Previous Game of Thrones Season 2 episode reviews:
Ep. 11: "The North Remembers."
Ep. 12: "The Night Lands."
Episode 13: "What Is Dead May Never Die"
Air Date: April 15, 2012.
Directed by: Alik Sakharov
Written by: Bryan Cogman
As has been the trend starting with this season, all new episodes start off exactly where the previous ones end. So where last week we left off with Craster clocking Jon Snow something fierce on the noggin, this week we begin with the old coot dragging the emo Night Watchman by his ear back to his "keep." Furious with the actions of the one man, Craster hands Lord Commader Mormont and his men their walking papers. Outside, looking like he just walked off the set of Spartacus, Jon Snow is getting bandaged up by his good friend, Sam. Aww, Sam -- you're such the perfect wing man. This Bud's for you! Mormont chews his understudy out, but when Jon tells him what he saw Craster do in the woods, the Commander's eyes tell him he's playing a broken record. Turns out the Night's Watch has always known about Craster sacrificing his sons. Sacrificing to who or what, no one really cares. He tells Jon that the wildlings worship some pretty frightening gods, and its best not to get involved. There's some heavy stuff at work out there in the wilds of the Far North. Things they will have to face themselves soon. And men like Craster, well, they're all the friends a ranger's got behind the Wall. Yeah, but with friends like these . . .
The next morning as the not-from-Texas rangers prepare to heave ho and ship out of Craster's, Samwell comes across his pregnant crush, Gilly, and goes all googly-eyed at once. Even though he can't take her along with them, in a sweet gesture Sam gives her a memento of his mother's for safekeeping until his return. Gilly is overcome by the gesture, and Sam is thinking: Score! This one's for bookworms everywhere! Then he remembers that she's already knocked up. By her own father. And, oh well . . . not much you can do after that.
Back at Winterfell, we're in spooky direwolf vision as Bran's pet, Summer, comes traipsing through the courtyard after what we must presume was a frolicking good hunt in the Godswood nearby. We're seeing things from the wolf's point of view, and everyone--including Maester Luwin--comically gives him a wide berth as he passes through. All except slow-witted Hodor--HODOR!--who alone seems to recognize who's behind those wolfy eyes, and greets him with a hearty welcome in his own fashion. HODOR!!
Still in wolfy vision, we trundle inside the keep, up the stairs, and straight onto the bed of a sleeping Bran who, upon seeing his own slumbering self there beneath the furs, suddenly snaps out of his special dream to find Summer staring intently down at him just inches from his face. Thatta good boy! Yes he is! Bran tries to tell Winterfell's Maester about the increasingly strange dreams he's having, and how he's heard tales of people with the ability to take on the forms of other animals. But of course Luwin simply brushes it aside as nonsense, which is a shame. When will adults learn to listen to precocious children?
Luwin then shows him a link in his Maester's chain, which only a select few Maesters ever earn at the Citadel. It's forged of the strongest steel from Valyria (same place as where Dany's people and her dragons come from), and is given to the scholar who performs beyond the pale to tackle the higher mystical arts. And in all those years, he's learned that he's just a muggle with no special adeptness for magic. Such things no longer exist, Luwin proclaims to the forlorn Bran. If they ever did to begin with.
Of course, we all know better. But, shhhhhhh! Let the old man remain blissfully ignorant for now. Winter is, after all, still coming.
Somewhere--anywhere--south of Winterfell we come across a tourney melee in progress. This time, however, we're not at King's Landing and this is not Joffrey's name day. Why look, it's in honor of King Renly--younger brother of Stannis and the late King Robert. It seems he's presiding over his own wedding. Yes, a lot has transpired since last we saw him storm out of Ned Stark's sight in the previous season. In the interim he has made a lot of lordly friends and gained much support behind his claim on the Iron Throne. And of all his newfound alliances, none is more valuable than the one he's forged with the second most powerful and richest noble house in all of Westeros, the Tyrells of Highgarden. Renly's boy-toy lover, Ser Loras Tyrell, is battling some behemoth of a knight in the melee, while Renly's new bride and Loras' sister, Margaery Tyrell, sits by his side.
The king's new bride is the daughter of his largest backer, and also the sister of his lover? Oh yeah, that's not going to get complicated. Hoooooo-boy!
The tall knight is really wailing away at poor girly-man Ser Loras, aka the "Knight of Flowers." When the mystery man wins the melee and removes his helm, all in attendance are shocked to discover that this Knight is actually a Lady. Lady Brienne of Tarth, in fact. Who, at 6 foot 4 and rather plain of face, is sometimes mockingly referred to as "Brienne the Beauty." Although no one right now feels like mocking her, not after the way she just manhandled her opponent. Renly grants her her one wish: to serve as his sworn protector on the King's Guard. An unusual request, but Renly likes the cut of this one's jib and acquiesces.
Lady Catelyn Stark arrives with her son's request for an alliance. Renly's supporters don't seem sold on the idea of a pact with the North but, just as Robb surmised two episodes ago, Renly is a warm friend of Cat's and allows her to speak. He then promises to take King's Landing for her and bring Joffrey's head. Oh, please, yes! From your lips to your seven gods' ears!!!
Over on the happy, rainbow filled island of Pyke, Theon Greyjoy runs into his sister, Yara, and finally has it out with her over the embarrassment of their initial meeting on the wharf.
Theon: "You lying bitch!"
Yara: "It's not my fault you didn't recognize me."
Theon: "Recognize you? How could I? The last time I saw you . . . you looked like a fat little boy!"
Yara: "You were a fat little boy, too. But I recognized you."
Theon: "Why didn't you tell me?"
Yara: "I wanted to see who you were first. [laughs] And I did."
Next, Theon learns of his father's plans to attack the North while Robb and his bannermen are busy fighting Lannisters in the south. It's a sneaky, underhanded move. Which is just how the ironborn love to roll, doncha know? Balon announces that Theon's sister, Yara, will lead a fleet of 30 ships in siege against the strategically placed fortifications of Deepwood Motte-- the gateway to the North, as it were.
And what does Theon get? One ship. One. Called the Sea Bitch, no less.
Yara: "We thought she'd be perfect for you."
Oh, snap! That was harsh. Theon looks like he's going to cry, but wisely says nothing. They'll make an iron lord outta him yet! In fact, Theon shows he has some lead in his pencil by laying into his father, blaming him for letting the northerners take him as hostage and raising him away from his true people. Any dissapointment Balon has in his son is of his own making. Balon seems genuinely upset by this revelation and storms off. Yara, meanwhile, contemplates a look of practiced bemusement at her brother's outburst. But perhaps there is a hint of sympathy for him there as well.
At King's Landing up in the Tower of the Hand, Shae the Funny Whore is going stir crazy. Afraid of anyone learning of her presence, Tyrion has kept her locked up in their quarters for her own good. But she's driving him bonkers, and the little man devises a plan to have her work undercover in the kitchens. Shae is not amused. "Every man who has tasted my cooking tells me what a good whore I am," she says. Damn! But at least she makes a mean fish pie, or so the little birds whisper.
If Tyrion is going to get any tonight, he'll need to come up with another plan to keep his lovely companion occupied. Being Tyrion, no doubt it will be in a role that will serve him double duty.
Next we find Sansa having the dinner from hell with Queen Cersei as host. Princess Myrcella and little Prince Tommen are in attendance as well, but thankfully not their older brother, Joffrey.
Tommen asks if the King is going to kill Sansa's brother, Robb. Sansa immediately takes a few gulps of her wine, which the Queen doesn't miss for even one beat.
Cersei: "He might. Would you like that?"
Tommen: "No. I don't think so."
Wow, who would've thought Cersei capable of producing normal children?
Later in her chambers, Sansa stares forlornly at her reflection in the mirror. That's when--knock, knock--like a bad magic trick, Shae the Funny Whore suddenly appears. WTF? What is she doing here so soon in the book . . . er, I mean, never mind.
Shae is to be Sansa's new handmaiden. She will tend to all of the young lady's needs. Save for one problem: Shae has no idea what it means to be a handmaiden. Sansa, still smarting from her terrible dinner from hell, naturally takes out all her frustrations on the woman. But Shae has been around the block more than a hundred times, and she's made of stern stuff. Showing remarkable insight into her young charge's despair, she simply waits for Sansa to get over herself and finally give some direction. The girl seems to realize what a good, calming presence Shae lends to a situation and asks her to brush her hair. This might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Or not. Either way, you can bet Tyrion has a good motive for placing his sweetie there in such close proximity to the Queen.
Speaking of the dwarf, the next scene has him at his best as he lays a trap to root out his sister's spy. He invites the three remaining men on the Small Council to his chambers at separate times throughout the day. He tells them each that he is planning on forging a new alliance for the throne by marrying off Princess Myrcella. But, he implores of them, the queen mustn't know. To which Lord Varys the Eunuch replies: "Oooh! 'The Queen mustn't know.' I love conversations that begin this way."
Tyrion tells the pretending-to-be-a-doddering-old-fool Grand Maester Pycelle that he is marrying Myrcella off to a prince of Dorne in the south. To Varys he tells that she will be wed to Theon Greyjoy of the Iron Islands. And to Littlefinger he announces that she will be wed to the son of that batshit crazy sister of Cat's, Lysa Arryn of the Vale. Littlefinger being Littlefinger, of course, allows his greed to get the best of him when Tyrion sweetens the deal: broker the contract with the Vale himself in return for the castle of Harrenhal -- and a lordship over all the Riverlands!
His bait set on the hook, the imp can now sit back and wait to see which fishy bites.
Back at Renly's camp, the antlered King and his boy-toy get it on hot and heavy inside the royal tent. But Loras is still being a whiny little bitch over getting his ass kicked by a girl earlier in the day. Renly seems to think this only makes Loras sexier and tries to kiss his boo-boos away. But then Loras remembers more important matters at hand. Namely the fact that his paramour has not slept with his wife in the two weeks since their marriage ceremony, and some of the vassals are beginning to talk. The Knight of Flowers, dutiful to the end, gets up and tells his King to allow him to retrieve his wife the queen. Renly immediately heads for the wine.
Later, Margaery enters in a revealing number showing off her best *ahem* assets, but it's like trying to sell suntan lotion to an Eskimo.
Renly blames his lack of appropriate manly response on the wine, a genetic trait he certainly did not share with his eldest brother, but Margaery surprises by letting on that she knows all about her husband's "condition."
Margaery: "Do you want my brother to come in and help?"
Margaery: "Oh he could get you started, I know he wouldn't mind! Or I could turn over and you can pretend I'm him?"
Lo and behold, Margaery Tyrell turns out to be a shrewd power player. This is a woman who knows how the Game of Thrones is played! She doesn't care what Renly does with her brother, just so long as he secures his throne by putting a "baby in [her] belly" first. So that's where they go, huh?
It says a lot that a threesome between a king, his lover, and his lover's sister is pretty tame by this show's standards. What the hell are we watching???
Later that night, Tyrion's trap yields results. His sister the queen is waiting for him in his office, and she is not happy. Cersei is in fact raving mad! She's furious at her little brother marrying off her only daughter. Tyrion stands there with a bemused look on his impish face, all but begging her to reveal who it is she thinks he's married Myrcella off to.
Cersei: "I will not let you ship her off to Dorne as I was shipped off to Robert Baratheon!"
Oh-ho! It was you, Maester Pycelle. You old-farty snake!
But what's even more interesting is that Cersei is genuinely hurt by her brother's act. Showing honest emotion, she reveals by this outburst her wish for a better life for her daughter. That perhaps she recognizes in herself a cold, ruthless harpy and desires for Myrcella to end up on a different road from the one she herself took so many years ago.
Tyrion makes an excellent rebuttal, though. He rightfully points out that with war coming to King's Landing any day now, the safest place for the princess to be is at a court far removed from all the craziness of combat. To her credit, Cersei seems to recognize this truth, but still she resents her brother even more than before.
Cersei: "You won't get away with this. You think the piece of paper father gave you keeps you safe? Ned Stark had a piece of paper, too."
Tyrion's just made a powerful enemy even more powerfully motivated on taking him down. This little man's got cajones!
Nighttime at Pyke, where we find Theon brooding by candlelight over a letter he's written to Robb detailing his father's plans to invade the North. He seems to be struggling with the decision to send the letter off--torn between the brother he's gained, and the family he yearns to belong to once more--but eventually we learn where his true loyalties lie. He sets the letter to flame and watches as one chapter of his past comes to a close. For better or worse, his mind is made up. Fate will decide whether he made the right choice or not.
The next morning, Lord Balon and Yara watch from the shore as Theon kneels in the ocean and is re-anointed in the ways of the ironborn. Salt water is poured over his head and he mouths the oath to their Drowned God. While not exactly welcomed back with open arms, finally we see a glimmer of respect in the elder Greyjoy's eyes. What is dead may never die, but rises again; harder and stronger.
At King's Landing, Tyrion holds his own against an angry Littlefinger for playing him a fool in his little deception to oust Cersei's spy. As consolation, Tyrion suggests Lord Baelish serve the court as go-between with the Starks in arranging for Jaime Lannister's release from captivity. Petyr is intrigued only because it will allow him to see his beloved Catelyn, whom he's carried a flame for all these years. Just then, newly minted Lord Commander of the City Watch, Bronn, interrupts with news of Maester Pycelle's whereabouts. We remember from last season that Pycelle has a certain softness for the ladies of ill repute, and that's who's company he's keeping tonight.
Bronn: "Filthy old stoat! Almost hate to interrupt."
Tyrion: "No you don't."
Bronn: "No. I don't."
So Bronn does just that, busting down the old man's door and scaring the beejebus out of both the councilman and his very naked lady friend. Grand Maester P tries to deny his squealing to the queen, but the dwarf's got him dead to rights.
With the proof in the pudding, the old fool can only bluster and plead as Tyrion accuses him of betraying all the previous Hands. He orders Bronn to toss him in the Black Cells. You know they mean business in Westeros when they give names to their dungeons. As recompense for her troubles, Tyrion thoughtfully leaves a gold piece with the frightened whore. Then pauses and hands her another one with a special look that means its for her silence.
Next we see Tyrion and Lord Varys acting all chummy chum over cups of mulled wine. The Spider commends the dwarf on his astute handling of business since his arrival at court, but he points out that with Janos Slynt and Pycelle out of the picture, the Small Council is growing smaller by the day. He wonders if he should be worried next. Tyrion couches his reply in a warning about past Hands failing miserably at the whims of the Small Council, and repeats once more his desire not to follow Ned Stark to the grave. The eunuch then gives the speech we've all heard from the various trailers promoting this current season:
"Power resides where men believe it resides. It's a trick, a shadow on the wall. And, a very small man can cast a very large shadow."
Tyrion can only smile at that.
As the episode draws to a close, we join Yoren's band of Night's Watch recruits as they continue their long journey north to the Wall. Having stopped off at an abandoned holdfast along the road, Arya is awake in the main room polishing Needle while the other recruits slumber. Seems she can't find sleep, seeing only all the horrible things she's had to witness in the last few months. Yoren tells her a beautiful little bedtime story, about holding it in and letting thoughts of revenge stew and simmer until the day comes when you might get the chance to strike the object of your hatred when he least expects it. He tells of the time some kid named Willem stabbed his brother through the heart. How he's since forgotten what his brother looked like, but Willem . . . his face he would think about all the time, no matter the day or hour. He relays to Arya the trick: he would say the man's name over and over again. Willem. Willem. Willem. Until it was a mantra in his head. A prayer even.
One day Willem returned to his village, riding through town like all was forgiven. Yoren alone remembered, and although he had been living a relatively uneventful life up until this point, upon seeing that face again something snapped.
Yoren: "I buried an axe so deep into Willem's skull they had to bury him with it!"
In Westeros, you have to get rid of migraines the hard way! And now we know why Yoren ended up at the Wall. He laughs at his sweet little tale, and reckons to Arry that something like that will certainly help her sleep.
Just then, a war horn sounds. It presages the arrival of a small force of Tywin Lannister's soldiers, led by his bannerman Ser Amory Lorch. They want Gendry, and they want him with or without the old Crow's leave. Yoren orders all the recruits on their feet and preparing for the fight of their lives. A fight indeed ensues and, although he fights more valiantly than half a dozen trained knights, Yoren succumbs to crossbow bolts and spear thrusts, before ultimately being dispatched by Ser Amory on horseback. Some of the other recruits are killed outright, while the majority are captured. The three hardened criminals locked in the cage--Rorge, Biter, and Jaqen H'ghar--nearly burn to death in the fracas, but are saved by Arya. She's then knocked to the ground by one of Ser Amory's men, who promptly relieves her of Needle and gives an evil chuckle out of added spite.
Hot Pie and Gendry are captured as well, and all the recruits are made to stand in a clearing as the knight on horseback announces that they're to accompany his band back to Harrenhal. Lommy Greenhands is severely wounded with an an arrow to his knee, and begs to be carried along. The man with Arry's sword offers to help, but then stabs the boy through the throat with Needle. "Carry him, he says," the man mimics with a sick laugh. His cohorts chuckle nervously.
Before they leave, Ser Amory asks again for King Robert's bastard. No one says a word. But then Arya steps forward, pointing to the slain Lommy and the bull's head helmet he pilfered from Gendry earlier. "You want Gendry?" she asks in a cavalier tone like the hard young man she's supposed to be. "You already got 'im!"
The camera closes in on the helmet near Lommy's head. Ominous music rises, then cuts as the credits roll.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Crowns.
This episode flew by quickly! That's usually a sign of very good pacing, not to mention writing. Bryan Cogman is the "keeper of the lore" on this production, having been tasked with boning up on all things A Song of Ice and Fire and being an on-set repository of knowledge on top of his usual writing duties. It was he who wrote all the wonderful supplementary materiel--including the histories--on the Season 1 Blu-ray release. Aside from the author of the books himself, this guy knows this world inside out! So it was a great pleasure seeing him step up his game considerably from last season here. This episode shines on so many levels, let me count the ways:
First off, let's begin with the end. While Yoren doesn't have this talk with Arya in the book, the lesson she learns is the same: revenge is a dish best served cold! Here we see what will begin a chilling tradition with our favorite pint-sized heroine: reciting the names of those who have wronged her, and whom she plans to kill one day, in a prayer before bed. The ritual calms her and helps her sleep, and that is just all kinds of awesome right now. Because, let's face it, this little girl has a lot to be vengeful for. I'm hoping they'll come back to this from time to time throughout the season, Arya's little promises to herself. It's an important part of her development as a character from now on.
And speaking of favorite female characters, we're introduced to two more from the books for the price of one episode this week. Brienne is the clear fan favorite, and I have to say the actress Gwendolyn Christie far exceeded my expectations. Her portrayal is dead-on accurate, even down to the chopped hair and mannish gait. The costume department did an incredible job on her armor, even if it is far bulkier than I envisioned from the books. But it's unique enough to make her stand out even with her helm on. Since she didn't have much screen time this episode, I can only bite my tongue and sit on my hands as I squirm to tell those of you who are non-book fans how much more awesome she becomes. But be patient my friends, great things are in store with this one. And they picked such a perfect actress to show us.
The other big female role is, of course, played by Natalie Dormer of The Tudors infamy. Her version of Margaery Tyrell is a bit of a departure from the books. There, she was much younger and therefore naive to the ways of court and all the back-stabbing strategy that goes along with high power. She eventually learns the important lessons, but here in the show they wisely chose to make her an astute player straight out of the gate. And I have to say, it works! I was always lukewarm to this character in the books. Worse yet, I never really liked the actress playing her, either. I've never seen what the big fuss is over this woman, both acting-wise as well as her physicality. But here Ms. Dormer truly shines! The way the role's been retooled for the show fits her like a glove. And while some of her lines were eyebrow-raising bad--put your baby in my belly--her shrewd delivery of those lines and frank awareness of how power is maintained in the Seven Kingdoms made me sit up and take notice. I'm truly intrigued to see how she handles her scenes with Lena Headey. I predict they will be legendary!
With two more important female players thrown into the mix, its clear to see why Game of Thrones has such a wide appeal. This subject matter isn't just for the boys.
Another thing that impressed me a lot this episode was Alfie Allen's performance as Theon. Standing mostly in the background for all of Season 1 and the very beginning of Season 2, Theon has finally become a complicated and intriguing character. More so--and much earlier--than in the books, even. And why is that? For certainly nothing we've seen this episode and last has departed greatly from the novel. No, I can only chalk it up to the skill of the actor, who took a character I couldn't care less about and elevated him to a point where I actually sympathize with him. The scene where Theon confronts his father and calls him out for abandoning him was epic in my eyes. It made me feel for Theon since he was expressing what I myself was feeling as an invested viewer. Balon makes a lot of noise about how his only son has been raised by "wolves" for too long, yet a little boy has no say in where his father chooses to send him. All he could do was obey. To dog on Theon (pardon the pun) now that he has returned is just bad parenting. So, good on Theon for showing he's got some iron in his veins after all. And, good on Alfie for doing such a wonderful job portraying that courage!
Still, knowing where things go from here, I daresay poor Theon will soon be joining Joffrey in the ranks of most despised Game of Thrones characters. How is that even possible? You will just have to wait and see, but I guarantee you it's not what you're thinking.
Speaking of despised characters, as with last week's scene-stealing performance, I continue to find myself sympathizing more and more with Cersei. Which, if you're a reader of the books, is just not supposed to happen! This woman is wicked personified! They should just rename the Broadway show Cersei and be done with it, that's how cold and despicable this woman is. And yet . . .
The scene where Lena Headey pushes Peter Dinklage onto the stairs is my favorite of the night. Not just because it was so gut-wrenchingly performed by two master thespians here (yes, I can say that with a straight face and mean it!)--but because we see a side of Cersei that even Cersei herself is not used to seeing. A vulnerable and afraid Cersei. Her fears for her daughter are humanizing, playing in stark contrast with the scene where her daughter is actually present, but where Cersei acts like a complete monster in light of poor Sansa's suffering. The complexity of this character is amazing, as what you would want in any literary villain. As a writer, I try to utilize this truism myself. Complex bad guys (or gals) are sooo much more interesting than cookie-cutter, black-and-white types. And as with Theon earlier, I have to attribute much of this to the actress' talent as much as the writing. Lena Headey must be nominated for an Emmy this year. It is known!
Of course, much will be said about Tyrion's scenes. The praise for this character, and Dinklage's performance as him in particular, is already overwhelming. But as deft a maneuver around the remaining members of the Small Council not named Cersei it was, it's the directing of that entire power move that's tickling my fancy. Wow, what a master stroke that was! I don't recall the exact method of execution in the books for Tyrion's wonderful trap, but I thought it was genius the way this scene was edited to intercut the three meetings into one. I actually jumped back at the point where Tyrion is talking with his back turned to Pycelle, then turns around and--bam!--it's Lord Vays sitting in the chair accepting a cup of wine. Then once again--bam!--now it's Littlefinger! Yes, yes, we've all seen this technique used before in several movies and even other tv shows, but it was a very clever way to weave together three similar but separate scenes from the book. Effective, to the point, and with a concise running time to boot! That's the kind of effortless drama HBO-backed shows deliver. It's no wonder Thrones has quickly risen up the ranks to become my most beloved show currently on television. Scenes like this are like eating a decadent slice of chocolate cake with lots of textured layers contributing to each savory bite. Nom, nom!
Lastly, I'm left thinking about magic. The discussion in Winterfell between Maester Luwin and young Brandon Stark concerning the lack of magic in the world is perhaps one of the most important scenes of the entire episode in terms of having far-reaching implications. Luwin represents the internal universe of the setting the show takes place in, in that most everyday folk no longer believe magic exists in their world. That simple every day life in Westeros is difficult enough to survive. No need to complicate things even more with magic, right? Well except that we the viewers, along with a select few of the characters introduced thus far, know better. On a meta level, magic is the undercurrent that most of the narrative's guiding forces are floating upon. We have the White Walkers in the North, Dany's dragons and dark magic sacrificing to the East, the Red Priestess in the South, and a flaming crimson comet in the sky presaging enigmatic events no one can yet interpret. Maester Luwin doesn't know all this, of course. But Bran does. Something deep down inside is telling him that his dreams are in fact real. As viewers, we ourselves don't know what exactly the deal is with Bran, either. Not unless you've read the books. But you don't have to be a Song of Ice and Fire scholar to know that it's something tremendous, with implications that can shake the world order of this fantastical setting to its knees.
Although I have the tendency to over-use these words, never more so than now with this episode do they apply: for winter IS coming. And every day from now on will see the rise of dark and wondrous things, once believed gone from the world, intrude with a vengeance onto the waking dreams of man.
To see how, keep on watching and join me next week when I recap Episode 14: "Garden of Bones."
Best Line: "I never liked crossbows. Take too long to reload."