Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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Hmm. For a show currently about "The War of the Five Kings," Game of Thrones is certainly ignoring said Kings right now for some more interesting subjects... mainly, the ladies. And I have to say — I don't mind at all! The captivating Margaery Tyrell has taken King's Landing by storm, and with Dany's army growing by the thousands, I'm thinking that the Iron Throne may have a ferocious female on it by the end of this series — for good. But that will be like ten years from now, so let's stop focusing on the future and just hop right to it!
North of the Wall: And we picked up… right where we left off. Samwell Tarly, scared s**tless by an army of White Walkers, had been abandoned by his Brothers in Black and was running around aimlessly in that North of the Wall wilderness. He saw a decapitated head and almost lost his own when a White Walker with an axe attacked, but in the last second, Ghost (and the Old Bear) saved the day.
RELATED: The Book Lover's Spoiler-Filled Guide to Season 3 of 'Game of Thrones'
Sam was then scolded for not sending the ravens — his "only job" — because now they were f**ked. Well, I mean, everyone on this show is f**ked, but Sam and his Brothers were in grave danger of freezing to death. And they had to get back to the Wall quickly, the Old Bear said, because "before winter is done, everyone you know will be dead."
And with those words… welcome back to Game of Thrones! It's been a long year, but I'm extremely excited to share the madness that is Season 3 with you all, my fellow Westerosi psychopaths. I must mention that I am a rabid R. R. Martin book reader and will occasionally throw in some comparison/analysis, but this is a NO SPOILER zone, because I am not a total jerk. Still with me? Good. Away we go!
Wildling Camp: Jon Snow, abandoned to the Wildlings as a spy by Qhorin Halfhand, has absolutely no idea what he's doing. I mean, way to leave detailed instructions Halfhand, emIright? He saw his first giant and nearly peed himself to the amusement of Ygritte, who loves nothing more than when Jon doesn't know about something.
Ygritte and her grisly friends brought Jon into Mance Rayder's tent, but not before he was pelted with rocks by the local schoolchildren. "Don't worry," Ygritte teased. "If Mance Rayder likes you, you'll live another day. And if he don't…." She was smiling from ear-to-ear. Such a capable flirt, that Ygritte.
So they went to Mance's tent and pleaded his case, which was basically just "I killed Qhorin Halfhand!" He got on his knees and said "your grace" to the wrong guy — Tormund Giantsbane —which was just hilarious to the Wildlings. They don't kneel to anyone beyond the wall, explained the real Mance Rayder, who quickly caught on to the fact that Jon and Ygritte want to make love in this club. Jon was just so tremendously uncomfortable during this entire interaction, but then Rayder shook his hand so everything was cool. Rayder HATED half hand — and actually, he was the guy that took HALF of his HAND — so Snow was pretty neat in his book.
"Why do you want to join us, Jon Snow?" he asked. Jon said he wanted to be free, but Rayder didn't buy that load of BS. So then he told the story of the dead baby boys and the White Walkers back at Ole Craster's house, and how Mormont already knew about the Walkers' existence and that was just so not cool, and Rayder bought that hook, line, and sinker. Snow was in, and he was in deep. Like The Americans style, just with less fancy wigs.
King's Landing: The Lannister family was just in shambles. Shambles, I tell you! Tyrion had his squire Podrick interrupt Bronn's sexy times in order to accompany him on a visit to Tywin, and their walk through the castle grounds allowed us to see the damage that Stannis' attack had done. But first…
Cersei entered Tyrion's seriously downsized room to further torment her "little" brother, which is her favorite thing to do now that Sansa is sort of a non-entity. She wanted to see his face, she explained, when asked about her intentions. "They said you'd lost your nose, but it's not as gruesome as all that." This is a nod to the injury Tyrion received in the book — there, he actually did lose his nose, and it was totally gruesome. I spent all of last season wondering how they'd deal will Tyrion's injury — I don't think they'd want to make Dinklage impossible to look at — and I'm not at all surprised that they just have him a little scar. Anyway.
Cersei knew that Tyrion planned to meet with Tywin that day, and she wanted the scoop on his agenda. Tywin hadn't visited Tyrion once, which is absolutely terrible and so very Tywin of him. "You're going to make me cry," Cersei said. This reminded me of the hilarious scene in Arrested Development where Lindsay Bluth tried her best to fake tears, and I laughed. Oh, how I laughed.
Cersei was very nervous about what Tyrion was going to tell Tywin, but I think if he was going to spill about the Jaime/Cersei situation he would have done so long ago. Also, Tywin hates him and "loves" his other two children, and would therefore never believe him. So.
The father/son meeting went like this: Tywin accused Tyrion of spending his days as Hand of the King drinking and whoring, when we all know that he spent them coming up with a badass plan to defeat Stannis' army, so, not fair. Also, he was only bedding one whore, which is totally romantic. So Twyin was a big evil grump, and when Tyrion asked for some payment for bleeding and almost dying for his family, you knew it wasn't going to be good.
What did he want? Why, what was owed to him, of course — Casterly Rock (that's the Lannister's mansion/home base, FYI). Though Jaime was the eldest son, he was also in the Kingsguard, so he was unable to hold land or title. Tywin's response?
"I would let myself be consumed by maggots before mocking the family name and making you heir to Casterly Rock…You are an ill-made, spiteful little creature, full of envy, lust, and low cunning. Men's laws give you the right to bear my name and display my colors, since I cannot prove that you are not mine. And to teach me humility, the Gods have condemned me to watch you waddle about, wearing that proud lion that was my father's sigil and his father's before him. But neither gods nor men will ever compel me to let you turn Casterly Rock into your whorehouse. Go now, and speak no more of your rights to Casterly Rock."
EPIC. BURN. Also, probably the cruelest thing I've seen a parent say to their kid on TV, ever. Except for maybe when Caroline on The Real Housewives of New Jersey called her daughter fat for like an entire season. Oh, and one more thing: "the next whore I catch in your bed, I'll hang."
That was intense. Let's move on to err, happier topics. Sansa and Shea seem to have developed a friendship, and now that Sansa isn't tortured by Joffrey 24/7, she has time to do things like stare at boats. Littlefinger approached the daughter of his lady love, and she begged him to take her out of King's Landing. He was waiting on an assignment that would send him far from King's Landing, and Sansa should be ready to leave at any moment. Good for her… right? Err, maybe not.
"Watch out for her," Roz — who has been promoted to Littlefinger's Executive Assistant — said to Shae, of Sansa. "I always do, Shae replied. (Another big departure from this books. That Shae was most definitely NOT loyal to Sansa.) "Watch out for her with him," Roz emphasized. I mean, yes. Littlefinger is a total creepshow.
Finally, it's time for a Joffrey and Lady Margaery update. Joffrey my cat is actually sick with a cold, so there's your update on him, but let's talk about the on-screen version now. Margaery in the books was always sort of a mystery — she never had her own POV chapters, so we haven't gotten to know too much about her. But Margaery on the show is a DYNAMO! She already has all of King's Landing eating out of her precious little hands. She walks around without guards, feeding and telling stories to the poor with at least 80 percent of her breasts exposed at all times. They LOVE her. She listens to their sad tales about that time their father died protecting King Joffrey, and honestly seems to make them feel better. She's a true politician, and I already love her. Oh, I love her so much. "Under King Joffrey's leadership, your fathers saved this city. They saved us all. From now on, we're going to take care of you. All of you." They gather around her like she's King's Landing's version of Jesus — that character from the Roma Downey series The Bible — and she tells the orphanage owner lady to come to her whenever they need food or clothing.
Joffrey watched her with awe — why don't they like me like that, he wonders? I honestly can't think of one reason, Joff! But at least one person seems to like Joffrey a whole lot better than Margaery: Cersei. See, Sansa was easy for Cersei. With her father's head on a spike and her family condemned as traitors, she could control her. Margaery? Not so much. Margaery's family barged in and saved the city during Blackwater, and brought in loads of foods and attractive women.
Cersei's way of dealing with this as of now is with backhanded compliments, but Margaery is just as, if not more, cunning than she is. She deals with Cersei with ease, and our pal Joffrey is smitten. Good drama is on the forefront, methinks. But let's move on...
Ugh, Davos: So Davos is alive. I mean, I knew he was going to be, but his scenes on this show are such a total snooze-bomb. Actually, that's sort of how I feel about everyone involved with Stannis' plot line. Oh well. So he was marooned on some tiny pile of rocks and managed to flag down Salladhor Saan's (the pirate) ship, so yay. Rescue for Davos.
Saan gave Davos an update on the couple we shall now and forever refer to as Stannisandre: Melisandre had burned everybody on Dragonstone who didn't believe in the Lord of Light, and she had sang as she did so. Nice. Still, Davos was just DYING to go back there because he's an idiot, and I guess the following quote from Saan meant yes: "When you're dead, I'll gather your little balls in a sack, and let your widow wear them on her neck."
Let's not speak of Davos for this rest of this recap, yes? Yes? Ugh. No. We have to. Let's make it brief. Saan dropped him off at Dragonstone, and Stannis the Smiley and Melisandre were not in a very good mood. Davos tried to tell Melisandre off for murdering everybody, but she turned it around and said it was somehow Davos' own fault that his son and all of the other men died at Blackwater, because she wasn't allowed to be there. Yeah, totally his bad. Also, she said that he should be happy about his son's demise since death by fire is the purest death, and Davos, understandably, did not react well to this. He tried to go after her, but we all know that Melisandre will never ever die because she's annoying and this show only kills off people we like. They threw Davos in the dungeons, and hopefully he'll stay there silently for awhile.
Camp Robb: Robb Stark, who has TOTALLY morphed into a manly man before our very eyes, approached Riverrun expecting a battle with The Mountain (Gregor Clegane), but when they got there, 200 northmen were dead. Somehow this was all Jaime Lannister's fault, even though Jaime Lannister hasn't been able to do jack s**t since Season 1. Robb's men assured him that Jaime wouldn't be free for long as they had their best man after him, so — FORESHADOWING! Obviously. Jamie is f**ked.
This was also somehow Catelyn's fault, so Robb had his men find her a chamber that would serve as her cell. It's sort of like when kids put their parents in sh**ty nursing homes. Not cool, Robb. But, anyway — this is all we saw of Team Stark this episode. That's what happens when your show has 57 main characters. Moving on.
Across the Narrow Sea: Hey guys, did you know that there are dragons on this show? DRAGONS! Emilia Clarke really doesn't have to do anything besides stand there and look hot and regal and let her Dragons run around and do tricks. Millions of dudes would still watch the show.
But yeah, the dragons are biggish now, and they (and Dany, and the remainder of the folks she had with her in Qarth) were sailing toward Astapor on the ship they bought with Xaro Xhoan Daxos' stuff. I'm really glad he's off the show now, so I don't have to write his name after this ever again. They were there to purchase an army of slaves, even though Dany is a Civil Rights activist and doesn't believe in slavery.
They land, and meet with a slaveowner who says crude things about Dany in a different language while she barters for her army. Bad move, dude. But his beautiful translator gives her the PG version version, explaining that this army of 8000 "Unsullied" are castrated non-men who fear nothing, not even death. To prove his point, the slaveowner walks up to one and cuts his nipple off and just throws it, while the dude stands there without filching. "This one is pleased to have served you," the Unsullied said.
Oh guys. The Unsullied are just so damn weird. And we're going to be with them for quite some time, so buckle up. Get this — in order to earn their shields, they have to rip a newborn babe from its mother's arms and kill it right in front of her, to prove that they have no emotion. This is insane and after last year's slaughter of the Baratheon bastards, Game of Thrones has officially become the most baby-killing-friendly show on TV. But at least they give the mother's owner a silver coin for her troubles. They're not unreasonable, you know?
Dany leaves to think it over, and consults with Mormont. She's not too happy about hiring 8,000 men that have rid their world of 8,000 babies, but Mormont thinks she needs them, and would be a better owner than anyone else who would buy them. To drive the former point home, an androgynous child (a girl, right?) rolled Dany a ball. Cute, Dany thought. A game. But no! A hooded man ran out and knocked the ball out of her hands just in time, before the thing opened up and released some sort of horrifying spider/scorpion combo. The man stabbed it, then revealed himself as Ser Barristan Selmy, the old knight that Joffrey kicked out of the Kingsguard back in Season 1.
Selmy begged Dany for her forgiveness for not protecting her family back when Robert Baratheon took over, and he humbly pledged his service. Now, in the books this mysterious man was not revealed to be the long gone Selmy until near the end and it was a well-earned moment that was somewhat spine-tingling, but we knew that this would be visually impossible for the series to accomplish. So, welcome, Ser Selmy. It's good to have you back.
What did you think of the Game of Thrones premiere? Did you love it, or were you hoping for more action? Are you excited to see more from the Real House-B**ches of Westeros? Or, are you still reeling from what happened on The Walking Dead and full from Easter candy so you need some time to process things? I belong to that latter category, so sayanora for now and see you next week — you, and Arya Stark. (She's in next week's episode, I swear!!)
Follow Shaunna on Twitter @HWShaunna
[PHOTO CREDIT: HBO (3)]
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