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Game of Thrones



Episode 5 - The Ghost of Harrenhal

3 May 2012

Credit HBO

Synopsis: The shadow creature kills Renly. The guards burst in and assume it was Brienne. She kills them and flees with Catelyn who she then swears loyalty to. Renly’s men switch allegiance to Stannis although Loras and Margaery leave. Davos begs Stannis not to take Melissandre to Kings Landing. Tyrion prepares for the defence of the city and is interested to see the massive quantities of Wildfire which Cersei has stockpiled. Arya begins life as Tywin’s cupbearer and runs into Jaqen H'ghar. He says that she owes death to three people and when she nominates the torturer he is soon found dead on the floor. At Winterfell Bran dreams of the sea coming to Winterfell. Theon meanwhile leads an attack on the coast nearby. North of the Wall the men of the Nights Watch plan to assassinate the leader of the Wildlings and Jon volunteers for the mission. Across the Sea Xaro proposes to Dany but Jorah argues they should go back to Westeros instead.

The Good: The murder of Renly was abrupt but dramatic. It neatly left Brienne and Catelyn as the only possible culprits and in a horrible position.

I enjoyed the scene where Dany finally realised just how much Ser Jorah loves her. I thought her reaction to his verbal diarrhoea was excellent. She had come to trust him as an advisor and clearly hadn’t understood how much he worships her. That scene also left a nice mystery as to whether she agreed with his advice because of its wisdom or because she can see the value of his undying loyalty.

In an episode with some vague moments I appreciated the dialogue amongst the men of the Nights Watch. The explanation for who was leading the Wildlings (an ex-member of the Watch) and why that was dangerous (by bringing them discipline they would make for a fearsome army) was good. The assassination mission makes sense, sets up next week’s episode nicely and gives Jon and Sam new roles to adopt. I also enjoyed Sam’s historical musings which gave us a very brief history of Westeros.

The Bad: I’m not a huge fan of Theon or Brienne’s acting. They both seem a little unconvincing.

The Unknown: This was a cluttered episode with so much going on that it was hard for any of it to take an emotional hold on the viewer.

There were several stories which didn’t come across as well as they should have. Arya’s story was pretty interesting as Jaqen offers to do the killing which she dreams of every night. However his explanation of what the “Red God” wanted left me confused as to whether Jaqen has a peculiar sense of honour, is a religious zealot or just likes killing people. Her choice of “The Tickler” also seemed a little odd. I can see why she would choose someone local to see if Jaqen meant what he said but “The Tickler” was just doing his job and didn’t exactly wrong her in the way others did. If we could have spent more time on this maybe it would have felt like a stronger story.

I had similar feelings about Theon’s decision to attack a Stark bannerman rather than the fishing villages he had been assigned. I assume he made that decision to get his father’s attention. Or was it to aid his sister’s attacks with a distraction? Or both? Again I wanted more and I got no sense of his emotional journey as he made that decision.

I was also unsure of the significance of Davos being ordered to lead Stannis’ fleet. Davos seemed unhappy and Stannis claimed it was a hard truth that Davos had to face. Why? Was the point that leading the fleet was dangerous and because he couldn’t trust those who had bowed to Renly, Davos must take on more responsibility? Why am I having to work hard to get this stuff?

The Tyrion-Lancel scene felt repetitive with the imp teasing his cousin again. At least his plans for the Wildfire were meant to be mysterious. I appreciated Bron’s warnings of what real war is like. Bran’s dreams on the other hand continue to pile up fairly literally. We know what the sea coming to Winterfell means but I’m not sure what we are really learning about him. Simply seeing him discuss his dreams doesn’t do much for me.

Finally we have Xaro’s proposal to Dany which felt a little basic. Once more I wanted more time with them together. Instead the Warlocks and treasure troves felt like merely shiny footnotes to her story. I did like the feeding of the baby Dragons though and the snippets of Dothraki manners we observed.

Best Moment: Jorah’s speech to Dany was both intelligent and embarrassing. He makes the strong case that the people of Westeros won’t welcome a foreign army and that mercenaries don’t make good armies. But then he goes on and on, gushing about her gentle heart and how rare and special she is. She turns her face away from this scene, agrees to his plan but gives no hint as to how she feels about him.

Conclusion: In my conclusion to the fifth episode of season one I commented each episode leaves my head swimming with detail and doesn't engage my emotions as much as it should.” That remains largely true even if my own knowledge of the universe has expanded greatly. There are a lot of interesting stories being built here but without emotional engagement they mean much less than they should.



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  • Just popping in to say I'm about 90% sure that book 3 will be broken into 2 seasons, with season 3 ending at a pretty significant event. (Pretty sure reader's of the book will know what that event is.) I believe the show runners are more concerned about adapting the series as a whole rather than forcing each season to correspond to a whole book. Which is good because it will give Mr. Martin time to get the next book out and it affords us more time to take in this ever expanding universe.

    I also believe George R. R. Martin has given an outline on how he wants this series to end for when/if the show catches up to and passes the books. And also if heaven forbid, this old, obese man in his 60's passes before finishing his magnum opus.

    Posted by Joe, 04/05/2012 5:36pm (6 years ago)

  • Yeah, I mean you are absolutely right. It would definitely benefit from being an 18-24 episode per season show.

    This is not spoiling anything, but serves as an illustration of just how expansive things get: Books 4 and 5 were originally planned as one book, but had to be split (mostly by character geography) and actually run concurrently to each other in the timeline of the series.

    It is definitely going to be impossible to adapt each book into a single mini-season each.

    Posted by Brando, 02/05/2012 9:34pm (6 years ago)

  • Good to hear from you on this. It's a slightly irrelevant question but it feels to me like Game of Thrones is a show that would be better spread over 24 episodes. Since Lost shortened its final seasons it feels like any quality drama is no longer than 13 episodes.

    I gather the Game of Thrones universe is only going to expand and expand. And as an adaption I can't help but think its going to become impossible to tell such epic stories adequately in these mini-seasons.

    Posted by The TV Critic, 02/05/2012 6:12pm (6 years ago)

  • I'm enjoying this season a lot. To play off of Charlie's comment, I think if a source is adapted to the small or big screen really well, then it almost always benefits those who have read the source material and then get to watch it come to life (and fill in necessary blanks when things are skipped over). Game of Thrones, to me, is actually one of the best examples of that. I very much enjoyed the first season, but if you listen to our end of the season recap, Robin and I both struggled with gaps in the characters and storytelling that we assumed could only be found in the books. Now having read all of the books I can honestly say this season has been nothing short of thrilling. Not necessarily because the episodes themselves are edge of your seat excitement, but rather it's just so cool to see these stories come to life.

    In the end, these books are just way too expansive for a direct adaptation. Anyone who has read the books and is paying any attention at all will notice there are a ton of characters missing, a ton of scenarios missing, many timelines are compressed or even blended with other timelines, and that's true of characters as well...some characters (this is not a spoiler to those who haven't read: but think Bran and Jojen) have actually been blended together to get main plot points across without having to follow an entirely new character or storyline. It's just going to be that way. And I think the creators have done a masterful job in almost every area of picking up the main plots, characters and overall movements. It is such an ambitious undertaking...again, anyone who has read the books will understand that it will only become more difficult to follow all of the characters, locations, plots of the coming books...they just become bigger and bigger, but your only restriction is the amount of pages you or your publishes sets as a limit...which really could be no limit at all....but here in TV land they're given 10 hours. I honestly can't think of how they will be able to adapt the 3rd book without splitting it into 2 separate seasons or just carving a huge amount of characters and plot out of it.

    That is when it will get interesting. Does it start to become more of its own entity like The Walking Dead has? Consistently detouring from the source material, but using bits and pieces and characters here and there? Or will they try to remain as faithful as possible to the books? Right now I imagine most readers of the books are pretty happy with the show, but if they choose to go off course and start making it "their own thing," then I would suspects the grumbles will really start coming. Again...I think they'll have to take 2 seasons to navigate the 3rd book if they want to continue satisfying preexisting fans, especially if the show continues to grow in popularity.

    Posted by Brando, 02/05/2012 2:00pm (6 years ago)

  • Well that is fair. I don't like Stannis either (books or show), the only character I connect with in that storyline is Davos. I just find the events surrounding Stannis interesting and the other characters that I like, even love, pick up the slack.

    Posted by Derek, 02/05/2012 4:01am (6 years ago)

  • Hello Robin and Roberto,
    The action at the top of the episode really kicked things off. After weeks of setup we finally got some payback for our patience. The death of Stanis was both shocking and exciting in the direction it took the other characters involved in the action.
    This show still has a lot of planes in the air, but I feel like they are being maneuvered in for a safe landing. The scenes in Westoros continue to be the most fun, especially the market scene when Tyrion realizes he is being disparaged in the market place. Especially after the dark turn the show took last week.
    On your comments, I felt Arya selected the Tinkler as a test and also because he was just torturing the prisoners for fun. He never thought he would get any information from them and would have killed them all until Thywin saved them.
    I understand your lack of attachment to certain parts of the story. I find myself checking out when it involves the Theon storyline. Even despite his backstory, I cannot bring myself to feel sympathy for him.
    Good job on the podcast, I thought last week was your best. As always thanks for the forum

    Viewer score: 64 / 100

    Posted by Kayode from Baltimore, 02/05/2012 3:58am (6 years ago)

  • sorry i haven't commented in a while i've been moving and only been seeing the episodes after you make your podcast.
    i agree with your review because i understand your perspective, since it was one i shared as of last week.

    since the beginning of season 2 i have struggled to get involved with the new characters and when i mention this
    to my friends they smile, shake their heads and say " thats because, my dear chap, you have not read the books",
    this made me more determined NOT to read the books to prove a point, but i finally gave in when i realised that the tv show is in essence
    an edited tv adaptation of a very large series of novels.
    i know i should have realised this sooner but i still had my ' Spartacus - hat' on and all the characters in season 1 of GOT
    were new and didn't expect many new characters in season 2.

    anyway, try as i might i could'nt think of a critically acclaimed book based on a popular tv show or film, but i could easily
    think of critically acclaimed tv shows and movies based on books. EASILY.
    so last week i started listening to the unabridged audio books of GOT ( i can't bring my self to read an 800 page novel under
    the slight pressure of expectation ) and now i can say i understand what my friends mean and why you feel the way you do about
    season 2.

    i can see more clearly now the tv show has been forced to leave alot of things out due to time, budget constraints, and the narrative strenghs and
    weaknessess between the two mediums.

    i have read alot of your reviews and i think the only other show you have reviewed that is similar to GOT is THE WALKING DEAD and
    your concerns about the characters seem very similar and i remember you saying you have not read the source material for THE WALKING DEAD either.
    I think when you read the novels it will change your opinion on the tv show, for better or worse i'm not sure but i'm sure it will change.

    before i go i've got two questions for you and Roberto:
    1. Who of the following do you think will enjoy the tv show the most
    - someone who has seen the show but will never read the books?
    - someone who has read the books then watches the show?
    or - someone who has seen the show then reads the books?

    2. Which character or characters in GOT do you most identify with and why?

    Thanks for the podcast guys and i will try to comment more and 'lurk' less.

    Viewer score: 60 / 100

    Posted by Charlie, 01/05/2012 6:45pm (6 years ago)

  • The answer to that is simply that I don't care much about Stannis. I've only known him for a few episodes and I have no real sense of what this will mean.

    Posted by The TV Critic, 01/05/2012 4:55pm (6 years ago)

  • I don't agree it all, sorry Robin, and this may be a bias that I'm not aware of because I love the books, but I don't understand how this story can not be engaging your emotions as much as it should.

    I really loved this episode because I do think it's a real risky and bold move to kill off Renly making Stannis the main Baratheon because who really wants to root for Stannis, it's a move that can backfire but I love they took it.

    The biggest problem I have with this episode is why Arya wouldn't pick Tywin? At least ask if Jaqen said it was possible then fine but why go for the petty kill and the guy who almost killed the guy you have a crush on (I do think Arya has some kind of feelings for Gendry, but I think it's a little girl crush). That move has never made any sense to me because that scene with Arya picking the guy is pretty much from the books.

    Viewer score: 70 / 100

    Posted by Derek, 01/05/2012 4:15am (6 years ago)

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