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Old Mars edited by George R R Martin and Gardner Dozois

January 31, 2014 Leave a comment

Old-Mars-350773-86a859b3e2edd6690e9e

Old Mars edited by George R R Martin and Gardner Dozois (Bantam Books, 2013) is introduced in “Red Planet Blues” by George R R Martin. The editors are of an age to have grown up with the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs and other early fictioneers who preferred the idea of our solar system’s planets being full of life just waiting to be discovered. Venus was a jungle world enveloped in mists and full of potentially dangerous life forms. Mars was the world of canals and a dying civilisation. And so on. There was a great deal of romance in the old-fashioned sense of the world as magic and science merged in simple, linear story lines of daring-do. By modern standards, the majority of these stories are badly written. So simply to recreate stories in a long-dead style would be a pointless venture. If people really want to read the supposed classics of this period, they are fairly easily obtained for a few pennies on the secondhand market. Consequently, this anthology is aiming for a retro feel with enough substance and, if appropriate, postmodern whimsy, to appeal to modern readers. For some of the authors, this proves to be a challenge too far. For others who are old enough in the tooth to have supped wine from the cups of pulp, the updating is something of a triumph.

 

“Martian Blood” by Allen M. Steele shows the strength and weakness of this theme. The set-up is genuinely interesting albeit not very original in trying to prove a scientific hypothesis. We happily pursue the plot hoping for something new or interesting. Perhaps there will be a twist we haven’t seen before. But when the end comes around, there’s no resolution. Instead of solving the problem and potentially preventing the outbreak of violence between Earth and the aborigines of Mars, all our hero has done is kick the can down the road. Not quite the return we expected for the predictable cure he administered. Although perhaps we’re supposed to think the genie was out of the bottle once the question had been asked back on Earth and that, sooner or later, someone would try again. “The Ugly Duckling” by Matthew Hughes seems to be a better balance between the old fantasy feel of Mars and more modern sensibilities. This time an archaeologist infiltrates a mining operation as it begins work to dismantle an old Martian town. He’s the stereotypical egghead surrounded by roughnecks in a place of wonder the miners can never appreciate. The question then becomes what represents the value of understanding a past culture and leaves us wondering what the swan will look like.

George R R Martin

George R R Martin

 

“The Wreck Of The Mars Adventure” by David D. Levine is a classic rerun of a science fantasy trope in which an adapted sailing vessel crosses the void between Earth and Mars, and then recovers from a crash landing to begin its return journey. It’s delightfully wacky as the sailors struggle with unexpected problems in navigating using the solar winds and then learn to trade with Martians for materials with which to rebuild the ship. “Swords Of Zar-tu-kan” by S.M. Stirling is a pleasing piece of noir set on the red planet with a kidnapping requiring tracking and extraction — not too difficult with an optimal canid to follow the scent trail and a Coercive to back up the human in the rescue mission. It flows nicely because it presents the extraordinary as ordinary and not needing explanation.

 

“Shoals” by Mary Rosenblum is a modern story pretending to be retro. None of the pulp writers would have been interested in a young man who could interact with Martians in a fractionally different dimension overlaid on the reality humans can see. Because he can interact with these beings, he can protect his human community but also plan an eternal life. It’s a rather beautiful story. “In The Tombs Of The Martian Kings” by Mike Resnick is a wonderful pulpish story of two adventurers who accept a commission to find the tomb and then begin a whole new negotiation. The sardonic humour of the piece elevates it to a higher level. “Out Of Scarlight” by Liz Williams is something of a curiosity. It’s a high class, high fantasy story of three different people tracking down an escaped slave, but I see nothing to require the reader to place this story on Mars. It could have been set anywhere. “The Dead Sea-bottom Scrolls” by Howard Waldrop is another delightful story but not at all pulpy.

Gardner Dozois

Gardner Dozois

 


“A Man Without Honor” by James S.A. Corey again sees eighteenth century ships of the line suddenly dragooned into service outside Earth’s atmosphere. This time, it all comes down to the word of an Englishman. Can he really be relied on to act as honour dictates? “Written In Dust” by Melinda Snodgrass is a standout story about a family out in the Martian boondocks next to the only remaining Martian city. The tragedy in the human relationships is all too recognisable. It’s a shame people make such problems for themselves through their inflexibility. “The Lost Canal” by Michael Moorcock is an author just having the greatest fun possible with two likely lovers going underground to save the world and have a drink of water. “The Sunstone” by Phyllis Eisenstein is a surprisingly sentimental story in which the notion of what it means to have a home is explored. Obviously, it could just be a physical place where you hang your hat, or it could be membership of a wider cultural construct. “King Of The Cheap Romance” by Joe R. Lansdale plays the game well with an implacable monster in pursuit of the resolute girl as she hurries to deliver the vital vaccine across the Martian ice. It touches all the bases of dead Martian culture as our hero takes a whistle-stop tour of a previous battle site while fighting her own. “Mariner” by Chris Roberson preserves the pulpish feel by engaging in matters piratical as a misplaced human sailor takes command of a Martian ship with interesting political repercussions. “The Queen Of Night’s Aria” by Ian Mcdonald produces a great wave of irrepressible fun as we rerun the oft-forgot Space Opera by Jack Vance with an Irish tenor playing Mars and winning in the final act. I’m not at all sure H G wells would have approved of this continuation of his great conflict, but it’s a rousing way to bring the curtain down on this anthology. Albeit slightly uneven in tone, Old Mars nevertheless represents very good value for money.

 

For reviews of other anthologies by our top editorial team, see:
Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance,
Songs of Love and Death and
Warriors.

 

For an anthology edited by Gardner Dozois on his own, see:
The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Seventh Annual Collection
The Year’s Best Science Fiction Twenty-Eighth Annual Collection
The Year’s Best Science Fiction Twenty-Ninth Annual Collection
The Year’s Best Science Fiction Thirtieth Annual Collection.

 

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

 

Game of Thrones: Season 2 — the HBO series considered

August 14, 2012 4 comments

 

Game of Thrones is based on A Song of Ice and Fire by George R R Martin. The content of Season 2 in this television adaptation by HBO is drawn from A Clash of Kings. As before, the production is helmed by David Benioff and D B Weis. Here is the link to my retrospective overview of Game of Thrones Season 1. This is a spoiler-rich discussion of what happens in each episode, so do not read this if you want to watch without prior knowledge.

 

Having now watched both seasons, I’m convinced there’s an insuperable problem in trying to bring these novels to the small screen as written. We see separate scenes with no meaningful interaction between them. The best way to resolve this would have been to make the Iron Throne the central point of view. We could then watch who held it and lost it, who gained it and held it, and who ended up with it when all the fighting was over. Reports could come in telling us what was happening in different parts of the world, and we could see different characters reacting, or not reacting, to each piece of news. So Varys (Conleth Hill) might be interested in how Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) was getting on, but no-one else would care. No-one at all would care what was happening north of the Wall, but there would still be reports coming in from the Night’s Watch. That’s the way bureaucracies work. News comes into the centre and plans are, or are not, made in response. So this season could have been the world as seen through the eyes of all the key players in Kings Landing. Watching Tyrion Lannster (Peter Dinklage) try to manage Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) and Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), manoeuvring to make alliances with Petyr Baelish aka Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) and Varys, and generally acting as the Hand would have provided the necessary focus.

 

In any society, when history looks back, it sees only the one unique set of circumstances that caused this particular result. Everything else is either irrelevant or conjectural. This season is littered with events that have no real bearing on the reality of who controls the Iron Throne. We see all the people who might, if circumstances had been different, have advanced their claims. Many are now dead. Well that was exciting.

 

In this, I acknowledge joining the ranks of the iconoclasts. For some reason, fans of the books are demanding a word-by-word translation of their sacred text to the screen. Yet what works reasonably well on the page definitely does not work well on the small screen. In this season, we build up to the Blackwater Battle only to have a whistle-stop tour round the rest of the known world finding out how everyone else is getting on. How can that possibly have any dramatic tension? Does anyone still care what happens to Daenerys and her dragons. And as for the Starks and Jon Snow (Kit Harington), they’re just boys flailing around and making a mess of things. The books are sprawling works and, as they proceed to get ever more diffuse, I found myself as a reader increasingly bored with some elements. Trying to bring all these characters to a television series is completely wrongheaded. There’s no way any story can maintain pace and momentum when we keep moving from one disconnected set of scenes to another with a cast of thousands no-one cares about.

 

More importantly, even as adapted, the faithful are howling in despair over the departures from the books. For example, the whole plotline featuring Daenerys and her dragons has been rewritten. George R R Martin has Daenerys go into the House of the Undying to learn about the future. The dragons have not been kidnapped. That all this additional drama was felt necessary is an admission by the show’s developers that, as written, this section of the Daenerys story is fundamentally uninteresting. “I must rescue my babies. . .” is a sign of desperation. Then we have the drive to make Joffrey even more hateful with his voyeuristic sadism towards the girls sent by Tyrion. It’s the same with Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) where the scriptwriters have done their worst. In the books, he’s allowed to surrender Winterfell. Moving in the opposite direction, everything between Arya (Maisie Williams) and Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) has been changed. While at Harrenhal, she almost never encounters Tywin and she’s the one who kills the guard to complete the escape. This is her final transformation from a reasonably nice little girl into a cold-blooded killer. I see absolutely no justification for television forcing her to rely on Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha) for a rescue when she’s perfectly capable of saving herself. Finally, this new storyline involving Robb Stark (Richard Madden) and Talisa Maegyr (Oona Chaplin) seems unnecessary. Any relationship with a woman from outside the Westeros would be bad karma. At least the books have some degree of credibility in the casual way in which Robb beds Jeyne Westerling. I could go on pointing out novelties but you should get the idea. Most of these innovations are not an improvement.

 

So, sadly, I’m lining up with the naysayers to this series. Season 1 was terrific but Season 2 has completely lost its way by too literally following the structure of the novels.

 

For reviews of Season 2, see:
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 1. The North Remembers
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 2. The Night Lands
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 3. What Is Dead May Never Die
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 4. Garden of Bones
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 5. The Ghost of Harrenhal
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 6. The Old Gods and the New
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 7. A Man Without Honor
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 8. The Prince of Winterfell
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 9. Blackwater
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 10. Valar Morghulis

 

Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 10. Valar Morghulis

 

Game of Thrones is based on A Song of Ice and Fire by George R R Martin. The content of Season 2 in this television adaptation by HBO is drawn from A Clash of Kings. As before, the production is helmed by David Benioff and D B Weis. Here is the link to my retrospective overview of Game of Thrones Season 1. This is a spoiler-rich discussion of what happens in each episode, so do not read this if you want to watch without prior knowledge.

 

When Tyrion Lannster (Peter Dinklage) wakes, he discovers Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) has assumed the role of the Hand and, to celebrate, has made Tyrion a prisoner — a perfect end to a perfect day. Varys (Conleth Hill) explains to Tyrion he’s now without friends among the nobles. Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) did, after all, try to have him killed on the battlefield. But the people love him for saving the city which makes him feel a whole lot better. Shae (Sibel Kikilli) wants Tyrion to leave, but he likes being close to power so decides to stay and play the game.

Gwendoline Christie and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau literally bonding

 

There’s a tearful moment as self-interest finally pays out with a reward. Petyr Baelish aka Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) is given Harrenhal for bringing the Tyrells to rescue the Lannisters. Looking seductive, Lady Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) asks whether she can be Queen to Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) and, after Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) is cast aside, Margaery gets a round of applause if only for having the nerve to wear that dress in public. Varys meanwhile moves to recruit one of Littlefinger’s whores as a spy — you just can’t have too many spies. Out in the sticks, Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) fights Stark’s men to keep Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) safe — a stupid if noble thing to do given she’s only loyal to Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) and could just have left Jaime to his fate. Now back in family mode, Robb Stark (Richard Madden) discusses the notion of love with his mother and confirms his desire to marry Talisa Maegyr (Oona Chaplin), the immediate bird in the hand, and not the politically convenient bird on the House Frey bridge. So he ignores Catelyn’s warning about what happens to oath breakers, and the happy couple tie the knot in an official civil ceremony.

Alfie Allen inspiring his troops to fight

 

Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) remonstrates with Melisandre (Carice Van Houten) for failing to warn him he was going to lose. She puts on a brave front and convinces him he will be victorious and become King. The only price is that he must betray everyone around him. Having ordered the death of his brother, he should have no problem with that. And talking of experts in betrayal, Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) is under siege in Winterfell and remembers as a child how everyone said he was lucky to be a hostage. Sadly, he feels he can’t run because everyone will think him a coward — an incredibly stupid reason even by his standards. Maester Luwin (Donald Sumpter) makes the constructive suggestion he could make a strategic retreat to the Wall where the law can’t touch him. Unfortunately his loyal Iron Islanders think he would do better in the care of those besieging them. They knock out their revered leader, leave Maester Luwin fatally wounded and burn Winterfell. Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) is there when the Maester dies. With his final words, he sends them north to the Wall where he says Jon Snow (Kit Harington) will look after them. Except Laughing Boy Snow is a prisoner of the Wildings and, to impress the locals with his betrayal skills, he kills Qhorin Halfhand (Simon Armstrong) in self-defence. Now he’s going to meet the King Beyond the Wall while Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) has a more exciting encounter with some dead folk.

John Bradley gets his first sight of one of the “Others”

 

In the House of the Undead, there are visions of the Iron Throne in a ruined King’s Landing, of the ice beyond the Wall, of Khal Drogo and the son that was never born to them, but always Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) hears the cries of her dragons and is not tempted by the unreal. When Pyat Pree (Ian Hanmore) finally puts in an appearance in the flesh, her dragons burn him and set her free — sadly the wrong way round but you just can’t get sensible dragons these days. When she and Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) open the giant safe, they find it empty. Yet another con trick revealed, so they fill it with the giant personality of Xaro Xhoan Daxos (Nonso Anozie), steal all his moveables and go off to buy a ship. And Arya (Maisie Williams) gets the magic password featuring as the title to this episode. More about that comes in Season 3 if we feel strong enough to watch it. Fortunately, this brings Season 2 to an end with just a final set of conclusions to come from me.

 

For reviews of Season 2, see:
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 1. The North Remembers
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 2. The Night Lands
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 3. What Is Dead May Never Die
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 4 Garden of Bones
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 5. The Ghost of Harrenhal
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 6. The Old Gods and the New
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 7. A Man Without Honor
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 8. The Prince of Winterfell
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 9. Blackwater
Game of Thrones: Season 2 — the HBO series considered

 

Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 9. Blackwater

 

Game of Thrones is based on A Song of Ice and Fire by George R R Martin. The content of Season 2 in this television adaptation by HBO is drawn from A Clash of Kings. As before, the production is helmed by David Benioff and D B Weis. Here is the link to my retrospective overview of Game of Thrones Season 1. This is a spoiler-rich discussion of what happens in each episode, so do not read this if you want to watch without prior knowledge.

 

Well, for better or worse, here comes the battle for Kings Landing. Believe me when I tell you, watching this serial has become a chore. The first series was beautifully structured to give a direct plot line development to confirm the death of the King and his Hand, leaving the field open for the claimants to fight. This was something we could all relate to and cheer on. Sadly, the set of episodes to date has been all over the map without any clear idea of where it’s going. As evidence of this, welcome to the battle that should be the climax to this season. What we should have seen is all the dead wood cut away and a simple series of events leading to the failure of the primary claimant to take Kings Landing. We could then have gone away, licked our wounds, and considered what was happening north of the Wall and in other parts of the world as the start of the next season. As it is, we have to sit through an hour-long battle, only then to have a further hour to see what’s happening elsewhere. What should have been a real cliffhanger with everyone who has not read the books uncertain as to whether Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) survives, is going to be dragged out with redundant information in the final episode.

Jerome Flynn as Bron showing that, to start a battle, just point and shoot

 

So with Neil Marshall, a film director, brought into play in the hope his visual style can make a television hour of fighting a watchable fifty minutes, we’re off with Ser Davos Seaworth (Lian Cunningham) and his son leading the Navy towards King’s Landing. His son has naive faith they will win. Ser Davos has the experience to know it will not be easy. Tyrion lies with Shae (Sibel Kikilli) and reflects on his fear. But he’s a Lannister and he doesn’t have a choice. Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) gets some poison — just in case. Bron (Jerome Flynn), Tyrion’s sell-sword, and Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann) as The Hound exchange pointers on killing as they put the whores to one side and get ready for battle. Varys (Conleth Hill) gives Tyrion a map of the tunnels under the city. The captain of the ship always says he will go down with it when the ship is still afloat. But Varys offers the encouraging thought that Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) is being helped by dark forces and having such a man on the throne would be a disaster. So Tyrion had better win. Cersei keeps order by killing those who would run away. She keeps herself calm by drinking wine. Lots of wine. She mocks Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) for praying.

Lena Headey as Cersei in her cups

 

Ser Davos wonders where the opposing fleet is. Then only one unmanned ship comes into view and the wild fire is released. Stannis and some of the army survives and they press the attack on the walls. The Hound decides he’s had enough and leaves the field with a sack of wine. Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) has enough sense to see he’s losing and makes a strategic retreat. This leaves Tyrion to rally the citizenry as troops. “Don’t fight for honour. That’s your city he’s attacking, your women he’s going rape.” he tells those who will listen. When put to it, Tyrion has a nice inspirational line for those daft enough to still be around to listen. Sansa also starts a choir singing hymns but, on Shae’s advice, runs to hide in her room where, to her surprise, the Hound is waiting. He proposes to leave the King to die on his own, and offers to take her to Winterfell, to keep her safe.

Jack Gleeson gives words of encouragement to Peter Dinklage

 

When Tyrion’s last play seems to have failed, Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) and his troops suddenly show up and drive off the remnants of the invading army. So near and yet so far. So much for the powers of the seer! Now Cersei need not commit suicide and we’ve another season of her witlessness to suffer. Even Joffrey survives! If only Tywin could have kept his deus in the machina and killed off Robb, we could have had a great Season 3 with him fighting Stannis to recover the Iron Throne. As it is, we have a city siege on the cheap with a lot of running around in the dark with mist to help conceal the small number of extras in the attacking and defending armies. It shows what can be done with flair and style on a shoe-string budget. Thanks to whatever divinity you believe in there’s only one more episode to go.

 

For reviews of Season 2, see:
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 1. The North Remembers
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 2. The Night Lands
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 3. What Is Dead May Never Die
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 4. Garden of Bones
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 5. The Ghost of Harrenhal
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 6. The Old Gods and the New
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 7. A Man Without Honor
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 8. The Prince of Winterfell
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 10. Valar Morghulis
Game of Thrones: Season 2 — the HBO series considered

 

 

This episode is nominated for the 2013 Hugo Awards for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form.

Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 8. The Prince of Winterfell

 

Game of Thrones is based on A Song of Ice and Fire by George R R Martin. The content of Season 2 in this television adaptation by HBO is drawn from A Clash of Kings. As before, the production is helmed by David Benioff and D B Weis. Here is the link to my retrospective overview of Game of Thrones Season 1. This is a spoiler-rich discussion of what happens in each episode, so do not read this if you want to watch without prior knowledge.

 

Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) gets a lesson in leadership from his sister who calls him weak and stupid. Their power comes from their ships, not from the land. Now he’s killed the boys, every man in the North wants to kill him, so she begs him to come home with her to avoid death at Winterfell. For once his sister is showing signs of affection. Showing a similar female desire to save the men from themselves, Ygritte (Rose Leslie) protects Jon Snow (Kit Harington) but Qhorin Halfhand (Simon Armstrong) has also been captured, the rest of the not-so-elite SEALs killed. The two survivors are being taken to meet Manse Rayder — and not before time.

Alfie Allen still alive

 

Robb Stark (Richard Madden) tells Talisa Maegyr (Oona Chaplin), his girlfriend-in-waiting, that he’s pledged to marry as the price of controlling a bridge. Being a lord is like being a father except you have thousands of children to protect. Thinking of her children, Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) lets Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) go as the price she agreed with Petyr Baelish aka Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen), supposedly for releasing Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Arya (Maisie Williams). As a reward for giving in to her maternal instincts, Catelyn is to be kept locked up until Robb decides she’s been locked up long enough. Meanwhile, Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Chrstie) and Jaime bond as she takes him towards King’s Landing probably aware in their bones that Robb has sent men to track them down. Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) decides to march against Robb so Arya wants to escape Harrenhal. Thanks to a nice trick, Arya gets Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha) to help her escape. It’s all working out well for her.

Oona Chaplin tempting the man from the path of righteousness

 

While Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) is looking in books to find out how to defend King’s Landing against Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane), his loyal sell-sword, now promoted to wear the Gold Cloak, has been going around killing all the known thieves. He offers the insight, not in books, that the biggest danger during a siege is that the people get hungry and, when there’s nothing left to steal, they eat the weak (or the rich who can’t defend themselves). In his description of war at StormsEnd, Stannis Baratheon confirms this foody trend to Sir Davos Seaworth (Lian Cunningham) who will be the Hand if Stannis wins. He ate all the animals he could find.

Peter Dinklage and Conleth Hill read Warfare For Dummies

 

Most Kings are groomed for the role as Princes. They grow up watching their fathers and his court rule. Robb is different because he grew up with no expectation of ruling anything other than Greyfel. He wants to know how Talisa Maegyr became interested in medicine. She describes a scene as children when her younger brother drowned. A slave who worked on a fishing boat, applied artificial respiration until he could breathe on his own. She decided she would not waste her time as a noble lady and would never live in a slave city again. So Robb gives up the bridge and beds the doctor. Tyrion describes how Tywin put him in charge of the plumbing. He was good at making the shit flow down into the sea. And talking of shit flowing, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) thinks she’s found Tyrion’s woman and puts it to him that, if Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) dies, his whore will die. Unfortunately she has the wrong whore. Later, when he’s with Shae (Sibel Kikilli), he comes close to admitting real love. It’s his weakness.

 

Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) asserts the dragons are her children and the only children she will ever have. Against his better judgement, Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) agrees to take his (love) to the House of the Undying where Pyat Pree (Ian Hanmore), the warlock, is keeping them. At Winterfell, Maester Luwin (Donald Sumpter) discovers the trick with the bodies and begs Osha (Natalia Tena) not to tell Bram.

 

As the calm before the battle for King’s Landing, this is a moving meditation on the value people place on their own lives and the lives of others. We see the stupidity of Joffrey who has no idea how to rule or mount the defence of King’s Landing. Stannis and Sir Davos Seaworth have been through thick and thin, taking all the abuse society can pile of them, but now they have the chance to rise to the top. Tyrion and Varys (Conleth Hill) finally acknowledge each other as excellent players of the game. Robb does something for himself, and Theon sinks deeper into the mire.

 

For reviews of Season 2, see:
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 1. The North Remembers
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 2. The Night Lands
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 3. What Is Dead May Never Die
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 4 Garden of Bones
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 5. The Ghost of Harrenhal
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 6. The Old Gods and the New
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 7. A Man Without Honor
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 9. Blackwater
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 10. Valar Morghulis
Game of Thrones: Season 2 — the HBO series considered

 

Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 7. A Man Without Honor

 

Game of Thrones is based on A Song of Ice and Fire by George R R Martin. The content of Season 2 in this television adaptation by HBO is drawn from A Clash of Kings. As before, the production is helmed by David Benioff and D B Weis. Here is the link to my retrospective overview of Game of Thrones Season 1. This is a spoiler-rich discussion of what happens in each episode, so do not read this if you want to watch without prior knowledge.

With only nuts to keep them going, Hodor (Kristian Nairn) carries Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) with Osha (Natalia Tena) and Rickon (Art Parkinson) in support

 

As is appropriate given the episode’s title, A Man Without Honor, Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) is frustrated and angry when he discovers Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) has disappeared, but manages to say encouraging things to Maester Luwin (Donald Sumpter) about what a good-behaved little boy he’d been when he was a hostage. His conclusion as he leads the pack of hounds to track down the runaways, “Don’t look so grim, Maester, it’s all just a game.” The idea that it’s better to be seen as cruel rather than appear weak neatly sums up this unpleasant little man. Meanwhile, with Osha (Natalia Tena) leading the way, Hodor (Kristian Nairn) carries Bran further away with Rickon (Art Parkinson) in tow. But they know they can’t outrun the hounds forever. Waking after a night without passionate sex, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) finds himself the butt of sexual jokes from Ygritte (Rose Leslie). Do you have sheep at the Wall? No! No wonder you’re all so miserable! It’s a laugh a minute, but the vow of celibacy defines Jon as a man of honour and forms the basis of his emerging reputation. The sparky argument with Ygritte does pose an interesting question. If people have been living on both sides of the Wall for generations, why are they fighting each other? She tries to seduce him into abandoning his oath and joining Mance Rayder. When that fails, she runs off and leads Jon into a trap where he’s captured. At least he’s saved the embarrassment of having to pretend he’s in control.

Arya (Maisie Williams) offers Tywin (Charles Dance) a little more conversation

 

Back at Harrenhal, Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) thinks he was the intended victim of the murder at his door yet, in his new role of surrogate Daddy to Arya (Maisie Williams), he still has time to chat with her and feed her mutton. He tells her how Herrenhal fell to the dragons, but she fills in all the gaps in his version of the history. He concludes she’s only pretending to be low born and that she’s too clever for her own good. At least he’s not completely stupid. Alton Lannister (Karl Davies) returns to Robb Stark (Richard Madden) with the rejection of the peace terms by Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) and, as a reward for having the honour to keep his oath to return, he’s placed in the same lock-up as Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). Happy as two peas in a pod, the prisoners remember the fun times they had when young and then Jaime explains his plan to escape. Meanwhile Robb Stark has taken Talisa Maegyr (Oona Chaplin) off to the Crag to top up her supply of medical supplies. Naturally, to preserve his reputation for nobility and honour in battle, he wants her to be able to treat the wounded of both sides. This leaves Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) to defend the recaptured Jaime until Robb returns.

Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) in a spot of bother

 

Having held back time for months, Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) bleeds and thereby announces she’s physically able to bear children and so available to marry Joffrey (Jack Gleeson). Overcome with joy at this prospect, she runs to Cersei who offers womanly wisdom. Essentially this comes down to loving her children and trying to avoid being killed by everyone else. Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) has news that a fleet representing Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) is about four days away and twice the size of their navy. He and Cersei lack confidence in the planning of the defence. Caught in a moment of truthfulness, Cersei admits to the incest and opines that Joffrey is her punishment. Off in distant Qarth, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) trusts Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) to find the stolen dragons. He gets the information from Quaithe (Laura Pradelska), but arrives too late to stop the coup organised by Xaro Xhoan Daxos (Nonso Anozie) and made possible by Pyat Pree (Ian Hanmore). It seems the warlock has the dragons.

Xaro Xhoan Daxos (Nonso Anozie) and Pyat Pree (Ian Hanmore) seize power

 

It’s fascinating that a contemporary fantasy series should feature two such awful people. This is not to say any of them are very nice. Indeed, by and large, they are a murderous bunch except for Tywin Lannister who’s increasingly demonstrating a cuddly side. But several of them have qualities we can respect if not actually like. This leaves us with Joffrey as a sadistic boy with megalomania coming on fast. Theon, however, must win a prize because his cruel streak comes from his cowardice. He’s genuinely despicable — his deception over the burning of the boys is gratuitously callous to protect his reputation but without any sense of what that does for his chances of survival in one piece. The women come out of this well. Ygritte is having fun at Jon’s expense, and the tag team of Catelyn and Brienne is shaping up well. Unfortunately, the pace of events north of the Wall is appropriately glacial, King’s Landing is in a holding pattern until Stannis arrives, and Winterfell is under the control of a boy who grew up into A Man Without Honor. Events in Qarth are happening, but I can’t say any of this is terribly exciting.

 

Thematically, the episode seems to be about the different ways in which people can enhance or lose their reputations. When she no longer controls the dragons, Daenerys discovers she has nothing (except the undeclared love of Ser Jorah Mormont). This continues her underwhelming contribution to the excitement level in this series. Xaro Xhoan Daxos has an impeccable reputation for having climbed to the top of the commercial heap from nothing, while the Spice King (Nicholas Blane) proves a disposable asset when he’s on the wrong side. Theon doesn’t realise that being seen as cruel is usually taken as a sign of weakness by others. Jaime no longer cares what others think of him, hence his successful plan to escape, while Cersei is finally prepared to admit Joffrey is a monster. In all this, the most interesting man is Jaime. It’s not that he’s without honour. It’s just that his code is not the same as everyone else’s. All in all, A Man Without Honor offers a lot of violence to compensate for the lack of sex. HBO must have some element to maintain its reputation for being edgy even though the pace of progress is slowing down quite dramatically.

 

For reviews of Season 2, see:
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 1. The North Remembers
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 2. The Night Lands
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 3. What Is Dead May Never Die
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 4. Garden of Bones
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 5. The Ghost of Harrenhal
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 6. The Old Gods and the New
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 8. The Prince of Winterfell
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 9. Blackwater
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 10. Valar Morghulis
Game of Thrones: Season 2 — the HBO series considered

 

Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 6. The Old Gods and the New

 

Game of Thrones is based on A Song of Ice and Fire by George R R Martin. The content of Season 2 in this television adaptation by HBO is drawn from A Clash of Kings. As before, the production is helmed by David Benioff and D B Weis. Here is the link to my retrospective overview of Game of Thrones Season 1. This is a spoiler-rich discussion of what happens in each episode, so do not read this if you want to watch without prior knowledge.

 

What makes The Old Gods and the New interesting is that it signals an increasing willingness on the part of the production team to move away from the book. It’s always appropriate when adapting a novel for a visual medium to change things around. But the continuity between this episode and the last is challenging. We leave it with Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) being rowed out to his single ship and return with him actually taking Winterfell. I’ve no particular axe to grind but there’s a lot missing with him landing, laying siege to Torrhen’s Square with a token force and then capturing Ser Rodrik (Ron Donachie) as our doughty defender marches to drive off the attackers. I suppose the important question is whether the increasingly selective way in which scenes are being chosen and fitted together actually works. In the main, what we see in this episode is reasonably easy to follow and not unenjoyable despite the slow-moving sequences north of the Wall. I’ll come back to all the changes to the main story at the end of the reviews of the individual episodes.

Jon Snow (Kit Harington) reaches a critical point in his relationship with Ygritte (Rose Leslie)

 

Personally, Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) is helpless but also mindful of the fate of the people in Winterfell so, with Theon and his crew of cut-throats threatening the few staff in residence, he mouths the words of surrender. This should have kept everyone safe except the weak-minded Theon listens to the wrong advice and decides to behead Ser Rodrik. Botching this simple task signals the end of respect for the man. Because this is an HBO show, Osha (Natalia Tena), the Wildling girl, sleeps with Theon, steals a knife while he’s in post-coital slumber, kills a guard and then leads Bram away from his home on the back of Hodor (Kristian Nairn) with his younger brother Rickon (Art Parkinson). In any other show, Osha would have picked up one of the hundreds of knives lying around Winterfell, quietly killed a guard and escaped. Beyond the Wall, Jon Snow (Kit Harington), shadowed by his direwolf, Ghost, goes off with Qhorin Halfhand (Simon Armstrong) and three other rangers on a commando raid to kill Mance Rayder. Among the first group of Wildlings they fight is a girl called Ygritte (Rose Leslie). Jon Snow now demonstrates why he’s also an ineffective person. In this type of raid behind enemy lines, there’s no place for sentimentality. Not understanding the extent of the boy’s weakness, Halfhand leaves him behind with instructions to kill her. Except he can’t bring himself to do it. She runs off and there’s then a tediously long chase. He catches her but he’s stubborn enough to lie out in the open with her. Good job he’s taken the vow of chastity. This saves HBO from having to show another sex scene — danger money would have been required for lying down and baring tender bits. Who knows what might get stuck to the ice.

Tywin (Charles Dance) looking the part as the head of House Lannister

 

To help us understand why Robb Stark (Richard Madden) is on a winning campaign, Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) is shown having trouble with his senior officers, all of whom are as thick as two short planks. This is cartoonish. If Tywin Lannister is really so competent, he would have ignored all these lightweights and brought in military professionals to get the job done. Petyr Baelish aka Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) comes to report Renly’s death. He correctly identifies the Tyrrels as the unknowns since they have not yet declared what is to happen to their troops. He also reports on Tyrion’s plan to trade the Stark girls for Jaime. Lurking in the background as the cup bearer, Arya (Maisie Williams) listens carefully. Then, somewhat improbably when they are alone, Tywin tells Arya about teaching Jaime to read and talks candidly of his own father who was weak and almost lost the House. Although it’s interesting to consider what Tywin’s attitude to Arya might have been, seeing Tywin as less than ruthless in his dealings with her does rather blunt his reputation. But Arya’s impetuosity puts her in danger and she takes a second life from Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha) to protect herself. She’s leading in the ruthlessness stakes.

Cersei (Lena Headey) and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) say goodbye to Myrcella (Aimee Richardson)

 

Back at King’s Landing, Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) finally gets his way and sends Myrcella Baratheon (Aimee Richardson) out of the city. Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) vows she will take revenge by killing anyone he loves. The presence of the great Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) in the city streets sparks a riot. Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann) as The Hound literally carries Joffrey out of danger, but Tyrion worries where Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) is. She’s caught and men are about to rape her when The Hound finally does the right thing and rescues her — plenty of feeling on his part when slaughtering the wannabe rapists. No-one’s going to touch his Sansa. Tyrion has the satisfaction of slapping Joffrey. Fortunately, no-one kills Tyrion for his lèse majesté. After her rescue, Sansa and Shae (Sibel Kikilli) exchange notes on who to trust. There’s no explanation of how The Hound could find Sansa, but perhaps we’re supposed to infer an ability to track her scent through city streets and slum tenements from his name as The Hound.

Talisa Maegyr (Oona Chaplin) could tempt Robb Stark (Richard Madden) into the wrong decision

 

In Qarth, Pyat Pree (Ian Hanmore) makes his first appearance as the warlock, while Quaithe (Laura Pradelska) offers a warning to Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen). Despite her pleading, the Spice King (Nicholas Blane) refuses to give any of his ships to Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke). She has no army. She has no allies and cannot explain why the people will rise for her as the rightful Queen. He offers the wisdom of the ages. That wishes and dreams are not enough. She protests she is not an ordinary woman. She dreamed of dragons and her dreams came true. But the Spice King is all business where logic conquers passion. When she returns to the home she has been given in Qarth, she finds many of her supporters dead and the dragons missing. In a moment of peace, Robb Stark meets up with Talisa Maegyr (Oona Chaplin) again. This time, she not amputating limbs after a battle and they manage to talk more romantically to each other before being interrupted by the return of Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) with bad news about Renly. Great timing as a crow also comes in from Winterfell.

 

On balance, The Old Gods and the New is one of the weaker episodes. Although we appreciate that the landscape north of the Wall is full of ice and snow, it’s not necessary to show us quite so much of it for so long. I also appreciate the difficulty in training animals, but the failure of the direwolf Ghost to put in anything other than a token appearance is a bit worrying. A little foreshaddowing of future events would be more useful than extended chases. In the Westeros, the characterisation of Tywin Lannister feels wrong. He’s far too likeable. Although Arya is the third most intelligent person in Harrenhal (after Tywin and Jaqen H’ghar), that’s no reason for Tywin to treat her like his own daughter. Yes, he’s probably a lonely old killer, but that doesn’t mean he would open up to a girl he’s only just met. So this is all disappointing.

 

For reviews of Season 2, see:
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 1. The North Remembers
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 2. The Night Lands
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 3. What Is Dead May Never Die
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 4. Garden of Bones
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 5. The Ghost of Harrenhal
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 7. A Man Without Honor
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 8. The Prince of Winterfell
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 9. Blackwater
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 10. Valar Morghulis
Game of Thrones: Season 2 — the HBO series considered

 

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