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Episode 10: Fire and Blood

I’m not sure where to begin with this review. The season is over, and I cannot believe it. It feels like just yesterday that it was Christmastime, and the Game of Thrones teasers were flashing across the HBO airwaves, and I was burying myself in ASOIAF lore in an attempt to sustain my fangirlish hunger until the show debuted.

A few months later HBO announced the premiere date: April 17. But that was still months away, so I had to trudge through internet message boards and Tower of the Hand essays to get my fix. And then the first episode premiered, and nine more episodes came and went. The last ten weeks have flown by, and now we have to suffer through an entire year without any Thrones. As the opening credits played for the Season Finale, I experienced a Pandora’s Box of emotions: anticipation, pride, excitement, fear, grief, despair, and longing. The theme song, which in the very least deserves the over-used adjective “epic,” made me feel like I was finishing the first leg of a terribly fantastic adventure.

I’ve been breaking down my reviews by location/character, but in order to preserve the power of the finale, I have kept this one chronological.

*As usual, this post contains spoilers for the Episode 10 and the ASOIAF books.

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Episode 9: Baelor

Sean Bean as Lord Eddard Stark

*This review contains spoilers for Baelor, Episode 9 of Game of Thrones, as well as the first ASOIAF novel, A Game of Thrones.*

Wow. And there it is, guys. For us book-readers, the one episode we’ve been anticipating all season. The instant we knew would shock, anger, drive away and reign in viewers who had not read the novels. A hallmark moment in A Song of Ice and Fire. Perhaps the most important sword swing in the series, and at least in the first book. The day that changed the course of Westeros forever, and the hour that cemented the fate of a widow, six children and a kingdom’s worth of commonfolk. Okay – you get it by now, right?

I’m writing a little bit late, as life has unfortunately kept me from finishing this review. But it’s been wonderful to see the reaction and be able to incorporate that here. I deeply, thoroughly enjoyed catching every “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!” or “HBO didn’t!” or “How COULD they?!” These seem like angry responses. And they are. But they also indicate passion – that people cared enough about Ned, or his children (or that they hated the Lannisters enough) to take to their Twitters or their Facebooks or blogs or Youtube channels and scream out their rage to the seven hells. Anger like that shows a connection. And if that’s the case, then we can say HBO has won. The biggest gamble going into Game of Thrones was whether or not viewers, especially those unaccustomed to fantasy, would care enough about the characters to wade through generation-long winters, packs of direwolves or schools of dragons, and a few ancient spells to keep coming back week after week.

I’m going to get into the actual review soon, but let me start off by saying I don’t know if this is the best episode. That’s a terrible choice to have to make, and I think the episodes from “The Golden Crown” up until now could all be in the running for the title. But in Baelor, there were scenes that clearly rank among the most emotionally poignant of the series to date. Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, this episode was an expression of the spirit behind this production. Although George wrote the story, and the design teams created the world, and the actors bring that world to life, it is the combination of David & Dan (D&D – I feel they must always be combined by an ampersand) that connects all the threads and weaves them into a tapestry. They are the cerebellum of the show – the seat of power that tells the feet where to walk and the hands what to grab and the eyes what to see and the mouth what to say. So, it was insightful and gripping to see what they chose to express on screen in their episode.

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Episode 8: The Pointy End

Maisie Williams as Arya Stark

I’ve written a book about this episode.  But I felt like there was so much I wanted to say.  I’m not sure if this was my favorite episode of the season (the last few weeks have been fantastic), but there’s no denying the excitement caused by the mere fact that George R.R. Martin himself wrote the screenplay for this hour.  I imagine that opportunity was almost like a way to write “alternate scenes” or to change things GRRM may have thought he would have done a different way after having nearly 15 years to ponder his work (A Game of Thrones was first published in August 1996).  For that reason, a lot of what I discuss demonstrates the differences between the text and show.

*This review contains spoilers for Episode 8 of Game of Thrones as well as the first four A Song of Ice and Fire books.  Please proceed with caution.*

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Episode 4: Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things

Kit Harington and Jon Bradley-West as Jon Snow and Sam Tarly.

*This post contains mild spoilers for A Song of Ice and Fire.  Please be careful if you are spoiler-sensitive.*

Tonight’s episode, “Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things,” almost felt like an appendix to the last three weeks. Just as the appendices in each ASOIAF book give us useful information about the histories of the noble houses, Episode 4 was full of backstory that enriches the events and characters we’ve seen the last three weeks.

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Episode 3: Lord Snow

Kit Harington as Jon Snow in HBO's Game of Thrones.

This episode was nearly the perfect blend of drama, humor, sass and badassery. The drama is ever-present. Ned has barely made it through the gates in King’s Landing before he’s summoned to the king’s council. “Flatterers and fools,” I think the book calls them? We have some great introductions here: With his few lines, Conleth Hill already really impressed me as Varys, and we’ve all known about Aidan Gillen’s impending spectacularacity since we found out he was going to be our Littlefinger. Renly was also there, played by Gethin Anthony, who I think has gone largely under-appreciated. Many fans (myself included) just didn’t see him as our image of Renly, but despite this, he deserves a chance. He had very little to say in Lord Snow, but I did detect a sense of casual indifference at the council table, and I think this is very fitting of our young lord of Storm’s End. My guess is that HBO made Renly a bit less, er, stereotypical, than he is on the page?  Julian Glover rounds out the round table as Grand Maester Pycelle, who at this point is just another old man in robes. He didn’t really get any intrigue this episode, but I’m assuming he’ll get some soon enough.

On the Wall, Jon Snow realizes this isn’t going to be like Winterfell, where he has built-in friends in his brothers. I consider myself a very proud, very devoted JS fangirl. But no one really likes him at Castle Black because, well, he’s that guy- that football player in high school who went to the elementary school where they didn’t just play pee-wee, they played to WIN, that guy that uses his brute strength and tackling ability to pick on the nerdier kids not because he necessarily dislikes like them, but because it’s what’s expected of him. Okay, maybe Jon’s not THAT bad.  But the true Jon Snow comes out with a little help from Halfman Tyrion Lannister (lols, Rast/whoever said it, aren’t you tall?!). And soon enough, Jon is helping out the kids he was just bashing around, showing them how to move and block and become a better fighter. After he comes to understand the situation, Jon really demonstrates his abilities as a leader, and as a good, honorable young man. And I love him for it. Next week, I’m sure we’ll see these traits develop even further when he meets Samwell Tarly.

I actually laughed at several moments in this episode, which was a nice break after the terrible events of last week (Lady and Mycah, we will never forget you!). First off, Arya’s knife stabbing breakfast. When she tells Sansa she’s practicing for the Prince?! I LOVE YOU ARYA. Ned’s line to Septa Mordane: “War was easier than daughters.” I’ve never had a daughter, but I have been a daughter, and I’m going to wager to say this is probably true. The exchange between Tyrion and Yoren was brilliantly written- the equivalent of going into a bar and finding the two regulars sitting in the back reminiscing about their crazy, mixed-up lives. Benjen tries to kill the fun, but Tyrion still makes out okay – “Do you think I’m plump?” Syrio added a bit of comic relief as well, mainly due to his Braavosi accent. His phrases like, “this is not a great-sword that be needing two hands” or “the Westeros” had me giggling not only because they sound silly, but more so because that’s actually how non-English speakers sometimes speak English. I lived in Italy for a few months in college, and can imagine an Italian using those types of phrases in English (and for the record, I know I did the same in Italian). Don’t be fooled though, Syrio isn’t just comedic. See below.

Before I get to sass and badassery though, I just want to point out my favorite comedy bit of the episode: BACK ALLEY SALLY. You had to have known it was going to be her. I’m desperately waiting for an opportunity to bring Back Alley Sally into my regular vocabulary. She deserves it.

Cat’s line about Sally may have been funny to me, but within the context of the story, it was indignant and sassy. Cat showed she was repulsed by the fact that Petyr brought her to a brothel. I don’t think the repulsion came from a haughty place- as in she thought herself too good to be there because of her rank- but from a purity. Cat is a mother and loyal wife, an honorable woman; her love comes from a noble place, unlike the whores in whose company she found herself. And the fact that Petyr, a man she considers a little brother, brought her there made it all the worse. Either way, this was a scene in which I found TV Catelyn to be more sassy and grounded than the Catelyn in the novels. While reading, I was essentially ambivalent to the character. But Michelle Fairley has made me love her.

Badasses. There’s no specific formula that makes someone a badass. You just either are or you are not. Syrio Forel most definitely is. He’s already a tidal wave with a sword, and we’ve only seen him training with a 10-year-old girl. That’s another aspect of Syrio that makes him totally badass: He’s the Mr. Miyagi mentor type, full of power that is unseen but that we all just know is there, teaching a kid that could really benefit from the discipline his teachings instill. Teacher of the Year, Badass of the Week, Best Westeros Robert Downey Jr. Lookalike…there are so many awards I want to give Syrio. Miltos Yerolemou might not be the exact Syrio we know from the novels, but he’s perfect as his own Syrio.

Let’s move now from the former First Sword to the Sealord of Braavos to the sworn sword of the King of Westeros. Oh yes, Barristan the Bold finally showed up, and it was marvelous. Ian McElhinney barely had any lines, but he didn’t really need them yet. His presence, stature and demeanor alone were enough to show he’s someone not to be messed with.

And we can’t forget Rakharo. He was strangling Viserys with his whip and all the while just sat on his horse chillin’. How’s that for casual?

The first episode felt like exposition, and the second episode felt like transition. Lord Snow felt like the writers were finally able to have a little fun with the characters. The pacing felt much better during the first half hour. It slowed down perhaps a bit too much around Robert’s Reminiscence (he won the Rebellion, but did he win this?), despite brilliant performances and the debut of Barristan Selmy, but peaked again in Arya’s training scene. This hour was packed with great character moments, and you can sense the plot gears winding up for the big release. I can’t wait.

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What’s in a Name? STARK Edition

*This post contains spoilers for all four ASOIAF books; please do not continue beyond the cut if you are wary of book spoilers.* 

Some parents choose their children’s names because of their meanings. Others simply choose names they like and never bother with the significance. The name may end up fitting the child, or it may end up having an arbitrary meaning that doesn’t relate at all to the personality the child develops. Parents, when choosing a name, never know how their child will turn out.

Authors, meanwhile, do possess this knowledge before or during the naming process. George Martin, the father of ASOIAF, has a cast of hundreds of characters, all of whom he got to name. But what do characters’ names say about them? Do the meanings of their names match up with their personalities or deeds? In this article I will examine the etymologies of the names of several characters from the series and will analyze if and how the name fits with the character.

For this first batch, I have selected what is arguably the central family of ASOIAF: House Stark.

Note:  All first names were researched using Behind the Name: The Etymology of History and First Names, unless otherwise cited.

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