This week's episode of Game of Thrones was a total game-changer. After weeks of patiently waiting for clues, interpreting the smallest details for hints, and madly theorizing about possible outcomes, we finally got the long-awaited answer to the show's most urgent question: does Braavos have a robust sketch-comedy scene? The answer is a loud "yes!" And, like Grand Maester Pycelle, it's got farts.
If you're a real GoT "comedy nerd," this episode gave you everything you ever dreamed of. The burgeoning alt-comedy scene of the show has been highlighted before. Who could forget the experimental solo character work of drunken jester Dontos Hollard or those zany jousting dwarves during Joffrey's wedding in Season 4? But until now, we've never been given such a lengthy (and self-referential) look at the inner workings of this yuks-filled world that combines commedia dell'arte, outright clowning, witty songs, and gratuitous nudity to entertain the masses.
Not only did we get a close-up on Braavos' bubbling comedy scene, we also were privy to the drama backstage -- think of it as Studio 60 on the Essos Strip. It's a cutthroat world. The actors are all competing for stage time and trying to make names for themselves, presumably so they can get a call from the GoT-equivalent of Lorne Michaels to perform on a bigger stage. Let's take a closer look at the sketches from this week's show.
"The Boaring of Robert Baratheon"
Sketch comedy in Westeros and Essos is very political and relies a lot on knowledge of recent history. This sketch starts off with a pretty tight premise: we've got a big, dumb king, and there's a big, scary boar. Classic comedy setup! What really takes this sketch to the next level, heightening the proceedings into a masterclass of comedic timing, is the fart sound effect that happens when the boar hits the king in the ass. That's what people in the biz call a reversal because your expectation was probably that the king was not going to fart; instead, he farts. Take it from a real comedy geek like me, this is strong material. It even gets a laugh out of Arya. Grade: B+
"The Rise of Joffrey"
Again, this sketch is dependent on a deep knowledge of the political dynamics of King's Landing -- this is not a viewer-friendly, John Oliver-style info-dump. This Joffrey-skewering sketch should've worked because it follows an important rule of comedy: always punch up. But maybe the punches aren't landing hard enough? He gets a Three Stooges-esque slap from his father, but most of the time he just seems like a wimp. Send this one back to the writers' room! Grade: C
"The Beheading of Ned Stark"
Arya was not feeling this sketch. Perhaps the Faceless Men should've taken a break from beating her with sticks and taught her some comedy 101. Like Alan Alda said in Crimes and Misdemeanors, "Comedy is tragedy plus time." It's unclear exactly how much time has passed since she saw her dad get brutally murdered, but, like, get over it, Arya. Braavosi theater isn't afraid to go there and speak truth to power. At the very least, she should give credit to the actor who plays Ned, a comic genius that we should really call the Many-Faced God. Seriously, look at that rubbery face.
Get this guy a sitcom deal ASAP. He's gonna be a star. If there were talent agents in the audience, they were probably taking notes.
Unfortunately, I'm not as sold on Bianca, who undersells and botches Sansa's big emotional moment, or the actor who plays Tyrion as a one-dimensional skeezy horn-dog. They're not quite ready for primetime. Grade: A-
The backstage shenanigans
Now we get to the stuff oral histories are made of! If Arya decides to get out of the ninja-assassin business, she would make a solid entertainment journalist, blending effortlessly into the background and letting the talent reveal all sorts of juicy tidbits to her. At the very least, she would make for a decent podcast guest at some point in the future. She's got anecdotes now.
What exactly did Arya learn backstage? The guy who plays Joffrey has two warts on his junk, which we were shown in a nice bit of meta-nudity. Bianca wants more lines, too. And Lady Crane, the performer Arya has been assigned to kill, seems kind-hearted and chill. She's drinking rum backstage, flirting with the other performers, and she's played by the excellent Australian actress Essie Davis from The Babadook, so she'll likely stick around for a bit. We'll also probably get a few more moments with Izembaro, the cranky leader of the theater troupe, played by Richard E. Grant.
There are a few directions this story could go in. Arya could carry out the orders of the Faceless Men and kill Lady Crane by poisoning her rum. Or, if she was charmed by the performance she saw, she could end up joining the troupe, and the next few seasons of Game of Thrones would take us even deeper into the underbelly of the comedy world in Westeros and Essos. Stranger things, like time travel, have happened. As Jaqen H'ghar, tells Arya in the episode, "A girl must decide if she wants to serve the Many-Faced God." He could've just as easily added, "A girl must decide if she wants to sign up for improv classes."