The unheralded genius of Game of Thrones rests in its physical world-building. Throughout its run, the show has managed to bring so many places to life through a deft mix of location scouting, set design (production designer Deb Riley’s team deserves a ton of credit), and some well-timed CGI. You always know where you’re at without being explicitly told. This is critical for a show that cannot spare the expository dialogue. The opening credits, which show animated scale models of all the cities, certainly help as well. They allow the audience to get a feel for how these cities are built on a larger scale. GOT manages to disguise itself as a $250 million Hollywood epic despite, at least in the early seasons, being on a TV budget. Last nights episode, “The House of Black and White”, brought two (mostly) new locations into the fold.
For the entire series up to this point, both Dorne and Braavos have been places we keep hearing characters wax poetic about but never get to visit. Stannis may have gotten bad credit report news at The Iron Bank, but we never really got Braavos until last night when Arya finally arrived there to, presumably, become one of those crazy-ass assassins who can change their faces (If I was one, I would be Ryan Gosling from Crazy, Stupid, Love at all times). There was some outstanding work by the effects team on display when Arya canoed through the city, and director Michael Slovis seemed committed to showing us the city before actually diving into any story. The actual House of Black and White was spectaular, and there were some beautifully framed shots of Arya outside it. Add that to the lush gardens of Dorne as well as the most detailed look at a dragon yet, and we’re talking about a very visually-appealing GOT episode.
From a plot perspective, episode two still meanders a bit, but also puts some potentially interesting wheels in motion. One of those wheels is the impending voyage that Jaime and Bronn (Bronn!) will take to Dorne. I hope the producers have chosen to slow down with this storyline and not just get them there ASAP. Some of the shows finest moments have come from two wildly different characters out on the road together (Jaime/Brienne, Brienne/Pod, Arya/The Hound). These subplots offer up both comic relief and deep character study. I was worried that Bronn would essentially be written off the show now that Tyrion is out of King’s Landing, so I’m glad to get more of him here. He provides the brutal honesty many of the characters need to hear when they attempt to convince themselves that the world lives by some sort of code.
Speaking of Brienne and Pod, they’re now 0-2 in “getting back” the Stark girls. Brienne and Podrick are both loyal to a fault, and I have the uneasy feeling that it’s going to lead to their demise sooner rather than later. Many of GOT’s character arcs play off the classic concept of a tragic flaw leading to the death of a relatively well-natured individual. Of course, in Westeros, having any decency is a flaw. Ned Stark was too honest. Rob Stark chose love over duty. Even The Hound’s soft spot for Arya greatly contributed to his death (?).
Also, I love how Jaime refuses to call his children “his children”. He shows this subtle same. It’s really some fine acting from Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. I’m almost getting the feeling that Cersei is bored now. Jaime is uninterested in her royal games, Tywin is dead, Tyrion is drinking on the other side of the world. Assuming that Jaime actually does go on the road, she’ll be the only “A-list” character left in King’s Landing. People on the high council, such as her uncle, are starting to doubt her conviction. Lena Headey continues to do a remarkable job in the role. The cadence in her voice is so often chilling, manipulative, and just plain evil.
Jon Snow was quickly voted the new Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch after an inspiring locker-room speech from Sam in a plotline I expected to drag on for a couple of episodes. Though I personally would have enjoyed some good old-time politicking by the sworn brothers of the the Watch, I understand the urgency surrounding the growth of Jon Snow- the shows new male lead. Jon’s conversations with Stannis are very interesting and share a similar dynamic to those with the late Mance Rayder. Both men share a mutual respect for each other, but are in entirely different positions with entirely different sets of values. Stannis wants Jon to unite the wildlings and/or people of the north, become a king more or less, while Jon is still concerned with his duty and nothing more.
It’s interesting to see how cynical both Stark girls have become. They’ve experienced the sobering reality of Westeros and, unlike their parents and brothers, have learned from it. Arya and Sansa figure to have big roles to play in the end game, or else they would’ve been killed off, right? I still am unsure if Sansa is Littlefinger’s puppet or if she’s actually conjuring up these thoughts for herself. She’s straddling the line between virtuous and licentiousness in a very Richardsonian manner. She’s, of course, still a virgin who’s never really hurt anybody. But she’s far from the same girl who spoke out to save the drunk fool being tormented by Joffrey a few seasons back.
I’m getting sick of Khaleesi’s shit. Another episode with some played-out moral dilemma where she exhibits inexperience as a leader despite the words of her advisors. Yeah, the dragon was dope. But we need a major character or two (Tyrion and Varys?) to get to her quickly and save the damn plotline.
Also, I may have to watch again to confirm, but I don’t think there was ANY nudity in the episodes. Of the top of my head, the only other nipple-free episodes I can think of were the ones focused on the battles at the Blackwater and the Wall. I have long been a believer that the vast majority of the nudity on the show is completely unnecessary and often used as a crutch used to distract us in moments of boring expository dialogue (Myles McNutt refers to this as “Sexposition”).
If “The House of Black and White” seemed a bit leisurely with its pace, it’s only because it served primarily as an extension of the season premiere. We’ll see if the next few episodes contain shocking moments (it was early, episode 3 to be exact, last season where Joffrey was killed). But this was an episode that entertained for an entire hour despite not much actually happening. The appeal of Bravos was a big part of that.
Final Verdict: Despite more or less being “part 2” of the season premiere, “The House of Black and White” is a solid hour thanks to the shows impeccable technical achievements and the continued promise if impending chaos.
5 Quick Tidbits:
- The wheelchair-bound Prince of Dorne we met is Doran Martell, brother of the deceased Oberyn. He’s played by Alexander Siddig of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine fame. It’ll be interesting to see how the show handle the latest entry to its “Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things” category.
- Jaqen H’ghar, or at least the face of Jaqen H’ghar, returned after briefly testing Arya’s resolve. He serves as this weird father figure Arya.
- 2 episodes in and still no sign of Theon Greyjoy/Reek or Ramsay Bolton. This is fine with me, by the way.
- The next two episodes will are directed by TV-vet Mark Mylod. Mylod has served as a director/EP on a plethora of popular shows including Entourage, Shameless, Once Upon a Time, and The Affair.
- I love the idea of having Maester Aemon serving as the deciding vote in the new Lord Commander of The Night’s Watch. He has long been a mentor to Jon Snow, and even more so, Sam.