In the Game of Thrones, You Win or You Quit Playing

(Spoilers for all of Game of Thrones are below. Even if you’ve never watched the show, don’t read this, because we know that someday you will.)

One of the things that I have always liked about Game of Thrones, among many, is that you always had someone to root for to take power over the Seven Kingdoms. It wasn’t always necessarily the same potential monarch that your friend wanted, either. Whether you’ve been on Team Daenerys since day one and your friend had a brief stint on Team Stannis (before he committed the most despicable act of the series and burned his daughter alive), or if you and your friend have both always been about the Starks, the point is that you’ve pretty much spent the last seven years hoping that your chosen one would usurp whichever ass was sitting on the Iron Throne.

Although the list of hopeful leaders has essentially dwindled down to just Dany, it’s still easy to get behind her because Cersei is the one currently occupying that uncomfortable chair, and as Jon Snow so succinctly puts it, “At the very least, you’re better than Cersei.” That makes things pretty cut and dry and we would all be rocking House Targaryen apparel, if the rules hadn’t changed.

But of course, season 7 didn’t just change the rules of the game. It changed the game entirely. And much like the friend who is left playing Halo while everyone else moves on to Call of Duty, Cersei now presides over a city that almost every notable character has abandoned and holds a seat of power that everyone but her has stopped trying to obtain. I suppose when you finally master the game you’ve been playing for so long, you’re not about to let it go that easily (especially when you’re a cold-hearted bitch with just a slight drinking problem).

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Game of Thrones: Season 1 Review

When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.

There has probably never been a quote in the history of television that laid a path for an entire series like that zinger from Cersei did. For all of its complexity, depth and shocking turns, Thrones is a pretty basic show at heart. Those who play the game either wind up victorious or six feet under. Or burned alive. Or flayed. Or killed only to be brought back as a mindless husk. People are very particular about the way that they like to kill in this world.

I have done reviews for Thrones in the past, but they are very much a mirror of Pegboards’ activity level (and by result, my level as a writer). Now that we are heading into the final two seasons of this sprawling, epic saga, I am running out of opportunities to write about it and be somewhat timely, so I thought it would be fun to look back at the series and see if there is any singular storyline or character that catches my eye. It only makes sense to start with season one.

And of course there will be major spoilers for season one and much of the series, but if you haven’t caught up by now, what the hell are you waiting for?

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Game of Thrones: Prepping for the Endgame

I had originally planned to review the last two episodes of Game of Thrones before offering up my opinion on season 6 as a whole. Alas, at this point I don’t think there’s much need or demand for my take, if only because I doubt it would be that dissimilar from your own. Season 6 was just fine through episode 8, then it hit the last two legs of its journey and provided us with a couple of brilliant hours of television. We were reminded exactly why we love this show so much and then were immediately faced with the agonizingly long wait until season 7.

That’s pretty much how we’re all feeling, right? Kevin recently recommended Shameless to me, so maybe I’ll see what kind of shenanigans William H. Macy has been up to in order to kill some time.

That being said, I’d still like to briefly discuss the road that Thrones is about to go on and speculate on whether or not the monumental series can deliver on all of the promises that have been made over the past six years. As Sansa and Jon Snow observed, “Winter is here, just like father always promised.” We’re off to a good start.

Spoilers will obviously follow, so if you’re not caught up on Thrones, don’t keep reading. Unless you enjoy having things spoiled for you, then let’s go!

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Game of Thrones: “Sons of the Harpy” Review

I told them all to go to hell. You did not belong along across the world with the bloody stone men. You are the Princess Shireen of House Baratheon, and you are my daughter. 

Stannis Baratheon is a hard man to figure out. Back in season two, he was the scorned older brother with the most legitimate claim to the Iron Throne, yet he had no clue how to command the loyalty of the other lords. Renly knew how to do that. He was likable guy, charismatic and humble, yet he was younger than Stannis and no where close to the front of the line of succession. People supported him anyway because they didn’t want to support Stannis. The Lord of Dragonstone was not only extremely cold and rigid, he had forsaken the Faith of the Seven for the mysterious Lord of Light, represented by the mysterious and seductive Melisandre. Stannis couldn’t defeat his brother on the field of battle, so he used Melisandre’s magic to slay his own flesh and blood and steal all of the bannermen. When Stannis was defeated in the Battle of the Blackwater, he retreated back to Dragonstone, threw his friend Ser Davos into a dungeon and spent his time brooding and listening to Melisandre as she whispered into his ear.

In other words, Stannis was no one’s favorite character.

Flash forward to season five and my how things have changed. Not only was Stannis the only king who came to the aid of the Night’s Watch (you never saw the King in the North spare any of his men for the Wall) but now he’s the only one who wants to bring the Boltons to justice. And now we even get lovely little scenes like this, where Stannis reveals a side of himself that we never get to see. It was almost Ned Stark-esque in the way that Stannis revealed not only is he not ashamed of his daughter, but he did everything he could to save her when everyone else had already given up on her.

In other words, Stannis is one of the best characters on the show. He may have murdered his brother, but in the words of the Hound, there are others who are plenty worse.

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Game of Thrones: “High Sparrow” Review

Welcome home Lady Stark. The North remembers. 

Much like Lady Sansa, I found our return trip to Winterfell to be oddly disturbing. It doesn’t feel like the same place anymore. Not with the treacherous Boltons installed as the leaders and especially without the presence of a single Stark when she entered through the gate. Unbeknownst to any of them, Stannis had planned on marching on Winterfell with the newly christened Jon Stark to rectify that very problem. But that wasn’t Jon’s destiny. He’s where he belongs, settling matters at the Wall between the Night’s Watch and the Wildlings while the White Walkers continue plotting and planning on the other side. Sansa, on the other hand, isn’t part of the Night’s Watch. She will likely never swing a sword or be a heroine in some great battle, but it is still very much her burden now to help reclaim the land that was stolen from her family.

If the North remembers, then Sansa surely hasn’t forgotten who is to blame for the downfall of the Starks. And there she is now, set to be married to the son of the man who plunged a knife into her brother’s heart. As Littlefinger once told her, “Given the opportunity, what do we do to those who hurt the ones we love?”

We’re about to find out just how much Sansa has been taking Littlefinger’s lessons to heart, and just what she’s willing to do to those who killed the ones that she loves.

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Game of Thrones: “The House of Black and White” Review

We’ve already got a ruler. Everywhere has already got a ruler. Every pile of shit on the side of every road has someone’s banner hanging from it.  

Tyrion Lannister’s greatest asset has always been his wit. Whether he is formulating a strategy on the fly or cracking a joke, he always knows what to say and what to do at precisely the right moment. It is that mixture of keen intellect and deadpan humor that subverts Tyrion’s status as a dwarf, and it’s what has kept him alive for this long while bigger and stronger men have dropped around him like flies. Beneath that lies something even more valuable: a basic understanding of the world and how things are. He and Varys have that in common. It’s why they have made such a great team in the past and why they currently find themselves together in a stuffy wooden box, riding into the unknown.

There are two kinds of rulers in Westeros: ones who are monsters and ones who are repulsive. Varys believes that Tyrion is the key to establishing Daenerys Targaryen as the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, but Tyrion has been a slave to a monster before and has no intention of finding himself in that position again. Considering that the last Targaryen in power was known as the Mad King, his reluctance to follow Varys’ plan may be well-founded.

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Game of Thrones: “The Wars to Come” Review

We all must choose: man or woman, young or old, lord or peasant, our choices are the same. We choose light or we choose darkness. We choose good or we choose evil. We choose the true God, or the false.

(This will be a pretty spoiler-heavy review for episode 1 of season 5 and for Game of Thrones in general. DO NOT READ unless you are caught up or are indifferent to having shit spoiled for you. You’ve been warned.)

When Game of Thrones first premiered, Westeros was a stable country that relied on the establishment of its noble houses to keep the peace in the seven kingdoms. Maybe not every lord saw eye to eye, but no one was willing to risk disrupting that kind of tranquility over a meaningless grudge. Part of that is due in thanks to all of the experienced soldiers and commanders that were at the head of almost every faction and family: Ned Stark, Tywin Lannister, Robert Baratheon, Lord Commander Mormont and on and on it goes. Flash forward to season 5 and that’s simply just not the case.

Ever since Ilyn Payne lopped off Ned Stark’s head, we’ve been conditioned to expect anyone who doesn’t play the game of thrones as shrewdly or quickly as others will likely suffer a grisly demise. Westeros thrives on chaos, you see, and getting swept up in the madness without a contingency plan is akin to joining a game of paintball with a slingshot. By the time you realize that you’ve made a mistake and weren’t prepared, it’s too late. Your enemies will celebrate with a barrel of wine while everything you love and hold dear turns to ash around you.

Not every lord or lady truly understands how to play the game, but even those that do aren’t safe from rapidly evolving circumstances. Exhibit A: Tywin Lannister, the Bill Belichick of Westeros, who always seemed to be 10 steps ahead of everyone who tried to thwart him. The mastermind behind a massacre like the Red Wedding is certainly not the most honorable or popular person, but I’ll be damned if he doesn’t get results. And yet, despite all of the success and victories that Tywin accumulated over the years, he was undone by a member of his own family. How ironic that he withstood so many wars and battles, yet in the end it was his dwarf of a son who ended his life. As Tywin’s corpse awaited a certificate of death from all of his rivals in Westeros, Jaime and Cersei were trying to make sense of a future that is grim and hopelessly uncertain.

After all, what chance does the future have when the boys of the new generation can’t even hold their shields up and swing their swords like girls with palsy?

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