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."
Ep. 15: "The Ghost of Harrenhal."
Episode 16: "The Old Gods and the New"
Original Air Date: May 6, 2012.
Directed by: David Nutter.
Written by: Vanessa Taylor.
At the end of last week's review, I mentioned how there had been some rumblings among the general viewership that things were getting a little too dark in this show for some viewers to handle. And I remarked that nothing we've seen so far would come close to how dark the storyline will truly get if they continued to stick with the books.
This week we got a chance to see those words come true. Seven Hells, this was one brutal episode! And yet, it makes my heart sing. For this is exactly the tone of the books! This episode came closest to capturing the dark, twisted brilliance of the author's mind than any other this season and before. Yes, exactly.
So let us get started, shall we? Let us find out how . . .
Right off the bat we're thrown into the thick of things. Winterfell is under siege by the ironborn raiders from Pyke, led by none other than that traitorous snit Theon Greyjoy. Maester Luwin barely has time to send a raven out warning Robb Stark of what's become of his family's seat of power when two of the Sea Bitch's crew seize and drag him out into the courtyard. There the acting lord of Winterfell, Brandon Stark, relinquishes control to Theon, who demands to be called "Prince" Theon from now on. Too bad no one's bothering to care. Ser Rodrik Cassel is found and captured, but refuses to acknowledge Theon's legitimacy.
Theon: "Ser Rodrik, it grieves me that we meet as foes."
Rodrik: "It grieves me you have less honor than a back-alley whore. You were raised here, under this roof! These people are your people."
Theon: "They are not my people!"
Rodrik: "King Robb thought of you as a brother."
Theon: "My brothers are dead. They died fighting Stark men. Men like you!"
Rodrik: "Aye, they died fighting a war your father started. Lord Stark raised you among his own sons."
Theon: "Among them, but not one of them. I was his hostage--taken from my home!"
Rodrik: "If he were alive to see this . . ."
Theon: "He's not. He's dead! The Seven Kingdoms are at war, and Winterfell is mine!"
Theon wants to throw Ser Rodrik in the cells, but Dagmer Cleftjaw convinces him that this will make him look weak among his men. Theon clearly doesn't have the convictions of his big ego, but now he has no choice. In a particularly vicious--but, thankfully, mostly off-camera--beheading, Theon severs all ties with his humanity as well as his loyalty to the Starks.
His fate is set, and we get the sense that dark days are ahead for everyone at Winterfell. Most of all for Theon Greyjoy himself.
North of the Wall, Jon Snow travels deep into wildling territory attached to Qhorin Halfhand's small band of crack commando rangers. Ghost seems to be off on his own doing whatever direwolves do in the wild, and this gets Qhorin waxing philosophically about wild things and how it is not possible to know what they are always up to.
Ah, metaphors! So witty, mister man with half a hand!
He then gives Jon Snow his patented grizzled war veteran speech, about being a nameless face sacrificing one's life so that folks back home can go on living the good life oblivious to all the dangers. Blah, blah, blah. He tells Jon not to get so caught up in the oath he took. They're just words. Out here beyond it all, you simply do what you must to keep alive. Sounds like Qhorin's been watching every single Vietnam war movie known to man.
Over at Harrenhal, Lord Tywin Lannister is berating his bannerman, Ser Amory Lorch, for sending out one of his missives to the wrong noble house. A house loyal to Robb Stark! In front of all the other lords and knights at the table, Ser Amory is found out for not knowing how to read. Tsk, tsk. Use your words, Ser Amory! This is the same guy that rounded up Arya and her fellow Night's Watch recruits a couple of episodes back. The same knight who delivered the killing blow to poor Yoren, he who hates crossbows. Arya rather enjoys the dressing down he gets at the hand of Lord Tywin, but then the Lannister patriarch clears the room to receive a newly arrived guest--Lord Petyr Baelish! Arya turns white as a sheet. Littlefinger could identify her with a single glance!
Luckily for her, Lord Baelish is a little too preoccupied trying to take advantage of the confusion caused by the death of Renly Baratheon in the previous episode. He suggests to Lord Tywin that the Tyrells of Highgarden should be used to further the Lannister cause. With their support, victory would be a shoe-in. Tywin is not entirely sure about this plan.
Tywin: "House Tyrell rebelled against the Iron Throne. Against my grandson."
Littlefinger: "They did. And perhaps that treason should be punished . . . one day. After Stannis and Robb Stark are defeated."
Petyr seems to find something familiar about Lord Tywin's cupbearer, but again his greed occupies all his energy and thoughts. Phew! Arya barely escapes the scene with her secret intact. Tywin promises to have an answer for Lord Baelish one way or another by nightfall. The decision to allow the Tyrells back into the graces of the Iron Throne could be a major changing point in this game of thrones.
Back again in the Far North, Jon Snow is preparing to attack a wildling campsite under cover of bright daylight at the Halfhand's signal. They manage to get the jump on their quarry, but Jon Snow spares the life of one on the account that she's a girl and, incidentally, not too hard on the eyes. She gives him her name: Ygritte. Now that's a lot of consonants! Imagine a Game of Thrones-themed round of Wheel of Fortune using character names for the puzzles. Contestants would have strokes! Qhorin questions her about what's beyond the Skirling Pass. Ygritte smarmily replies: "The Free Folk . . . hundreds and thousands!"
If that's a true counting, and all those wildlings are gathering under Mance Rayder's banner, then the Night's Watch is totally farked! Qhorin is all for killing the girl so that she doesn't report their whereabouts to her wildling friends, but Jon stops him and says that he'll handle the grim task himself. Of course, we know he won't. And sure enough, as soon as the Halfhand and the others leave, Jon allows the wily minx to slip his grasp and run off. D'oh! You know nothing, Jon Snow!
Of course, he is still a son of Eddard Stark, so naturally she doesn't stay uncaptured for long. I mean, how can she possibly resist that flowing dark mane and emo mien alike? Perhaps Ygritte wasn't running away at all . . . simply waiting to be caught again.
At King's Landing, Tyrion makes good on his promise to ship Princess Myrcella off to Dorne. As the royal party watches her little canoe row off toward a waiting ship in the harbor, Cersei promises her dwarf brother that someone he loves dearly will pay for what he's done.
On the way back from the quay, someone hidden among the thronging crowds has the decency to lob a cow pie directly at Joffrey's face, sending the petulant boy king into a screaming rage. Which is probably just what the instigator wanted, for even before the idiot can finish yelling for someone's head, the mob goes bananas and starts attacking the party. Tyrion, the Queen, and Joffrey make it back to the safety of the Red Keep intact (dag nabbit!), but sadly the corpulent High Septon of the Faith is literally torn to pieces by the howling rabble. Someone set these guys loose on the White Walkers, seriously!
Inside the Keep, we're treated to another awesome Imp Slap! by way of Tyrion to the mewling King. Some things never get old. But when Tyrion learns that Sansa is missing, we cut away to a pretty horrific attempted gang rape that is luckily interrupted by the Lady Stark's very own knight in not-so-shining armor--the king's bodyguard, Sandor Clegane. The Hound rips into the would-be rapists like a hot knife through pig shit, spilling guts and blood everywhere. It's totally awesome in the most awesome of ways possible! Then, as if he didn't just butcher three men with a very tiny knife in front of her eyes, Sandor offers Sansa his hand and calls her "little bird" before carrying her over his shoulders to safety. Book readers and SanSan shippers, swoon now!
Tyrion thanks the Hound for his gallant rescue, but with barely a glance in the dwarf's direction, Sandor mumbles: "I didn't do it for you," and stomps off to attend to his king. I'm so dressing up as the Hound next Halloween! Scratch that--next Valentine's Day, if this keeps up.
Across the Narrow Sea in Qarth, Daenerys "Stormborn" lives up to the nickname as she tears about the parlor of the Spice King impatiently waiting for an audience. Xaro Xhoan Daxos is with her, reminding her that there was a better way of getting what she wants.
Xaro: "The Spice King is the second wealthiest man in Qarth. He makes everyone wait. Of course, you could have avoided this embarrassment if you'd marry the wealthiest man in Qarth."
Dany: "I already have a husband!"
Xaro: "Khal Drogo is gone, khaleesi. You are far too young to be a widow forever, and . . . far too beautiful!"
Dany: "And you are far too smart to think that I would succumb to flattery."
Xaro: "I have traveled very far in my life, and met many women. None that are immune to flattery."
You tell her, Sbarro Zone Ducksauce! Or whatever your name is.
Finally the Spice King arrives with his entourage. He flatters the khaleesi with a lot of flowery words of little substance, and Dany reaches her limits. She demands that the Spice King lend her his ships to cross over to Westeros, with an an offer to repay him thricely for his generosity. The Spice King doesn't think too highly of Dany's promises, deeming her too high a risk with no collateral for his investment. Things get positively frosty between both parties, and Dany all but threatens the fat man when she reminds him that he will have to deal with her dragons at some point for his effrontery.
Next we travel back to Harrenhal where Arya happens across a communique detailing Robb Stark's movements. Lord Tywin interrupts her and asks to know where she learned to read. Quick-witted as always, the little lady Stark thinks up a suitable story which Tywin accepts. He then reveals a little about his own family to her, including that his son Jaime was dyslexic as a boy. Tsk, tsk. Next he'll be bringing out the embarrassing baby photos.
Arya waits until the Lord of Casterly Rock turns his back to her before snatching the piece of paper off the desk and running off to read details of her brother's whereabouts. Could she be planning an escape? How risky! Of course, she runs smack dab into Ser Amory Lorch, who snatches the piece of paper out of her hands and threatens to tell Tywin about it. None of Arya's quick-witted responses seem to work this time, so she runs off and desperately seeks out the only other man she can turn to in her hour of need. No, not Gendry. Why, the "Ghost of Harrenhal" himself--Jaqen H'ghar!
Arya: "Amory Lorch!!!"
Jaqen: "A girl has named a second name. A man will do what must be done."
Jaqen: "A girl cannot tell a man when exactly he must do a thing. A man cannot make a thing happen before its time."
(Er, we're still talking about killing people here, right?)
Arya hastily explains that the doofus of a knight is on his way that very moment to expose her secret to Tywin Lannister. Jaqen gets this looks on his face that can only mean shit in any language, and heads off to be awesome again. And lo and behold, just as Ser Amory bursts into Lord Tywin's chambers to deliver the damning news . . . he falls over flat on his face, dead from a poisonous dart to the jugular.
Damn, dude! Scratch that, I'm definitely going as Jaqen H'ghar for Halloween.
Somewhere north of Harrenhal, Robb is making the rounds inspecting his camp when he comes across that lady field medic from two episodes back. The one who called herself Talisa from Volantis, a likely story if ever there was one. The two bandy about words for a bit, but their bedroom eyes are averted when Mama Stark arrives at camp with Brienne of Tarth by her side. Catelyn is clearly bemused by Robb's new lady friend, but her eyes narrow shrewdly when the young woman gives her family name as Maegyr--a House no one seems to be familiar with. Clearly there is more to this medic than meets the eye, and Catelyn reminds her son that a Stark must stick with duty. He is, after all, betrothed to Walder Frey's daughter in exchange for that House's support. Oh, the heavy head of young bachelorhood.
The reunion between mother and son is cut short, however, when Lord Roose Bolton arrives with Maester Luwin's message in hand: "My grace, my lady . . . news from Winterfell."
Back north along the Skirling Pass, Jon Snow cannot find his comrades in arms. Worse yet, he's stuck with a mouthy red-headed she-devil of a wildling and no idea what to do with her. Knowing that it's suicide to be caught wandering out on the frozen wastes after sundown, he does what any man would do in the same situation: tie up the feisty lass and throw her to the hard ground. They'll sleep in their furs tonight, with a fire being out of the question for fear of attracting the wrong attention. Ygritte is game, so long as her stalwart Crow snuggles up close to keep them both warm. Jon looks like a direwolf just shat in his boots at the thought, but ever the pragmatist he cannot deny the logic of her words. Ygritte, clearly enjoying herself, wriggles close to his body as they spoon together for the night.
Jon: "Stop moving."
Ygritte: "I'm just trying to get comfortable."
Jon: "STOP IT! You're still moving!"
Ygritte: "Was I? Oh, I didn't notice that time."
Oh my gods, she's too CUTE! Jon Snow is probably in a lot of trouble--this one's going to be a handful!
Back at Robb's camp, the King in the North is troubled by the disturbing news out of Winterfell. Ser Rodrik Cassel is dead, and there is no word on the well-being or whereabouts of Bran and Rickon. Cat reminds him that she did warn against trusting Greyjoys. No good ever came out of that traitorous House. Robb is stunned to think that someone he called brother could betray him so. He wants to march north immediately and put Theon down like the cur that he is, but better heads prevail and convince him to stay his hand. Roose Bolton offers to send word to his bastard son holed up at the Dreadfort, not far from Winterfell. He promises that House Bolton forces will come to the aid of the Stark ancestral home and put the Iron Islanders to death. But Robb wants Theon brough back to him alive, so that he may look in his eyes before delivering the death blow with his own sword. It's a Stark thing.
Speaking of Winterfell, Osha the wildling is trying out her feminine wiles on Theon--who, like a petulant child, is still insisting on being called "Prince" Theon. Prick Theon is more like it. And, as always, he succumbs easily to the promise of getting his wet. Later that night, Osha slips away and murders an ironborn guard by the postern door. She then motions to the darkness of the interior, and out runs Hodor holding Bran, along with Rickon and their two direwolves, Summer and Shaggy Dog. My those animals are HUGE! Osha wisks them away to the safety of the woods outside Winterfell. Hopefully no one will think to follow them there.
At the Red Keep Sansa's new handmaid, Shae the Funny Whore, administers to the wounds she received earlier that day. The young lady Stark cannot understand why the common people would attack her, they don't even know her. But Shae tells her that she represents everything they will never have. "Your horse eats better than [their] children!" She counsels her young charge to harden her heart and trust NOBODY. She'll be better off in life that way. Clearly someone's lived the hard-knock life little orphan Annie always sang about.
In Qarth, Daenerys is furious over being denied ships by the Spice King. Even the Silk and Copper Kings have refused to do business with her as well. What is a displaced Targaryen princess to dooooo? Xaro Xhoan Daxos waxes poetically about needing to do deceitful and even shameful things in order to get ahead in life. But in the end, no one will care how you arrived at your power--just that you have said power!
Inside Xaro's compound, the two are alarmed to find all of the merchant's guards slain. Panicked, Daenerys immediately runs to her quarters--only to find her handmaid, Irri, dead and her precious dragons missing!
Cut to a scene of a shrouded man walking gingerly up some stone steps. Draped across his shoulders. straining under the shifting weight of its rambunctious and covered cargo, a cage rattles back and forth to the sound of screeching dragons. The man takes his time ascending, slowly approaching a mysterious tower winding impressively upward into the sky.
Could this be the infamous "House of the Undying" which Pyat Pree mentioned in the previous episode? What can those blasted warlocks be up to now?
Rating: 4.8 out of 5 crowns.
A lot of changes from the second book, A Clash of Kings, in this week's episode. Now, were I a book purist I would be having an apoplectic fit right about now. But I'm not. Thank the Seven I am not! Because, you know what? This ended up being one of the best episodes of Thrones so far!
Well, because for the first time in what seems like EVER with this show, I was actually at the edge of my seat for most of the episode. For once, I truly had no idea what to expect next. It all started with that scene in Winterfell's courtyard. That terrible, dark, tragic scene. None of this happens in the book. Sure, Theon and his ironborn marauders do indeed sack Winterfell. And, true, Theon always was a prick in those scenes. But nothing that happened in that beheading scene ever happened in the book. Whoa! My stomach was in knots the whole time leading up to the grisly moment, because I had a sick feeling something like it was coming but I didn't want to believe it.
Similarly, when Littlefinger shows up at Harrenhal, and when Ser Amory Lorch threatens to go to Tywin, I was so nervous with worry at what would happen to poor little Arya. Because, as you now know from previous recaps, the entire story thread of Tywin and Arya interacting at Harrenhal never, ever happens in the books. Everything that takes place there--with the exception of Jaqen H'ghar--is completely and utterly new to us book readers. And, no, while this big of a change doesn't actually derail the plot of the books, it does create some rather tense moments for those of us book readers who think we're incapable of being surprised anymore. And that is the key! That is why I think the showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are so brilliant at what they do. They are able to keep the story intact enough to welcome newcomers to the whole shebang, but with just enough "adjustments" to keep us long-time book readers on our toes. This is an extremely tough balancing act to pull of as you can imagine, and it's simply amazing that they are able to do it so well. I tell you, this really is HBO programming at its finest!
Also, I would be remiss not to point out the biggest change of all from the second book. Dany's dragons never get taken from her. Yes, shocking, I know. Because that would seem like a fairly big departure, no? But I have confidence. Dany does show up at the House of the Undying at some point in the book, and all sorts of interesting and creepy things transpire while she's there. But dragon napping is never one of them. So, I can only imagine that this was thrown in to spice up (no pun intended) the drama at Qarth, since even I have to admit Dany's scenes have been dragging a lot this season. Ending the episode on that note, then, was a master stroke. Because I dare anyone to say they were not pumped and ready to see what happens next when they saw the dragons being carried away up those steps. You know you're right there with Dany when she screams: "WHERE ARE MY DRAGONS!!!" Yes, we're all fighting mad now to find out what happened to your babies, khaleesi. And this guarantees that butts will be in seats prompt and alert for next week's episode. That's how you do it, folks. That right there!
There were other changes from the book--Sansa never gets almost-raped (that was another young court lady who DID get brutalized, unfortunately), and Jon never chases after Ygritte when she gets loose--but the changes I mentioned in greater detail above were the major ones to note. At this point, I actually don't mind if they take more departures with the television adaptation. Not if they're going to be as dynamic as this. Lets face it, for those who have read the books, we know all too well how drawn-out and bloated they can get. Not to mention the cast of characters which, by this point five books into the cycle, is large enough to populate a city the size of Rochester. And when you keep in mind that the books' author is in constant contact with the showrunners--and is an executive producer to boot!--it's not difficult to believe that everything will work out fine in the end. These guys get it, they always have. And they do not intend on taking a big ole dump on the source material. If anything, they are looking at ways to enhance the books. And that's something I can get behind, for sure.
So, yes, the reason this episode got such a high rating from me is that it kept me on my toes, and at the same time contained scenes with such gravitas and raw emotion that my heart was actually beating in my throat through most of them. Take that courtyard scene again. Was that not some awesome acting on the part of Alfie Allen (Theon)? Not to mention the heart-wrenching performance delivered by Isaac Hempstead-Wright (Bran) during the beheading scene? And then you have the brilliant and frightening performance by Sophie Turner (Sansa) during a scene that must have been utterly nerve-wracking to film. I mean, wow! That's an understatement if ever there was one.
Yes, this episode is the darkest we've seen Thrones so far, and right in line with what I was saying at the tail end of my thoughts on last episode's recap. Things are going to continually drag downhill for most of our beloved characters. Some will go off to uncharted areas of depression and gloom--especially if you have fond attachment to any one character in particular. That was the thing about the books, and its still true on this show . . . anyone can and WILL die in this world. Arya said it herself, you know? So I guess the big lesson to learn from this episode is that EVERYONE--from the Starks to the Lannisters to the Targaryens--is in constant peril of losing it all. At any given moment, it can all be taken from them. Power, status . . . life. Truly, no one is safe in this fantasy world. And that makes for the most compelling television of all. Kudos to all involved with making this happen. If I could, I would buy you all a round!
Now, lastly and on a much lighter note before I sign off . . . I think I have a crush on Ygritte (Rose Leslie)! Yes, I must shamefully admit it here. I know she's a little rough around the edges (although definitely prettier than she's described in the books), but I just absolutely adore the way she speaks and gleefully antagonizes Jon Snow just because she knows that she can. These two have awesome chemistry already, and I'm positively giddy to see her antics only escalate in the scenes to come.
On a show with already stellar book-to-screen casting to begin with, Rose Leslie is a revelation as yet another fan favorite character is brought to such colorful life before our eyes. Damn, this show is unbelievable!
If you agree, then continue watching and return to this space next week when I bring you my review of Episode 17: "A Man Without Honor."
Best line of the episode: "Theon, did you hate us the whole time?"