Thursday, 08 November 2012

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Game of Thrones: Everyone is alone, everyone is surrounded in "The Wolf and The Lion" I always say that titles don't matter, then I go on to demonstrate how they do, so I see no harm in doing so again: the definite articles in the title matter because this episode focuses on what it's like to be "the" Stark (wolf) or "the" Lannister (lion) in the room. And the roles keep reversing. In "Lord Snow," Jon Snow (wolf) stood alone in the middle of a circle, surrounded by people who wished him ill and observed by Tyrion Lannister (lion); in "The Wolf and the Lion," Tyrion stands in the center of a circle, surrounded by people who wish him ill and observed by Lady Stark (wolf): The shots are not identical in scale, but they are nearly identical in composition: in both cases a significant character is nearly, but not quite, occupying the center the frame: I don't want to harp on about explicitly literary tropes like "empty centers," so instead I'll just note that the reason the center is empty both in "Lord Snow" and this episode is partly because the top half of the frame occupies fifty percent of the shot and is (ostensibly) empty of people. The features of the landscape are dominating the characters, and with good reason: the Wall in "Lord Snow" and the Eastern Road here represent (or in this case pose) more of a threat to the characters than they do to each other. Even if, as is almost the case above, a character's head sat square in the crosshairs, he or she still wouldn't be a dominant element in the frame. The (very) long shot allows the viewer to understand that whatever threats or pleas these characters enjoin, those hills behind them don't care, nor do the people in them: Granted, those hill people are running down the road, but I can't show you the hill people in the hills any better than I did (or didn't) above: they're a part of the landscape from which projectiles emanate more than they are people. Because it only appeared in the first frame above that Lady Stark and those beholden (however temporarily) to her surrounded Tyrion: in truth the circles were concentric, with the hill people surrounding Stark surrounding Tyrion, and when this becomes clear to all involved, these lonely wolves and lions call a kind of truce: Tyrion stands alone, surrounded by hill people, as does: Lady Stark. Both of the proud members of these noble houses are cowering, because both are surrounded now. Shifting to the medium close-up allows the audience to read the fear on their faces, and the fact that both of those eyeline matches look off-frame and, in fact, are unrequited by the next shot creates an addition sense of chaos. Because if the people in the middle of a scrum can't figure out what its focal point is, how is the audience supposed to? Perhaps if they worked together? If she unties his hands, maybe the focal point will come into— Excuse me,...
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Game of Thrones: How circular is "A Golden Crown"? Very. I know you're tired of hearing me talk about circles, but it's not my fault: the series is making me do it. Consider the set design of the Eyrie: Circles within circles—and significantly, the Moon Door, which had been in a wall in the novel, was shifted to the center of the circular audience chamber for the series: I mentioned in the previous post that I wouldn't talk about "empty centers," but this one is too significant not to. At the center of the seat of power in the Vale is, literally, nothing. A hole. (An execution hole.) An absence that, should someone step into it, well: The writers and producers of the show moved the Moon Door so it would occupy the same place in the audience chamber that Jon, Tyrion, Jaime and Bronn did previous episodes: in the center of a circle, surrounded and imperiled. Only this center is pure peril, not possible, and an absence of power that is absolute instead of merely hypothetical. Put differently: it's a powerful absence. On the one hand this makes perfect sense: in a contest for a throne that only a single person can hold, the position of power is inherently fraught. Visualizing it in circular terms, as the Game of Thrones team does, replicates that tension on-screen: Jon was in no more danger in "Lord Snow" than Jaime was in "The Wolf and the Lion" in their central positions, but they were still in some danger, as were those describing the circle around them. Capturing the precariousness of the central position is crucial to understanding the stakes of playing the game of thrones. Consider Dany in this episode: She needs to eat that stallion heart, and she needs to keep it down. In the oddly egalitarian Dothraki society, her husband sits on the rim of the circle. Only because she is currently undergoing a trial-by-carpaccio is she allowed to occupy the central position. When the hoard is regularly arrayed, she sits beside her husband on the rim: At the center is not a person but a communal meal, which says quite about their society but I'm not going to address that here. I'm more interested in what happens when a person steps into the center of the circle and says Why, they give him one, of course: A golden crown that, surprisingly, isn't a circle so much as a molten bowl. Point being, this isn't an episode in which one really wants to occupy the central position, and that's not surprisingly, given the run of the narrative: the Lannisters are making their move against Baratheon and Stark, creating a vacuum that undermines the formerly inherent power of the central position, which will remain unoccupied and contested for the remainder of the season. That said, the next post will only mention circles in passing, I promise.

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