Over the weekend, the first four episodes of Game of Thrones leaked onto torrent sites. In one day, they were downloaded more than a million times. And yet on an Internet that mainlines recaps, teasers, spoilers, and breakdowns, no one seems to want to talk about them, at least beyond the odd mealymouthed appeal to not watch them.
This is bullshit! Coverage of Game of Thrones powers a full-on prestige TV-industrial complex. Set locations are overlaid on their Westeros counterparts; casting is picked apart and IMDB pages are parsed just in case some background extra resembles a guy in a storyline that's been cut; the compare some random shit to Game of Thrones characters well is still flowing; we spent last week breaking down the implications of a Danish guy holding up a plastic bird. And yet basically half of the season leaks and is being watched by millions of rapt obsessives and no one says shit about it?
There are various motivations at play here. A lot of sites that run recaps and such don't want to piss off HBO—or jeopardize their access to everything from the set to advance review copies—by discussing what millions of fans have already watched. A lot of people take a principled stance against any sort of piracy. And a lot of people cite weird codes of nerd ethics.
All of that's fine and well, but in every relevant way, this is a hermetically sealed outlier, and fans and onlookers should speak freely. Show addicts getting their hands on standard-definition screeners of the first four episodes of the season a few weeks ahead of time does not represent a persistent or ongoing threat to the show. (Anyone who already subscribes to HBO is just time-shifting by watching the leaked episodes; anyone who doesn't isn't going to.) There's no practical cause-and-effect at work here; the only thing anyone is betraying by writing about this stuff is an arbitrary broadcasting schedule.
As to the nerd ethics, the nature of a "spoiler" for Game of Thrones is already complicated, given that when the show began, many of the season's spoilers were available in a book that had been published 15 years prior. By now, fans have had four years to catch up on five novels and a light selection of early chapters from The Winds of Winter, the sixth book in the series. There are so many spoilers around that the most popular series subreddit has 14 distinct tags for classifying what type of spoilers are contained in a given post. (To be fair, dedicated show watchers only had to worry about one, "AIRED.") With these episodes, though, the sub, /r/ASOIAF, has, incredibly, been pulling not just links to and discussion of the pirated materials, but all discussion of future episodes. The semiotics of this are fascinating, in the small way these things are, because the surreptitiously "pirated" material is for now radioactive, while any information gleaned from an unofficial "leak" in January or photos from the set snapped when no one was looking would have been inhaled and dissected and vivisected and put through the paces of 50 different operating conspiracy theories.
Showing deference to readers who would prefer to sit through the whole weekly anticipation cycle is one thing—only a real asshole would throw plot reveals in headlines—but pretending that the next month's worth of plot of the most popular TV show on the planet isn't out there, being watched by millions of people, is outright insane. Sure, there's an editorial interest in rolling out coverage until the general mass of your audience watches the episodes as they air—wanting to preserve the existence (and popularity) of the Monday morning contentkakke is understandable—but ignoring freely available information on a topic you're covering and will continue to cover is how The Machines win.
So, to the extent that it offsets the Internet-wide curtsy to corporate decorum, here is a set of bad Game of Thrones recaps, for the dickheads like us who couldn't help themselves.
Arya arrives in Braavos and goes to the House of White and Black (where some cool assassin-ish people hang out), where she's turned away by a kindly old black man. She stays in front for a few days then goes off to do some other shit, presumably.
"Get out of my face."
Brienne sees Sansa and Littlefinger in a tavern and offers her sword and service to Sansa, but Littlefinger tells her to fuck off. She rides off with Podrick, kills a bunch of people, and Podrick asks if she's now released from her vow to protect the Stark girls since Arya and Sansa don't want anything to do with her. (Of course not!) They keep following Sansa.
Cersei calls Jaime to her office and shows him Myrcella's chain on a viper-in-a-box contraption, which I guess is a threat. Jaime says he's going to Dorne to get his daughter back, so basically he's going to subsume a whole character from the books to get away from Cersei, who is being a real penis.
Jaime goes and gets Bronn to accompany him on his trip, who is being bored with his weird fiancée and the castle he isn't even going to get to live in. Jaime promises him a better girl and castle when they get back from Dorne. This is one of those places where the show is in a weird spot, because Ilyn Payne—the Lannisters' executioner dude with no tongue—is the one who trained Jaime's buster ass to fight with his left in the books (conveniently, he couldn't tell people how much Jaime suuuuucks now), but that's apparently going to be Bronn now. That's less elegant, but I bet Bronn is more useful in Dorne, if only just because he can deliver exposition if necessary. This happened because the guy who played Ilyn was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Cut to Doran Martell and Oberyn's lady friend. She wants to fuck up Myrcella, but he says nah. (He's supposed to be old and full of gout, but he's played by the skinny little doctor from Deep Space Nine, who is visibly neither.)
An elderly, gout-ridden man, supposedly.
He doesn't want to go to war, but the Sand Snakes (Oberyn's daughters) do. Myrcella is chilling. There is a half-decent theory on the ASOIAF nerd boards about Doran being a boss and having a grand plan that maybe you should read, but I don't know if his kid is in this season and that plays a big role. They're bringing Dorne along slowly, basically.
Over in Meereen, the City of Consonants, fight promoter Hizhdar zo Loraq petitions Dany to let him stage to-the-death MMA fights and Daario, the cool dude who's boning Danerys, says that his Second Sons can do a better job of finding Sons of the Harpy than the Unsullied can. He takes some of them to a house that's empty, and Grey Worm can't find anyone, but then the cool guy stabs a guy in the leg through a wall. (This whole storyline is clearly supposed to be a hamfisted Iraq War allegory but doesn't really make any sense as one. Anyway ...)
Danerys wants him know what she should do with her pro-slavery insurgent prisoner. A former slave dude is like, Hey, kill him it's all they know. Some noble dude is like, Nah, maybe not, and Barristan is like, Hoolllllld up that is some crazy Targaryan shit. After Danerys sends everyone away, he explains the bad shit that her dead father the Mad King did, like burning men alive with wildfire, killing kids in front of their parents, burning men alive with wildfire in front of their kids, etc. She promises the prisoner won't be killed without a fair trial.
Varys and Tyrion are in a carriage. They're on the road and Tyrion is still trying to drink himself unconscious. He drops the mask a little way through; he's still fucked up about Shae, and how she wanted him to leave. Varys explains that he is looking for a ruler, that Tyrion was quite good at the job.
A ham competition in which the viewer wins
Cersei is delivered a dwarf head. It isn't Tyrion's, but she's not too put out, and wants people to err on the side of decapitating dwarves they think might be him. Off to the small council. Kevan is there, and asks if Cercsei is the new hand. She makes Mace Tyrell master of coin and Qyburn master of whispers. She tries to make Kevan master of war, but Kevan is a badass now and tells her to fuck off.
To Castle Black! Stannis's kid is teaching Gilly how to read, just like she taught Davos. They talk about greyscale, which the kid has, and Gilly explains what happened to her sisters who had it but didn't have it cured. (They basically become animals.)
Jon Snow, meanwhile, is telling Stanni, Man, whatever, so what that I shot Mance and was merciful? Stannis shows Jon a letter from a 10-year-old girl telling him that she's not recognizing him as king and that, further, he should fuck off. Help out—I'll make you a Stark and the Lord of Winterfell! says Stannis. Snow is a little bit tempted, but then he goes to hangs out with Sam in the mess hall, where it's time to elect the new Lord Commander, and Jon says he's going to say no.
Here is where you miss Pyp and Grenn, but only a little. There are opening remarks, but Samwell steps up like a hoss, nominates Jon, and says, basically, Hey, remember all that badass shit Jon did last season, a.k.a. like an hour ago? Votes go in and some dude tells Aemon it's a tie so they'll have to ... OH SHIT AEMON HAS A VOTE TOO!!!! HE'S VOTING FOR JON SNOW!!! DAMN!!! Snow wins and it didn't take 80 pages of Samwell telling easily discoverable lies or Grenn doing some new dude's laundry to get a favor from his caucus or whatever, which to be fair, was actually really gripping in the book, but come on.
Hey, now it's Arya and she almost has to throw down with some muggers who want to fight a small child.
The kindly old black man from before shows up, and the muggers run away. They go back to the Faceless Men place and BAM! HE TURNS INTO JAQUEN! WHAT THE FUCK? (In the books Jaqen is all over and people think he's on about 500 secret missions pretending to be everyone while possibly also training Arya in how to be a ninja assassin, so it's nice that the show is just up front about Arya's master being him ... if that's really him.)
Oh damn it, the slave dude kills the Son of the Harpy prisoner. Danerys is pissed at him. He tells her a story about his dad and killing masters, but she owns him anyway and then has him executed. The former slaves are really mad because they Danerys ignored their pleas for mercy, but Danerys doesn't give a fuck. Everyone riots and some guy gets his neck broken. Then Dany is sad back at her pyramid and goes outside alone and Drogon the dragon shows up and she's happy, but then he flies off to eat some more slave children.
This is a good episode as the second of the season, but it would kind of suck if you were just watching it on its own and had to wait another week, so this leak rules so far.
Arya is inside the temple and we see statues of a bunch of various gods, like the Stranger and such. She is sweeping the floors like a buster and sees Jaquen give a dude some water to drink. The dude takes it and goes to look at a statue; Arya goes to Jaquen and complains about how she wants to learn to be a ninja, not how to sweep floors. He isn't having it—his Hey, look, all men must serve, especially Faceless Men position seems reasonable—and what he really seems into is pointing out that there's only one god and he is DEATH. The other dude is dead from drinking the water, so some of Jaquen's minions take his corpse away.
In King's Landing, there's a procession in the street and everyone loves Margaery. (Cersei HATES THIS.) Oh, whoa, it's the wedding. OH WHOA MARGAERY FINALLY HUMPS A HUSBAND!!! Tommen apparently prematurely ejaculated but also apparently likes sex; after announcing this he gets mushed by Margaery. This is a weirdly mature scene for Tommen, who is obviously a kid and getting played to get Cersei out the paint, but he's basically just a cool king who wants things to be chill.
Tommen tries to get Cersei to go away back to Casterly Rock and she is NOT HAVING IT. She goes to run up on Margaery, who shades Cersei real bad in front of all her girlfriends. (Offering Cersei some wine while noting that it's too early in the morning for anyone who isn't a raging lush to have any is especially funny.) Weirdly, Cersei doesn't seem to get that she's getting told; either she's the toldest lady in Westeros and doesn't know it or Lena Headley is seriously underplaying the scene. It doesn't matter, I just hope we hear about how much Tommen loves to bone for the rest of the season even though he's 10 or whatever.
Now over to Winterfell and Theon, who's—ah, Christ, there are flayed bodies hanging everywhere.
What the fuck, Ramsay? Okay, Ramsay is a dick and flayed a northern lord and his family and Roose is clearly maaaaaaaad, but instead of flaying him, he's going to marry him to a girl who will help hold the north.
CUT RIGHT TO SANSA. HOLY SHIT IS THIS REAL??? This is very different from the books, where Roose gets a bootleg Arya (it's Jeyne Poole, I think, unless that's a character from an Emily Brontë novel and her name is something else) and Sansa is (per a nerd Wiki, because I skimmed A Dance With Dragons, which sucks) hahahaha still in the Vale. She was supposed to marry a dude there and marshall the forces of the Vale to go take the north, which is probably a good plan, but SLOW. This adds both motion and suspense and puts Littlefinger in a place where he has to move carefully so he doesn't get squashed. Sansa is freaking out at the prospect of having the guy who stabbed her brother to death for a father-in-law, but there's going to be a Stark in Winterfell. Damn.
Brienne and Pod are still following/stalking them. They have to go around Moat Cailin, though. Pod is a Boy Scout and Brienne is mean, and then talks about Renly. This is pretty good stuff, actually; she admits that she knew all along that he was gay but explains that it didn't matter to her, because he was kind to her when other nobles were mocking her and made her feel proud and beautiful instead of like a freak. The point of this is that she's going to powerbomb Stannis when she sees him. (She's pretty sure he killed Renly.)
Speaking of Stannis, he's really mad that Jon Snow turned down his offer to become Jon Stark and rule the north. They argue a little bit and Stannis acts like a dick and leaves dickishly. Davos stays behind, explains that acting like a dick is Stannis's way of showing he respects you, and makes some not-bad arguments about how the Night Watch should probably help Stannis fuck up Roose Bolton, because a dude running around skinning people isn't really good for anyone. Jon tries to look thoughtful.
Derp derp derp.
Arya, meanwhile, is getting trolled at Faceless Man camp. They make her throw out all her stuff so she can be "no one" and while she dumps her clothes and money off the dock, she hesitates with her sword, Needle, which she got from Jon Snow and is the one thing still tying her to her old life, etc. etc. In the books she just hides it, but this show has been going buckwild and so I was pretty sure she was going toss it and I got sad. She just hides it in some rocks, though, which since the show's writers know what GRRMER is going to do (in theory, because c'mon, that guy is absolutely never finishing this fucking thing and we should all stop pretending) means she PROBABLY NEEDS NEEDLE AT SOME POINT AND IS GOING TO WRECK SOME SHIT. (Arya Stark is the only good character on this show.) Then everyone goes downstairs to a morgue or whatever and hoses down a corpse.
Sansa is in Winterfell. Theon sees her and starts freaking out, understandably, given that she thinks he set her little brothers on fire and what not. Sansa has to choke down some real I'm gonna kill you shit when she meets the Boltons, who are perfectly pleasant although Ramsay's friends seem to hate her. (The servants might too, it seems?) An old lady says "The north remembers" when she takes Sansa to her room, which could mean "We still like the Starks!" but could mean they're mad because Sansa is shacking up with these pissboy Boltons. Really, this is an entirely more fluid dynamic than the politicking-by-ravens in the book, and it's a great divergence.
Jon Snow chops off Janos's fucking head. Some other shit happens first, but this is the important thing. Janos refused a direct order and acted like a tough guy to make Jon look like an ass in front of all the other brothers, but then he cried and asked for mercy before Jon killed him anyway while Stannis looked on approvingly. He had to do this but it's a bad look because he helped out Mance (... by killing him, sure, but still). A bunch of the Night's Watch is now going to hate Jon even more than they already did for being a punk upstart, and the show killing off two of his friends who are still alive in the books at the end of last season seems more necessary now.
Weird sex stuff goes on, with the High Septon roleplaying with some hookers who are pretending to be the Seven.
We're trying to keep this work-safe, but rest assured, there are a lot of boobs in this shot
Then that lil' Lannister busts in with his Sparrow bros (they're religious zealots) and makes the pope walk around naked outside. This is funny as shit. The High Septon goes and asks the small council for help, but they just laugh in his face. Cersei goes to see the High Sparrow, who seems like a pretty dope religious guy, and Cersei likes him but she miiiiight be getting played here. The religious zealot becoming the high priest of Westeros stuff happens off-camera in the books so it's hard to say what's going on here. (Also ... motherfuckin' Qyburn is really just gonna sit there with a motherfuckin' zombie giant on his workbench this whole season apparently.)
Winterfell is fucking magical with Littlefinger and Sansa there instead of Jeyne Poole; little dramatic beats where Theon was being all weird with Jeyne have a shit ton of resonance now because, oh, I don't know, we actually give a shit about Sansa (for once!), Ramsay is insane-ass Ramsay but Littlefinger doesn't seem to know that yet, and Littlefinger and Roose are whipping out their dongs every time they see each other, which rules because Aidan Gillen and Michael McElhatton are very fine actors.
The whole Varys-Tyrion comedy duo tour, to which we now return, is great on merits and because it cuts out something like half of what happened in the boring book and because the establishing shot of the city whose name i can't spell (Vksnfakns) is the coolest shit, and worth whatever plot divergences took them through here and end up with Tyrion alone in a brothel. Anyway, the hooker Danerys cosplay here is probably a little too close to home for half the creeps watching this, and Jorah Mormont, who is perving out watching it (audience proxy!), eventually kidnaps Tyrion so he can take him to Danerys even though Tyrion is on his way to see Danerys anyway. Jorah is the dumbest motherfucker alive.
Jorah and Tyrion are taking a boat trip, I guess. Meanwhile, Bronn and Jaime are on a boat and Bronn is trying to get Jaime to fess up to humping his sister because he's the one who will be doing all this fighting (since Jaime sucks now). It's just a really good scene with ties back to Tyrion and Bronn and also Jaime being SO PISSED at Tyrion, and it wouldn't work with Ilyn Payne because that motherfucker can't talk.
Apparently the Iron Bank of Braavos has called in 10 percent of the Crown's debt, which these suckers obviously don't have. Cersei talks to the High Sparrow next and tells him to bring back the Faith Militant, which is the military arm of the faith of the Seven.
Without going too deep into the whole BDSM scene where Lil' Lannister has a sign of the Seven carved into his forehead, he bites down on a leather strap like a pro.
(SIDENOTE: While pro-book complaints are generally basura, the show seems to have tossed out one good thing GRRMMR had going in the books, which is the idea that Cersei brings a lot of her problems on herself by just refusing to pay her debts, as a good Lannister would. In the books, Stannis doesn't have to go to the Iron Bank with hat in hand to hire a massive sellsword army; they come to him with this offer, because they're sick of Cersei's shit and want him to go down to King's Landing, smash her, and pay them their money. Similarly, the High Sparrow gets the okay to raise a giant army of religious zealots specifically as the price for forgiving the debts Cersei won't pay. All this adds an element of formal tragedy to Cersei's eventual problems that we seem to be lacking here. Anyway ....)
Cercei does this to fuck with Littlefinger and Loras (but really Margaery) for some reason, even though the Faith Militant rebelled against the Targaryens and is obviously going to go wreck shit now. They bash all the beer and wine casks, wreck Littlefinger's brothel, and then grab Loras for being a gay dude. Tommen tries to go snatch him back but gets blown off by his mom and also by the Sparrows at the sept, and Margaery is mad about it.
We go back to the Wall for some basic Castle Black stuff. Then Melisandre tries to hump Jon Snow, but he says no because he's sworn to celibacy and also because he still likes Ygritte, who's dead.
"I want your shadowbaby, Jon Snow."
The operating theory here, incidentally, is that Jon Snow—along with Danerys and maybe one other person—is powerful enough to fight the fire god or ice monsters or whatever, and he might actually have Stark and Targaryen blood. Anyway, Melisandre going after his bone makes sense on multiple levels.
Next there's a really well-done and surprisingly heartwarming scene with Stannis's deformed daughter asking him if he's ashamed of her and Stannis telling her, in a very Stannis-ish way, just how much he loves her. We'll skip it.
Sansa is hanging out in the crypt at Winterfell, and finds a feather—probably left behind when Bran and Rickon were there—when Littlefinger shows up to tell her he's going to King's Landing. He also lays out his elaborate scheme: he figures that Stannis is probably coming soon so she'll be okay, because either Stannis will kill the Boltons, in which case she won't have to marry Roose, or he won't, in which case she'll marry him but will be fine because she learned how to scheme from the best. This seems like a really stupid scheme and not much like Littlefinger at all, but hey, maybe Littlefinger is just a sucker. Alternately, maybe he's distracted by the huge, out-of-nowhere lore dump he has to give Sansa and the viewers about how the Mad King's son Rhaegar fell in love with Sansa's aunt Lyanna, precipitating Robert's Rebellion. Rhaegar also kidnapped and raped Lyanna, Sansa adds superfluously.
Jamie and Bronn pal around and bro out while killing some Dornish soldier dickheads who are fucking with them. Then Oberyn's girlfriend meets up with the Sand Snakes (Oberyn's daughters, who are all badasses) and they decide they're going start a war by killing Myrcella. The Dornish plot so far this season is flattened out in a very direct way. It's not that the Dorne stuff didn't need trimming—you don't know boring until you've read 60 pages of Balon Swann bitching about the heat five or six times in one novel—but this series runs on dual lines of politicking and brutality, and "Let's kill this lil' kid and get what we want, which is a huge fight" is ... I don't know, you figure it out.
The giant pine cone over Tyrion's left shoulder is the key to the mystery of the Others, probably
Tyrion and Jorah are still hanging out on their boat, heading east to Vqzhoqrzlrl; Tyrion deduces Jorah's identity and the nature of his idiotic plan, Sherlock Holmes-style. When Tyrion asks why Dany wouldn't execute the guy who was spying on her and welcome the guy who killed her enemies to court rather than the other way around, even moron Jorah seemingly has to admit he has a point. (He responds by being like Ah fuck and just whacks Tyrion upside the head. Good scene.)
Dany, the cool guy she's boning, and Barristan are hanging out talking about Hizhdar zo Loraq, the not-at-all shady fight promoter who keeps telling her that the key to stopping the insurgency is allowing him to promote to-the-death MMA fights. The honorable Ser Barristan superfluously talks a lot about how Dany's brother Rhaegar was a really great, wonderful, and gentle guy. Then he turns, looks directly into the camera, and explains that this character, who died long before the action of the series started and whose existence most viewers are probably only vaguely aware of, was not at all the kind of guy who would kidnap and rape someone, even if other characters seemingly think so. Not that this is important to any ongoing mysteries or anything, he further explains. Then he winks. Then he goes out into the streets to sing for money. Sometimes this show is just fucking weird.
WHOA, DAMN. The episode ends with a bloodbath where the Sons of the Harpy boss around the Unsullied all over. Grey Worm pulls a Hulk Hogan routine as all his fellow eunuchs are getting massacred and Barristan kills at least 10 dudes single-handedly, which is very, very unlike the GOT universe, but that's okay because a shit ton of Unsullied got owned and some shit is actually going to happen in the city finally, I guess.
Discuss below in a SPOILER safe environment.
Correction: The actor who played Ilyn Payne is not dead.