Welcome back to the Game of Thrones TV Book Club, a discussion space for Thrones viewers who have also read the five books (so far) of George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. This week, Darren Franich and Hillary Busis take on the show’s mustache-twirling version of Littlefinger, the triumphant return of Hot Pie, and, as always, the dangers of hurtling past George R. R. Martin’s story. Check out James Hibberd’s full recap of the episode, then join us as we venture into the narrative borderlands of A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, and A Dance with Dragons. (You know there’ll be spoilers for the books and the show, right?)
DARREN: Can we talk about Littlefinger? Oh my god, Hillary, we have to talk about Littlefinger. As a fan of The Wire, I’ve always been inclined to like Aidan Gillen as Petyr Baelish. He wasn’t quite how I pictured the character – everything about him just screamed “I AM THE GRAND CHESSMASTER OF EXISTENCE,” whereas on the page the character seemed much sneakier. Still, I always vaguely enjoyed him – and didn’t really mind when the character receded for awhile. But now he’s back. And I don’t know if Gillen is using a radically different accent or if they’re just feeding him more scenery-chewing lines, but as of last night I think it’s clear that Littlefinger has gone Full Supervillain.
He walks into every scene with all the subtlety of Evil-Mustached Dracula. Everything he says is in a angry-slurry whisper. Last night’s episode brought us to one of the character’s defining moments – he made her fly! By my measure, the Littlefinger/Sansa stuff is the furthest ahead in Book Time – they’re just one chapter away from knocking on Winds of Winter’s door. GRRM doesn’t really have heroes or villains, but it feels a bit to me like the show is building Littlefinger into a genuine Big Bad. What did you think of the show’s portrayal of the Eyrie shenanigans, Hillary? And is Littlefinger Voice the Bane Voice of Game of Thrones?
HILLARY: Before I get into this, I think The People should know that “Mockingbird” is the first episode of Game of Thrones that Darren and I have ever watched together – and that every time Aidan Gillen appeared onscreen, we were convulsed with laughter. Though Thrones isn’t generally known for its subtlety (with a few notable exceptions, like the look of hope that crosses Tyrion’s face when Oberyn declares that he’ll serve as The Imp’s champion), Gillen’s swagger brings things to a new level. This version of the character is such a cartoon villain – he is just shy of dressing Sansa in a sexy slave outfit and imprisoning her inside of an hourglass – that it’s impossible to understand how he wasn’t executed in King’s Landing for Overt Schemery years ago.
I, too, worry about what’s next for Show Sansa, though I appreciated that her TV self had a little more backbone than her book self; the younger, less world-weary Sansa who appears in ASOIAF has never smacked Robin in his creepy little face. Interestingly enough, though, the moments from last night’s episode that were most effective also happened to be scenes that came directly from GRRM’s writing – including Lysa’s trip out the moon door and Tyrion and Oberyn’s prison encounter. Would you agree with that assessment – and if so, what do you think it says about Thrones as a whole?
DARREN: First off, I wanna echo your props for Show Sansa. There are some actors who were just perfectly cast – Maisie Williams-as-Arya and Rory McCann-as-The-Hound are probably the best examples, the former perfectly nailing Tough-But-Naive and the latter a walking example of Brutal-But-Sad. And then there’s Sophie Turner. Book-Sansa always struck me as a Disney princess who wandered into a bloody Viking saga by mistake. Turner brings a different, more commanding vibe – it’s hard to play Shy-Naive-Innocent when you’re taller than most of the dudes on the show – and I suspect that Show-Sansa gets better the more they write for Turner’s specific strengths. (SLAP!)
But that brings up your more important point, Hillary, which is really a big question hovering over this whole season: What happens when the show moves decisively into the realm of Complete Invention? What does Game of Thrones season 6 look like, if Winds of Winter remains unpublished? The most radical change this season was the addition of Operation: Craster’s Keep Storm, which in hindsight looks like a complete stalling tactic, even if it gave us a few fun scenes with Guy From Turn. Last night’s episode featured – stop me if you’ve heard this before – Jon Snow telling the Night’s Watch to prepare for a battle, and the Night’s Watch saying “Nah, we don’t want to.” Last night also featured a very long, mostly new scene between Melisandre and Selyse – a scene which re-established that Melisandre likes nude soliloquies.
We’re coming up on three episodes that feature some of the most famous moments in the entire Song of Ice and Fire saga – but after that, Thrones could be moving into unfamiliar territory. Do you think the show will have trouble once it moves completely past Book 3? And more importantly, can we agree that this is the craziest thing Dany has ever worn?
HILLARY: Dany’s body is saying let’s go – but her heart is saying no!
To your point: It’s becoming increasingly difficult to interpret the invented scenes from this season – which seems to have more written-for-the-screen material than ever before – as anything but opportunities to tread water. True, Thrones can’t just be wall-to-wall sex and sword fighting and sickeningly graphic disembowelment – but even its quieter moments should be propelling the master plot forward, or revealing new character beats and backstory, or otherwise accomplishing something. Tyrion learning that Bronn has taken Cersei’s buyout? A one-on-one conversation that shows the heartbreaking truth about their relationship, as well as a moment taken almost verbatim from Storm of Swords. Jon hearing yet again that the leaders of the Night’s Watch don’t like his dumb stupid face? Unnecessary in the grand scheme, especially when it’s clear that this year’s big battle scene won’t take place until episode 9, “The Watchers on the Wall.” (Quasi-related questions: The only interesting nugget that came out of Melisandre and Selyse’s conversation is that they’re soon embarking on a sea voyage. That’s got to be their trip to the Wall, right? And is there any way to show Stannis’s arrival that won’t immediately read as a ripoff of the battle of Helm’s Deep?)
Though the idea of Benioff and Weiss going off-book is scary in a lot of ways – nobody wants the show to spoil the book series, right? – their imminent surge past GRRM’s prewritten material may have one happy consequence: They won’t have to bother spinning their wheels anymore.
I do also want to point out one adaptive choice from last night that made a lot of sense, even if it also means speeding toward a point that takes awhile longer to reach in the books: Brienne and Pod’s chance encounter with Hot Pie (HOT PIE!), who tells the pair to seek Arya at the Eyrie. If season 4 ends – as I’m guessing it will – with the reveal of Lady Stoneheart, that moment will only have more impact if Brienne meets Zombie Catelyn at the same time that viewers do. With Biter murdered by the Hound – another change – the show will have to find another way to introduce the Maid of Tarth to her undead ladyship, though. Would you like to switch gears and talk Brienne/Pod/Hound/Arya, Darren, or are you still fixated on Dany’s dirrty outfit?
DARREN: I can’t wait for “Watcher on the Wall” to end with Stannis and Davos appearing on a hillside, the sun shining behind them, the music soaring…and then Jon Snow says, “Oh man, not Stannis! Anyone but Stannis! We’ll take the Greyjoys, even!” (And then Sam says, “But Jon, Davos is really cool!” and everyone tells Sam to shut up even though Sam IS TOTALLY RIGHT GUYS GO ONION KNIGHT GO.)
But I’m joining you in your cautious optimism, Hillary: I roll hard for Feast for Crows and Dance with Dragons cuz I love me some hyper-detailed fantasy-world statecraft, but I’m excited to see what happens when D&D don’t feel the urge to parcel out Big Events across a season. Also, it’ll maybe give them more time to do what they do best: Fun times with traveling duos! Brienne/Pod is like a more lovable Tyrion/Bronn – so much so that I get nervous about their future. We’ve seen an awful lot of Podrick this season: Could the show be setting us up for his traumatic death? In the books, we left him hanging; his survival remains unconfirmed, and seeing lovable Pod murdered by Zombie Catelyn would nicely set up the complete moral apocalypse of the later Ice and Fire books.
But while we’re on the topic of the Imminent Surge: Am I the only one who is feeling really, really sad about the Hound’s impending exit? For me, he’s been this season’s breakout character. The idea of him leaving is sad; likewise, the idea of Arya spending a couple seasons in Braavos learning how to be Daredevil. At one point during last night’s episode, I joked about the possibility of an Arya-Hound bottle episode, which you then joked could be the Thrones version of “4 Days Out.” Does any of this need to be a joke? Also, since this is a serious conversation about serious topics, I think it’s important to point out that Thrones made the bold creative decision to cast an actual mountain in the role of The Mountain.
HILLARY: Oh man, I’m not sure if I’m prepared to really dig into Professional Wrestler Gregor Clegane, who seems dropped in from the 1995 syndicated version of Game of Thrones. (Which actually would be awesome.) We’re certainly trying our readers’ patience at this point – you read GRRM! You should be used to that! – but I want to close by highlighting a point James Hibberd made in his recap of this week’s episode: It is super weird that Thrones chooses to show us scene after scene of horrific sexual violence, but opts to cut away from Dany and Daario enjoying some hot, consensual action. The Meereen scenes can’t even get this right.
DARREN: Yeesh, seriously. HBO should consider greenlighting a Thrones spinoff, Hot Consensual Action. If nothing else, bloggers would love it!
HILLARY: Wait, did you just describe Tell Me You Love Me?
DARREN: But let’s give credit to Meereen: human sad-trombone Jorah Mormont is currently living through a hilariously sad nightmare, trapped in the ninth circle of She’s Just Not That Into You hell. Truly, he is the Jon Cryer to Dany’s Molly Ringwald.
HILLARY: Maybe that means Kristy Swanson is waiting for him at Meereen’s annual prom! The original Vampire Slayer and the disgraced former Lord of Bear Island – wouldn’t they be a perfect match?