Email Roundtable #42 – Game of Thrones, “The Children”

game of thrones tyrion

This week we put some of our favourite Game of Thrones fans to work in an attempt to discuss the Season Four finale, “The Children”. This roundtable pits frothing nerd-raging book reader, Will, non-frothing book reader, Kurz, lazy book reader, Graeme, against active book hater, Kerri. WARNING: SPOILERS, BOOK SPECIFIC AND OTHERWISE, GALORE!

Kerri: First off, thanks for joining me to talk about Game of Thrones! Throughout the seasons we’ve had plenty of discussions about the show in real-life so it only makes sense that we chat about it in blog-form, too.

So, first things first, I’m the resident noob in the group. I read the first book but didn’t move past it because it wasn’t my bag. But I do mostly love the show and I did mostly like this episode. This season, overall, didn’t work as well for me as seasons past, mostly because it felt convoluted, even more sprawling than usual and there wasn’t a scene with Brienne and Jaime in a tub, but that’s just me. Anyway, in this specific episode we got Jon Snow hanging out with the Wildlings, getting attacked by Stannis’ army, mourning Ygritte’s death and basically being his usual brooding bore self. We got Daenerys locking up her dragon babies because one of the dragons killed a kid. We got some Cersei/Jaime sibling lovin’. Oh and by the by, the Mountain isn’t dead he’s only mostly dead so, don’t worry guys, they’ve developed blood transfusions at some point that you didn’t see because the advancement of medicine is not a plot point worth discussing until we can save the biggest dickwad in Westeros. There’s also some serious Harryhausen shit going down with Bran and his ragtag group of misfits where they get attacked by a bunch of skeletons. Then this creepy little forest fairy child thing shows up (it was a forest fairy, right?) and saves them (well all of them but poor, dead Jojen) with some kind of magic fire throwing and takes them into this underground forest cave (that was a bit too much like the creepy, branch filled ruins on the last episode of True Detective for my liking) where they meet God or Jesus or some cool guy with a beard. Oh, and I almost forgot, Tyrion kills Tywin and escapes, with Varys’s, help in a shipping crate – but, you know, no biggie or anything.

And I’ve deliberately saved the best for last because it really was the best. Holy moly. That fight between Brienne and The Hound. Since we all watched the show together on Sunday night you guys already know my reaction to that specific scene. First off, I did make a noise, somewhere between a gasp and a squeal, when Brienne and Arya met. That’s a thing I wanted to happen but never thought would happen because good things aren’t allowed to happen to characters that I like on Game of Thrones. So, they talk for a little bit and Arya was all, “Damn, you’re a super cool, sword carrying woman” and Brienne was like, “You don’t seem so bad yourself, kid” and for, like, one minute, everything was right with the world. And then the stupid Hound has to be a bull in a china shop and bust all the lovin’ up. So, Brienne and the Hound fight. Like, they really, really, I mean REALLY fight. Punches and more punches and ear biting and falling off cliffs. It was the most stressed I’ve been watching GoT since Brienne was fighting that bear. And so I was thinking, dammit, this is it. Brienne is going to die. She’s dead. Brace yourself, Kerri. If there is one character on TV that makes me have immediate, honest reactions it’s Brienne of Tarth. But then, she didn’t die. And neither did the Hound, not yet at least. And Arya got away from all of them and is on a ship headed to Braavos. I like to imagine the scene with Arya on the ship with this theme playing in the background.

Will: Thanks for starting things off Kerri. While I enjoyed this episode for the most part, there were some pretty big deviations from the books that definitely bothered me. It’s not that I am completely opposed to the inevitable changes of details and characters for a TV adaptation, sometimes those are necessary and work out great. I’m very much opposed to changes that aren’t necessary at all for TV purposes, and also diminish the impact of the events. It’s also nice on some level to see the directors stay true to the books where they can, and a lot of serious readers get irked by minor but specific changes that really have no purpose other than to outright conflict with the books, it breaks the immersion and makes it feel like they either aren’t paying attention, or they are trolling us (and maybe they are…).

First, the fight with Brienne and the Hound never happened in the books, but it was awesome! This was a perfect example of cutting some minor plot lines and characters and mashing things together, yet still leading to the same end result in a spectacular made-for-TV fashion. That being The Hound mutilated and near death, Arya abandoning him and refusing to grant him the “gift” of death, and Brienne still walking through the dark with little hope of ever finding the remaining Stark children. The tragedy of Arya refusing Brienne’s sincere offer of help is an absolutely perfect addition. I would say Arya and the Hound have been one of the major highlights and delights this entire season and this episode was no exception. Everything with Jon was well done, from the conversation with Mance Rayder to his meeting with Stannis and goodbye to Ygritte. They did mash some timelines together a little here, but it worked out in the end. I would say with Mance especially, I finally got the image out of my head of Caesar from Rome, and see him as the true King of the Wildlings now.

On the other hand, I feel that this episode suffered from a lack of attention to detail that I found shocking at times, considering how well they have done up to this point. In some cases these are minor things that do little more than irritate us hardcore book readers. For example, The Mountain, who we all find out is not in fact dead, is simply lying there unconscious like a big wimp. The whole point of him being alive right now, is that Oberyn poisoned him with the specific intent that what remaining existence he has left be spent in total agony for as long as possible. “Ser” Gregor should be tied to a bed, struggling against his bonds, and howling in agony so bloody loud that everybody in the bloody keep should be able to hear him day and night, forcing them to move him down to the black cells of the dungeons so he stops scaring the servants. After a quick look at him, the entire conversation about him should have taken place in the next room, with his unearthly screams as background noise. Way more satisfying, and pretty much made for TV. There are a few other things that the episode just didn’t do justice. This is especially glaring in Bran’s scene, with the campiness of the skeleton fight, the fireball chucking fairy elf, and the awful portrayal of the pedophile tree man, which are severely compounded by the fact that none of you have any clue what any of it means, because the show hasn’t bothered to even attempt an explanation.

The gravest sin though, is truly Tyrion’s escape. All season we’ve been witness to loving heart to hearts with him and his brother Jaime, with some truly Emmy-worthy dialogue included. It’s all been building up to this episode. But what in the books was the culmination of an entire story arc, through dialogue rife with betrayal and tragedy and amazingly TV worthy quotable quotes, instead turns into a 30 second jail break scene with the “Kingslayer Brothers” sharing a bro hug before the Imp trots away casually to go murder his father. These brothers have a lot to say to each other, and they are not supposed to part on good terms, the ramifications of which have huge consequences for their attitudes and the fates of everybody around them going forward for the rest of the series. It was one of the most epic, made-for-TV book ending scenes I’ve ever read, and it’s sad because you guys don’t even know what you just missed.

Graeme: I want to note the longer run time for the episode (at 66 minutes) really helped the show, however I do agree with Will that much of it still felt hasty. Adding to the Lannister side of things, Tyrion’s confrontation with both Shae and his father practically felt like after thoughts. Murdering your Dad while he is on the crapper shouldn’t be so nonchalant, yet the show’s producers seem content to allow the “shock” of Tywin’s death (although this isn’t 100% confirmed yet) replace an actual rewarding conclusion between the two of the series best characters. Also, they don’t really explore Tywin’s lack of honour in macking on his sons sloppy seconds to any satisfying length. Was Shae always in his Daddy’s pocket like Tyrion’s first wife was? Or is this something that developed more recently in relation to the trial? They fail to fill in a lot of pieces to a very complicated puzzle seemingly content to brush past everything for the sake of moving onto whatever is next.

I truly feel overall the Mountain is one of the most clear-cut examples of failing at character development the show has done. The primary issue starts with the fact they seem to have given no effort to his physical aspects other than that he is BIG. We get that he is big – however isn’t he also supposed to be the Hound’s OLDER brother? The actor they have portraying him looks like he’s 10 years younger than the Hound at minimum. Also, he’s simply too clean to give off enough of that raw animal vibe that I think he should. This happens to be the third actor they’ve used for this one character, and they still haven’t gotten it right. Additionally, clearly the actor has very limited range considering he was passed out on that table getting some bizarre blood transfusion of sorts. Here’s hoping Tywin is an organ donor and we can have some crazy plot where-in Tywin’s heart gets put into the Mountain and it takes over his consciousness or some other ridiculous turn like that.

On another note, they really should have Daenerys DO SOMETHING. Climaxing her season’s plot-line with a heavy-handed allegory involving her chain up two of her dragons was a disappointment. This act shows how despite the fact she is against slavery, her dragons are now slaves themselves blah, blah, blah. Here’s hoping that Mereen doesn’t have a local branch of PETA or we might have to sit through another season of Dany listening to complaints in a throne room. Also, the dragon that killed the kid apparently gets off scot-free which is kind of bullshit for the other two dragons, locked up without even some sunlight. Something tells me this will backfire (literally) and we’re in for more than a few toasted extras next season.

Kurz: Even though I’m a forgiving book reader than Will, I’ll admit that I was a bit concerned at the start of the season when it became obvious that the show’s producers were starting to deviate from the books more and more. There are interactions in the show that are completely made up on top of the fact that Season 4 actually picked events out of Books 3, 4 and 5. There are certain Very Important Things that need to take place!

As the season progressed, though, I have become convinced that this was probably the best out of all of the seasons so far. It has struck the right balance of staying true to the source material while keeping things moving for a TV audience. Sometimes that means cutting things out, but overall I think it worked quite well.

The highlight of the season for me was Prince Oberyn. This was one of those “huh?” castings before the season started that ended up being awesome. Oberyn’s entire purpose for going to King’s Landing is to get justice for his dead sister and to stir the pot. Taking down his sister’s killer ends up not being enough for him, though, and he demands to know who gave The Mountain his orders with explosive results! The recurring theme of getting burned when you get carried away or try to reach too high is on full display again (Previous examples include Renly getting shanked by a shadow because he refuses to acknowledge his brother’s more legitimate claim to the throne, and Robb trying to convince the Freys to give him more soldiers when he could have just as easily gone home and fortified his borders).

The expansion of Sansa’s scenes makes her character’s plot line a lot more interesting than they were in the book. In the books, Littlefinger blames Lysa’s death on another character who isn’t in the show, but I think that changing things up by having Sansa lie about it shows a lot of potential for the future where she can become a master manipulator. My obvious prediction is that she starts to use Littlefinger to start getting revenge by stringing him along and pretending that she likes him.

I also liked how this season had a few surprises for readers. The big reveal of the Night’s King (the boss White Walker who transforms that baby) was HUGE for book readers because it confirmed a whole branch of theorycrafting!

The skeletons in the finale were the best ever.

Kerri: What I find interesting in this discussion is that the scenes that didn’t work for you readers (Kurz excepted) didn’t work for me, the non-reader. I’m not entirely sure why that is, except to say that the scenes with Jon have always been a bit of a snore and the ones with Daenarys have always been a bit of a chore. I think our concerns with plotting, timing and rushing through characterization and plot points are very similar. For me, the season has been a difficult, in not being able to see clearly the big picture for the little one. I still don’t have a clear sense of what the show is trying to say. We’ve talked about this before, at length, in the real-world and your answers have been helpful but the show isn’t giving me these answers and I think that’s what I’ve struggled with most.

The one scene that seemed to work uniformly, for us anyway, is the scene with Brienne, Podrick, The Hound and Arya (interesting that it isn’t in the book!). This scene takes its time. It has the proper amount of time to work itself out, even the fight is long. Think about just how much information is presented to us in this scene and how economically it moves. The best scenes for me this season, and in the whole series, have been similar ones – the quieter scenes (strange to say that a fight scene is quiet – but this one is in my brain at least). I’m thinking specifically of the scene where Arya and the Hound chance upon the dying man in the burnt-out town. This is my favorite scene this season and has direct repercussions for the scene between Arya and the Hound after the fight in this episode. We learn so much about the Hound’s philosophy on life and death and Arya’s too, without any of that being overtly or directly stated.

The one scene, other than the Brienne/Hound fight, that really worked for me in this episode was the one between Cersei and Tywin, mostly because I’m a huge Cersei convert and also because, good lord, the acting! What I think is fun about Game of Thrones as a whole is that it really does work on soap logic and soap conventions. In every episode ONE MAJOR THING will happen. There will be a bunch of other stuff that you might not like and you might not like the ONE MAJOR THING either. But usually there is something or someone who you will grasp onto – something that carries you forward to the next episode. As much as I have a bit of “prominent character death fatigue” when it comes to the show, there are plenty of other things that bring me back every week.

Will: I’m not saying this season was bad, but to me it peaked at episode eight with the trial by combat. Admittedly I’ve been looking forward to that fight more than just about anything else this season, and it was masterfully done, I just feel like the show fell off a cliff after that point. Episode nine was a nice long fight scene, but as soon as it ended I had this sinking feeling that the finale was going to gloss over too much, and I was right. Since they dedicated the whole episode to the wall, they should have wrapped up the wall that episode, Stannis and all, which would have freed up the finale for much more impact. Not doing so negatively effected the pacing of the finale, and even an extended episode length wasn’t enough to make up for it.

As most show watchers were probably confused about the Bran scenes, let me explain. The skeletons the kids were fighting are for all intents, the same thing as the zombies that the white walkers use, just older bodies so more skeletal. The “children” are actually the children of the forest, an ancient race on par with Giants, in that nobody thinks they are around anymore, but surprise, they ARE! Anybody remember the show mentioning them ever? Because I sure don’t. I looked it up and back in season two the maester at Winterfell mentioned them to Bran along with a bunch of other stuff, once. The children of the forest do have magic, but like all things magical in this universe it is supposed to be subtle and in their case has to do with earth/nature stuff, not fireball head shots. The tree man is supposed to in fact be half tree (like being absorbed by the tree) with roots growing out of his empty eye socket and stuff… Oh yeah, he’s supposed to have just one eye, which is why he says “I have been watching with a thousand eyes, and ONE”. But they decided to give him two, you know, just because. It may seem minor, but It’s actually really important to his true identity and there’s really no valid reason why they would miss that other than laziness. The children of the forest and the tree man have a lot to do with the religion of the north, and subsequently a LOT to do with the coming battle against the white walkers. Bran is perhaps the most important person in the greater story right now and the show just makes him kinda boring. To be fair though, the book has a problem with him (and Daenerys) being boring as well, even into book five, where all of these events came from and finally start to get interesting. I have hope they will use Bran to do a lot of new stuff in the coming seasons at least.

The most serious letdown for me outside of Tyrion though, is something I can’t even talk about because they didn’t do it at all… It’s the actual epilogue of the actual book. A book I remind you, that was so full of crazy shit that they had to make two seasons out of it, and if this had been done we would be blogging mostly about it almost exclusively. It’s something we book readers have been eagerly itching to spoil for years, along with the likes of Ned’s death and the red wedding. It would have taken them all of 30 seconds to show at the end of the episode, and it wouldn’t have cost a lot or required a lot of CG. All at once it would have provided a nice sense of poetic justice after all the insanity and death of the last two seasons, while also setting the stage for an ominous and much darker tone for the story to come. It would have been an absolutely epic conclusion to an epic season. But instead, you will all have to wait and see it a year from now, probably as the “epic conclusion” to episode two of season five. Or maybe sandwiched between a random brothel scene and Daenerys’ titles being read… I’m sure it will be great!

Graeme: My issues with the finale notwithstanding (and I did think it was a good episode!) I want to focus on what makes Game of Thrones awesome. That being – the HOLY SHIT! moments. There are at least three HS! moments this season and they were all amazing. First, the Purple Wedding which gave every viewer the pleasure of seeing the biggest piece of crap King in the history of television get his deadly comeuppance. The entire situation is laid on a little heavy – foreshadowed by Joffrey slashing Tyrion’s present of a rare book to bits – that it’s hard not to see that Tyrion and Joffrey will come to blows at some point. However, this is one of the examples where haste can be successful, as the initial insult to Tyrion allows the scenario to spiral out of control. Joffrey’s over-confident smugness and his tormenting of Tyrion set the stage for the savage conclusion that shocked everyone.

The second HS! moment comes when Littlefinger (one of my personal favourite characters) decides to push his new wife, Lysa Arryn, out of the moon door. The moon door had been used in threatening ways previously in the series and it allows for Littlefinger’s pure lust for power and control to come out in the most evil and intense way. Not only does he kill Lysa but he also first must destroy her emotionally by revealing his true feelings – that he only ever loved her sister, not her. It’s completely bonkers and was a brilliant way to end an excellent episode.

The third HS! moment comes during the Trial by Combat. As Kurz discussed earlier, Oberyn gets burnt by his desire to both win the fight but also have a dramatic confession exacted through his violent aggression. The results are wild and insane and are everything one expects from and loves about Game of Thrones.

Honorable HS! mention goes to the end of episode one of the season – a vicious tavern fight where-in the Hound and Arya murderize a bunch of Lannister men. Arya’s retrieval of her sword Needle (a gift from Jon Snow) and the vengeance she exacts on her friend’s killer is merciless and shocking. This intense scene perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the season to come.

Overall, a great season in my opinion. A few missteps towards the end, but I trust the ship will right its course (which is Eastbound I assume, as that’s where everyone is apparently headed).

Kurz: I think I don’t get all tied up in knots about the differences because I’ve started to think of the show as a companion to the books. It’s interesting to watch the show as a kind of movie version of the stuff that I’ve been imagining for years. Since I’ve read all of the books multiple times, I know what’s coming so there aren’t any really any Holy Shit moments for me (except for the Night’s King reveal which hasn’t been in the books yet!). Sure, some of the changes have been unsatisfying–turning Catelyn into a bit of a crybaby instead of a hard ass, for example–but overall it’s been done really well.

As long as it covers the major plot points, it doesn’t particularly bother me if they change things up. To me, the Jaime and Tyrion setup was an acceptable change. From a TV show angle, there are a lot of details that wouldn’t have made sense that are perfectly obvious in the books. Main plot point: Tywin has to be dead and Tyrion needs to do it. To accomplish that, they’ve already given Tyrion enough motivation from a viewer’s perspective rather than having a bunch of dialogue bringing up details for things that haven’t happened in the show or were cut. It would have also undermined the two great scenes they had in the prison cell.

The best parts of the show are the parts that aren’t explicitly in the books, especially the ones between characters that are together in the books but don’t get much attention. It’s the kind of stuff that has to be added to a TV show to keep the character fresh in everyone’s minds or remind everyone why that person is still standing there. I can reasonably accept that those scenes ARE actually happening in the book, but GRRM just hasn’t bothered to write about them.

So, here are my top scenes from the show that are NOT in the book (or are done very differently in the book):

– The Hound having to eat every fucking chicken in this room
– Ygritte telling Tormund that she’s tired of hearing him talk about the bear he never had sex with
– Hot Pie talking about gravy
– Lady Olenna basically admitting to Margaery that she poisoned Joffrey

Also, Bronn needs his own show. A completely dedicated spin-off series.

Kerri: Thank you all for being part of the longest Email Roundtable in GAoTV history. As is customary in Email Roundtables, would anyone like to give any final shout outs?

I’d like to give a shout out to these guys.

Will: Also I’d like to give a shout out to Ser Pounce,  first of his name,  the puss who was promised,  defender of the realm, and newly appointed hand of the King (I hear there’s a vacancy…)

Quotes of the episode:
“Grenn came from a farm”
“Safety? Where the Fuck’s that!? ”

Graeme: Shout out to this piece of ridiculous youtubery.

Kurz: I’d like to give a shout out to whoever made this video. It gives me something to watch while I wait for the real thing.

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