Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Ep. 15 Recap: "The Ghost of Harrenhal"

Previous Game of Thrones Season 2 episode recaps:
Ep. 11: "The North Remembers."
Ep. 12: "The Night Lands."
Ep. 13: "What Is Dead May Never Die."
Ep. 14: "Garden of Bones."

Episode 15: "The Ghost of Harrenhal"
Air Date:  April 29, 2012.
Directed by:  David Petrarca.
Written by:  David Benioff & D.B. Weiss.

Oooh, a chilling title for what I'm sure will be a chilling episode, especially given how last week's showing, "Garden of Bones," ended on such a deliciously dark and horrific note. Knowing what I already know about which parts of the book tonight's episode roughly covers, I sat down in front of the tube already expecting a few more gruesome killings than usual for this show. And one notable death in particular. But, I'm getting ahead of things. Let us begin from the, er, beginning . . .


We start at Renly's camp in the Stormlands, where prevailing winds are indeed starting to pick up something fierce, whipping the tents into a windblown frenzy. Or perhaps other forces--dark, shadowy ones--are at play here?

Inside the royal pavilion, Renly and Cat discuss terms regarding the joining of Robb's forces with those of Storm's End (Baratheon) and Highgarden (Tyrell). Cat reassures the southron king that her son has no designs on the Iron Throne, and Renly accepts this readily. Joined together, he boasts, they will crush their common enemy and King Robb will be granted dominion of the North as in olden times. And why not? For the Baratheons and Starks have always been allies. Cat seems weary of all this talk of war, but a measure of relief is written into her harried features. That is, until Renly mentions the slight wrinkle in the contract:

"The Starks will have dominion over all lands north of Moat Cailin . . . provided [your son] swears me an oath of fealty."

Cat's immediate concern is put to ease when Renly reassures her that the wording of the oath is merely the same one her husband, Nedd, swore to King Robert eighteen years ago at the end of the rebellion.

Their business concluded, Renly proceeds to unburden himself of his armor with the help of his honor guard, Brienne of Tarth, when suddenly a cold gust sweeps through the tent and ushers in--the Shadow Baby from the end of last week's episode! In the inky form of a man (roughly resembling Stannis, in fact), the phantasm stabs the young king through the heart and dissipates.

While Cat stares in numb shock at the horror, Brienne barely has time to grieve her fallen liege when soldiers from outside rush in and beset her on both sides, believing her to be the assassin. The "Maid of Tarth" does honor to her training and brutally dispatches both men with her sword, but Cat tempers her thirst for further revenge against Stannis by pointing out the futility of their situation. Knowing that she, too, will be blamed for the death of the king, Cat seeks to escape the camp post haste where upon cooler heads valor may prevail and the lady knight can enact proper revenge later. Only reluctantly does Brienne finally agree to this plan, sparing one last glance at her fallen king before showing Cat a back way out.

The next morning, Littlfinger spies Stannis' fleet approaching from the sea and realizes he has very little time to manipulate this chaotic turn of events to his advantage. In Renly's tent where the Knight of Flowers kneels in mourning over his lover's corpse, it is the late king's own wife who seems to be thinking more clearly. "You can't avenge him from the grave," she tells her brother, echoing Cat's words to Brienne the night before.

Rather than sitting around waiting for Stannis to show up, she agrees with Lord Baelish that the better course of action is to retreat to their ancestral seat of power at Highgarden and devise a plan best suited to House Tyrell's future.

A very astute Lady, that Margaery Tyrell. An observation Littlefinger seizes upon.

Petyr: "Do you want to be a queen?"
Margery: "No. I want to be the Queen."

Littlefinger can't help but smirk devilishly as the cogs turn inside that clever head of his. Plots are afoot!

At the Red Keep, Tyrion delivers news to the actual Queen that Renly has been killed. The accounts differ on who the culprit is--some say Catelyn Stark, some say Renly's own guardsman, while others even claim that it was Renly's older brother himself, Stannis, who did the deed. Cersei doesn't seem to care who it was, she's just overjoyed that at least one threat to her son's power has been removed. But leave it to the pint-sized Hand to point out a not so insignificant detail his big sister seems to be overlooking: all of Renly's bannermen have rallied under Stannis' cause now. No, they've only traded one Baratheon threat for an even larger one now. And this one has no other obstacle in his way but to march on King's Landing from the south while Lannister forces are busy fighting the Starks to the north.

Cersei continues to clash with the dwarf over his plans to ship Myrcella off to Dorne, revealing that King's Landing will be safe now that her son the king is overseeing vital defense plans. When Tyrion impatiently asks to hear these so-called plans, Cersei evokes the King's prerogative to operate outside of the Small Council's purview in times of war. No matter, the Hand of the King has other means by which to learn information.

In a dirty alley somewhere in Flea Bottom, Bronn stands guard as Tyrion meets with his cousin and appointed spy to Cersei, Ser Lancel. The bumbling squire-turned-courtier can barely squeeze inside the tiny palanquin designed for the Hand, but he reveals all that the dwarf needs to know with barely any hesitation. Turns out the Queen and her bastard son have commissioned the Alchemist Guild into producing wildfire, a substance not unlike Greek Fire that can be launched by catapult against enemy forces encroaching upon the city. It used to be a favorite plaything of the Mad King, Aerys II. Lancel reveals that the pyromancers have already created thousands of clay jars filled with the stuff and secured in secret vaults. Tyrion naturally finds this all a little hard to swallow. Wildfire has never been created in such quantities before.

Lancel: "I swear to you."
Tyrion: "Swear to me on what?"
Lancel: "On my life!"
Tyrion: "But I don't care about your life."
Lancel: "In the light of the Seven, by all that is holy and right . . . I, Lancel Lannister, do solemnly vow--"
Tyrion: "Alright, alright! Enough. Even torturing you is boring. Just get out!"

The imp helps his cousin along with a well-placed boot to the rear, then commands the witless wonder to tell Bronn to kill him if any harm should come of him.

Lancel: "Please kill me if anything should happen to Lord Tyrion."
Bronn: "It will be my pleasure."

Seems like someone's smallclothes need changing.

Meanwhile in the Stormlands, Stannis has come ashore. As order is being put to Renly's former camp, Ser Davos Seaworth greets his liege and expresses his need to discuss what he saw the Red Woman do in the cave. But Stannis has no desire to ever speak of such matters and admonishes his new naval commander for needing to be told a thing twice. Davos is taken aback by his new elevation in rank. Stannis wants him to lead the fleet into Blackwater Bay and deposit Baratheon troops right on the doorstep of King's Landing. Davos tells him the hard truth, which is that the other Lords won't take kindly to receiving orders from an ex-smuggler. Furthermore, he fears the men's loyalty switching to Lady Melisandre should word of her role in the death of Renly be known. She is already swaying them with her foreign ways and new religion. If she is there for the sacking of the capital, some may rightly give her all the credit.

For once, Stannis is seen listening to the words of reason from his right hand man. He agrees to leave the Red Priestess behind, but Davos will be leading the naval invasion no matter what. If the other lords don't like it, they will see the gallows.

"Hard truths cut both ways, Ser Davos."

Just as quickly as we left it, we are back in Flea Bottom as Tyrion and his Lord Commander of the City Guard take a little stroll to feel out the common folk. And what the Hand discovers there is troubling indeed. As the two discuss the capital's woeful vulnerability to the war that is headed their way, they come across a dirty street solicitor preaching to all who will hear about how the Iron Throne is being corrupted by the offspring of vile incest. Seems Stannis' propaganda campaign is starting to bear fruit. The man's genius knows no bound! Tyrion is amused when the rabble rouser mentions one other little detail:

Rouser: ". . . dancing king, prancing down his blood-stained halls to the tune of a twisted demon monkey."
Tyrion: "You have to admire his imagination."
Bronn: "He's talking about you."
Tyrion: "What? Demon Monkey???"
Bronn: "People think you're pulling the king's strings. They blame you for the city's ills."
Tyrion: "Blame me? I'm trying to save them!"

The half-man's humor turns to worry at this new turn. The poor and destitute of King's Landing seem to be getting fed-up with the shenanigans at play in the Red Keep. It's something he must no doubt keep an eye on in the future.

Clear across on the other side of Westeros, we are taken to Pyke where Theon Greyjoy is ready to take command of his ship, the Sea Bitch. Unfortunately, none of her crew are ready to be commanded by the likes of him. Seems they have no respect for a man who has never led a raid before, Lord or no Lord. His men strand him ashore, but his First Mate by the name of Dagmer Cleftjaw takes pity on his new captain and offers to row Theon to their ship personally. On the way, they discuss Balon Greyjoy's plan to have the Sea Bitch lay waste to small farms and fishing villages in the North. Hardly a quest the bards will sing songs about. Dagmer points out that he won't gain much respect stealing from grain sowers and fishmongers. Theon considers this and mentions a bigger prize nearby that would be ripe for the taking: the relatively undefended Torrhen's Square, just a stone's throw away from the Stark's citadel itself. Surely this will gain Theon some much needed street cred among his fellow Iron Islanders.

Dagmer thinks this could work, although as a former ward of Lord Eddard Stark himself, Theon has some reservations.

Dagmer: "What? You don't think we can take it?"
Theon: "No we could. We could never hold it for more than a few days. Soon as Winterfell got word that we'd taken Torrhen's Square, the Starks will send their men to take it back. And then . . ."

Ah-ha! A light bulb goes off in both men's heads. They share a chuckle, and Theon gleefully commands his First Mate to take him to his ship. Things don't look good for a certain pair of little lordly boys and their Maester.

Over at Harrenhal where Lord Tywin Lannister sits with his war council, Arya Stark meekly goes about her new found duties as his cupbearer. As she fetches food and drink for her master and his knights, she can't help but overhear and delight in the news that her brother, Robb, is devastating their forces. The Lannister patriarch schools them as to what has been wrong with their strategy thus far.

Tywin: "As long as he keeps winning battles, [his men will] keep believing he is King in the North. You keep waiting for him to fail--he is not going to fail. Not without our help."

Tywin proves himself twice as shrewd when he orders Arya to take away the wine she's offering and fetch water instead, much to the chagrin of all his men seated at the table. Seems they're going to be discussing strategy all throughout the day. Bummer! But just as Arya is about to scamper away, Lord Tywin stops her and grills his diminutive server on her origins. When Arya's subterfuge fails to convince the keen ears and eyes of the true Hand of the King, she tries for another answer just as false but much closer to home, which Tywin finally accepts. He asks the girl if she believes all the peasant folk nonsense about Robb Stark riding into battle atop a giant direwolf, and that he can never be killed. In a great show of will, Arya stares down the icy gaze of the formidable Lord and comments that no one is immune from death. Tywin is intrigued by this response, perhaps even sensing a threat in the little girl's pointed stare, before dismissing it and ordering her to fetch that water.

As she goes to do her master's bidding, Arya instinctively hides when she spies three Lannister guards approaching down the long, ruined hallway. The lead armored man is none other than Jaqen H'ghar, the Lorathi criminal she rescued from a fiery death a few episodes back. He does not seem to notice her, but when Arya enters the cellars to draw water from a barrel, the man with two-toned hair and a penchant for speaking in the third person is already waiting for her. Now, how the hell did he pull that off?

Jaqen reveals that he was always aware of Arya's secret identity, but it was not for him to spoil it. The young Stark is not amused by the colors he is now sporting.

Arya: "You're one of them now. I should have let you burn!"
Jaqen: "And you fetch water for one of them now. Why is this right for you and wrong for me?"

I fear men have been asking this question of women since the dawn of time, Mr. H'ghar. Trust me, you will never know. But the Faceless Man tells the girl his own secret: that she is owed three deaths for the three lives she saved from the fire. The Red God he speaks of must be paid back for the lives that was denied to Him.

Jaqen: "Speak three names, and the man will do the rest. Three lives I will give you. No more, no less. Then we're done."
Arya: "I can name anyone. And you'll kill him?"
Jaqen: "A man has said."
Arya: "The one who tortures everyone."
Jaqen: "A man needs a name."
Arya: "I-I don't know his name. They call him the Tickler."
Jaqen: "That is enough. Go now, girl. Your master's thirsty."

Seems Arya got herself her very own magic genie . . . of DEATH!

North of the Wall, Lord Commander Mormont leads the Night's Watch through the frozen wastes in search of the legendary Fist of the First Men--an icy promontory commanding a wide, unobstructed view of their surroundings. Production has switched from Northern Ireland to Iceland now, and the scenery is appropriately chilly and foreboding. Brrrrr!

Mormont reveals to Jon Snow that they are meeting up with a legendary Ranger by the name of Qhorin Halfhand, second in command at the Shadow Tower. Turns out he once survived an entire winter alone trapped behind the Wall . . . and lived to tell about it. Badass, thy name is the Halfhand!

While the other Watchmen curse the bitter cold and winds, Sam alone seems upbeat. He's read so much about the Fist of the First Men, and stands in awe at being at the very site where that ancient group once held off the White Walkers. In the background as the men set up camp as best they can on the frozen tundra, Jon's direwolf is briefly seen surveying the task like some huge polar bear atop an ice flow. Unlike the Rangers dressed all in black, Ghost alone was smart enough to don his snow-white furs to blend easily with the landscape. Stupid humans!

Back at King's Landing, Tyrion decides to investigate Lancel's intel about the wildfire himself. He meets with the Lord Wisdom of the Alchemist Guild, Hallyne the Pyromancer (portrayed here by Roy Dotrice, narrator extraordinaire of the A Song of Ice and Fire audio books!), who confirms for the Hand wildfire's notorious properties.

"The substance burns so hot it melts wood, stone--even steel! And of course, flesh."

But of course. Wisdom Hallyne goes on to explain how, after the last of the dragons died out, wildfire was the alternative by which the Targaryens maintained their rule. Always obsessed with burning things, those blasted Targaryens! Ever the pragmatist, Bronn points out that something like what the old man describes would be just as dangerous to their own forces as the enemies they're flinging the stuff at. All it would take was one mishap among the jars.

"I don't know if you've ever seen a battle, old man, but things can get a bit messy. When we're flinging things at Stannis, he's flinging them right back at us. Men die, men shit themselves. Men run. Which means pots falling. Which means fire inside the walls. Which means the poor cunts trying to defend the city end up burning it down!"

Hallyne's retort? He simply throws open a vault door, beyond which Tyrion can only stand in awe as row upon row of some 7,811 clay jars by the pyromancer's count stretch off forever into the murky distance. Enough to burn Stannis Baratheon's army to kingdom come.

Tyrion has to agree with Bronn; so much wildfire stored under the city is a hazard too dangerous to risk without proper supervision. From now on, the Guild shall cease making wildfire for his sister, Cersei. Instead, the Hand proclaims, they will make it for himself! Ooh, lay that pIMP hand down hard, Lord Tyrion!

We journey now clear across the Narrow Sea to Qarth, where Daenerys "Stormborn" Targaryen is with her handmaids feeding her dragons. Seems she has figured out the secret in getting them to consume flesh is to sear it first. In fact, she has even taught one to flame his own snacks at her command: "Dracarys!" And flooom, there it is! Grilled to perfection! Perhaps now, she hopes, he will be able to feed himself. Yes, khaleesi, but um . . . feed himself on what?

Doreah and Irri take turns vying for their Queen's affection, but eventually the talk turns to Xaro Xhoan Daxos, the wealthy member of the city's governing Thirteen who is their host. Dany realizes aloud that they know almost nothing about the big man, and hints at Doreah to put her special talents to work.

"Men like to talk about other men, when they're happy."

Doreah takes this cue with a smile. Looks like our khaleesi has become a quick study at the game of thrones. It is known!

Later, Dany dons the wonderful silk dress Xaro has gifted her and joins a lavish party thrown in her honor. There a bald waif of an old man calling himself Pyat Pree introduces himself. Seems he's a warlock belonging to a mystical order in the city, and invites the khaleesi to visit them at the House of the Undying when she gets the chance. Sure, that doesn't sound dangerous at all! To prove his abilities, the old man splits himself into two. Xaro shows up then and apologizes for his guest. The warlocks of Qarth, he explains, are soft of mind and blue of lips from drinking all that Shade of the Evening. They even believe their own parlor tricks! Uh, okay dude. Whatever you say.

A mysterious masked woman--whom readers of the books may recognize as Quaithe--appears suddenly at Ser Jorah Mormont's side, warning him to keep a close eye on his queen.

"She is the Mother of Dragons. She needs true protectors, now more than ever. They shall come day and night to see the wonder born into the world again. And when they see, they shall lust. For dragons are fire made flesh, and fire is power."

Ho-kay! Cryptic much? Seems Ser Fore Shadow strikes again!

Somewhere north of the Stormlands, Lady Catelyn and Brienne of Tarth stop for a quick rest. The two intrepid women briefly discuss what they saw in the tent, but neither one can figure it out. It was a shadow in the shape of a man, Catelyn agrees. Only Brienne got a much closer look at the creature, and she claims it bore a strong resemblance to Stannis. She wants to kill the elder Baratheon once she has escorted Cat safely to Robb's camp, but Lady Stark cautions her. Stannis is surrounded by his men, no easy target to simply walk up to and snuff out. She also reminds the tall, broad-shouldered knight that Renly's enemies are also her son's enemies as well. Brienne considers this revelation and suddenly takes a knee, laying her sword at Lady Stark's feet:

"Then I am yours, my lady. I will shield your back, and give my life for yours if it comes to that. I swear it by the old gods and the new."

Clearly moved by the other woman's show of devotion, Cat in return promises to give Brienne leave to claim her revenge should the opportunity present itself. Taking the hulking knight's gloved hand in hers, Catelyn swears her own pledge to the Maid of Tarth:

"I vow that you shall always have a place in my home, and at my table, and that I will ask no service of you that will bring you dishonor. I swear it by the old gods and the new."

And who says chivalry is just for men?

The next scene takes place in Winterfell with Bran presiding over everyday matters as Maester Luwin advises from off to the side. Little Rickon Stark is also present, but is more content loudly smashing walnuts upon the table than to pay attention to the boring matters of state. Just as the day's tasks are seen to and Bran is calling for Hodor to carry him to his horse, Winterfell's Master-at-Arms, Ser Rodrik Cassel, bursts in with news that Torrhen's Square is under attack. Fearing that these are Lannister men somehow broken through his brother's lines, the young lord hastily agrees to have Ser Rodrik lead 200 Winterfell men as relief for the stronghold's defenders. These are virtually all the men the citadel has to spare, but the young Stark believes they should protect their bannermen, or else why should their bannermen protect Winterfell in return? Ser Rodrik beams approval at the little lord's response.

No, Bran--DON'T DO IT!!!

In Winterfell's courtyard, Bran and Osha the Wildling discuss the dreams he's been having lately. In particular, Bran wants to know the significance of the three-eyed crow. Osha seems in no rush to provide him with answers, although the symbol is well known north of the Wall. She points out to the young lord that just a little while ago he was claiming to not having had any dreams at all. But Bran is not playing around anymore. This last dream has him spooked in particular. In it, the sea comes to Winterfell, crashing upon its walls in wave after wave. He saw the waters wash over the battlements, flooding the castle and drowning the men in the courtyard. Ser Rodrik was among the bodies floating there.

R'uh r'oh, Shaggy!

Back at the Fist of the First Men, a nasty squall has descended upon the shivering Night's Watch when Qhorin Halfhand and his own small band of Rangers show up. The Halfhand points out a wildling watchfire burning upon a mountaintop nearby. If they so much as go near that mountain, the watchfire will become a warning beacon and Mance Rayder--the self-proclaimed "King Beyond the Wall"--will have a nice welcoming party waiting for them. No, he tells Lord Commander Mormont, in order to discover what the ex-Watchman is up to, they're going to need to send a much smaller band of Rangers to sneak in and infiltrate the wildlings. A group he himself will lead. He picks out the heartiest of the men among them for the task, and Jon Snow naturally volunteers. He seems all too eager to prove his mettle.

Mormont: "You're a steward, Snow, not a Ranger."
Jon Snow: "I fought and killed a wight. How many Rangers can say that?"
Qhorin: "He's the one?"
Mormont: "Aye, you killed a wight. You also let an old man beat you bloody and take your sword."
Qhorin: "Craster? Well in the boy's defense, that's a tough old goat!"

The Halfhand seems to have a measure of respect for the young Lord Snow and agrees to take him along. Meanwhile, Commander Mormont decides to return with the rest of the men back to the Wall. If Qhorin's plan is not successful, and they are unable to stop or defeat Mance Rayder, then the wildling king's army will most likely be heading for them. Preparations will need to be made.

Nighttime at Xaro Xhoan Daxos' estate, and the khaleesi's party is winding down. Xaro takes her on a tour of his grandiose bachelor pad, explaining to her that he's made a success of reading other men. Her protector, for example, has the hots for her. Daenerys is taken aback by this news. Surely Ser Jorah is only trying to advise her, nothing more. But Xaro smiles, for he himself is trying to woo her and can recognize the attempt from other rivals perhaps. He shows off his high-tech man cave, a vault made of Valyrian steel and nigh impossible to penetrate save for dragon's fire. And Xaro is the only man with the key. He reveals the news that Robert Baratheon is dead, and the Seven Kingdoms embroiled in civil war and ripe for the taking. He promises to lend the khaleesi his tremendous support in the form of money and ships if she would but marry him and place their children on the Iron Throne of Westeros. Presumptuous much? Dany says nothing to this for the time being. Other great men had placed such ambitions upon her once, and look where they are now.

In her lavish chambers, Dany argues with her adviser, Ser Jorah Mormont. Perhaps looking upon him in a new light after Xaro's words, the khaleesi weighs her options against his impassioned plea to not accept this stranger's offer, for a rich man's generosity always comes with dangerous strings attached. Better that they find their own way, he urges, perhaps hiring only a single ship and sailing to Westeros where they can find support and legitimacy among the disenfranchised noble houses there. Families still loyal to the Targaryen name. Daenerys doesn't dislike the suggestion, but she holds her cards close to her chest for now. Ser Jorah bows his head and goes off to find her that ship.

Back at Harrenhal, Arya watches a shirtless Gendry practice in the courtyard of that haunted keep with a blade he's just pulled from the forge. She seems unimpressed by his untutored moves, having been taught by one of the best swordsmen in all the Free Cities herself, after all. She offers some pointed advice, which Gendry is ready to mock, when a horrified shriek splits the air. No, it's not some poor lass chancing upon Hot Pie similarly shirtless, but rather the result of some poor sap who's gone and fallen off a high parapet and broke his fool neck! It's only when Arya shows up to see what all the commotion is about that she discovers the corpse is none other than--gasp--the Tickler!

Seems the Ghost of Harrenhal has found his first victim. As the full realization dawns on her, Arya glances up to find her mysterious Lorathi staring down at the scene from the window of a broken facade. Jaqen H'ghar nochanlantly chews on an apple as he studies the girl coolly, then places a single finger across his cheek.

One death reclaimed. Two more to go.

Arya Stark looks down upon the corpse once more, and smiles.


Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Crowns.


This was one of my favorite episodes this season, as much for the great directing and writing than the actual content. The pacing was masterfully done from last week's episode, even though we have the same director in both. I think this may have been the first time this season where an episode didn't feel disjointed from all the various plot points being juggled about. And I always know I'm going to get a wonderfully scripted hour of television when the showrunners themselves are the credited writers. The dialogue was really fantastic--so many memorable and quotable lines!

Of special note, too, is the awesome CGI work on display. From the outstanding effects of the Shadow Assassin, to Tyrion holding up a clear vial of wildfire to the light, to the quick Ghost sighting, and finally Daenerys' dragon. The new F/X team this season is really holding its own!

Brienne kicking much ass in Renly's tent was the only noteworthy action choreography this time around, but that too was like a work of art. Kudos to everyone involved in making the swordplay look so brutal and realistic, most of all the actress Gwendoline Christie for making me believe Brienne could really take out two trained soldiers while barely breaking a sweat.

If I were to pick the major theme of the night, it would be this continuing discussion about true power begun by Cersei and Littlefinger in the very first episode of the season. In many ways, tonight's show was all about power and the different forms it might take in this fantasy world of warring factions over a single throne.

Stannis seeks power through numbers by whatever means necessary, but Davos reminds him that such power is tenuous because it relies too much on the sensibilities of the men under one's rule. Margaery Tyrell understands that power is in being able to admit one's defeat, lick one's wounds, and run away to fight another day. While Littlefinger thinks power comes from alliances, and the skillful manipulation of such relationships. How she will play into his schemes remains to be seen, but don't for once believe that there isn't more to Lady Tyrell than meets the eye.

Tyrion believes that power depends on the tides of public opinion. Or, at least, he is starting to learn as much. What he does understand is that military power over one's enemies consists of possessing the greater advantages on the battlefield. While his sister believes that this is manifested through whoever has the most money and resources, Tyrion knows that true power comes from military might in the form of weapons. By seizing control of the production of wildfire at King's Landing, he effectively becomes master of the King's greatest secret and the Kingdoms' most deadly weapon of all.

Over in Essos, Daenerys is just starting to get a sense of what power her dragons afford her. As Quaithe warns Ser Jorah, many will seek her out in lust of such power, for dragons are "fire made flesh." The warlock Pyat Pree sees power in the manipulation of the senses, and the ability to create illusions. But real power for his Order will come from somehow getting their hands on Dany's dragons which, in that part of the world, are the pure embodiment of magic and power. By contrast Xaro Xhoan Daxos, a self-made man believing that true power comes from money, plans to use his wealth to advance his own goals and, even, to elevate his familial line to the lofty heights of royalty. Clearly every one of these characters are skillful opponents on the playing field that is this game of thrones. As Tyrion said to Lord Varys earlier: they understand how this game is played.

Speaking of the Hand of the King, I very much like how the seeds of discontent have been sowed slowly throughout the first half of the season. The common folk are getting fed up over the antics of their boy king and his twisted, corrupt family. The growing unrest at the civil war approaching their own city gates is only fueled even more by vile rumors of incest and torture. Tyrion, ironically enough, is the only Lannister actually trying to help the people and ensure a just rule. Yet his physical limitations cast him in a sinister light among the populace, who are content to judge merely on appearance only. Such is nothing new to him. But if the Hand is to gain their respect, he must first ensure that the city entrusted to his protection is safe and still standing when the armies come. It will be interesting to see how his wresting control of the wildfire production will play into all this. With Stannis' fleet making its way toward King's Landing, I get the feeling we'll be finding out all too soon. Uh-oh!

Theon Greyjoy is learning quick the lesson of true power as well. In the Iron Islands, power comes from the ability to lead men into raids and make them all rich. But as he desperately seeks to gain the respect he so keenly feels he deserves, will the price Theon has to pay to prove himself a true ironborn son be too high? There's a reason I've always spoken so vehemently against this character since even way back in the first season. Non book readers are just now starting to see why.

Catelyn and Brienne teaming up warms my heart. The chemistry between these two headstrong ladies is apparent, and the Maid of Tarth in particular has always been one of my most cherished characters from the books. If George R. R. Martin was the type of author who followed the easy beats of a plot, Brienne and Catelyn would perhaps arrive just in time to help protect Winterfell against whatever dastardly plan the Ironmen of Pyke have in store. But, of course, the one constant about this ongoing saga is that NOTHING is predictable. Nothing follows expectations. Nothing.

But I loved the scene where these women swear loyalty to each other, because it displays one of the more enlightened aspects of Martin's writing: the women here are REAL women. They're not shy maidens, or damsels in distress. The women of Game of Thrones are complex, determined, and dynamic. Almost every one of them is a character we can root for on their own, regardless of the men around them. Catelyn. Brienne. Arya. Daenerys. Margaery. Even Cersei we love to hate because she is so ruthless, but yet so complexly human at the same time. For all its sex, violence, and gore--traditional trappings of a male-fueled fantasy saga--this show truly shines in how well women are portrayed as able and equal players in the ongoing "game."

I've been hearing some controversy over having Arya serve Tywin at Harrenhal, since the two never meet in the books. Tywin does occupy Harrenhal at the start of the second novel, but by the time Arya shows up there with the rest of the Night's Watch recruits later in the book, the place is under the charge of Robb Stark's bannerman, Roose Bolton. By having Arya in the presence of Tywin now, some online message boards have been begging the question: why doesn't she just name Tywin as the Faceless Man's first target for assassination? It's a good question until you consider that Arya is a shrewd young lady. She has no way of knowing that she can trust the enigmatic Jaqen H'ghar. For all she knows, he could be a spy for the Lannisters. He's already wearing their armor, after all. But now that Jaqen has proven his sincerity, everyone including book readers are now left wondering the exact same question: who does she name next? Who at Harrenhal is next in line to suffer a terrible "accident" when no one else is watching? I for one am excited to find out. Aren't you?

Lastly, I wanted to address the complaints some people are starting to level at this show for its darkness and violence. Which is strange considering that this is still HBO we're watching here, right? Some viewers claim that it's so depressing to watch at times for its wanton torture and death scenes, that they've even considered quitting the show for good. Seven hells! For me, however, this is what makes the show and books such compelling material. Real life is full of pain and suffering, just read a history book some time. As such, fantasy epics that reflect this are pretty much the only fantasy I'm interested in reading. Perhaps this is also why I'm so attracted to dystopian sci-fi worlds. Yet if you believe the show has been too dark as of late, then I have news for you. Trust me, this is actually light-hearted fare compared to what's coming up next in this season and beyond  . . . if the books are anything to go by. Oh. My. Gods!!!

Just keep on watching and you'll see what I mean. Do ye dare? If so, then be sure to join The Bimillennial Man next week when he recaps Episode 16: "The Old Gods and the New."

Best line of the night:  "Anyone can die."


  1. By the way, in case it isn't already apparent, I was able to find the time to write this myself. Rodney did a great job guest blogging last week, and I thank you all for being such gracious readers and commenters. But I'm back! And hopefully for good, or until the season ends at least. And I can't rule out another guest appearance by my good friend, either. Just because it was so much fun taking a back seat for once and watching someone else sweat. Yeah, that's it! :)

    1. Thank you, David. But I know how much of a control freak you are, so I'm sure it must have irked you to no end to release the reigns of your GoT recaps for even ONE episode. :-) I don't foresee any more appearances, but I'm up for another!!

      Honestly, though, I didn't really connect with this episode as much as I would have liked. It was an awesome episode, but I'm forced to give it only a 3 out 5 Crowns, mostly for lack of emotional involvement. Granted, that could just be ME. I agree with your assessment of the women on GoT. They are simply amazing. For this episode, I have to give particular props to to the actresses playing Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke). They were excellent in this episode.

      The scene with Arya and Tywin was of particular interest to me because of the subtlety of Ms. Williams' performance. The touches of family pride and cold hatred played very well throughout the scene and seeing her eyes move as she paid attention to what everyone in the room was saying was masterful to watch.

      Ms. Clarke's entire performance was amazing this episode. She handled anger, shock, a slight touch of comedy, and that last bit of awkwardness with Ser Jorah really well. (Although, I get more of a father/daughter vibe from that relationship as opposed to romantic interest.) She played the transitions very well, with no disruptive moments or breaks. And she was GORGEOUS in that blue dress. Again, a real joy to watch!! I can't WAIT to see the next episode!

    2. Yes, sometimes that happens. For whatever reason an episode just won't click with you one week . . . no matter how many other people say it's awesome. :) That's how I felt about last week's episode. To be true, I think I graded this on a higher curve simply for the infamous Jaqen H'ghar and his three wishes, which was probably one of the coolest aspects about the second book to readers. We've been DYING to see how they would pull this off onscreen, and for the most part it was pure perfection.

      And that's why Arya's line won the episode's Best Line award, because that one scene was so powerful and wonderfully acted by both Maisie Williams and the incomparable Charles Dance. Damn, that stare down was IN-TENSE!

  2. I liked this episode. I am dreading what is coming for Winterfell though. It's going to be horrid.
    Like to see the dragons more.

    Margaery is STILL wearing her turtle

    1. Oh yes . . . that dress. I meant to comment on your comment last week regarding this. Oh lord! One good soaking rain, and I'm afraid poor Margaery will drown in that dress. Quick, get her out of the *Storm* lands! :)

  3. She could wear it North of the Wall and make snow cones :) :)

  4. Another excellent recap! Definitely the best ep of the season so far! Arya staring down Tywin was just the PURE AWESOMENESS!!!! She's learning and coming along quite well.

    And just how COOL was Brienne taking on those two pissants?! Come on! She kicked ass! Well! Gwendoline Christie deserves major props not just for the action but for the emotion displayed at the death of her king afterwards. Well acted indeed. And the scene with her and Catelyn in the woods was probably my second favorite scene.

    I'm not really that impressed with Daenerys yet. But she is still learning how to rule so she gets some leeway. I am impressed with the Dragon though. That was massive cool.

    Theon is still a little prick. I so don't look forward to that playing out.

    Tyrion is still the MAN! "What?! Demon Monkey???" That was wonderful. Bronn is still cool.

    His sister is still a blind idiot.

    Jaqen is just the coolest! "A man has said." Indeed.

    The Fist of the First Men was pretty cool. And Ghost is the coolest.

    For those who think the tone of the show is to dark, I say grow the hell up. It's no darker than The Sopranos or The Wire or even Boardwalk Empire. Please, this is realistic sword and sorcery. Shit's gonna get real. Deal with it or go watch reruns of Friends or some other bullshit. The punks complaining are really not going to like the show as it progresses. Sorry. Rant over.

    Best show on TV period. And your recaps are the best!

    1. Thanks, my friend. I agree with all your points, even about Dany. And, yes, this IS the best show on tv! The ratings only prove it.


Panama Trip - Day 1: Here There Be Balboas!

In late May, 2017 I embarked on a trip of a lifetime. A trip to Panama's steamy tropical province, Bocas del Toro. Now, before 2017 ...