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Review #2565: Game of Thrones 1.10: “Fire and Blood”

Posted on the 21 June 2011 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: Gregg Wright

There are certain expectations that come with every TV season or series finale. So naturally, I projected these expectations on the “Game of Thrones” season finale, as I’m sure many viewers did. Unfortunately, viewers expecting a final battle or an abundance of resolution may come away feeling disappointed. “Game of Thrones” completely bucks the typical trends and provides a finale that concerns itself primarily with setting up the second season. In fact, if I hadn’t known any better, I would have assumed that one or more episodes were yet to come in the season.

Review #2565: Game of Thrones 1.10: “Fire and Blood”

I did feel a slight tinge of disappointment over the chosen direction of the finale, but I have to admit that this approach is greatly preferred to some rushed attempt to bring everything to a climax all at once. Much better to let the story move at its natural pace. And though the finale is pretty much all set-up, it’s mostly very good set-up. I think it helps to look at this first season as something of a prologue, like the first season of “Babylon 5″. Looking back, one can see that the entire first season has essentially been set-up for larger events to come. One need also take into account the talk of an increased budget, which makes a lot of sense. All in all, it certainly has the effect of generating a lot of excitement for the next season. I can’t wait to see what happens next. But whether this is all worth the general lack of resolution is up for debate.

Of course, I don’t mean to suggest that the finale contained no resolution at all. The most notable moment of resolution came at the very end, with Daenerys and the newly hatched baby dragons. I remember hoping, at one time, that those dragon’s eggs would hatch at some point, but I’d since given up on that possibility. I love the grounded human drama of the show, but the potential for more fantasy elements was a major part of my continued interest in the show. The arrival of dragons partially makes up for the lack of White Walkers in the finale.

However, though it offered the best resolution of the finale, the Dany/Dothraki storyline has still been the most flawed of the season. Early on, it was rather aimless, and then gradually showed signs of improvement. With Drogo’s pledge to conquer Westeros came a sense of actual direction. And the storyline was made more interesting by the heavier involvement of Jorah and the possibility that he was working as a spy for individuals with a vested in ensuring the invasion of Westeros by the Dothraki.

Story problems arose with the introduction of the witch. Dany’s choice to trust her resulted in the death of Drogo and her child, which caused most of the Dothraki to abandon her. It seems likely that Drogo’s wound never would have festered if the witch hadn’t been allowed to treat him. She wanted vengeance from the beginning, and I find it hard to blame her. The Dothraki raped and murdered almost her entire village. And yet we’re supposed to see the witch as the villain who threatens Dany’s destiny. I guess I’m just struggling to figure out what my reaction to the witch and her affect on the plot is supposed to be.

I was also hoping for more of an explanation of Varys and the magister’s involvement in all of this. Both men seemed to be working towards the goal of putting a Targaryen back on the throne. When you look back at the pilot, the magister is a key figure in the marriage of Dany to Drogo, and was also the person who gave the dragon’s eggs to Dany as her wedding gift. When Arya overheard Varys and the magister plotting, they seemed fairly sure that their plan was working. And yet they seemed to be playing almost no active role in their plan, unless the attempted assassination and Jorah averting it were part of it.

The storyline might make more sense if Jorah was their active, inside agent. But that doesn’t seem to fit with Jorah’s more recent actions, in which he continually recommends to Dany that she just give up and run away to safety. He very clearly shows us that he cares more about her as a person than he does the possibility of her taking back the throne. And yet the eventual result is that Dany now has a very good chance of taking back the throne, with the help of her dragons. I can’t imagine that the magister knew that the eggs could hatch and was gambling on the hope that Dany would eventually realize what she is and go through the ritual of hatching them. So once again, I really am confused about Varys and the magister’s involvement. If they were planning for this, they didn’t plan very well at all.

I think the real problem is that Dany’s story is the one that most suffers from the transition to the screen. It seems likely that it worked a lot better in the book. In the show, it seems to have trouble getting across enough information to the audience to give the story the impact it deserves. Too much of the time it was overly difficult to figure out just what the story was about, or where it was going. Granted, it does begin to make a bit more sense in retrospect, after its had time to sink in a bit. But I think it probably resonated more strongly with those who read the book. I suppose I need to also take into account that this is only part of Dany’s story, and that next season may better flesh out previous events.

But let’s backtrack a bit and look at the aftermath of Ned’s death. Bran (whose name I’ve been misspelling ever since Bronn arrived on the scene) has been having this recurring dream all season long, and Ned appeared in the most recent one. And apparently the youngest Stark, Rickon, had the same dream. As with many fantasy tales, dreams seem to hold power in “Game of Thrones”. I found the scene in the crypts with Bran and Osha to be one of my favorites of the episode. I’m still not sure I understand the significance of Bran’s dreams, but they may have all been leading up to this. It may be noteworthy that the crow in Bran’s dream was continually leading him into the crypt, a place with an obvious connection with the dead. So Bran’s dreams were prophetic? I wonder if this element will crop up again in following seasons.

Though certainly not one of my favorite characters, Jack Gleeson is really knocking the Joffrey role out of the ball park. It’s incredible how loathsome he makes the character. Cersei is despicable enough herself, but I think she may not have intended to create such a Frankenstein’s monster. Joffrey has tasted blood and power, and now he can’t get enough of it. Sansa’s life has become a living hell. I was rather impressed with her for coming so close to assassinating Joffrey herself. Hopefully this is a sign of her becoming a stronger character.

I liked that they chose not to show Catelyn and Robb actually receiving the news, cutting in shortly afterward to show us the aftermath. Richard Madden is fantastic in this scene as he lets loose his grief and rage. It’s amazing how Robb Stark went from being practically a background character that I barely even thought about to such a scene-stealing leader. I totally bought that he had earned enough respect of the men of the North for them to proclaim him as their king.

For me, Jaime Lannister was a character who had so far garnered little in the way of special sympathy from me. He was just a bit too ambiguous for me to read, and I didn’t quite see the deeper layers that others were seeing. But his little scene with Catelyn this week finally started to humanize him a bit. Jaime is a very troubled individual, who forces himself to build this false persona to hide his insecurities. I’m interested in seeing where they take this character in the following seasons, or rather where he went in the following books.

Arya handles her father’s death surprisingly well, immediately cashing in on her inner strength and adapting to her new situation. She really is a remarkable young girl. It seems appropriate that Arya (now Arry, or Harry?) is now forced into the role of a young boy, given that she’s such a tomboy already. That scene where she threatens to skewer that fat bully with Needle was one of the best of the episode. This whole situation perfectly ties into Arya’s journey. She was always meant to be a free-spirit and a warrior, which is perfect for the Night’s Watch. I also thought it was a great touch to bring back the Baratheon bastard. I’m really looking forward to seeing where this story goes. It would be great if Arya and the bastard could meet up with that other bastard at the Wall, Jon Snow. It’s too bad Syrio is probably dead. I was looking forward to seeing him triumphantly return at some point. Oh well.

In another great example of how the finale effectively set up awesome events to come, Commander Mormont decides to take the fight to the White Walkers. He’s tired of waiting around for an attack, so he and every other Night’s Watchmen, including Jon Snow, set off into the North to figure out just what the hell is going on. Yes, I’m disappointed that we didn’t get a White Walker attack before the season ended. But this is a pretty clear promise that season 2 will give me exactly what I was hoping for. I can’t help but worry for Samwell Tarly, though. He’s been such a great bright spot in the darkness of the scenes at the Wall. He’s surprisingly been exactly the kind of friend Jon needed. He and Jon’s other friends were wise to save him from running off to fight in the war. They’re really going to need him when they face White Walkers.

It was interesting to see Tyrion earning the respect of his father, which results in Tyrion being made the new hand of the king. I’m pleased with this development, because it will hopefully result in more of Tyrion slapping some sense into Joffrey (figuratively if not literally). I’m expecting the situation to be fairly amusing anyway.

I was highly critical of Ramin Djawadi’s musical score early on, but I’ve since been cutting him some slack. The music remained boring and disappointing, but the other strengths were enough that I became a little more forgiving toward it. It was primarily unnoticeable underscore that, at the very least, seemed sufficient for the down-to-Earth politics and drama unfolding. However, this week was a reminder of how under-achieving his music is in comparison to all the other elements that make up “Game of Thrones”. Setting aside the fact that his music is simplistic and lacks a thematic identity, it’s just plain cheap-sounding.

Now, there has been synthesized TV music that I have appreciated in the past, for what it was. But given the overall production values of this show, I would have expected more real instrumentation to be used. The final “dragon” scene (which was still a good scene) was probably the worst reminder of the divide in quality between the music and the rest of the production. With the news of an increased budget, and the likelihood of bigger battle scenes and more special effects, the need for a score to match the scope of on-screen events becomes even more pressing. Synthesized strings, besides sounding extremely dry in comparison, just don’t provide the sense of scale needed for this type of show.

Still, a good composer can make use of synthetic instruments and compose a worthy score, which I think isn’t the case here. If this was just a question of budget, I might have no reason to complain. You put the money where it’s needed the most. (And the unfortunate truth is that the score is usually the lowest priority for TV showrunners and producers, which could probably be said for most of the viewers as well.) But given Remote Control’s track record of heavily utilizing synthetic string elements, even in big-budget film scoring assignments, I believe that it’s more of a purposeful stylistic choice in this situation, or perhaps just laziness. It’s true that Djawadi’s score probably isn’t going to keep season 2 of “Game of Thrones” from achieving the same greatness as the first one did, but it will remain a matter of personal disappointment that the show fell short in this area, given the level of fandom I have for scoring.

“Fire and Blood” is certainly an atypical season finale. I haven’t read the book, so I can’t really compare how well the ending worked here versus there. The finale is one that really should be judged in the context of the entire show, which is difficult for those, like myself, who haven’t read the books. Once the initial disappointment wore off, I felt impressed with the showrunners for yet again sticking so closely to the source material and not attempting to accelerating things to a more exciting stopping point. The finale was the natural end point of the first chapter of this saga. The finale wasn’t perfect; I think it’s likely that some of this ending’s strengths were lost in the translation to the screen. I wouldn’t have minded if the episode had been stretched out another hour longer, so more details could be filled in from the book and more time could be spent on setting up the future conflicts. But it’s a solid episode overall. I think that those with enough patience to wait for a payoff in the next season will be glad that they did.

Rating: 8/10

(Season 1 Final Average: 8.5)

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