In celebration of tonight’s Emmy Awards, Her Ladyship invents an awards show showcasing the best (and some of the worst) of Game of Thrones season 3.
Best episode: The Rains of Castamere
The closest thing to perfection that this show has ever seen, The Rains of Castamere’s flawless structure permits it to glide effortlessly, beautifully and appropriately from one scene to another with not a word, a note, a cry, a sword or a split-second out of place. The build-up to the Red Wedding is such a masterpiece of classical suspense that right up until the moment that the first blow is struck, we’re left thinking ‘maybe this isn’t going to happen,’ and the show’s producers show a talent for idiot-proofing their work that rivals that of Peter Jackson; every last aspect of why the Red Wedding takes place and why it is wrong conveyed to us on an incredibly subtle, emotional and artistic level without it ever being shoved down our throats.
Worst episode: Valar Dohaeris
A stinking pile of dragon poo-poo from start to finish, Valar Dohaeris is probably the worst episode in the series’ history and is a horrible gamble for a premier episode in that it makes you think that Game of Thrones has finally succumbed to the ‘money over art’ philosophy that has besmirched so many other excellent shows. Badly-written to the point of compromising characterisation, badly-acted as a result of being badly-written, and with the most pathetic excuse for a climax that could possibly be countenanced, it is only saved from being confined to the black cells below the Castle of Mediocrity by the stunning scene between Tywin and Tyrion that is probably one of the most heart-breaking and anger-inducing of the entire saga.
Best actor: Nikolaj Coster Waldau
In his portrayal of Jaime’s psychological breakdown and transformation after the loss of his hand, Coster Waldau is mercilessly raw, shattering, excruciatingly emotional and vivid to the point of ruthlessness. His glorious command of facial expression and ability to make agony throb and spill and burn right out of his eyes weds seamlessly to a volcanic natural charisma and an evocative speaking voice that pulls you so deeply into the moment with Jaime that it seems to slice right through you. He also proves himself to be an absolute master of comedy in his more light-hearted banter with best friend/worst enemy Brienne, and does an exquisite job of turning our entire perception of the character completely on its head, just as GRRM intended.
Best actress: Maisie Williams
Each time we think that the divine Miss Williams couldn’t possibly get any better, she knocks us all off our chairs and kicks the shit out of us for our presumption. She has reached the point in her performance where her fist seems to be closed right around Arya’s heart, so that she can feel every nuance, every ounce of pain and where it comes from, and then bring that crashing out into a face that can be numb, practical and intolerant of feelings one moment and then display an anguish so profound and so personal that it makes us want to turn away from her. Above all, Williams has captured Arya’s darkness; that love and near-worship of Death and revenge that makes her wake up every morning and go to sleep every night; that vicious, adult ruthlessness that makes us love her, but that also disturbs the more subtle of us for its brutality. But somehow, at the same time, we never lose sight of the fact that Arya is a child trying to find her family again, and has so much love inside her that she doesn’t know what to do with it. Her performance post-Red Wedding in Mhysa is a masterpiece of shock, suppressed emotion, deep, insurmountable anger and boundless talent for the taking of life that improves each time she seems to become more and more dead in her own estimation. An absolute genius of an acting prodigy who outstrips many actors twice her age.
Best supporting actor: Charles Dance
In last season’s touching and now-iconic interaction with Arya Stark, we saw the softer, more human side of Tywin: a tiny pinprick of light in a dark and ruthless mess. This season, the great Tywin Lannister once again reasserts himself as one of the most terrifying, brilliant, hateful and inexplicably-endearing characters on a show that is already full to the brim with inexplicably-endearing characters. Dance is a towering presence and an effortlessly-kingly figure and plays the many facets of Tywin’s complex character up against one another with a near-carnivorous prowess; notably in his interactions with Tyrion, which range from disastrously-hurtful to grudgingly-respectful; and in his utter disrespect for any kind of emotion that is nevertheless contradicted by his own deep love for his family name. A masterpiece interpretation of one of the most fiendishly-difficult characters ever written.
Best supporting actress: Lena Headey
Headey has always been fabulous at portraying Cersei’s complexity and fucked-up-ness, but in this season she has added the constant threat of her character’s future follies to the mix, with dazzling results. She is a sweepingly power-hungry woman who finds her power being taken from her inch by inch by Tywin’s return to the capital, and lashes out against it with her characteristic spite, but with a touching and oddly heart-breaking desperation in her murmured plea ‘Father, don’t make me do it, please,’ when her usual screaming fails to make Tywin change his mind about marrying her to Loras Tyrell. On top of this vulnerability, her behaviour towards Tyrion has become even more despicable and her moments of triumphant glee even more unbearable to watch, but we never quite lose sight of the fact that despite her limited intelligence, low cunning and unimaginative cruelty, Cersei is still a highly bred and beautiful woman who would have a talent for diffusing tricky situations if she would only take the time to stop creating them. Headey juggles all this prodigiously, and while she makes us hate Cersei most of the time, she still succeeds in making us feel sorry for her every now and then; the mark of a truly great actress.
Best partnership: Jaime and Brienne
Arguably possessing the greatest chemistry on the show, Nikolaj Coster Waldau and Gwendoline Christie are a casting director’s wet dream, and are brilliant at exploring Jaime and Brienne’s development and similarities by virtue of their togetherness. This partnership has absolutely everything: the shared love of fighting, the shared sense of honour, the shared depth of the love that exists between sister souls, comrades in arms and people who have been through hell together; all expressed in ways that are polar opposites and yet extremely similar. There’s constant, hilarious bickering to conceal identification and depth of feeling, there’s grudging respect that only reveals itself when that respect risks being violated by a third party and there is, of course, that unspoken, powerful knowledge that the one needs the other more than anything that bleeds out through every word they exchange and every action they take.
Worst partnership: Jon and Ygritte
After a promising start in season 2, this partnership descends into utter, unconvincing chaos from the word go, though the chemistry does recover slightly in the second half of the series. From an acting perspective, the most significant reason for this decline is that Rose Leslie blows Kit Harington out of the water in terms of acting ability, which causes all sorts of mischief, the worst being the painful scene where Ygritte, broken-hearted and in tears, shoots Jon multiple times for his treason while he wails pathetically on about how much he loves her. From a writing perspective, Jon and Ygritte suffer by virtue of poor adaptation of their relationship’s nature in the books; a relationship exemplified by the beautiful line: ‘we look up at the same stars and see such different things.’ The show’s writers do make an effort to bring up the cultural differences between Jon and Ygritte, but these differences are regrettably not represented as being a serious enough obstacle to their relationship to make us understand how their love for each other transcends those cultural differences.
Best unexpected interaction: Arya and Melisandre
‘I see a darkness in you. And in that darkness, eyes staring back at me. Brown eyes. Blue eyes, green eyes. Eyes you will shut forever. We will meet again.’
The moment when Melisandre looks into Arya’s eyes and murmurs ‘I see a darkness in you,’ in her gloriously-accented voice never fails to turn the viewer’s blood to ice for the way it points both to Arya’s future as a killer, and particularly as a killer post-A Dance with Dragons. The volcanic charisma of both Maisie Williams and Carice Van Houten adds to this and succeeds in making it one of the most bone-chilling moments this season.
Best ‘oh fuck, this is not happening’ moment: Gendry is taken from Arya
No one, not book fans, not series fans, saw this one coming for two seconds together, so from the moment Arya shouts ‘What are you doing? Let go of him!’, this scene goes down in history as one of the cruellest breakings-up of an onscreen partnership ever; the worst part, without doubt, being the way that Arya turns away from threatening Melisandre to observe Gendry being carted away without having had a chance to say goodbye to him. It’s a horrifying compounding of Arya’s loneliness, and the look on Maisie Williams’ face at the scene’s closure reminds us, once again, how young Arya is, how much she has come to depend on Gendry, and how her burden is made harder every day by the way that she loses the people she cares about.
Best ‘oh shit, oh shit, ha ha’ moment: Tywin and Joffrey
Tywin puts an end to Joffrey’s posturing and bullshitting about ‘many important matters requiring a King’s attention’ by doing nothing more threatening that climbing the stairs in front of the Iron Throne. Jack Gleeson is fantastic in this scene, making it perfectly clear that the only word passing through Joffrey’s head in that moment is ‘shit shit shit shit’, and Charles Dance is just as fantastic, his natural screen presence and icy-cold yet fiery Tywin showing the little creep precisely who’s boss, and entertaining us immensely at the same time.
Best dressed male character: Petyr Baelish
Award is given by virtue of this stunning cloth of gold and light blue ensemble that possesses the double virtue of being a dazzling article of clothing and making Aidan Gillan look even more gorgeous than he already is.
Best dressed female character: Sansa Stark
Sansa sports a variety of beautiful costumes this season that compliment her extraordinary height and evoke her romantic nature, but none is quite so lovely as her wedding dress, which is rendered all the more exquisite by the deep crimson of her wedding cloak.
Most over-used character: Robb Stark
As mentioned previously on this blog, Richard Madden seems to have devoted the past two seasons of Game of Thrones to completely destroying the impressive and understated kingliness of presence that he so successfully brought to life in season 1, and season 3 is no exception to this rule. Most of the time he just hangs around trying to be tough, vulnerable or sexy, but does not manage to be any of these three things despite a number of scenes that had excellent potential. To add insult to injury, the excess of screen time afforded his character only compounds the poor man’s predicament and makes things worse than ever. A crying shame and a disgrace!
Most under-used character: Tyrion Lannister
Tyrion’s importance to the progression of the saga does not diminish at any point in A Storm of Swords, so the considerable reduction in screen time this season does nothing if not baffle. The development of Tyrion’s character after losing the Handship and his descent into constant worry, bitterness and depression, particularly after his wedding, is one of the saddest, most moving and most annoying things in the books, and is also extremely important in understanding his character post-Purple Wedding. Glancing over all of this and constantly shoving it into a corner, as was done in season 3, is not only an action of questionable intelligence in terms of character and story development; it is also a scandalous under-use of a phenomenally-gifted and powerful actor.
Best totally badass moment: Daenerys feeds her dragons in front of the Yunkish envoy.
So we’re snoring loudly as Razdal mo Eraz craps on about many an army having broken against Yunkai’s walls, when Daenerys takes a piece of meat from a jar next to her and throws it into the air. The resulting lightning-fast catfight and cacophony of shrieks as all three of the dragons go after it mid-flight scares the pants off poor Razdal mo Eraz and makes us whoop in delight, even more so when Daenerys hardly spares them a glance and remarks ‘Good. My Unsullied need practice. I was told to blood them early.’
Best fight scene: Sandor Clegane versus Beric Dondarrion
It’s the psychological issues behind this already-great fight scene that make it so infinitely superior to other fight scenes this season: it’s Sandor’s fear of fire brought to the fore when facing a man with a burning sword; it’s his insane courage and willingness to keep fighting in spite of that, and it’s Arya on the side-lines screaming ‘Kill him!’ with a chilling savagery that doesn’t belong in someone so young, pinning all her hopes on justice finally being done on this one encounter, and trying to kill Sandor herself when it fails.
Best monologue: Cersei tells Margaery the story of House Reyne of Castamere.
Seething with innuendo and suppressed violence, this monologue is a blood-chilling and gorgeously-written warning in the very best tradition of Tywin Lannister that fucking with the Lannisters causes nothing but trouble. Lena Headey’s Cersei is icy cold, regal and very, very frightening; the cruelty in her voice rendered all the more awful by the blinding courtesy of her facial expressions.
Best one-liner: ‘Then you’ll be fucking your own bride with a wooden cock.’
Tyrion explains to Joffrey that there will be no bedding ceremony in language that the little shit understands. Thrilling not only because of the irate tension (and the look on Joffrey’s face) that it creates, but also in terms of the depth of Tyrion’s respect for the downtrodden (Sansa, in this case)
Best adaptation of a great scene
It is tempting to give this award to the bath scene or the Sack of Astapor, but nothing, regrettably, beats the horrifying butchery of the Red Wedding. It’s a masterpiece of psychological horror: raw, unglorified, no slow motion and no pretty music, and traps you right inside it with a magnetic X-factor that makes you stay right to the end despite it’s being almost impossible to watch; not, as we observed in our review of the episode, because of the blood and gore, which we’re more than used to, but because of the way that the Starks’ love for each other and instinct to protect each other even in the face of certain death emerges in the most poignant, heartrending and horribly upsetting ways.
Worst adaptation of a great scene
I’ve raved about this before, but seriously, how could they? The cave scene is GRRM’s magum opus of sex scenes. It makes A Song of Ice and Fire’s fat pink masts, Myrish swamps and variations thereupon worth it. It’s a coming-together of two people from different worlds, it’s Jon realising that vowing to remain celibate was probably the stupidest thing that someone with his capacity for love could have done, and it never fails to make you feel like your pants are molesting you. The TV adaptation is utterly boring and yawnable. A large part of this is the chemistry problem between Jon and Ygritte in the first half of season 3 (which miraculously and inexplicably recovers after this mediocrity takes place), the other half is…I don’t really know what. This scene is supposed to be an explosion. What it’s become is something like a sneeze.
Best throwback to season 2: Jaqen’s leitmotif.
A beautifully-evoked leitmotif that takes place after Arya and Sandor’s encounter with the Frey soldiers in the woods. Arya bends down to earth to pick up the iron coin given to her by Jaqen at the end of season 2; her hands drenched in blood and her eyes still numb with the shock of the kill. As she contemplates the face that decorates the coin’s surface, her eyes suddenly come alive as she murmurs the words ‘Valar Morghulis,’ and Jaqen’s exotic and chilling leitmotif seems to fill her up with his essence and memory. Absolutely gorgeous, and very, very thrilling.
Her Ladyship ends there to pray to the old gods and the new that Game of Thrones wins in its nominated categories tonight.