A pound of flesh, but not one drop of blood

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“Game of Thrones” got their pound of flesh tonight. In a season that has seen nearly all characters obsessed with vengeance, Sansa Stark was shoehorned into an absurd plot for what was clearly now meant to have her terrible victimization and trauma be played out for shock value, under the paper-thin guise of this allowing her to get revenge on her family’s killers. In truth, we didn’t need to wait for the disgusting optics and aurals to be seen and heard in this sixth episode. Indeed, from the moment D&D proposed that Sansa Stark’s arc was interchangeable with that of Jeyne Poole’s—a character who can’t even be properly understood to have an arc in the full sense of the term—we could have predicted what an absolute travesty this all would turn out to be. For those who question why this could happen to Jeyne and not Sansa, the answer is simple: these two girls might have been friends in the books, but their identities and experiences are not one and the same. Jeyne is sent to a brothel to be brutalised and trained into being submissive and compliant. Sansa Stark remains in KL to suffer much abuse too, but her development as a main character is focused on her becoming stronger and more resilient as a result.

Unlike Jeyne, whose sexuality becomes the means of her terrible exploitation in the series, Sansa’s sexuality is tied to her liberation and empowerment. It’s not a matter of her being “saved” from rape as some readers interpret, but rather that Sansa is constantly resisting attempts to get her to submit sexually to her oppressors. She comes to understand in that famous wedding scene with Tyrion that her desires are important, and that she is not willing to sacrifice herself for what her husband wants, even if she’s in a situation where she couldn’t be more powerless. Sansa’s sexuality, and her control over it, is an integral part of her growth towards agency. When you have her raped in a show and still want to speak of her as being a player, you are not only warping the character’s development and themes critical to her storyline, but you are using rape as a plot device to motivate a character, which is every bit as bad as it sounds. For fans looking for some kind of hope after this appalling event, we can only direct you to the author’s latest statement on his blog, where he recommends checking out the TWOW sample chapters if you want to get an idea of where the real story is headed. D&D have their pound of flesh, but the true heart and soul and blood of Winterfell remains in the series written by George R.R. Martin.

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Something is slow in the state of Denmark

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A review of “Kill the Boy,” the fifth episode of the fifth season of “Game of Thrones”

by Miodrag Zarković

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There might be a solid reason behind the surprisingly slow pace of “Game of Thrones” in the current season. Not that David Benioff and Dan Weiss, the two showrunners, would ever admit that there’s anything slow about it, let alone that they’re doing it on purpose, but one wouldn’t necessarily be wrong in concluding there’s a system in keeping the characters at a distance from possible resolutions of their respective arcs.

That is, if we assume Benioff and Weiss are honest when saying the endgame of the show will be the same as that of its source material, the “A Song of Ice and Fire” book series by George R. R. Martin.

Take Jaime Lannister, for example. At the moment, Martin’s Jaime is in the Riverlands. His last book chapter ended with a cliffhanger, so readers are in a dark about his condition and well-being, but it’s strongly hinted that whatever happens to him is crucial—not only for his storyline, but also for at least two more characters’ journeys. For the endgame Martin envisioned, Jaime simply has to be in the Riverlands.

Benioff and Weiss, however, sent their Jaime to Dorne. If anything, that positions him across the continent from his original arc’s resolution. He’s as far from his book endgame—both physically and logically—as ever.

TV Jon is a similar case with his pit stop at Hardhome: whatever happens there (and from the production news we know, there’s going to be a big battle at that location), Jon will almost certainly come back to Castle Black, where he’ll meet the same fate that fell upon his literary origin in the last published book. In other words, the Hardhome detour will bring him no closer to his original endgame. What’s more, in recent interviews, Carice van Houten, who plays Melisandre, indicated there are more scenes with her character and Jon before the season ends, which, again, probably means that the Wall part of the Season 5 story will end at exactly the same point as in the novels.

That would also mean that Melisandre will also return to Castle Black and won’t influence the clash between Stannis and the Boltons. But, there’s no real sign that we’re going to see that showdown at all. On the contrary, all the hype about Hardhome as The Battle of the year points to the opposite conclusion. Say what you want about HBO, but they’re never shy about the things they invest their money in. Had they filmed the battle between Stannis and the Boltons, we’d probably have heard of it by now or even watched some report from the set. All of which means that the resolution for the main storyline in the North is probably not going to happen this year, and that the season will leave Stannis and the Boltons as they were in “A Dance with Dragons.”

As for TV Sansa, her storyline this season is an unprecedented mess (more on that later), but as her screen time in Winterfell passes, it seems more and more evident she’ll get out of there in a similar way as Jeyne Poole did in the novel. It’s hard to imagine TV Sansa, say, murdering Ramsay or deposing the Boltons and taking Winterfell under her rule. Most likely, she will, possibly after tasting Ramsay’s sadism, save herself by escaping Winterfell, perhaps with someone’s help (Theon and Brienne are the strongest candidates). If that actually happens, it would essentially mean TV Sansa’s Winterfell departure had no effect on the bigger picture, and, pending on her wedding night with Ramsay, even her character’s arc may not be terribly influenced by it: although definitely much more traumatized than in the novels, where she’s still in the Vale waiting for a chance to turn the world upside down with her claim to Winterfell and there’s no reason to think she even knows who Ramsay Bolton is, at the end of this season TV Sansa will possibly be able to return to a path relatively similar to her book origin’s arc for the next two books. At least, that’s how incompetent writers that aren’t too concerned with characters’ consistency and in-story logic might look at things.

And so on. Basically, so far none of the show characters stepped on the territory of “The Winds of Winter,” the sixth yet unpublished installment of ASOIAF. Season Five just passed its midpoint, and yet, Benioff and Weiss still didn’t capitalize on their alleged insight into the material Martin will deliver in the coming novels. And not only that, but it also looks like they don’t even want to go there yet. All their deviations from the source material notwithstanding, none of the storylines is even near passing the point of the published books. As a matter of fact, the one storyline that was bound to enter the future books material—Bran’s—was entirely omitted from this season. Another plotline that was heading in the same direction—Davos sailing to find Rickon and Osha—was also delayed by having Davos at the Wall with Stannis instead of in White Harbor with Wyman Manderly (who wasn’t even cast so far).

Now, wouldn’t the alternative be more in accordance with the approach from the previous seasons? Remember, Benioff and Weiss were so impatient to reach Catelyn’s famous conversation with imprisoned Jaime that they moved part of it way forward, to the finale of Season 1 (and ruined it in the process, truth be told, but still). They also fast-forwarded Brienne & Jaime’s journey to King’s Landing, by both starting and ending it before its time. Jon and Ygritte? Boy, they couldn’t wait to start with that one, so much so that they mercilessly sacrificed poor Qhorin and his role. Or what about Arya’s material from the preview “Mercy” chapter? Once again, they wasted no time in putting parts of that one into their show way sooner than needed. Also, Theon’s torture porn from Season 3 could’ve been delayed a year or two, but no, Benioff and Weiss couldn’t resist speeding up that storyline too.

Indeed, in previous seasons the show looked as if running toward the point at which it will overpass the books. The speed with which they were going through the source material surprised even Martin himself, who, after the debut season, seemed confident enough that the show would not catch with his writing before “The Winds of Winter” were out.

Also, considering the lack of respect toward the novels that Benioff and Weiss displayed over the years (cutting out one iconic line after another, changing characters and plotlines at whim, inventing new and fairly ridiculous subplots and characters while simultaneously removing those existing in the source material), wouldn’t it be expected from the showrunners to jump at the opportunity to become the primary tellers of the story? Wouldn’t it be beneficial from financial and marketing points also? Not to mention that even some book fans would hail such a move: it is no secret that the last two novels divided the readership and that those who disliked them consider a lot of the stuff there to be “fat” or “filler,” so they’d probably welcome the show if it rushed through AFFC and ADWD material.

Actually, there’d seem to be no downside for Benioff and Weiss in that scenario, right? Especially with the fact that the show’s length is predicted at seven seasons, eight at most, which means that Benioff and Weiss are running out of time to tell everything Martin designed for the remaining books (at least two of them, but possibly more). And yet, five episodes in, we’re still firmly in books territory, with small chance to reach the other side before the season ends.

Just consider what the show has to cover in the remaining five episodes in order to simply catch up with the books without overpassing them: those five hours will be as packed as anything in GOT, so it’s really hard to imagine any TWOW stuff to find its way in there. That is true even for the Meereen plotline, which, on first glance, could look as destined to go beyond the novels. But don’t let Barristan’s death trick you. Since the show is, evidently, only interested in checking significant plot points, with little to no regard at all for aspects like natural character progression or thematic significance, Ser Barristan was more than expendable in that universe. Just like Benioff and Weiss didn’t know what to do with him ever since Season 1, they also saw no purpose for him anymore and they decided to kill him off, honoring their own sense of storytelling economy. That, however, doesn’t mean that the Meereen storyline is moved to a higher gear. On the contrary: Dany has to marry Hizdahr, welcome Tyrion (published production shots prove they will meet this season), spend some “quality time” with him (Tyrion is Benioff and Weiss’ favorite character after all, with Dany not so far behind), and fly off on Drogon. Oh, and we have to follow Grey Worm and Missandei’s romance, which quickly grows into one of the more consuming subplots time-wise. All in all, there’s hardly going to be any space for TWOW moments in Slaver’s Bay this season. If anything, the never-ending scene of Barristan’s death only slowed down the progress.

And really, take a look at the content of the five episodes so far. It’s crowded with true fillers of all kinds. The last episode, “Kill the Boy,” was no exception in that sense.

That dreadful dinner Sansa had with the usurpers from the Dreadfort? Filler, as pure as they come. It further solidified Sansa’s stay in Winterfell as probably the single stupidest idea Benioff and Weiss ever had, but it added very little to the plot or the characters: 1) it increased the number of idiots by one, when Walda said to Winterfell-born and raised Sansa: “It must be difficult for you, being in a strange place”; 2) it announced Walda’s pregnancy, which doesn’t seem to bear any significance whatsoever to anybody who isn’t Roose or Ramsay; and 3) Theon was picked, by Ramsay, to give away the bride at Ramsay’s future wedding to Sansa.

Now, that third point is not very logical, because, in opposition to the book where Theon is instrumental for the wedding since Ramsay is marrying a fake Stark, in the show Ramsay’s bride to be is a true Stark, so nobody, not even broken Theon, has to vouch for her identity. Even more, it’s strange that the idea for Theon as a bride-giver comes from the man who’s supposed to be committed to changing Theon’s identity (in the novel, Roose is the one who includes Theon in the wedding, which is infinitely more logical). But the most interesting thing is that the TV Boltons had a way better solution than Theon: Robin Arryn, the Lord of the Vale and actually the last known living kin to Sansa Stark. If the TV Boltons were to think and act logically, they’d ask for Robin to give away the bride at Ramsay’s wedding, which would only strengthen the alliance between the North and the Vale that is supposed to be the idea behind the marriage proposal Littlefinger initially sent to Roose. However, since TV Sansa has to be shoehorned into book Jeyne Poole’s role, Theon it is.

Therefore, what little was established in the dinner scene that lasted for ages, only made the entire Winterfell calamity more nonsensical. And the behavior of TV Sansa herself didn’t help either: with her eye-rolling, sighing and face expressions that emit nothing but scorn, she could trick only some morons. Luckily (for the lack of a better word), the TV Boltons look exactly like the morons needed for Littlefinger’s ridiculous plan to live an episode or three more, as evidenced in the scene in which they discuss the coming war against Stannis.

What about Myranda’s two scenes? Filler, all the way. Until proven otherwise, this author believes Myranda originally died last season, killed by Ramsay while the two were having sex at the moment of Yara’s attack on Dreadfort (which would explain those blood trails on shirtless Ramsay once he faces the Ironborn), but her death was edited out later on, so that she can appear again this season. If I’m right, it would confirm she’s a completely expendable character, revived only in order to prolong the Winterfell storyline this year. But even if I’m wrong, her contribution to the story is still non-existent, and her scenes in “Kill the Boy” reaffirm that notion. Really, how insane has one to be to come up with an idea about a love triangle centered on Ramsay Bolton? Was there ever a less appropriate character for that storytelling trope?

The only thing we learned from Myranda’s involvement in the episode is that Benioff and Weiss are scared to death of the possibility that their writing is boring: just like Cersei in that flashback that opened the season insults the witch by calling her boring, here it’s Ramsay who threatens Myranda never to bore him. In Benioff and Weiss’ universe, being boring looks like the cardinal sin. As if their subconscious is sending us some signals…

The library scene at the Wall with Gilly, Sam and Stannis? Filler, through and through. There is not a single point in that exchange. It was a complete waste of everyone’s time, especially given that Randyll Tarly, Sam’s father, doesn’t even appear in the show.

Brienne and Pod’s turn this week? Okay, that was possibly not filler, depending on their importance for Sansa’s escape from Winterfell. But, boy, was it a stupid scene! Even government contractors in old communist regimes had higher recruiting norms than TV Brienne.

Jon and Tormund? While not a filler on its own (though a dull scene nevertheless, and not a pale shadow of the corresponding negotiations in the book), it opened the door for Jon’s trip to Hardhome, which, again, may very well prove to be a giant filler of the season.

The Meereen scenes did move the plot in that part of the world, but not without sacrifice. See, when TV Dany has one Master devoured by her dragons, it renders the Mossador execution from Episode 2 completely meaningless. To remind you, Mossador was beheaded because he murdered an accused man without a trial—“The law is the law,” Dany explained to him—and the execution enraged the ex-slaves and shattered the honeymoon with their Mhysa. Now, even if Dany’s turbulent relation with the masses she freed is revisited in the future (chances of which are not big, knowing Benioff and Weiss), Mossador’s death was in vain, not only because in this episode Dany became The Law, but also for the fact that a little later she again went back to political mode and coerced Hizdahr into a marriage. With a central character switching personalities at such a rate, almost everything seen up to that point inevitably became as good as a filler, Mossador’s execution most of all.

(While on the subject of Meereen, the info on Dany that Sam read to Maester Aemon, who, by the way, seems to be channeling Yoda with his advice to Jon later on, is not to be overlooked. Here’s the entire note: “And though Daenerys maintains her grip on Slaver’s Bay, forces rise against her from within and without. She refuses to leave until the freedom of the former slaves is secure.” First, what forces from without? Aren’t those forces completely cut from the show? Even Aemon says that Dany is “under siege,” but in the show universe there is no siege to speak of. Is it too much to ask from the showrunners to keep track of their own deviations? It obviously is, if we remember the number of Cersei’s children as a similar case, and also Benioff’s comment about the finale of Season 3, when he said that Mhysa moment was the fulfillment of a prophecy for Dany, even though no prophecy of that kind was ever mentioned in the show. Second, how the hell would anyone in Westeros know that Dany plans to leave once slavery is defeated? Did she ever make her plans public? Did she send ravens to all the corners of the world announcing her invasion in the Seven Kingdoms is to start as soon as she’s done with Meereen?)

All in all, opposite to, say, Season 2 which was, per Benioff, a “season of romance,” this year is evidently a season of fillers. The majority of the scenes in these five episodes were totally unnecessary in the sense that nothing would be lost without them. The season is shaped as if Benioff and Weiss, for the first time, are trying to stall as much as possible.

It’s not without reaction. Among the fans of the show, the number of those who say they’re bored by the new season seems to be higher than ever, while the official ratings are in a small but steady decline for the first time. In other words, the current season doesn’t sit well with many viewers, and the slow pace—resulting from the yet unseen amount of fillers—is universally cited as the primary reason for this dissatisfaction.

As said earlier, there could be a solid reason for the snail progress of the current season. Behind all that cockiness and shallow self-confidence Benioff and Weiss often display when asked about overtaking the books, the two of them obviously realize the sad truth: they really aren’t up to the task of writing Martin’s story before him. Their high opinion of their own storytelling competence is obviously unrealistic, but they’re not completely delusional. Deep down, they seem to be aware of their limits after all. And they wouldn’t be comfortable at all if those limits were fully exposed, which would definitely be the case if they overpass the published books. They’d rather wait as long as they can for the two last huge installments of the series, and then butcher them down to two or three drastically rushed seasons, than to live up to the almost universal praise in the media and really boldly start approaching the endgame on their own.

Or, perhaps, their knowledge of the endgame is far less than usually assumed. Perhaps Martin, not unlike the most devious of his characters, didn’t reveal all of his cards as soon as Benioff and Weiss guessed who Jon Snow’s mother is.

Whichever the case, the two showrunners look like the biggest losers of this wait for the “The Winds of Winter.” Instead of an abundance of material, Benioff and Weiss apparently have to deal with the excess of screen time, resulting from the shortage of real time as they’re approaching the point at which they have to go on without any help from George R. R. Martin, the author whose magnum opus they disfigured beyond recognition. Now, when it’s far too late to go back and fix any of the numerous ingenious mistakes they’ve made in this “adaptation,” it looks like Benioff and Weiss finally realized how out of their depth they truly were from the very beginning of their rogue journey.

With Benioff and Weiss, faith is always a dangerous thing

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A review of “Sons of the Harpy,” the fourth episode of the fifth season of “Game of Thrones”

by Miodrag Zarković

Rest assured, dear reader, this review will eventually deal with the dualistic nature of TV Littlefinger: part human, part Wikipedia. But first, let’s address other issues.

One thing David Benioff and Dan Weiss, the showrunners of HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” can’t ever be accused of, is subtle writing. For the previous 43 episodes, they never bothered with it. So, when in “Sons of the Harpy,” the fourth episode of the fifth season, a coup d’état that was happening right in front of our eyes was never mentioned by name, it’s probably not because of Benioff and Weiss’ intention to keep the recognition under the radar—but because they actually don’t know what the hell they’ve written.

A little background: in the George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” book series that they say the show is based on, we encounter the Faith Militant. Introduced in “A Feast for Crows,” it serves as the military arm of the Faith of the Seven. And it means exactly what it’s supposed to mean: the Faith Militant deals with transgressions against the religion, but not with matters that concern royal authority. That is why the High Septon arrests Margaery Tyrell, her cousins, Osney Kettleblack, and finally Cersei Lannister—all on charges related to the Faith. For example, both Cersei and Margaery are accused of extramarital fornication, which concerns the Faith only because both of them swore marital vows precisely in the sept. For comparison, they could never charge Ramsay Bolton or Jeyne Poole for the same crimes, regardless of whom they were having affairs with, simply because Ramsay and Jeyne didn’t swear anything to the Faith of the Seven. Ramsay and Jeyne never committed themselves under the jurisdiction of the religious institution that is headed by the High Septon.

It would also mean that one’s business manners are also of no concern for the Faith. Septons may preach against the greed and corruption, but that’s it. They don’t get to punish those who immorally took financial advantage of the social turmoil. Sexual appetites are also off-limits, at least until the person swears the sacred vows that he/she will be loyal to their spouse. In short, the Faith Militant and the Faith itself have no jurisdiction in matters the royal legal system deals with or in social customs and traditions. As another example, they’d absolutely have no business in a possible trial Tyrion could face for patricide.

That’s the books. The show has, of course, taken a different approach, and ended up with an unspoken coup.

In “Sons of the Harpy,” the Faith Militant is seen attacking what is probably a marketplace and destroying everything they deem excessive or sinful (one would assume it was ale that was spilled over those stairs). They also stormed a brothel and physically molested prostitutes and customers both, and launched a campaign against homosexuals, the arrest of Ser Loras Tyrell included. Practically all of these actions signal that a sudden overthrow of the entire political system the Seven Kingdoms rest on already happened. To clear any possible doubt, the show sealed the coup with the scene in which King Tommen is denied a meeting with the new High Septon while His Holiness is praying. Yes, royal authority is no more in King’s Landing. There’s a new ruler in town, and by extension in the realm. Thus, the War of the Five Kings was effectively won by the sixth one, who’s not even a king, by the way, but a barefoot humanitarian known as High Sparrow.

Tommen_sons_of_the_harpy_sept(Speaking of his bare feet, the High Sparrow didn’t burn his shoes, or throw them to the sea. As he himself explained in the previous episode, he actually gave them to someone who needed them more. So, why are his disciples acting in a completely opposite manner in this episode? Why are they destroying instead of distributing the excess?)

And yet, besides Margaery Tyrell, nobody seems disturbed by the coup. Not that she is concerned with the legal consequences of the Faith Militant’s actions, of course; she worries about her brother exclusively, but at least she’s visibly bothered. She, and no one else.

When the Anne Boleyn of TV Westeros is the only individual acting somewhat reasonably, you know Benioff and Weiss managed to outdo themselves once again in terms of incompetent storytelling.

After four and a half years of carefully watching their work on GOT, one can spot with ease the patterns and characteristics of Benioff and Weiss’ writing. Based on that, it is beyond doubt that the two of them have absolutely no idea about the consequences the actions of their Faith Militant would inevitably have in any social circumstances that can be considered realistic and logical. The thought that what they actually wrote is effectively a coup never crossed their minds. All their expertise on Martin’s world and legality starts and ends with the pure fact that HBO paid dearly for their right to mess with it big time.

However, that’s not to say the Faith Militant in the show didn’t serve its purpose. “Cersei, meanwhile, sees the High Sparrow as a weapon in her feud with Margaery, yet—as has happened a time or twelve in our own world’s history—doesn’t seem to understand how difficult it is to control religious extremists once you’ve armed them,” writes Alan Sepinwall in his review on HitFix. James Hibberd, reviewing the episode for Entertainment Weekly, ironically concludes this about Cersei’s move: “It’s an excellent idea, because if history has taught us anything, it’s that nothing bad can come from giving religious fanatics weapons.”

Similar stances can be found in any number of this week’s reviews. And it very much was the goal of Benioff and Weiss: to feed the liberal, politically-correct media with a desired antagonist that is easy to crucify. Of all those professional reviewers that continually avoid addressing any of the blatant, the obvious, the daringly evident missteps and fallacies of the show, not a single one missed the opportunity to take a shot at religious extremists and, by extension, at the religion itself.

It’s a travesty of today’s culture that people who obviously lack the understanding of basic rules of a society, get the opportunity to “adapt” a story that deals with human societies with possibly unparalleled depth. In Martin’s novels, Sparrows are a movement that is – historically accurate and believable—rooted in the need for a systematic response to the horrors of a devastating civil war. The movement gradually grows into a more prominent role and its depiction is never biased one way or the other: while some of their actions may seem disturbing, either by nature or by form, the just cause that triggered the creation of the movement is never forgotten.

Self-declared as an agnostic, Martin is remarkably balanced and thorough when dealing with religious themes. It is therefore a shame that the two guys who got to adapt his magnum opus don’t find it necessary to honor such an approach by translating it to the screen faithfully, but instead go for cheap sycophancy towards the liberal agenda that dominates modern media.

Truth be told, Benioff and Weiss never cared for the religions of ASOIAF. In the novels, religious themes are introduced in the second book, “A Clash of Kings,” when Stannis Baratheon and his retinue, headed by the Red Priestess Melisandre of Asshai, enter the story and up the stakes to the highest possible level. The prologue of ACOK may very well be the moment in which ASOIAF elevated itself above genre fiction once and for all. ASOIAF is speculative fiction, of course, because its many social and political themes simply couldn’t be covered in a setting from any particular period of actual history: no real chain of events ever combined a brutal dynastic war with a religious war and a war against oppression (slavery). With dragons and the Others or without them, ASOIAF simply had to be speculative fiction. But, at the same time, it easily transcends genre boundaries and grows into a work of literature worthy of analytical approach and detailed studying. And what drives that point home is the introduction of religious themes: was there ever a more important aspect of humanity than our relationship with the very concept of eternity, the concept that throughout history was most often represented by deities?

So, remember how did Benioff and Weiss tackle those issues? By having Stannis and Mel have sex in the second episode they appeared in!

Have things improved since then? Not at all, judging by “Sons of the Harpy” and the scene in which Mel tries to seduce Jon. The only thing that seems changed is the dress Mel takes off every now and then: for some reason, it isn’t red any more. Everything else is the same as always, with a Mel who’s unable to achieve anything without offering sex (or money, in Season 3). Amidst fierce competition, she may very well be the most ruined character in this “adaptation,” because, besides the name and gender, the TV version doesn’t seem to share anything with the book original.

For what it’s worth, this author really wouldn’t be surprised had Benioff and Weiss decided to let their Jon succumb to lust and have sex with Mel right there and then. Had the scene been interrupted before the resolution for some reason, I honestly wouldn’t be able to guess how Jon had reacted. That’s the legacy of Benioff & Weiss’ approach to adapting: they changed so much that nothing would be surprising at this point.

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Another thing that gives depth to ASOIAF, its characters, is also criminally mishandled in GOT. And Stannis is a perfect example once more, as evidenced by the scene with him and Shireen: had he been properly developed and portrayed so far, such a scene wouldn’t be needed at all.

And if you wanted to know how badly Stannis is written in the show, the showrunners confirmed it themselves, in the “Inside the episode” video.

In general, those clips deserve reviews of their own. Imaged as the ultimate place where the show meets logic, the “Inside the episode” videos are actually the strongest hints about the storytelling talent “Thrones” desperately lacks. Take a look at how Weiss and Benioff explained the scene with Shireen and her father.

Weiss: “We’re so used to seeing Stannis in a single-minded pursuit of the Iron Throne and he’s done such a good job, by intention, of sweeping any complicating factor out of the way. And, obviously, having your love for your daughter is a complicating factor. It tempers you as a person. And I think Stannis doesn’t feel like he can afford to be tempered as a person in that way. And yet, he does clearly feel a real love for this little girl, which he expresses in that scene beautifully.”
Benioff: “It was important for us to see some different colors of Stannis. We’ve kinda seen him before standing above the map table, you know, trying to determine his next move, but there’s more to him than that. And this scene was a crucial one for us because we really wanted to see more what makes Stannis tick and what makes Shireen tick and we wanted to give him a scene that wasn’t just about him trying to conquer Seven Kingdoms, but it’s really just a father and a daughter talking.

If looked at closely, these words actually mean that in the previous three seasons TV Stannis was single-minded, obsessed with himself and uninterested in anything that isn’t connected to his goal. Is any additional critique of the TV character even needed? Can such a long mistreatment be remedied with a single scene, a scene that really isn’t worded or acted or filmed brilliantly? Of course it can’t, especially because the scene, as evidenced by Weiss and Benioff’s (possibly unintended) admission in “Inside the episode,” was designed specifically for that one purpose.

And not to mention that every “humanization” of a character Benioff and Weiss tend to undertake boils down to “he/she loves his/her children.” Just like they tried to humanize their Cersei by making a sort of iteration out of the statement that “she loves her children,” now they’re attempting the same thing with Stannis. “We need to make him more sympathetic, right? Let him show how much he loves his daughter! No, better yet—let him tell her that. In a lengthy monologue. It’s not like anybody’s going to remember we used to preach showing is always better than telling.”

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While Stannis is revealing how he saved his daughter years ago, on the other side of TV Westeros Jaime Lannister is trying to save his. He’s accompanied by Bronn, who continues to ask one tricky question after another, all pointing to the inevitable conclusion: the mission Jaime brought him in makes no sense at all, both for the viewers and the characters themselves. But don’t worry, Ser Jaime, because your future opponents are not a bit smarter than you. See, war-pursuing Ellaria and three Sand Snakes, bastard daughters of the late Oberyn Martell, actually found out about Jaime’s secret mission, but at no moment they think of using it to their benefit. Like, Jaime’s mission gives them the perfect pretext to really start the war against the Lannisters. All they have to do is tighten the security around Myrcella, and when Jaime tries to take her away, instead they take him into custody or, better yet, kill him—not even a pacifist like Doran could ignore such a breach of the agreement he initially reached with Tyrion, and in the case of Jaime’s death the Lannisters would also be in a mood for war. What an opportunity, right?

Well, no. Ellaria and the Sand Snakes ignorantly stuck to their original plan, all the while participating in what is possibly the worst dialogue in the entire show. The scene could very well run with a disclaimer: No real-life brain cell was used for the scripting of this exchange!

SandSnakes

And, finally, let’s visit the crypt of TV Winterfell, the most appropriate resting place for the “logic” of TV Sansa’s nonsensical arc. It was yet another victim of TV Littlefinger, who managed to kill it with a single line: “We mustn’t let her sniff out any trouble.” He’s talking about Cersei, of course. She summoned him to the capital, and he explains Sansa he has to go because—they mustn’t let Cersei sniff out any trouble!

Keep in mind that the man saying this is the same guy who was so relaxed while touring the countryside with Sansa and pronouncing her real name in packed taverns just a couple of episodes ago. The same guy who left the Vale supposedly because he feared someone could inform Cersei of Sansa’s whereabouts. The same guy, by the way, who undertook not a single measure to protect Sansa by hiding her true identity. That fellow is now persuading Sansa he absolutely needs to go to King’s Landing, because otherwise Cersei will become, pay attention, suspicious!

Well, if Cersei didn’t sniff out any trouble so far, then, Lord Petyr, you could return to King’s Landing under a banner with a direwolf, and no, the Queen Mother won’t be suspicious. As far as you’re concerned, she’s a moron.

Actually, everyone involved in this entire subplot has to be at least a little moronic, in order for it to have any chance at being received as somewhat faintly logical. That’s counting those Vale lords that allowed Littlefinger to take Sansa Stark with him, and the Boltons for not murdering Littlefinger as soon as he delivered Sansa to them, and of course Sansa and Littlefinger themselves for reasons stated in the previous review. But, most of all, it includes the person responsible for one more narrative theft committed by TV Littlefinger.

The episode as a whole was heavy on exposition, with multiple references to Rhaegar and Lyanna’s tragic love. The most important was, of course, delivered by Littlefinger, Benioff & Weiss’ stand-in for interactive encyclopedia.

The story of Sandor’s burnt face? He knows it. Prostitutes want to know more about the Starks’ history? He’ll teach them. Someone’s lost on the strict definition of chaos? Littlefinger will clear the confusion. Is it any wonder, then, that it’s TV Baelish who got to tell the story of the Harrenhal Tourney, along with the iconic “The moment when all the smiles died” detail that Ned Stark recalls in the book.

One might think it’s Benioff & Weiss’ strange view on egalitarianism: “Ned got the woman Littlefinger loved, it’s only fair Littlefinger now takes Ned’s famous lines.” But, after more than four years and 44 episodes and counting, we know better than to associate their take on Littlefinger with any kind of legitimate reasoning. They possibly have the obligation to feed Aidan Gillen, one of the most established actors in GOT’s cast back at the time of making the debut season, with a certain amount of screen time, which considering their storytelling “talent” actually backfired with this abomination the character of Littlefinger became long ago.

lf

If such an obligation does exist, it would mean that, opposite to the character he plays, Gillen is a pretty smart fellow, who sensed early on he’s dealing with talentless amateurs way out of their depth. If only he shared that wisdom with Ian McElhinney, who tried to embody Ser Barristan Selmy. Or with Martin himself, who, like McElhinney, made the mistake of having faith (pun intended) that Benioff and Weiss really wanted to adapt ASOIAF, and not use the opportunity to run their own fan-fiction. Had Martin been on the same page as Gillen, perhaps GOT wouldn’t be in a mess it finds itself in at the very moment, the mess that eerily resembles the last scene of the episode: both Unsullied viewers and ASOIAF veterans lying helpless on the ground, bleeding, wondering what the hell just happened.

It rhymes with money . . . every time

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A review of “High Sparrow,” the third episode of the fifth season of “Game of Thrones”

by Miodrag Zarković

Bold. What a word! “Merriam-Webster” defines it in three points: 1) not afraid of danger or difficult situations; 2) showing or needing confidence or lack of fear; 3) very confident in a way that may seem rude or foolish. Keep all three points in mind when you read the following excerpt:

“HBO’s Game of Thrones has been gradually edging away from its source material. Yet Sunday’s episode introduced what is perhaps the boldest departure yet from George R. R. Martin’s novels . . .”

It’s taken from Entertainment Weekly’s article about “High Sparrow,” the third episode of the fifth season of what was supposed to be the “A Song of Ice and Fire” book series brought to screen. James Hibberd, the author of the article, actually describes the departure in question immediately after the excerpt; but before getting to that part, let’s focus for a moment on the fact he called it “perhaps the boldest” one yet. According to “Merriam-Webster,” it should mean that the said deviation required courage, fearlessness, firmness and confidence from David Benioff and Dan Weiss, the two showrunners. That is what bold means, after all.

Bold. Has a very nice ring to it. One might fall in love with the term. One might even confuse it for identity and wish to take it.

Bold, Bold, it rhymes with told.

Okay, let’s see what are we told further in the article. What is this big, bold departure the show undertook in “High Sparrow”? Turned out it’s Benioff & Weiss’ decision to have Sansa Stark, the oldest living child of Ned and Catelyn Stark, marry the son of Roose Bolton, the man who, two seasons ago, murdered the firstborn child of Ned and Catelyn Stark. That is the departure EW called “perhaps the boldest” yet.

And departure it is. In the novels, the monstrous Ramsay Bolton marries not Sansa but her best friend Jeyne Poole, who was practically a nonentity in the show, where she briefly appeared—without a spoken line and never addressed by name—only in the pilot. In the books, Jeyne is the one who gets to be the lucky bride of the biggest psychopath in the saga (which says quite a lot, really), while Sansa at this point in the story is still in the Vale and has absolutely no connection to the storyline set in the North, the coldest region of the Seven Kingdoms.

Bold, Bold, it rhymes with cold.

EW’s stance implies considerable risks were taken by Benioff and Weiss in making the decision to move their Sansa into Jeyne’s role. Risks are an absolute necessity because, as Ned Stark would say, that is the only thing a man can be bold against. However, in the same EW article, just paragraphs below, Benioff and Weiss’ trusted wingman Bryan Cogman reveals something else entirely. Here’s the excerpt:

“Besides, Cogman pointed out: ‘You have this storyline with Ramsay. Do you have one of your leading ladies—who is an incredibly talented actor who we’ve followed for five years and viewers love and adore—do it? Or do you bring in a new character to do it? To me, the question answers itself: You use the character the audience is invested in.’”

Pay attention to what Cogman, also a writer for the show, says: “The question answers itself.” That does not sit well with risks and being bold. Answering questions that answer themselves is never a sign of bravery. It is quite the contrary, in fact. Letting a question like that answer itself may be smart or stupid, wise or shortsighted, rewarding or futile, but it can never ever be bold. Cogman actually says exactly the opposite of what was stated at the beginning of the article: that the show took a safer choice. Not more challenging, but more conventional one. In effect, the showrunners avoided risks by replacing a new character (which would be new in the first place, simply because Benioff and Weiss failed to introduce Jeyne Poole properly when the time was right), with an old one.

Bold, Bold, it rhymes with old.

But enough with the EW article. Let’s put the decision itself under scrutiny. So, how does Sansa’s marriage to Ramsay fit into the bigger picture in regards to logic, themes and narrative?

It doesn’t! For a number of reasons.

First, it could never be negotiated. How could Littlefinger and Roose Bolton ever discuss the idea of such a strange alliance? It’s unfathomable! It is already established that Littlefinger made the proposal (he himself said so in the previous episode, and his exchange with Roose this week confirms that), but really, why would Bolton ever accept any such suggestion at face value and not become suspicious to the point of alerting the Iron Throne of a possible traitor that resides in the Vale? Or even more, why would Littlefinger ever expect Boltons to accept it? Remember, this is supposed to be the world in which Ned Stark lost his head for being not too careful. The world in which the Northern army was massacred because Robb didn’t keep his word. How come the same rules don’t apply to Littlefinger and Roose Bolton, people who, on top of everything, were instrumental in the downfalls of Ned and Robb, so they can’t help but know the rules, which would only make them more cautious? Both Littlefinger sending the proposal and Roose Bolton accepting it are extremely careless moves that expose those who make them to drastic possibilities. Say what you want about Littlefinger and Roose, but however ambitious, greedy or brazen they may be, neither is careless. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be in their current positions.

Second, why the hell would Sansa ever go along with it? As seen last season, she’s the one who basically has control over Littlefinger now, not the other way around. She was the one who lied to save him a year ago, and one word of hers can get him killed in no time. After spending years as a prisoner of the Lannisters, she finally managed to not only escape King’s Landing, but also gain such a power over the Protector of the Vale. And now she’s going to throw all that and be the daughter-in-law of the man who can’t be anything but a nemesis and a usurper?

Third, how did Littlefinger manage to persuade Sansa so easily? She’s appalled by his idea at first, but then she accepts it a minute later. All it took to change her mind was a few badly-worded lines in which Littlefinger revealed nothing of importance nor offered any kind of assurance whatsoever. One would expect something stronger than “You’ll be running away all your life” is needed for such a radical change of heart. Actually, the entire scene of Sansa finally accepting Littlefinger’s plan was an exercise in heavy-handed, clichéd and baseless writing.

Fourth, what is Littlefinger’s plan actually? Let’s assume he hid it from Sansa (which only makes her more unbelievably stupid, though we’re well past that point anyhow), but is any viable plan by Littlefinger even detectable? Like, why would a man as ambitious and cunning as Littlefinger give away his most valuable acquisition, and to Roose Bolton of all people? In the novels, it indeed is Littlefinger who sends poor Jeyne Poole to Winterfell to pose as Arya Stark, but that in effect strengthens his grip on the Boltons, who are now ever dependent on anyone who can expose the ploy. By placing fake Arya in the hands of the Boltons, he risks not a single thing. In the show, however, Littlefinger practically gambles with literally everything. Just consider the possibility that Sansa accidentally slips who really murdered Lysa Arryn: at that moment, he, Littlefinger, would become the one who depends on the Boltons instead of the other way around. But even if nothing similar happens, Littlefinger is allying himself with the weakest ruler of the North in history, and in the process he’s giving away his main asset, who, by the way, could deliver the North to him without ever entering into any pact with the Boltons (in fact, this arrangement can only decrease Sansa’s reputation in her homeland): that’s not ambitious or brazen or unpredictable, that is outright absurd.

Fifth, once Sansa and Littlefinger reach Winterfell, it turns out Littlefinger lacks not only a plan, but also the basic information about the family he just formed a fateful treaty with. He doesn’t seem to know anything about Ramsay, a man we saw earlier being chastised by his father for allowing all the North to see what a monster he truly is. All of which means that TV Westeros is a land where the word of, say, Tywin Lannister’s death travels almost instantly, but news of Ramsay flaying lords and their families never reach the most informed guy in the realm (Varys is in another continent at the moment).

Bold, Bold, it rhymes with scold.

Yes, whoever came up with this “bold” departure from the source material deserves to be scolded and chastised over and over again, until he learns never to say Sansa is his favorite character ever again. Because he actually is saying exactly that:

“Sansa is a character we care about almost more than any other, and the Stark sisters have from the very beginning been two characters who have fascinated us the most,” Benioff was quoted in EW article.

Yeah, they love Sansa’s character so much they took her out of her arc and moved her somewhere she couldn’t belong in any meaningful way. The fact he’s saying that in the very article that deals with “perhaps the boldest departure” that actually involves Sansa, clearly proves the modern public increasingly looks as if adapted by Benioff and Weiss: who needs accountability anyway, accountability is for eight graders!

As a matter of fact, Game of Thrones may very well be the first show that doesn’t reflect the reality so much as accommodates it according to its own image. “You’re going to believe me or your lying eyes?” seems to be the order of the day at this point in the history of mankind, and nowhere is that more evident than in the case of GOT, the showrunners of which seem to have improved the catchphrase into: “What are you going to use for thinking, our interviews or your too-logical-for-its-own-good brain?”

Looks like too many choose to believe not their own eyes and minds, but Benioff and Weiss, even though the two were already caught lying in flagrante. And about the same storyline, no less. Back in Season One, when explaining why they gave book Sandor’s lines to TV Littlefinger, Cogman said it was because of the terrible weather conditions that messed up with the shooting schedule and forced them to make the switch. But in the scene itself, while Littlefinger’s telling Sansa the story of “brotherly love” between Gregor and Sandor, you can clearly see the latter standing behind, in the stands, right by Joffrey. The actor was actually there, in the scene, at disposal and very visible, and yet any number of viewers chose to believe Cogman and his ridiculous story about some weather conditions that influenced the script.

That arrogance in dealing with their own fans is the most annoying thing about the showrunners and their crew. But, one would be mistaken to confuse that arrogance with some sort of confidence. It is, in fact, the exact opposite: a calculated cockiness, aimed at leaving the impression of confidence where there is none.

Just look at the scene with the High Septon being forced naked out of the brothel. What purpose did it serve? The first part of the scene, in which the High Septon was picking whores, filled the nudity quota, of course, but the High Septon himself—no offense—certainly wasn’t disrobed for the same wisdom. He was made to walk naked through the streets of King’s Landing for one reason: to make the similar scene that is coming for Cersei at the end of the season not look too controversial.

See, last year, with the now infamous sex scene in the sept and the public outcry that followed it, the HBO executives most probably demanded from Benioff and Weiss never to repeat a similar controversy. And, while their understanding of the books is questionable at best, Benioff and Weis are probably very much in touch with the readers’ reactions to particular points of Martin’s novels. Like a politician obsessed not with his legacy but with his approval ratings: it’s not about what he wants or doesn’t want to do, it’s about how people are going to react to it. Therefore, Benioff and Weiss definitely know a significant part of the readership think Cersei’s Walk of Shame was a misogynistic measure against her. And they aren’t willing to risk their show being seen in the same light. No way. Hence the scene with the naked High Septon. This way, once Lena Headey puts her bare foot on the same streets, nobody will be able to accuse Benioff and Weiss that women are more tortured than men in their world.

That’s how bold they truly are. That is the boldness that stems only from a corporate giant that paid millions of dollars for your right to play petty games with a source material that is anything but petty.

Bold, Bold, it rhymes with gold.

And yes, the games Benioff and Weiss seem to be playing with fans of the novels often appear as petty. Just look at the Janos Slynt’s death scene. Really, how hard can it be to include “Ed, fetch me a block?” It wouldn’t take more than a few seconds for Jon to change his mind and instead of hanging to outright behead Janos. But no, Benioff and Weiss probably find some mysterious joy in omitting all the iconic lines they know the most faithful book readers simply adore.

Bold, Bold, it almost rhymes with “Ollie, bring me my sword.”

It is, after all, what they managed to do even with the first of those iconic lines: Ned’s “That is the only time a man can be brave.” There is no such line in the pilot, it’s only referred to much later on, near the end of the second season, when Robb tells Talisa about his late father.

What Benioff and Weiss possibly don’t get is that those lines didn’t become iconic because fans confused them for passwords that give access to their secret nerd societies. (Before the show, actually, ASOIAF was pretty immune to the entire nerd culture.) No, those lines are so beloved precisely because they are written as important points in the development of this character or that plotline. It’s never just about Edd or fetching or a block, but also about decisions these characters make and then go on living with them. Lines like those are what makes not only dialogues in ASOIAF but also characters so damn memorable and brilliant.

Partially because of those omissions, characters in the show are often flat and/or inconsistent. The aforementioned Janos Slynt, for example. A few episodes ago, in last season’s penultimate hour, Janos was hiding in Gilly’s room during the crucial battle with the wildlings. One episode ago, during the elections Sam was openly ridiculing Janos and his cowardice in front of everyone, and Janos did nothing at all—in effect, it means he’s a way bigger craven than Sam. But now, in this episode, all of a sudden he’s all disobedient and even rebellious when the new Lord Commander gives him a direct order. One might ask, what did Benioff and Weiss turn their Janos into such a wimp for, when they eventually ended his arc the same way as in the books? Really, how hard, or bold, it is to write a side character like Janos Slynt consistently, especially when someone else already did it for you in the novels?

And in those rare instances Benioff and Weiss are consistent (sort of), it’s for the worse. Enter Tyrion, a character who, if personal opinions are allowed, I find absolutely brilliant and one of Martin’s best in the books. But I like Tyrion only with both his best and his worst parts, and his absolute worst happens in “A Dance with Dragons,” when, all the while believing he was infected by greyscale, he penetrates a poor sex slave and thus possibly exposes her to the deadly disease. In the show, however, not only that greyscale is removed from his Essos arc but Tyrion also doesn’t sleep with prostitutes anymore. Like, he would but can’t! He appears to be an even better person than he was before killing Shae and Tywin. Some call it the whitewashing of Tyrion, but I prefer to call it the dumbing down of the entire story to the point where characters are allowed only to walk the narrow beats that were chosen for them somewhere in HBO’s focus groups-dealing departments. Tyrion is recognized as a protagonist up there, and therefore he’s stripped of layers and layers of complexity that made him such a wonderful creation.

Bold, Bold, it rhymes with mold.

It is what the show does all the time with all the characters. Benioff and Weiss are frequently praised by servile TV critics for their alleged boldness in deviating from the source material (and in the first season they were actually encouraged to do so), and looks like they came to believe it really is a question of courage. But what’s really going on is exactly the opposite. The ultimate result is that each and every deviation only made the story and the world and the characters more lame and flat and dumb, but in all fairness, the show’s deviations could never be bold. Not with all the push for them coming from all directions. Not with HBO demanding them, as evidenced by the reshooting of the pilot. Not with all the money HBO’s been pouring on the media, in the name of promoting Game of Thrones. With all the resources HBO invested in this project, taking the easier, safer route every time is never bold. On the contrary.

Bold, Bold, it rhymes with sold.

All our books and we still don’t know

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A review of “The House of Black and White,” the second episode of the fifth season of “Game of Thrones”

by Miodrag Zarković

Let’s take a somewhat different approach this time. Let’s critique “Game of Thrones” by actually praising something they’ve done.

The first episode of Season 5 introduced flashbacks, but the second episode started with an even bigger precedent: a scene without burping, farting, cursing, whoring, lusting, humiliating, ridiculing, castrating, mutilating, insulting, chastising, tutoring, delivering quasi-philosophies . . . In short, it was a scene in which nobody was making a misery out of someone else’s life to any extent.

“The House of Black and White” opens with Arya on a ship entering the port of Braavos while the captain briefs her on the city, and then he takes the girl to her final destination, from which the episode borrowed its title. It is the same ship Arya embarked at the end of previous season, and the captain is apparently the same person as last year, which could indicate David Benioff and Dan Weiss, the two showrunners, finally resolved their recurring problems with continuity. But that’s not the point. The point is that the captain was not only helpful but also nice to Arya, and she was visibly grateful for that.

Trying to remember the last time two characters in the show had a decent, good-natured exchange, one might have to go back to the first season. And even then, those were the characters already bonded by family or friendship ties (for example, Ned’s respective scenes with Cat, Robert and Arya), or characters directed at each other by their positions (Ned/Barristan). Two persons that are almost complete strangers to one another? Yeah, Arya/Captain could very well be the first ever in the show.

(Tyrion/Yoren from episode three could qualify, had Benjen not interrupted.)

Ironically, it was a small departure from the books, where the captain was visibly eager to get rid of Arya (though he never denies her his service), but at the same time this TV scene is easily among the most faithful ones to the source material as a whole. The world George R. R. Martin built in his “A Song of Ice and Fire” book series is populated by people that aren’t unlike us and they happen to interact with each other in ways that clearly resemble human interactions from our reality. While the story is indeed focused on lords and ladies and other highborn people, ordinary folks are never too far away and most usually they’re reasonably decent to strangers they happen to meet on streets, or at the market, or at the inn. Of course, that somewhat changes in times of war and accompanying horrors, but never vanishes. And that is what gives the utmost realistic aspect to Martin’s world. If you don’t want realism to be jeopardized by gradually introduced supernatural elements like dragons and resurrections, you have to ground it in the most basic forms of humanity. That’s what the world-building should be in a character and culture-driven story.

“Game of Thrones” is, sadly, not that kind of story. Its characters are overwhelmingly inconsistent, and its societies are both superficial and unsustainable. And one of the main reasons is that for four seasons we practically didn’t have a single example of ordinary human decency. Instead, Benioff and Weiss clearly enjoy treating their viewers to a misery porn. In their world, common folks are constantly vulgar, rude, greedy, vile, touchy and aggressive, often without any reason or provocation whatsoever.

Perhaps that’s how Benioff and Weiss are trying to detail their world as adult and mature, but in effect they’re accomplishing exactly the opposite.

And that is why Arya’s story collapses as soon as she parts ways with the captain. When she knocks, a hooded man opens the black-white door and—guess what?—he doesn’t even want to hear her out. After uttering some cryptic ominous warning, he slams the door right in front of her nose and never opens it again, even though Arya spends what looks like days at the stairs and under heavy rain. She finally decides to move on, tosses Jaqen’s coin in the river and goes further into the city, where, later in the episode, she’s about to engage in a fight with some young bullies when—guess what?—the hooded man suddenly appears behind her, forcing the bullies to run away, after which Arya follows him back to the House of Black and White.

If a reason for any of this ever existed, it surely never left Benioff and Weiss’ writing room.

And then a small discontinuity occurs: when the hooded man changes his face to that of Jaqen, he also changes his voice to that of Jaqen. In the finale of Season Two, when the original Jaqen performed the same magic, he changed appearances, but not the voice. One more not too important but nevertheless evident detail the showrunners failed to remember from their own work.

But all that is small potatoes compared to the problems with the second scene, in which Brienne and Pod cross paths with Littlefinger and Sansa once again, this time at the inn. Let’s start with the biggest, most bizarre problem of all: horses.

Benioff and Weiss are known to have had issues with horses in the past, due to how difficult these animals are for filming, but this was a whole new level. Pay attention to this little dialogue between Brienne and Pod, that ensues after he spotted Sansa, Littlefinger and a bunch of knights at the opposite side of the inn:

Brienne: “Ready the horses!”
Pod: “We only have one horse.”
Brienne: “Find. More.

If you think about it even for a second, this exchange is as stupid as they come. Like, are horses a commodity in Westeros or aren’t they? Are they hard to obtain or not? If they are, then how the hell is Pod to “find more” in no time? If they aren’t, what the hell were Brienne and Pod doing with just one horse all this time?

For comparison, imagine a similar dialogue but on modern Earth, where cars are the prime mode of transportation: “Go start our cars.” “We have only one car.” “Find more!” See how absurd it gets when put in a familiar environment? And that is the biggest, most frequent deficiency of the show: too much of the stuff Benioff and Weiss came up with is completely unsustainable in any reasonable and logical surrounding.

Issues like those are dealt with on basic levels of writing classes, or even acting classes for that matter. There, one learned early on to be vigilant about the details that could betray the fundamental illusion the audience is being drawn into by the artist, be it a creator or a performer. It’s details that most easily corrode the glamor, whether the audience recognizes it instantly and consciously or not. And in the case of GOT, it’s not even that hard to immediately recognize all the missteps the show creators are making in every given episode.

After the nonsense with the horses, there’s a rare, and therefore remarkable, example of consistency in the show in regards to Brienne: she’s still to meet a Stark girl’s company she won’t start a fight with. Last year it was Sandor escorting Arya, this time around it’s the knights of the Vale escorting Sansa. It’s as if her actual priority is not to protect late Lady Catelyn’s daughters, but to kill everyone who happens to protect them at the moment. Here, she killed two of the knights that guarded Littlefinger and Sansa, but only because she had to rescue Pod. What was her initial intent is hard to tell, just like with great many of the actions characters in the show undertake. Once again, if Brienne ever had anything that resembles a plan when she ordered Pod to “ready the horses,” it’s still well and safe in the writing room of Benioff and Weiss.

Brienne also seems sworn to never mention a sister to any of the Stark girls. Just like last year she didn’t tell Arya anything about Sansa (which was understandable, truth be told), in this episode she managed to hide from Sansa the fact that she saw Arya recently. Again, a consistency! Not in logic, but at least in writing. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Bronn’s not as lucky as Brienne. His reasoning changes rapidly, as witnessed in the first scene he appears in this season. Last year, he refused to be Tyrion’s champion against Gregor Clegane because he wasn’t too much into “if and may and could.” However, when Jaime Lannister presented him with an offer that is nothing but “if and may and could,” Bronn accepted. And, in all fairness, Jaime’s offer is way more dangerous than Tyrion’s. Gregor Clegane was a beast, a freak of nature, a killing monster, but Dorne is an entire region. Kidnapping a royal hostage from the heart of a hostile region and bringing her back safely half a continent away, well, that sounds quite more perilous than challenging one man, even if it happens to be The Mountain.

But it’s not only perilous, it’s also absolutely stupid, at least on Jaime’s part. The entire plan is. First, why bring just Bronn along? Why not one more sellsword, or a knight? Why not two more? A party of three or four can be as light and fast as a pair, and the extra fighter or two can really make a difference between life and death on a mission like this one. The only reason one can think of is that, per the industry’s common wisdom, the buddy comedy commands just two participants. Since the showrunners obviously liked the “chemistry” between Jaime and Bronn, they saw no reason to disturb it by bringing more people into the mix, even if the in-story logic would have it otherwise.

Second, and even more important, what’s Jaime’s goal anyway if he actually doesn’t want to start a war, as he says to Cersei when he pitches his brilliant idea to her? How does he expect Dorne to react once he kidnaps Myrcella right from their very court and thus breaks the deal that sealed their shaky alliance? What is this world in which suicide missions like Jaime’s are actually expected not only to succeed but also to have no consequences whatsoever?

Stannis has Melisandre and her shadow-babies? Big deal! The Lannisters have Jaime. He’s a shadow-baby on cocaine! Jaime can reach further than Mel’s creatures and can perform much more sophisticated operations than just trust a shadow dagger through one’s throat. How come the Lannisters hadn’t thought of using him that way before?

While he’s in Dorne, by the way, would Jaime be kind enough to remove whoever was directing the scenes staged in that particular region of Westeros? So far we had just one such a scene, but it was enough. In it, Ellaria Sand, paramour of the late Oberyn Martell, confronts Oberyn’s brother and Dorne’s Prince Doran, demanding his approval to tear poor Myrcella to pieces, in retaliation for Oberyn’s death. Everything’s cartoonish about that piece of television: the dialogue is worded expectedly poorly, the camera work is more than lacking (when you’re having one of the most amazing locations in the world as your set, why not show its full beauty from, say, an aerial view?), and the acting is so one-note it hurts. Indira Varma as Ellaria and Alexander Siddig as newly-introduced Doran are experienced actors and proven in other roles. So, for the fact that neither of them changes their face expression during their minute-and-a-half long conversation, it’s probably the director who’s responsible.

The situation in Meereen is something not even Jaime the Commando could solve. When the story entered that city, apparently it ended 1) slavery, and 2) rationality. And sadly, nobody’s fighting to restore the latter, while the former has numerous champions, some of them even hiding inside the walls. What are they doing there? How did they get there? How did they ever plan to get out of there? Well, we’re like the Unsullied in patrol, too conspicuous, so we’ll probably never be told.

What does Dany want to do with the captured Son of the Harpy? To put him on trial, of course, like any reasonable 21st century leader only should. The problem is, she’s not in the 21st century. She’s ruling a recently conquered medieval-like city that used to run on slavery for centuries, so the very idea of a trial for such an unquestionable offense is rather preposterous. But even that aside, what would be the point of the trial in this particular instance? Is the captured fellow denying he’s a member of the terrorist group that’s behind the murders? Can he at all, considering the way he was captured? “We do not know what this man did or didn’t do, give him a trial at least,” says Ser Barristan, but in all actuality they do know the captured man was hiding inside the wall with weapons and a mask. What, he was hiding in the wall by accident? And what judicial bodies would conduct a trial? Would the trial be open? Would the accused therefore get the chance to address the masses and spread the poisonous ideas of his group? Really, how would a trial even look like?

We’ll never know, only not because we’re too conspicuous but because Mossador took the justice into his own hands and killed the prisoner. Did Mossador himself get a fair trial? Well, no. He was denied all those mysterious judicial possibilities that were meant for the Son of the Harpy. Mossador was simply executed in front of thousands of citizens of Meereen, both ex-slaves and former slavers. And of course, the former didn’t take it too kindly. How did they react? As if they came from Monty Python’s famous 1979 film “Life of Brian”: there’s a very similar scene in there, with the crowd of followers gathered outside of Brian’s window and answering unanimously to his complicated questions; the difference is, the Monty Python’s scene was meant to ridicule scenes like the execution of Mossador; Benioff and Weiss therefore have the dubious honor of being alluded to in a Monty Python movie 36 years ago.

It’d be interesting to find out what Benioff and Weiss really think of those poor ex-slaves in Meereen. What they think of their show’s viewers, however, is pretty evident and most precisely articulated in the Wall scenes in this episode.

The image they have of their core audience is illustrated by the members of the Night’s Watch in the elections: they can be persuaded into anything. A few lines by Samwell Tarly, who’s likely a stand-in for the modern TV critics that keep praising “Game of Thrones” in their weekly reviews, was all it took for both the voters and the viewers to forget what an incompetent fool Jon Snow was for the previous three seasons. Strangely, it also served to erase the memory of Sam’s advice to Jon just a minute earlier, when he was urging Jon to accept Stannis’ proposition. Even Sam seemed to completely forget about it: one moment he was prompting Jon to leave the Night’s Watch, next moment he was nominating his friend to lead the Black Brothers.

Once again, it was a blatant example of the show not taking itself seriously at all and going back on its own internal logic in just a minute or thereabouts. That has to be a new record.

And what Benioff and Weiss think of the viewers they inherited from the source material, they showed in the scene in which Selyse Baratheon chastises her daughter Shireen. “All your books and you still don’t know,” says the Queen at the Wall.

Yes, all our books, and we basically have no idea what is going on in this show that was supposed to be an adaptation of those books. And, so far, it doesn’t look like the show is better off because of it. Quite the opposite.

Be careful who you give the show to, HBO!

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A review of “The wars to Come,” the first episode of the fifth season of “Game of Thrones”

by Miodrag Zarković

HBO seems to be making a habit out of placing “Game of Thrones” in the wrong hands.

This past weekend, the first four episodes of Season 5 of “Game of Thrones” were leaked on the internet, immediately reaffirming the epic fantasy as the most pirated television show in the world. HBO soon released a statement, confirming that “the leaked four episodes of the upcoming season of Game of Thrones originated from within a group approved by HBO to receive them.”

One might think they’re somewhat used to the situation by now. As in, this really shouldn’t be the first time they realized they trusted the wrong people about “Thrones.” And we’re definitely not talking about internet piracy.

In April 2011, when the debut season premiered, HBO wasn’t suspicious, but, after the second episode aired, many a fan expressed their concerns. The reason was a particular scene in which Cersei Lannister visits Bran Stark, who’s in a coma, and tries to comfort his mother Catelyn. And what a comforting it was! To the woman already half-mad because of the condition her son finds himself in, Cersei tells a story about the child she herself lost to a fever years ago.

That scene had absolutely no business being in a show based on the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series by George R. R. Martin. And now, four years later, it’s pretty obvious why.

“How many children does Scarlett O’Hara have?” asked Martin recently, referring to the differences between the “Gone with the Wind” book and its film adaptation, and implying two canons for the same story is not something unheard of. Well, Mr. Martin, you were possibly addressing the wrong audience about the wrong mother. It’s not us you had to discuss Scarlett’s kids with, it was David Benioff and Dan Weiss you had to discuss Cersei Lannister’s posterity with. Because, as evidenced by the Season 5 premiere, Benioff and Weiss, the duo behind “Game of Thrones,” clearly needed some help in keeping track of their own imagination.

When asked how many children Cersei Lannister gave birth to, one isn’t necessarily to choose between the show and its source material but—between two different seasons of the same show! Back in 2011, as explained, Cersei bore at least four children: Joff, Myrcella, Tommen and a boy who died of fever. Come 2015, and Cersei Lannister mothered only three kids: that’s what she was foretold as a kid, and that’s what she obviously believes in. Yes, we’re talking about the flashback scene, the historical first in the “Game of Thrones” universe that opened the new season, titled “The Wars to Come”. In the scene, Cersei and her hysterical friend (a sidekick kid that continually and loudly advises the main kid against the thing they’re actually doing, is one of the oldest and most boring clichés in storytelling, by the way), visit a witch able to foresee the future. When young Cersei demands to know hers, the witch tells her she’ll have, pay attention, three children of her own!

The number is the same as in the books, but, alas, it doesn’t add up when you add the poor kid Cersei was talking about in Season 1. And the scene with Cat wasn’t the only one Cersei mentioned the dead boy in. She also brought up the kid while talking to Robert Baratheon, in Episode 5. It actually seals the deal that the unfortunate infant did exist in the show universe in 2011, because otherwise talking about him with the man who fathered him would make no sense at all.

That’s “Game of Thrones” for you. Go on, count Scarlett O’Hara’s children as many times as you like and draw any conclusion you find fit, just so long as you pay no attention to the kids actual characters in the show keep mentioning and then totally forgetting about a couple of seasons later. It’s not a big deal, after all. Who among us isn’t confused about the number of kids we produce? Nobody said parenting was easy, counting your children included.

But, truth be told, more serious issues than pure math are involved here. Back in 2011, fans of the books didn’t need a witch to realize how troubling the story about Cersei’s  dead boy truly was. The entire scene had a neon sign that telegraphed Benioff & Weiss’ intention to humanize the queen of Westeros. That wouldn’t be a problem had she not been humanized in the books, but she was. Which means Benioff & Weiss were repairing something that wasn’t broken. No good could come from that.

Besides the now-you-know-them-now-you-don’t kids, one more thing was notably absent from the TV prophecy: the valonqar, e.g. the younger brother destined to squeeze the life out of Cersei once all of her children are dead. It’s completely puzzling that Benioff & Weiss decided to remove the crucial part which made the prophecy what it is.

In “The Wars to Come,” there’s one more female character completely rid of any possible valonqar: Sansa Stark. Once, she had two younger brothers of her own, Bran and Rickon. The show, however, didn’t have Sansa even acknowledge their existence or their “deaths” ever since she left Winterfell early in Season 1. Instead, she was last seen preoccupied with her cousin Robert Arryn, the Lord of the Vale.

But it wasn’t for long. In the first scene of the new season they appear in, Littlefinger and Sansa leave Robert to be fostered at Yohn Royce’s household.

If you don’t recall instantly, Robert is the neurotic kid that was supposedly the centerpiece of the unrevealed but strongly hinted at scheme Littlefinger and Sansa planned last year. In the already infamous scene that ended her Season 4 arc, Sansa appears at the top of the stairs in an ominous dress (really ominous, not like the TV witch’s prophecy) of her own creation, and joins Littlefinger in manipulating the terrified Robert. “Shall we go?” she asked seductively, before the scene ended, along with her story for the season. Next time we saw her was this Sunday, and it looks like there really was no plan for Robert after all. A year ago, when she invited them to go somewhere, she was apparently talking about Yohn Royce’s household. Taking poor Robert out of the Eyrie, that was the task Sansa had to dress herself for so strangely! That’s why she had to become a seductress overnight. Of course, Robert would never follow her had she kept her hair red, her dress green, and her cleavage unexposed.

Seriously now, manipulating Robert Arryn seems like one more strange direction that Benioff & Weiss abruptly took, and then even more abruptly abandoned after realizing it led nowhere. It was a pure waste of everyone’s time, which is the one resource the show doesn’t have in abundance. Other things Sansa’s arc this season already managed to abandon, however, are even more troubling. Because, along with the time, logic suffered too.

There is no logic whatsoever in Littlefinger’s explanation on why they are leaving the Vale. “So, where are we going? To a land where you trust everyone?” asks Sansa once they’re in a carriage. “To a land so far from here that even Cersei Lannister can’t get her hands on you,” answers Lord Baelish, thus making the audience as puzzled as Sansa seems to be.

You see, thanks to the information from the production and images from the trailers and incidents mentioned at the beginning of this article, it’s not a secret he’s taking Sansa to Winterfell, which is ruled by the Boltons at the moment. And you have to be a moron to run from Cersei by hiding among the Boltons. So, either TV Littlefinger is the moron for trusting the Boltons on any level whatsoever, or TV Sansa is a moron who doesn’t realize Littlefinger is about to sell her to the worst possible bidders, or . . . you know . . . like, HBO should really be way more careful about who they’re sending “Game of Thrones” episodes to.

Sansa’s storyline this season is emblematic of the biggest problem the show continues to suffer from: the lack of any context whatsoever. And it’s not just about the faithfulness to the source material. Yes, Martin’s novels offer any number of contexts that could and should have been exploited on screen to no regret. Benioff & Weiss, however, ignored the majority and used only a handful of them, and added many contexts they invented, as lacking as the latter may be. But eventually it’s all for nothing, because Benioff & Weiss apparently didn’t meet a context they were careful not to violate in a blatant way.

Really, why would anyone, be it Littlefinger or someone else, go all those lengths to save Sansa from King’s Landing, only to hand her over to one of the rare families that is visibly more disturbing and depraved than the Lannisters? It makes no sense at all. Not to mention that Littlefinger has no reason to expect the Boltons wouldn’t turn Sansa over to the Iron Throne the first chance they get. Roose and Ramsay aren’t famous for their loyalty, after all. Why would anyone expect a better treatment from them than the one Robb Stark received?

But no, looks like Benioff & Weiss didn’t think Sansa’s TV arc through. No wonder it’s only becoming a bigger and bigger mess: at one point, Littlefinger was saving Sansa from the Lannisters; next moment, she was saving him from the Lords of the Vale and the accusation about the death of Lysa Arryn; then, in no time, the two of them seemingly agreed to control the Vale by manipulating Lysa’s challenged son; alas, no, Littlefinger actually had something entirely different in mind, and what he plans now is, by the way, far worse than anything he or Sansa or both possibly intended up to that point.

That’s what you get when you write ignoring the consequences your decisions may have.

“The Wars to Come” contains at least two more blunt examples of ignored contexts. Chronologically, the first is the scene with Cersei and Jaime in the sept. The disaster was a given. There’s Jaime, there’s Cersei, there’s a dead body right by them, they’re alone and at a holy place. The context of messing with such an opportunity in a very wrong way is not the one Benioff & Weiss could ever ignore. And they did mess with it, big time.

“Did you set him free?” asks Cersei to her twin brother, referring to Tyrion, of course. Jaime instantly forgets he has a tongue, which Cersei correctly understands as the confirmation that yes, he was the one who released the Imp. And she’s not about to let her twin brother go off the hook lightly: “Tyrion may be a monster, but at least he killed our father on purpose. You killed him by mistake. A stupidity.”

And that’s it. That is all the punishment Jaime will receive from Cersei for saving the person she hated all of her life. Just to sum things up: almost the entire Season 4, Cersei spent carefully arranging Tyrion’s death, and when she was finally about to get precisely what she wanted, her little brother somehow escaped from the dungeons and managed to murder their father and the family’s patriarch, and then she finds out it was her other brother that started this chain of events by breaking the law and releasing Tyrion on his own—and she does nothing but chastise Jaime? It all comes down to scolding him!

That kind of storytelling actually isn’t connectable to a competent writing. Cersei is either obsessed with bringing Tyrion to his death, or she isn’t. Tywin’s death is either a big deal, or not. And if the characters themselves don’t seem affected by the crucial events at all, why would the audience be? If incidents like Tyrion’s escape and Tywin’s death effectively have no meaning for Cersei or Jaime, why would they mean anything to the audience?

Similar questions may be asked in regards to the closing scene of the episode, in which Mance Rayder refuses Stannis’ offer and chooses to be burned alive. The scene is so shallow and self-serving it looks like the logic perished in flames long before the King Beyond the Wall. Really, why would Mance refuse Stannis? Is not bending the knee really that more important than saving lives? And if so, why did the Wildlings ever bother to flee south in the first place? What the hell did Mance expect: to enter the realm, but avoid becoming a subject to one king or another, and lose not a single man in the process?

A season or two ago, his plan looked very differently. A season or two ago, he wasn’t opposed to the very idea of Wildlings fighting their way into the Seven Kingdoms. But now, when one Stannis Baratheon effectively offers them the help of his troops, Mance refuses? Suddenly, he’s a conscientious objector who’d rather burn than pick a sword against another human being?

“You’re a good lad, truly you are, but if you can’t understand why I won’t enlist my people in a foreigner’s war, there’s no point explaining,” says Mance to Jon before their final goodbye to each other. But it’s all wrong. From the very beginning, the Wildlings had to count on the armed resistance their invasion on the Seven Kingdoms will be inevitably met with. Fighting the 7K armies is not a possibility Stannis introduced. If anything, Stannis recognizes the common cause and proposes to join forces, since they obviously face the same enemy. But Mance refuses. And instead chooses to be burned alive. The reason be damned.

The first episode of the new season ended right after Jon Snow put Mance out of his burning misery by killing him with an arrow through the heart. And the big question remained hanging in the air:

Really, HBO, why weren’t you much more careful with granting access to this material?

The Winds of Winter Sample Chapter Overview: Alayne I

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She was reading her little lord a tale of the Winged Knight . . .

The unexpectedly released new TWOW sample chapter opens with a line that calls back another scene in her last chapter in AFFC, where Sansa is also trying to get little Robert Arryn out of bed, promising to read him all the stories he wants and give him all the lemoncakes he wants if he’ll do so. The latter delicacy will come later, but here she’s making good of her word in what is essentially a scene meant to show that Alayne Stone is still exercising a beneficial influence on Sweetrobin, employing the trappings of the songs she’s left behind to embolden and hold control over a difficult child she takes care of. She is making use of method acting from the very beginning, appearing in full Alayne mode since the initial lines, from her first thoughts on the need to make Harry Hardyng accept and love her and her use of her bastardy to stop the insistent demands of a little boy with a huge crush on her that wants to marry her and expresses displeasure at the presence of the Heir, demonstrating a surprising awareness about people’s real impressions and ambitions concerning his seat we’d not heard of before:

I hate that Harry,” Sweetrobin said when she was gone. “He calls me cousin, but he’s just waiting for me to die so he can take the Eyrie. He thinks I don’t know, but I do.” . . . “He wants my father’s castle, that’s all, so he pretends.” The boy clutched the blanket to his pimply chest. “I don’t want you to marry him, Alayne. I am the Lord of the Eyrie, and I forbid it.” He sounded as if he were about to cry. “You should marry me instead. We could sleep in the same bed every night, and you could read me stories.

Internally, Alayne thinks like Sansa and expresses that she cannot be married so long as the Imp is alive, a significant line that does help properly frame her behaviour towards Harry, as well as reminiscing the time she was trueborn and noble and was meant for this boy, but outwardly she resorts to her status as a natural daughter of the Lord Protector, arguing that the bannermen won’t let such an union go unchallenged because of him, mixing her identities when she says any child of theirs would be baseborn. Similar to her exasperation in her last chapter when the boy-lord was particularly obstinate, she is harsh in her thoughts when Sweetrobin insists that he could have her despite marrying another, which prompts Alayne to retort with whether he’d want to dishonour her so and leave. On the whole, the scene does show three salient points: that she’s pretty much still the only one that can have Sweetrobin behave as best he can, that the boy is quite aware of his surroundings, and that Sansa is not aware that Sweetrobin is being poisoned; on the contrary, she tells the little boy that he’ll someday have someone appropriate for a consort, and in her internal thoughts, she wishes him to live long enough to have a wife that can appreciate something beautiful in him, like his hair.

Searching for her “father,” Alayne goes freely and confidently through the castle describing the scenery, alluding to a detail that can be of significance at a later date: the scattered papers on Baelish’s solar that look, and reveals the destination of the much speculated-about tapestries of the former king. Alongside her walk, she reflects on the upcoming tournament, which we get to know was her idea, with the purpose of empowering young Lord Arryn and give him security by reproducing his favourite story about Ser Artys Arryn.

 […] the eight victors would be expected to spend the next three years at Lord Robert’s side, as his own personal guard (Alayne had suggested seven, like the Kingsguard, but Sweetrobin had insisted that he must have more knights than King Tommen).

Baelish had found the idea “clever” and preparations were made for the youth of the Vale to attend a tourney where sixty-four knights would compete for one of the eight places and wings in the Winged Knights guard for Sweetrobin. Aside the positive impact on the little lord’s morale, this is also a political move that will render fruits to Baelish in terms of tightening his control of the Vale and keeping the nobles in check, which accounts for why he accepted it readily. Most contestants are in the castle for one month or so already, and some of the knights are in the yard, training some and courting Myranda Royce others. In the scene where she “rescues” Randa from her admirers, we get the first instance showing her new level of maturity, as Alayne has come far from the proper little lady that blushed at compliments and overtly sexual comments, due to her influence, as now she does reply with banter of her own to the knights, a flirtatiousness of which we’d gotten a glimpse before and that is amplified a lot in this chapter, and doesn’t react going beet-red at Randa’s racy remarks but instead does for the first time call the bedding act by its name, and later giggles at the older lady’s joke on Lyn Corbray’s inclinations. Showing quite a great deal of confidence, she dares to use her “father” as a means to boldly poke and prod Ser Lyn over the newly-married Lord Corbray’s impending fatherhood, coming from a marriage arranged by Baelish, which leads to the startling discovery that Lyn is definitely very infuriated at losing his place as heir and resentful of Littlefinger for this; resentment he doesn’t hide to the girl. Alayne concludes that the man could in reality be Baelish’s foe pretending to be his ally pretending to be his foe, a discovery that could have interesting and potentially negative consequences for the Lord Protector and his plans. No less interesting a discovery with potential for trouble is that the Mad Mouse, into whom she bumps right after leaving the yard, has definitely identified her as Sansa Stark.

“A good melee is all a hedge knight can hope for, unless he stumbles on a bag of dragons. And that’s not likely, is it?”

“I suppose not. But now you must excuse us, ser, we need to find my lord father. “

She has no clue about what he was really alluding to, though, and concentrates her efforts again on finding her Baelish to greet the upcoming last guests, wisely ignoring Randa’s pointed questions about her “father’s” little finger. She doesn’t find him before the Waynwood party arrive, so has to race to the gates with the Royce girl, reminiscing along the way of similar races she had in Winterfell with her sister and friend Jeyne, another example of Sansa is very much there despite the chapter never mentioning her real name even once in accordance with the needs of acting like she’s someone else. There, she greets Lady Anya Waynwood, who addressed Lady Royce and herself, introducing her grandson Roland, her younger son Wallace, and her ward Harrold, to whom Alayne has a nervous yet hopeful reaction, wishing him to like her as it’s crucial for her “father’s” plan:

My Harry.  My lord, my lover, my betrothed.

Ser Harrold Hardyng looked every inch a lord-in-waiting; clean-limbed and handsome, straight as a lance, hard with muscle. Men old enough to have known Jon Arryn in his youth said Ser Harrold had his look, she knew. He had a mop of sandy blond hair, pale blue eyes, an aquiline nose. Joffrey was comely too, though, she reminded herself.   A comely monster, that’s what he was.  Little Lord Tyrion was kinder, twisted though he was.

She admires his handsomeness, going through a mental list of the things he could be as she does so, but immediately compares him to Joffrey, who was her first and most lamented mistake of judgement as a young girl, a sign that this worldlier version of herself can no longer be seduced by looks alone, a hard lesson. She does understand the need to win him over, despite the lack of genuine sentiments towards him, so she behaves graciously and charmingly, but also notices that, unlike the gallant flirter Ser Roland and the eager Ser Wallace, he doesn’t look pleased to meet her. Indeed, he ends up insulting her rudely when she offers to escort him to his place in the castle, saying that there’s no reason as to why it’d please him to be escorted by “Littlefinger’s bastard,” which almost has Alayne in tears. Stone-faced, she begs her leave, wishing in her head for Hardyng to fall off his horse in the tilts and be humiliated as she goes to search for Baelish. On the path, she finds Lothor Brune, who bestows on the boy the epithet of Harry the Arse, for which Alayne is grateful.

Despite working for Baelish and taking part in some unsavoury activities, Martin seems to have pinpointed Brune as someone that Sansa can regard as a friend and potential ally, and the “quick hug” she gives him is another example of her ability to forge alliances in hostile settings. Finally locating her father in the vaults – the Lord Protector had been having a meeting on the Vale’s food stores—Alayne shares her distress over Harry’s ill-mannered words: “…He called me your bastard. Right in the yard, in front of everyone.” Although he is quick to reassure her by citing realistic reasons for Harry’s behaviour, Petyr’s callous self-interest is revealed when he shifts seamlessly into his Littlefinger persona:

Petyr put his arm around her … “Charm him. Entrance him. Bewitch him.”

“I don’t know how,” she said miserably.

“Oh, I think you do,” said Littlefinger, with one of those smiles that did not reach his eyes.

It’s easy to forget with the overwhelming carefree tone of this chapter, but the insidious coercion LF employs over Sansa is still in effect, and his only concern about any misgivings she might have is how soon she gets over them. Another significant detail in their conversation is that LF mentions her hair will be shining in the firelight at the feast, which suggests that Sansa’s natural hair colour is returning, an auburn shade that makes her resemblance to her mother even more striking. As LF predicts, Alayne rules the night with constant requests for dancing and knights vying for her attention. The highlight of the feasting comes when a massive lemon cake is wheeled out in the shape of the Giant’s Lance, with a sugary Eyrie on top. Sansa thinks that the cake was made especially for her as Robert only came to love the delicacy because it was her favourite. The phallic symbolism of the cake can be interpreted through the lens of sexuality and power, but it’s also a remarkable display of lavish extravagance that brings to mind the Purple Wedding—an event that ended in disaster. Alayne is rewarded when Harry comes to her table as the dancing is underway and pleads her forgiveness for his rude comments. She hesitates in accepting his apology, but grants his request for a dance. After struggling to think of what to say to capture his interest, she settles on an interesting choice to ask about his bastards, in order “to see if Ser Harrold would lie.” Why this focus on honesty, especially as Harry’s bastards are common knowledge and Alayne herself is participating in a deceit? The answer may be found in the fact that honesty is a particular quality that Sansa values when it comes to judging the merits of her suitors, as she once recalled with bitterness the “Lannister lies” fed to her by Tyrion in contrast to Sandor’s “a dog can smell a lie” brand of candour and trustworthiness.

While he doesn’t lie about his bastard children, Harry does show considerable insensitivity towards the girl who bore his first child, Cissy, commenting that she has grown as “fat as a cow.” It’s not a remark that would endear anyone to him, and it’s to Sansa’s credit that rather than find anything funny about Harry’s comments on Cissy, she goes for the harmless teasing about names when he mentions that “it is different with Saffron,” the girl he has left currently pregnant. It is this teasing manner and her sharp play of words that finally attracts Harry’s true interest in her as more than a pretty girl with a large dowry:

 I hope you joust better than you talk.”

For a moment he looked shocked. But as the song was ending, he burst into a laugh. “No one told me you were clever.

Having been successfully disarmed, Harry asks Sansa for her favor to wear in the tourney; Sansa is still following through with LF’s script, however, and withholds this token, telling Harry that it is “promised to another.” It’s an intriguing comment that further suggests the relative insignificance of Sansa’s relationship with Harry, and ushers in the prospect of unforeseen characters and events emerging ahead.