Monday, June 20, 2016

You Lucky Bastard

I'd need to see a lot more television before I could say it with real authority but I suspect last night's Game of Thrones had the best battle sequence in the history of television. Not for the first time, I find it more appropriate to look to film for proper comparisons. Director Miguel Sapochnik created some truly amazing moments.

Spoilers after the screenshot.

I think everyone recognises the two standout moments in the battle for Winterfell--the tracking shot of Jon Snow in the chaos of battle and Jon Snow getting buried in the pile of corpses. I don't think I've seen any battle sequence that has shown how accumulated corpses can actually alter the landscape of a battlefield, creating hills and walls that must be factored into manoeuvres.

Sapochnik sets up the experience with one of the piles brilliantly by having Jon, our point of view character, sight a target, that bearded guy in charge of Ramsay's allies, the Karstarks. Jon wants to have a satisfying, cathartic showdown with the man but first one soldier blunders in his way and then another and before we know it Jon is stuck and in a new, terrible situation.

The denied satisfaction with the Karstark helps us feel the helplessness and frustration and leads us into the feelings of suffocation as close-ups of Kit Harington's face in increasing darkness are cut with quick, confusing shots of silhouettes of running people and weapons. Really nicely done.

As for the other standout moment, we can see Fred Astaire's wisdom from over eighty years ago holds true to-day--it's better to show the dancer in as long a take as possible. Jean-Luc Godard refined the insight with his statement about how "every cut is a lie". Unlike Fred Astaire, though, this long battle take isn't about showing flawless physical ability, although to show this particular kind of chaos the choreography needs to be just about as perfect as one of Astaire's dance numbers.

A lot of people are comparing the sequence to one from the Daredevil television series but of course the first of these impressive, messy long take fights was the legendary hallway sequence from the original Oldboy. But this sequence in Game of Thrones shows that the protagonist survives due almost 90% to luck.

It reminds me of Rostov's first encounter with battle in War and Peace--in fact it's so credible that it made me notice conceits of the show I'd never thought I'd want to nitpick, like the fact that Jon's not wearing a helmet. Obviously having an actor's face unobstructed helps transmit their emotions to the audience but this battle sequence felt so credible that suddenly these little things stuck out.

But yes, amazing scene.

And the episode opened with Daenerys unleashing her dragons on the slave masters' fleet, which was a lot of fun. Someone really needs to make a saddle for Drogon Dragon.

And the episode had a fun scene where Daenerys meets with Yara. They both seem a little surprised themselves that women are all of a sudden taking over the world but, hey, sounds good. I predict next week we'll see a surprise attack on King's Landing by Dorne, too, if the fan theory that Cersei's going to burn down the city with the wildfire Tyrion mentions in "Battle of the Bastards" proves false. Or maybe both will happen.

So I enjoyed this episode, I'm happy to join with my friends who liked it and I just want to say that I recognise some faults I found in the episode are completely my opinion, which is totally subjective and I want to stress that I don't think people aren't smart for not hating the same things I do--in fact I envy you. I really don't want to hurt anyone's feelings but at the same time I'm saying this because . . . while I think "Battle of the Bastards" was one of the best directed episodes of the series I think was also one of the worst written. If you don't want to continue reading, I'll entirely understand.

Just as I predicted, according to the laws of melodrama, no matter how improbable it was, Davos has found out that Melisandre was responsible for the death of Stannis' little girl. We only see him find the little stag he carved for the kid in "Battle of the Bastards" but we can see from the trailer for next week he figures it out. This isn't a case of putting two and two together to make four--this is putting 2x and y(x-z) together to make 4. The number of other explanations as to why that stag would be next to a pile of burnt wood are almost infinite. Let's say Ramsay didn't burn Stannis' camp, which would be one explanation. Maybe the kid died and Stannis threw the stag in the fire in a fit of grief. Maybe Stannis killed the kid instead of allowing her to die at the hands of his enemies. Davos inferring that Melisandre was somehow responsible is an enormous leap. Still, I could forgive it if something interesting comes out of it but given all that's going to be packed into next week's episode it's hard to imagine it'll be anything but a waste of time.

"Battle of the Bastards" picks up with a worse conceived moment, though, where Danaerys stops in the middle of her city being attacked to stare quietly and disapprovingly as Tyrion makes excuses for something that is really not his fault. Remember, when Tyrion arrived, it looked like the masters were just about ready to destroy the city and with Danaerys not being able to control her dragons--and anyway, the beasts not being exactly capable of the precision strikes necessary to rid the city of hidden assassins--the problems looked insurmountable. Tyrion's actions may have actually delayed the attack--realistically, anything more than that would be a miracle. I think--I mean, the effectiveness of the Sons of the Harpy seemed to fluctuate wildly with little explanation. In any case, Tyrion and Danaerys are having the wrong conversation at the very wrong time.

Imagine you're Danaerys, riding back home on Drogon Dragon and you see ships launching fire at the city. What is the first thing you do? Go to your office and have a quiet conversation? Or do what she ended up doing anyway and soundly defeating the invaders with fire? It is a lucky thing the dragons now appear to be completely under control.

Meanwhile, Ramsay shows Jon and Sansa the head of a wolf so they assume Ramsay's telling the truth when he says he's got Rickon and Rickon's still alive. Why would Jon and Sansa think that Rickon is still alive? As Sansa makes abundantly clear to Jon, there are a million reasons why Ramsay would kill Rickon "very soon"--yes. In fact, it's reasonable to assume that Rickon is dead already. There's no reason at all for anyone to think Rickon is still alive except for Ramsay's sadism which, as Sansa points out, Jon is unacquainted with. At the very least, someone ought to have brought up the possibility that Rickon was dead. But there's a very good reason why the writers had to sidestep this. Look at the distance between Jon and Ramsay's armies:

If you were in one army and looking at the other army, could you spot and recognise a brother you hadn't seen in years, who'd gone through puberty since you last saw him? Could you make out anyone's facial features? No. We could maybe expect Jon to infer that the tiny figure in the distance is his brother and not a decoy only if we believe the possibility that Rickon is dead has never crossed Jon's mind. So okay, all this shuffling of credibility is to set up for Jon doing something really stupid, something Sansa told him not to do--and, interestingly, the opposite of what the guy did at Riverrun. That guy new better than to accept the Tully's freedom. Somewhere, a distant voice says again, "You know nothing, Jon Snow."

Of course, the day is saved when Sansa shows up with the Knights of the Vale. We'd seen her writing to them an episode or two ago but we see that Sansa has decided not to inform Jon of this fact. Jon thinks they have to attack now because there's no hope of getting greater numbers. It might have been nice for him to know he could factor those knights into his battle plans. But Sansa can't tell him because of awkward emotions or something. I wonder if I should be happy the show's drive to show women taking over hasn't stopped them from writing Sansa as the complete nitwit she's always been. But I don't feel happy about--her not telling Jon about the Knights of the Vale didn't really seem stupid or smart. It just didn't make any sense.

On top of that, it doesn't make sense that Jon, in trying to amass forces and allies, never thought about the Vale at all, the place where I guess as far as he knows Catelyn's sister is still in charge.

I did enjoy Ramsay's death though it was more the satisfaction of knowing a character who I thought was consistently badly written will no longer be on the show than the satisfaction of knowing an asshole is finally getting his comeuppance. Though there was some of the latter--it is always nice to see an insufferably smug shit get knocked down. It just seems implausible that it's never happened before to this guy.

On a side note, it's interesting that for all the great special effects in this episode, the dog biting Ramsay's face still looked really fake. It guess it's a step up from the usual stuffed animal prop but graphically showing someone eaten by dogs or wolves seems still to elude television and film.

Twitter Sonnet #883

As nights extend to pass the trailer wheel
A dyed in feather dove expresses pear
Or other mild fruit apportioned peel
In shreds to steep the strainer tea more clear.
A purple palla painted treason's tongue
Translucent shades of indigo and blue,
Distinctions slight but all too dearly wrung
From bigger budget films more sand than true.
The old rectangle was the signal seen
At dusk when apple moons maintained their core
Beliefs in face of cheeseless stars who beam
Too long in dairy's milky tattooed door.
To walk among the managed steps of smooth
And shoeless feet the air can somehow move.

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