either be the first to broker peace with the Wildlings, or the first to give them a fleet of ships with which to attack Westeros. It's definitely one or the other. 


5. The Wisdom of Maester Aemon

The Targaryen family is a strange one. Everyone we've met or heard about falls into one of two categories: Extremely wise, just, and beloved (Daenerys, Rhaegar, Maester Aemon), or one of the worst people ever (Viserys, The Mad King). Within Maester Aemon, you see what Ser Barristan spoke of with Rhaegar, you see the potential with Daenerys, and you see the greatness of his grand nephew Jon Snow. Kill the boy, Jon Snow!


Honorable Mention: Viserion and Rhaegal

They finally got to eat! It's unclear whether half of one person is enough to tide them over, but they seemed to be enjoying themselves. 







Losing/Dying

1. Jorah Mormont

It's hard to pinpoint the worst development of the episode for the Lord Commander of the Friend Zone. Is it A) his unrequited love, Khaleesi, arranging to be wed, B) losing his boat and finding out he has several hundred miles of walking to do with a detoxing dwarf, or C) catching a disease that almost certainly turns you into a mindless rock person? You're right, it's definitely A. 


2. Family Dinners in Winterfell

Yikes! At this point, we're just running up the score on how awkward any scene with Ramsay and Theon can possibly be. Or any scene with a gentleman suitor trying to torment Sansa. Hey, speaking of...


3. The Battle for Sansa's Virginity

Has Vegas opened betting on when and with whom Sansa will first do the deed? Maybe the Iron Throne is just a MacGuffin, and Sansa's knickers are the real prize?  


4. Ramsay Bolton

Admittedly, karma hasn't tended to mean much in Thrones history, but if there's going to be an exception, it feels like Ramsay will be the victim. How many enemies can one man make? In a span of about 15 minutes, he provided reasons for his father, his betrothed, and his side squeeze to all actively plot against him. And it still feels like Theon will eventually matter again (because if not, why do we have to see him??).  


5. Elizabeth Webster (The Actress Playing Walda Bolton)

A few weeks ago, I joked about how Walda Bolton never had any lines, and her presence on the show really just amounted to an occasional fat joke to lighten the mood. But then she finally spoke, to announce she's pregnant, and now when Elizabeth Webster and her family watch the show to see her big star turn, they get to watch Ramsay asking his father how he found her vagina through her fat in order to have sex with her. Some paychecks just aren't worth earning. 


Confirmed Kills: 2 (1 Valyrian Stone Man impaled by Jorah Mormont, 1 unlucky head of a noble Meereen family, charbroiled and sloppily eaten by two hungry dragons)

Season Death Tally: 51



Saturday, May 9, 2015

Game of Thrones Power Rankings (S5, E4)






Season 5, Episode 4: "Sons of the Harpy"

Last Week's Rankings: "High Sparrow"

In the Game of Thrones, you win or you die. In that spirit, here’s your weekly look at who’s winning and who’s (slowly, painfully) dying.


Winning!

1. The Jaime & Bronn Road Trip

This is the third season in a row where we've seen two characters essentially go on a road trip together, and they've all been glorious. In Season 3 it was Jaime and Brienne, in Season 4 it was Arya and The Hound, and now we have Jaime and Bronn's bromantic holiday in Dorne. Westerosi road trips always leave a trail of bodies (doesn't everything in Westeros?), and they're always show highlights. 


2. Rhaegar Targaryen

In the 44-episode history of Game of Thrones, we've really only heard about four characters who were dead before the show began: John Arryn (the former Hand of the King whose death kicked off the events of the first episode), The Mad King Aerys Targaryen (father of Daenerys, killed by Jaime), Lyanna Stark (sister to Ned, formerly betrothed to Robert Baratheon), and Rhaegar Targaryen (older brother of Daenerys). 

We actually heard about Rhaegar twice this week, one story (told by Littlefinger) about how his desire for Lyanna caused a countless number of deaths, and one story (told by Ser Barristan) about how beloved he was by the people. We have every reason to believe both stories are true, as well as every reason to believe that their presence serves a greater purpose than mere entertainment and scene filler. Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are building the character of someone who's been dead for around 20 years, and there's going to be an important reason for it


3. The People of Dorne

In the words of Bronn, "The Dornish are crazy. All they want to do is fight and fuck, fuck and fight." If that's the case, why did we have to wait four seasons to meet these people?!? I picture an HBO exec hearing those words and immediately demanding at least three scenes per episode now take place in Dorne. 


4. Melisandre

I have no idea how or why she's winning, and she actually lost this week at getting Jon Snow to jump her bones. But Jon Snow knows nothing, and despite empirical evidence, it just feels like Melisandre is getting shit done. As with the way Littlefinger operates, if no one knows you're winning, no one's interested in dethroning you. 


5. The Legend of Ser Barristan

Ever since Ser Barristan was dismissed from the Kingsguard in Season 1 (when he boasted, "Even now, I could cut through the five of you like carving a cake!"), we've been hearing the legend of Ser Barristan's skills in the art of combat. Eventually, we had to see him in action, and we finally did this week. The legend did not disappoint, as we watched a man in his sixties take on eight Sons of the Harpy at once and nearly win. 







Losing/Dying

1. The Reality of Ser Barristan

Unfortunately, the problem with "nearly" winning an eight-on-one fight is it means you lost. Ser Barristan looked great taking on The Sons of the Harpy by himself, right up until the moment they killed him. 


2. Book Readers

For four years, book readers have had the ultimate Game of Thrones trump card, via the knowledge of what would happen next. That's how we ended up with stories like this one, where a teacher would threaten his unruly class with the reveal of who will die next. 

But with the Season 4 deaths of Mance Rayder and Ser Barristan Selmy--deaths which did not occur in the novels--book readers have officially lost the ace up their collective sleeves. Now they're slumming with the rest of us, victim of the week to week wait to see who lives and who gets got. 


3. House Tyrell

Last week, I wrote that "the paranoid and cornered iteration of Cersei is about to go on the rampage, and I can't wait." Well, I didn't have to wait long! One week later, Cersei practically took House Tyrell entirely off the King's Landing chess board in a single day. First, she sent jolly old Mace off to Braavos, accompanied by Ser Meryn Trant (who, we're to assume, has probably been tasked with killing Mace on the journey). Then, for her encore, she had Loras imprisoned for his sexual proclivities, which drove such a massive wedge into Tommen and Margaery's sex-bed-in that Margaery is fleeing back to Highgarden. 

Cersei is playing with a level of karmic wildfire that will almost certainly blow up in her face very soon. She's never been one to weigh long-term consequences against the instant gratification of sticking it to her enemies, and this is no different. But it's a blast to watch. 


4. The Legend of The Unsullied

We've spent two seasons hearing what badasses these guys are, and now they're getting slaughtered in the streets by a bunch of rich dudes with knives and masks? Grantland's Jason Concepcion explained how The Unsullied's fighting style and choice of weapon (a spear) aren't ideal for street fights, but still. It doesn't seem like they should be quite so easy to kill, nor should Grey Worm be the only guy that can hold his own in a scrap. 


5. King Tommen's Power

On the one hand, it's pretty impressive that Tommen had the maturity and understanding of the moment to walk away when he was prevented access to the High Sparrow. I mean, can you imagine how Joffrey would have handled that situation?? 

But on the other hand… how many aspects of leadership would you really trust Tommen with at this point? Is he the Ruler of the Seven Kingdoms, or just some kid who sits in an uncomfortable iron chair, letting his mom and wife tell him what to do? 

It's hard to say what fate awaits him. Game of Thrones has shown us that you'll die for all sorts of reasons, but just being kind of worthless hasn't been one of them. Yet. 


Honorable Mention: Brothels

After being such a fun location in the early seasons of the show that a new word was literally created to describe their function, now they're apparently the most dangerous place you can go. Just in the this season's four episodes, we saw a gruesome throat-slitting at the Meereen brothel, the High Septon was dragged naked out of the King's Landing brothel to be flogged in the streets, Tyrion got kidnapped at the Volantis brothel, and then we went back to the King's Landing brothel this week for a straight-up massacre. It's just terrible when people can't pay for sex in peace. #WesterosProblems


Confirmed Kills: 40 (I think)

It was a bit tricky reaching a number this week, as we saw the Sparrows wreak havoc on Littlefinger's brothel (with a lot of screams that may or may not have resulted from fatalities), and then the Sons of the Harpy and The Unsullied went at it, with a body count that was very difficult to keep track of. 

But 40 is my best guess, with the following breakdown: Ser Barristan Selmy, 20 Sons of the Harpy, 8 Unsullied, 4 Dornish Soldiers, 3 Former Slaves of Meereen, 2 Customers of Littlefinger's Brothel, 1 Pentosi Ship Captain, and 1 Snake. 


Season Death Tally: 49



Friday, May 1, 2015

Game of Thrones Power Rankings (S5, E3)



Season 5, Episode 3: "High Sparrow"

Last Week's Rankings: "The House of Black and White"

In the Game of Thrones, you win or you die. In that spirit, here’s your weekly look at who’s winning and who’s (slowly, painfully) dying.

Winning!


1.   Manipulation Tactics
   
More than any one character, the real winner of Episode 3, "High Sparrow," is the creative use of rhetoric being employed to manipulate others. We saw it three times this week--Margaery implanting seeds within Tommen to get Cersei the hell away from King's Landing, Littlefinger somehow convincing Sansa to marry the sadistic son of the guy who slaughtered half of her family, and Davos using an alternate interpretation of the Night's Watch Oath to get Jon Snow to help Stannis' goal of taking back the North. In all three cases, it could be argued that the manipulated characters--Tommen, Sansa, and Jon Snow--would be directly going against their best interests if they do what's being requested. But that's the power of great rhetoric: it's convincing. 

It's also interesting to wonder about the manipulation motivations. With Davos and Jon Snow (does anyone go by their full name more than this guy?), it's obvious--Stannis needs Jon's help for military action. With Margaery and Tommen, it's probably obvious--Margaery wants Cersei out of her hair so she can consolidate her power as queen. Though I do wonder if there's more to it than that. 

The case of Littlefinger and Sansa is more complicated. On the surface, it seems Littlefinger wants his little fingers in as many cookie jars of power as he can get. He already controls the Eyrie through his marriage to Lysa, through Sansa (who is his legal niece now) he would have a controlling interest in Winterfell, he allied with Lady Olena Tyrell in the murder of Joffrey, and he still owns the best brothel in King's Landing (clearly the ringer on his resume). Littlefinger's always been playing the long game, and the chess board is finally starting to diagram his strategy. 



2.   Character Origin Speeches
       
One of the real highlights of Game of Thrones are the rare occasions when a heretofore misunderstood character gives a long soliloquy about how they got the way they are. We saw it in Season 1, when Tyrion explained why he prefers whores by telling Bronn the story of his first marriage, and we saw it twice in Season 2, with Jamie telling Brienne about how he really came to be the Kingslayer, and Varys telling Tyrion about his true motivations whilst unpacking his nemesis from a dirt-filled box. 

This week, it was nice for Brienne to get her moment in the spotlight. And as with the others, her story is indeed a tragic one. 



3.   King Tommen’s Sex Life

Presented without comment: 






4.   Brothels


After an uncharacteristic total lack of nudity in last week's episode, we got two scenes set in brothels this week, including one with a completely unnecessary--yet always appreciated!--parade of breasts. Somewhere, two HBO accountants just fist-bumped.  

5.   Roose Bolton’s Wife


Has she even spoken a single line of dialogue yet? I love her constantly just standing there, smiling, basically acting as a human trophy to show that Roose Bolton won Westeros' contest for Best Soulless Asshole. 


  

Honorable Mention: Arya’s appropriation of The Hound’s favorite vocabulary word. 



It was great to hear her just let the "C-word" fly the moment someone hit her. 


Losing/Dying


1.   Janos Slynt


After Sam ridiculed him last week for cowering in the corner during the Battle of Castle Black ("In a puddle of his own making"), it was clear the show had gotten what it wanted out of the version of Janos with a still-attached head. 

Now let's pause for a moment to acknowledge one of the show's first real moments of karmic justice! After Janos betrayed the trust of Ned Stark in Season 1, leading to Ned's death, Tyrion exiled him to The Wall, where he ends up losing his head at the hands and sword of Ned's son. (Maybe.)


2.   Cersei’s Relevance Problem
   

Other than her shockingly sane and calm conversation with the titular High Sparrow, this was not a good week for Cersei, and she didn't even have to attend a Small Council meeting. In just one brief scene with Margaery and her harem of unsubtle gigglers, Cersei found her importance and title in the worst jeopardy they've ever been. And that was after the best Zing! ever:




The paranoid and cornered iteration of Cersei is about to go on the rampage, and I can't wait. 


3.   Sansa Stark’s Marriage Prospects, Continued…

This has been a continuing trend for Sansa. First, she was betrothed to Joffrey, official three-time "Most Evil Person in Westeros" Champion, as well as the man who murdered her father. Now, she's suddenly betrothed to Ramsay Bolton, the newly crowned "Most Evil Person in Westeros," and son of the man who murdered her brother. In between, she was creepily fawned over by Littlefinger, forcibly married to Tyrion, and harbored a highly misguided crush on dandy Loras Tyrell. Now that, my friends, is what we call a hot streak!


4.   Jon Snow’s Ned Stark Moment

One of the most telling moments of the episode was when Stannis tells Jon that he's just as honorable as his father, Jon says he can imagine no higher praise, and Stannis quickly snaps back, "I didn't mean it as a compliment. Honor got your father killed." And just a few minutes later, for the second episode in a row, we see one of our heroes publicly execute someone for disobeying their rule of law. 

It's hard, in that moment, not to immediately recall the first episode of the series, and our first real encounter with the Stark family, when Ned beheads a member of the Night's Watch for deserting. "He who passes the sentence should swing the blade," Ned says. And so Jon did. 


Will this end up mattering? Hard to say. It could just be that Janos died because he was a sniveling little bitch. But we've been conditioned to see Ned-isms as dangerous, and Stannis just reminded us minutes earlier that honor can get you killed in Westeros. 

5.   Tyrion’s Sex Life


If the most legendary appetite for whoring in the Seven Kingdoms has been extinguished, we truly are on the road to hell. 


Honorable Mention: Weddings. Before this week, Game of Thrones had given us five weddings: The Red Wedding and Joffrey's assassination were all-time classic scenes, Tyrion's wedding to Sansa was hilarious, and Daenerys' wedding to Khal Drogo at least gave us the immortal "A Dothraki wedding without at least three deaths is considered a dull affair" quote. True, Robb Stark's secret wedding to Talisa wasn't particularly memorable, but still, we as show-watchers had come to expect great things out of royal weddings! So it's sad that not only was Tommen and Margaery's wedding uneventful, but it was barely even a scene at all. More just a narrative reason to get us to Tommen's great moment of sexual non-prowess. 

If and when Sansa actually does marry Ramsay Bolton, I expect better. 


Confirmed Kills: 1 (Janos Slynt's severed head)

Season Death Tally: 9