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An LG&M podcast: SEK and Steven Attewell discuss Game of Thrones, “The Climb”

[ 107 ] May 11, 2013 |

First, Steven and I apologize for the delay. We encountered some technical difficulties — poor internet connectivity foremost among them — and it took me a few days to edit the random clicks and taps from the audio feed without having us sound like Cybermen. Enjoy!

For those of you who think we have faces made for radio (.mp3).

Our very civilized discussion of the premiere (S03E01).

Fancy-talking about “Dark Wings, Dark Words” (S03E02).

Here we are blathering on about “Walk of Punishment” (S03E03).

Don’t watch — because you can’t — us discuss “And Now His Watch Has Ended” (S03E04).

The rudely interrupted first half of our discussion of “Kissed by Fire” (S03E05).

The second half of our discussion of religion in “Kissed by Fire” (S03E05).

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  1. bspencer says:

    For those of you who think we have faces made for radio (.mp3).

    Hey now!

  2. bspencer says:

    Hey, was there any doin’ it in this episode? I bet there was.

  3. Manju says:

    The scratchy vinyl has become an instrumental part of the song.

  4. Tom M says:

    Mp3 fail. App store podcast fail.

    But, hey, the one with pictures works.

    • SEK says:

      Thanks! Forgot a little letter in the title. Does it show up in the App store podcast correctly now? Or should I re-ping it? (And, um, how does one re-ping it?)

  5. JazzBumpa says:

    Initial thoughts –

    Rickon is baaaaackkk.

    Acrophobia porn.

    As much as I hate Theon, I really get squirmy seeing him get tortured. The books discretely hid the actual mayhem off stage.

    Now, to watch youse guyses . . .

    • mpowell says:

      Theon was always going to be fucked in the head. Robb Stark did him a huge disservice by not recognizing what an enormous cunt Balon Greyjoy is and sending him home. But it actually gets to one of the weakest parts of Martin’s story in Westeros. House Greyjoy are outlaws. It’s in their fucking family motto. When you have a culture of brigands and outlaws in a medieval society, you don’t recognize their self-appointed leaders as lords, especially not after a rebellion. You destroy the noble families and their lineage and import new nobles. The brigand culture might continue because it is simply not worth hunting down every last common criminal, but they will never have enough resources to support more than the odd scavenging ship here and there.

      • JazzBumpa says:

        You raise an interesting point. But let me suggest an alternative. You’re talking about something like Tywin vs. Castamere, where a great house can utterly destroy a recalcitrant bannerman.

        But House Greyjoy, like them or not, is one of the great houses. And in the chivalry of Westeros, the Greyjoy Rebellion was a rebellion, not a criminal act. So House Greyjoy doesn’t get the Castamere treatment. They get the Great House treatment, as is their due, because of their station in society.

        Presumably, Balon bent the knee when he lost the battle, and that was the end of it, from the winner’s perspective.

        One can make the case that Ned did not bring Theon up properly. But Theon is just a shit, so who can say how culpable Ned actually is?

        Cheers!
        JzB

        • Also, House Greyjoy had suffered heavily in the war – all but one of Balon’s sons were dead, Pyke and most of the Iron Islands had been sacked, the Iron Fleet was sunk, his remaining son was a hostage. Most people would be smart enough not to do that again.

          As for Theon, ultimately, his problem was that he was raised too well – he assimilated (mostly) into Northern culture, but couldn’t find a true home in the North or the Iron Islands.

      • More pirates than outlaws, but I don’t think history bears you out here. The Norse/Normans who conquered significant parts of Europe became nobility despite having been murderous pirates, because one of the ways you deal with murderous pirates is to give them land so they have something to lose if the status quo goes bad and then turn their murderous attentions outwards.

        • brandon says:

          I don’t understand your counterexample. The Normans did the conquering, and thus became nobility. The Greyjoys were conquered, thus…?

          • The Normans were pirates and became nobility.

            Ditto the Greyjoys.

            • And historically, the Greyjoys have been pretty on-board since the Conquest. The only evidence we have of them returning to the old ways during the 300 years of Targaryen rule was Dagon Greyjoy’s raids during the Great Spring Sickness, but that wasn’t a rebellion as much as inter-house warfare.

            • brandon says:

              Yes, but mpowell’s issue was the Greyjoys didn’t get wiped out completely after rebelling the last time, not that they had gotten to be nobles in the first place. That is, you give the pirates land; now they have something to lose; they turn their murderous attention outwards anyway; you crush them; then…? And since the TV show at least depicts nobles getting murdered regularly and enthusiastically whenever enemy nobles get the chance it is a little hard to believe there’d be anything left on Pyke.

              • Ah, I see what you mean.

                All I’ll say is that the murder of nobles, especially on a Rains of Castamere level, is something rare and looked down upon by polite society. Even Tywin doesn’t want to repeat his earlier feat – hence his line about “when your enemies defy you, you must serve them steel and fire. When they go to their knees, however, you must help them back to their feet. Else wise no man will ever bend the knee to you.”

                Honestly, you’d have to wipe out all the Ironborn to stop them periodically raiding. And if you resettled the isles, they’d eventually turn to raiding as well – which is what happened when the Andals conquered the Iron Islands back when only the First Men lived there.

              • joe from Lowell says:

                OK, you’ve convinced me.

                I can think of reasons why Robert might have decided to spare the Greyjoys. For instance, accepting the fealty of a defeated foe is something a king would do, while killing them and looting their land is something one thug might do to another, and Robert would have still been worrying about looking legitimate. I can imagine John Arryn explaining this to Robert.

                But you’re right – this is something that needs an explanation.

            • Anonymous says:

              Another example might be the Barbary Coast. They had their own rulers and a rough sort of diplomatic recognition from other states in the Mediterranean, while practicing piracy or taking bribes not to. The Iron Islands have more or less declared independence at this point, so their status would be similar to that of Tunis or Tripoli at this point.

    • Sly says:

      As much as I hate Theon, I really get squirmy seeing him get tortured. The books discretely hid the actual mayhem off stage.

      Sympathy through suffering is big in A Song of Ice and Fire, and its one of the more discomforting (in a good way, I guess) themes of the series. The characters who are likable are made more likable through suffering, and the characters who are unlikable are made less unlikable through suffering.

    • As someone who doesn’t do well with heights, I have to agree.

      • JazzBumpa says:

        The two biggest disappointments to me in the whole series so far are the wall climbing scene, which was played for cliched gratuitous cheap thrills; and the wtf dragon theft coupled with Dani’s visit to the House of the Undying. I just finished that chapter on my second read-through. It makes more sense when you’re armed with future knowledge, but it’s still pretty enigmatic, and in the series, they just punted.

        JzB

        • joe from Lowell says:

          The wall-climing scene accomplished two things: it set up a grudge between John Snow and Orell the Warg, and it made Snow buy into the “us against the world” idea Ygritte was talking about.

          • mxyzptlk says:

            The wall-climbing scene also seems paralleled with the bear pit scene in the following episode, where Jaime and Brienne have to climb their way out of the pit before Lil’ Bart the bear snuggles them to death (Bart’s really a nice bear).

            But there’s an inversion of sorts: John Snow pulls up Ygritte, while Brienne pulls up Jaime; and the other Wildings leave John and Ygritte to fend for themselves against gravity, while Steelshanks and his people help Brienne and Jaime back up.

            I don’t know if the parallel was intentional, and might have been too on the nose if the two scenes were in the same episode (and they each deserve their own chapters). But it does establish (maybe unnecessarily) a difference between Wildling individualism and the social bonds that oaths, loyalty, and money can secure.

            • mxyzptlk says:

              Oh, duh — and there’s Littlefinger’s line at the end of this episode, “Chaos isn’t a pit; chaos is a ladder.” It seems Littlefinger is also linking the wall scene (such as it is) with the bear pit scene.

  6. Richard Gadsden says:

    Dear Benioff and Weiss,

    Please don’t remind me of a Miley Cyrus song with your episode titles again.

    Yours,

    Richard.

  7. mattc says:

    SPOILERS

    Re. the death of Ros, did you notice that her arrow wounds match the placement of Arya’s arrows in the straw dummy from earlier in the episode? Perhaps what’s being set up is the danger of Arya’s dark path of vengeance.

  8. Oh, and for the record, I meant baroque, not rococco.

  9. Tom M says:

    I enjoy your take on things and especially the way you notice certain things like the last 2/3rds of the EP everyone was seated or at Tyrion height anyway.
    One suggestion, though, you are both way too polite in the transitions. Stop asking the other if they want to go first and just fucking make your point known. I’m pretty sure the other guy will speak. Short periods of silence aren’t bad.

    • SEK says:

      One suggestion, though, you are both way too polite in the transitions.

      You realize that this is a gauntlet thrown down that, in the next podcast, I’m constitutionally incapable of picking up. I hope Steven’s ready for what SEK’s about to bring.

      • Wow, because I’ve been holding back. All my life I’ve been the annoying kid in class who just won’t shut the f*ck up (even when a teacher takes him aside and tells him not to), and I’ve been trying to work on that.

        But I can regress.

  10. SEK says:

    One suggestion, though, you are both way too polite in the transitions.

    You realize that this is a gauntlet thrown down that, in the next podcast, I’m constitutionally incapable of picking up. I hope Steven’s ready for what SEK’s about to bring.

  11. Sly says:

    I suppose from a dramatic perspective, the monologueing villain is a cliche, but I think it works into Littlefinger’s identity rather well. He’s a scrounging social climber, the quintessential “self-made man who did build that” who thinks far more of himself than he’s actually worth or accomplished. Grandiosity suits him.

    It reminded me of his about-as-subtle-as-a-sledgehammer-to-the-forehead threat to Ros back in S2 or his revealing his plans about the Starks to his mock-lesbian prostitutes in S1 (again, both monologues). Littlefinger has a kind of Basil Rathbone image of himself as the mustache-twirling schemer who has everyone fooled. But he hasn’t fooled anyone (except Sansa, but only because Sansa is an idiot), he just thinks he has everyone fooled because he needs to believe he’s better and more deserving than everyone else.

    • Oh sure, it’s absolutely in character with Littlefinger in the book. He can’t stop himself from snarking at Eddard and tipping his hat to prove how cleverer he is than the man who married the woman who belongs to him he “loves,” he brags about screwing Cat and Lysa at court despite the fact that either Eddard or Jon could have challenged him to a duel to the death on those grounds, he monologues all over the place.

      A big part of his motivation is to “show them all!” Whereas Varys’ motives aren’t really about himself.

    • joe from Lowell says:

      The actor does a great job with that role.

      Some of his lines, such as how he talks to Sansa at the pier, are so affected you’d think that there was a terrible actor playing that part, but that’s not it. The character is speaking in an affected manner, and the actor is very successfully playing the role of someone who speaks in an affected manner, thinks that nobody realizes it, but is wrong.

  12. MacCheerful says:

    Something that struck me about the episode was Varys’ face when he was told Ros had been killed. A master of spies has to be able to protect his people or else no one in the future will want to work for him. It seemed his first real defeat, and openly so.

    Now, parenthetical. Why does everybody think Olenna beat Tyrion in the dickering over the wedding costs. He wanted the Tyrells to pay for a part. They ended up paying for half. Sure Olenna got to insult him for awhile, but in the end what difference does it make to Tyrion if he gets what he wants? He’s suffered insults all his life.

    • He got what he wanted, but Olenna clearly gave it to him as a consolation prize for being verbally slapped around. She could have easily begged off.

      • joe from Lowell says:

        She gave it to him for the same reason the Tyrells have given everything they’re provided to the crown: so that crown would owe them a favor.

        She slapped him around to make sure he understood that this was the Tyrells doing the crown a favor, not just meeting their obligations.

      • MG says:

        I was thinking of the Olenna/Tyrion interaction as an inversion of a scene from the second book that didn’t make it into the series: When Alliser Thorne brings the hand of the wight to King’s Landing to ask for more men, Tyrion makes a big point of both mocking him (so that Tyrion would not be said to believe in grumkins) and giving him what he wants (because Tyrion thinks there might be something to all the talk about grumkins). Tyrion is explicit that Alliser should look past the insults to realize that he’s achieved his objectives.

        I guess you could go further and say that the question of who “won” the match between Tyrion and Olenna might be important to Olenna, who expresses disappointment at not having to face more of a challenge, but not to Tyrion beyond the question of whether he achieved his practical goal.

      • MacCheerful says:

        That seems to give Olenna a greater interest in the joy of slapping men around than would make sense for an intelligent operator.

        And I get how the contribution means it adds to the favor owed by the Lannisters to the Tyrells, but they were already owed a lot.

        I actually see it as a sign of weakness by Olenna, apparently successfully masked by the bluster. She needs to keep the Lannisters close until Marjory marries and can perhaps influence affairs directly. A large wedding insures Tyrell influence.

        • mxyzptlk says:

          If Tyrion (or others) can peg Olenna’s weakness being a vain need to feel superior to her interlocutors, I don’t see why Tyrion wouldn’t use that to his advantage. He could care less at being called lesser; from the first episode, we know he uses insults like armor.

  13. joe from Lowell says:

    “It’s as if the camera is recapitulating the negotiation between these characters…It’s putting her in her place.”

    Wow. You’re awesome, Scott. Do you notice these things on first viewing, or does it take several exposures for you to pick up on the techniques?

    • SEK says:

      I can’t tell whether you’re being serious or not — and I can’t remember what I said that in reference to, as it was a while back I recorded that podcast — but if you’re serious, the answer is that I not only re-watch these episodes multiple times, but I stare at frames that seem particularly meaningful for longer than my eyes would like me to. Really, that’s my singular talent: the ability to look at shit for longer than most people consider healthy. It’s like the worst mutant power ever.

      • joe from Lowell says:

        Completely serious.

        • SEK says:

          Thanks, then. Wish I could say I had better advice, but I can only tell you what I tell my students: the art of staring intently is vastly underestimated. Also, take notes while watching and sketching stick figure-theater in the margins to keep track of blocking.

          Basically, I was taught to be a close-reader of literature, and I take the same anal-retentive approach to film. It’s just a matter of practice, not talent, so reading these posts and listening to these podcasts is a good way to get a jump start on it. Eventually you’ve just stared at so much that certain shit jumps out at you. (Especially when you’re dealing with a limited field of directors, or have started to reverse-engineer the script and/or shot-bible in a way that clues you in to how a director’s tics interact with a show’s dictates.)

          • Julia Grey says:

            Very interesting, thanks.

            I can see a lot of the “visual rhetoric” quickly in a still photo, but when things are in motion, I can only react as the film artist wants me to; I can’t see what’s being done to elicit that reaction.

            I suppose I might be able to get better at that if I was willing to invest the time in watching things over and over, but I’m not being PAID to do that, the way Kaufmann is.

            The lucky sod.

            • SEK says:

              I’m not really being paid to do this. I mean, minimally, here, but I’m really only showing you the exciting parts of my job. I don’t write about grading (too often), or committee meetings, or staff meetings, etc. Would that I could just be paid to do this!

        • JazzBumpa says:

          It’s sort of a meta-commentary on how language is used in present day America that Joe’s rather effusive complement, when seen only in writing, is utterly indistinguishable from snark.

          No ambiguity in the words, but it’s tempting to read into them a kind of unintended arch irony.

          In one of Dale Carnegie’s books he makes an example of speaking politely to the waitstaff, saying something along the lines of, “If it’s not too much trouble, could you please refill my water glass.” The problem is, only a few decades later, it’s almost impossible to not see that kind of phrasing as an implied criticism.

          We live in a rude culture where snark and hidden agendas are the norm.

          JzB

    • mxyzptlk says:

      I was similarly impressed by the light-falling-on-Jaime’s-stump observation and linking that to expressionism. Now I’m going to be looking for Murnau all over Westeros.

  14. joe from Lowell says:

    Of all the characters in the Song of Fire and Ice/Game of Thrones world, Oleanna Tyrell is the most qualified and capable to sit the Iron Throne.

  15. Domino says:

    Will there be a continuation of these discussion over season 1 and season 2 once season 3 ends in 4 weeks? Cause that would be great.

  16. rw970 says:

    I didn’t really understand why “Loras to the Kingsguard” was such a trump card. First, IIRC, the Kingsguard is a voluntary institution – you can’t be “named” to it. In the books, SPOILERS, Loras petitions to join, and Jaime did, too, even though Aerys may have only agreed to it to take away Tywin’s heir. Even if Tywin “nominates” Loras to the Kingsguard, Loras and the Tyrells can always refuse – and people would understand, because Loras is the only heir to Highgarden. In fact, it would be much more embarrassing for the Lannisters than the Tyrells, because even casual observers would wonder why Tywin would so artlessly name the sole heir of a great house to a celibate institution.

    Even stranger, if Tywin does successfully get Loras in the Kingsguard, Olenna (or really, Mace) is in the same position Tywin is in. Tywin’s preferred heir is also in the KG, and also is not allowed to hold titles or father children. I think it’s known that Tyrion is not going to inherit Casterly Rock, and the terms of the marriage proposal mean that Cersei isn’t either. So, we should assume that Tywin has some plan to get Jaime out of it, and in the books he does. Olenna should be able to see that if Tywin (through Joffrey) can get Jaime off the hook, then Joffrey can get Loras off the hook. Especially when you consider that the Tyrells have been running Operation: Manipulate Joffrey for a while now.

  17. rw970 says:

    Isn’t it possible that “Valar Morghulis” and “Valar Dohaeris” is just a common greeting and response in Essos? Kind of like “shalom aleikhem,” and “aleikhem shalom,” in Hebrew. It’s true that the phrases have particular significance for the Faceless Men, but there’s no reason to think it’s only a phrase that they use.

    • It’s not, Essos-wide. It’s specific to Braavos and the Cult of the Many-Faced God.

      It’s like two Catholic priests, one from Peru and another from Africa, greeting each other by saying “salam alaikum.”

      • rw970 says:

        It’s specific to Braavos and the Cult of the Many-Faced God.

        Who says? It’s clearly Valyrian, forms of which are spoken all over Essos. In “Walk of Punishment,” Missandei and Daenerys do it, neither of whom are from Braavos or from the Cult of the Many-Faced God. It may have originated with the cult, or been appropriated by it, but I can’t think of any indication that it’s exclusive to it.

        • It’s discussed in AFFC. The bit in “Walk of Punishment” is not in the books.

          It’s specifically mentioned by Jaqen H’gar as a shibboleth for Braavosi.

          • rw970 says:

            Not to nitpick, but:

            Tyrion says valar dohaeris to Griff in Book IV.

            When Dany frees Missandei:

            “I can give you freedom, but not safety,” Dany warned. “I have a world to cross and wars to fight. You may go hungry. You may grow sick. You may be killed.”

            “Valar morghulis,” said Missandei, in High Valyrian.

            “All men must die,” Dany agreed, “but not for a long while, we may pray.”

            Oberyn says to Tyrion:

            “Is it treason to say a man is mortal? Valar morghulis was how they said it in Valyria of old. All men must die. And the Doom came and proved it true.”

            I think the implication is that they’re common Valyrian phrases, in addition to being significant to the House of Black and White.

            • Fair enough. But their role as a shibboleth is clearly Braavosi.

            • mxyzptlk says:

              Think of it this way — particular sayings/pronunciations/shibboleths aren’t necessarily unknown to other cultures, but they’re also not be pronounced or used correctly. All U.S. citizens know about Louisville, KY or Milwaukee, WI, but few pronounce them as Loo-ville or M’waukee like the locals do. Having grown up in the Upper Midwest, my wife and I can almost always spot a true Wisconsinite from a pretender just by certain vowel sounds, diphthongs, and syllable contractions. (In the 1990’s, after one of the Badgers’ Rose Bowl wins, a button was going around that read “When you say WES-consin, you said it wrong,” meant to be mentally heard to the tune of this old Budweiser commercial.)

              So the saying may be Braavosi, but that doesn’t necessarily mean its currency stopped at those borders, and it doesn’t necessarily mean a Braavosi wouldn’t spot a non-native using the phrase. It’s kind of like what Twain said about his wife trying to swear like him — “you have the words, but not the music.”

  18. rw970 says:

    Does anybody else think it’s weird that despite having zero experience doing any sort of rock climbing at all, Jon and Ygritte successfully climb a 700 foot sheer ice wall with the aid of some second-hand crampons made from what looks like a deer’s head?

  19. […] this episode, Scott Eric Kaufman of Lawyers, Guns, and Money and I discuss religious faith again, personal loyalty vs. political loyalties, the meaning of […]

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