I have found it interesting, if not educational, to rewatch each week’s Game of Thrones episode on HBOGo with the interactive features. The commentary of the crew is particularly insightful, from how the gates and costumes of Qarth were created to how they made Harrenhal look cursed. @GameofThrones
Only 4 episodes into season two and we already have more overt magic than we’ve yet seen, dragons aside. When I explain to people who are skeptical about Game of Thrones that it is less a fantasy than a story of a great power struggle and all who are effected by it, both high and low, I cannot forget that there is magic. There is fantasy. But that is nothing for the show, or its fans, to be ashamed of. Genre fiction can be some of the most creative and inventive out there. And when the birth of this smoke demon means more than just “uh-oh bad news,” when it shows the chinks in someone’s honor and the beginning of someone else’s disillusionment, the fantasy elements work to serve the story, never the other way around. Something to remember as the debate over the value of fantasy will no doubt rage on…
The episode opens with Lannister men debating the various warriors – the Mountain vs Jaime vs Loras Tyrell, with the appropriate gay joke about Loras and Renly (if only they knew about their chest shaving exploits). And yes, the infamous fart scene, which of course leads to Robb’s direwolf, Grey Wind, attacking as only a direwolf can. Robb and his men look on, ready to attack themselves.
After the battle Robb and his bannerman Roose Bolton (whose name will make those of us who have read the books perk up indeed) are surveying the battlefield. As much as Roose Bolton wants Robb to either kill or torture the Lannisters who are left, Robb knows that his own sisters are prisoners with the Lannisters and wouldn’t do anything to cause them harm. Bolton reminds Robb, “The high road’s very pretty, but you’ll have a hard time marching your army down it.”
What we see this episode, time and time again, is how the little people suffer when the nobles play at war. All the soliders who fight for either Stark or Lannister, all die in pain on the battlefield. Robb is definitely more of a humanistic ruler than Joffrey – or Stannis for that matter – but it takes some reminding for him to remember that ruling is not just winning the war. He can’t just beat the Lannisters and head back to the North and continue his life as before. Talisa the battlefield nurse is the one who reminds him and of course, like so many men, he is attracted to the one that calls him on his bs.
Robb is clearly the one who seems to be the best warrior of the four kings battling it out for the throne, even if he doesn’t want it. But does being the best warrior make him the best man to rule? It seems that was Robert’s problem – even though I think it’s not a stretch to say that Robb is probably a better person all around than Robert ever was. The right person to win is not always the right person to rule. So who do you root for…?
Someone who desperately needs to be called on his bs is Joffrey who is introduced this week with a crossbow pointed at Sansa, who should pay for her brother’s success on the battlefield. Of course because is he a cruel boy, not a stupid one, he has Ser Meryn beat her publicly – but to leave her face because Joff “likes her pretty.” Thankfully Tyrion shows up before things get too far and before Meryn fully strips Sansa. Tyrion delivers one of his many wonderful quips in this scene when he shows Meryn the difference between educating someone and a threat:
Tyrion, continuing to show his kindness to those sorely in need, helps Sansa up and even offers her the option of canceling out her engagement to Joffrey. Sansa is so grounded in self-preservation that even now she replies something about how she loves her Lord Joffrey.
While Tyrion thinks that Joffrey might just need to get his rocks off, Bronn wins this week’s quip-off by reminding Tyrion,
It is with the best of intentions that Tyrion buys Joffrey the 2 prostitutes, but he seems to underestimate the depths of sickness in his nephew. In order to teach his uncle a lesson, Joffrey forces the ubiquitous prostitute Ros to beat the living crap out of the other nameless whore. Of course this goes beyond just wanting to show his uncle who’s boss; Joffrey is a sick and twisted person who clearly gets off on the pain and suffering of others. I guess HBO just wanted to remind us of this fact in no uncertain terms.
Cruelty seems to be par for the course in this week’s episode as we move towards Harrenhal. Harrenhal is a cursed castle that has the look of melted candles, thanks to the dragon attacks when the Targaryens originally took over Westeros, all those years ago.
Arya, Gendry, Hot Pie and the rest of the Night’s Watch recruits who were captured once Yoren (RIP) was killed, are dropped off in this hellhole. Every day the Mountain, brother to the Hound, picks one of the prisoners to be tortured by the Tickler and Polliver. Every day a prisoner dies, with their heads thrust upon a pike. It is at Harrenhal that Arya starts her litany of those she will kill, taking her cue from Yoren’s story: Joffrey, Cersei, Ser Ilyn, The Hound. And before long, she’s added in those she’s “met” at Harrenhal.
The next day Gendry finds himself chosen for the rat bucket and before it goes too far, Lord Tywin Lannister rides up and chastises those in charge for killing able bodied men. He also sees immediately that Arya is a girl and has her cleaned up so she can become his cup bearer. This cannot end well.
Before we leave Harrenhal, did anyone notice that in the credit, Harrenhal is one of the locations that doesn’t have much in the way of the clockwork animation. It is as broken and worn down once it is “built up” as it is when the sun first passes over it.
Back in the camp with Renly, Littlefinger has come to make peace. Of course Renly doesn’t particularly care for Littlefinger, and the feeling is more than mutual. And even as Littlefinger offers Renly the option of finding the gates to Kings Landing open upon his arrival, Renly knows better than to trust him. Oh, if only Ned had been as smart.
After hinting to Margaery Tyrell that he knows a bit more about her marriage than she would like known, Littlefinger wastes no time making his move on Catelyn, even after betraying her husband. Her disgust is palpable. I have to hand this episodes most affecting moments to Michelle Fairley. When Littlefinger gives her back Ned’s body (or just head?), she plays the hell out of that moment. In the books it was always clear that Cat loved Ned, even if she was originally to marry his older brother. Michelle Fairley never lets us doubt that in the show.
Renly and Stannis parlay on a beautiful and windy coast. Stannis is just as unwielding and ill-humored as ever. Renly as jocular and mocking. When Melisandre says that Renly should bow to his brother who has been born in salt and smoke, Renly wins second place in this week’s quip-off by responding,
Renly assumes Stannis has found religion in as much as he has found himself a religious mistress. As Cat tries to talk them into dealing with each other civilly, as brothers, Renly and Stannis part ways. Renly muses, “Can you believe that I loved him once?”
The other new location in this week’s credits was Qarth, the greatest city that ever was or ever will be, found over the Shivering Sea.
It is here that we finally see movement with Dany’s story. She and her Dothraki “horde” have been invited to this great city, something that she sees as her only salvation. However, when they arrive, the city’s rulers, the Thirteen will grant admission only if they get to see the dragons. Despite losing her husband, her child, most of her people, when Daenerys threatened to destroy Qarth once her dragons were grown, I fully believed her. Emilia Clarke has always done a good job making Dany’s journey from sheltered girl to the Mother of Dragons a believable one, but this week she showed just how dangerous Dany can be when threatened.
Merchant Xaro Xhoan Daxos offers to vouch for Dany and her people, and they are let in through the walls of Qarth.
Of course the best part of this episode comes at the end. As much as Davos wants to believe in Stannis, believe that he is a good person, a just ruler, I have a feeling he is bound for disappointment. Not only is Stannis a grammar Nazi (the whole fewer vs less mistake doesn’t bother me as much as the “between you and I” mistake does), but he has no problem using black magic to get what he wants. But Davos is so devoted to Stannis that he will do his bidding, no questions asked. I suppose when someone takes your fingers but spares your life, you always love them just a little bit?
Davos uses his smuggler past to row Melisandre to some secret entrance where she first taunts him, saying that Davos wants to see what is under robes. That is nothing compared to what happens once she actually does take off her robe. I don’t know if this magic pregnancy is a direct result of her sexual encounter with Stannis on his map/table, but she is clearly pregnant with something, not someone. She proceeds to give birth to the Lost smoke monster (and yes, I know everyone on the interweb has made this joke), much to Davos’s horror. It is pretty horrific, the little claws grasping Melisandre’s legs as it emerges from between her legs, the mewing sounds it makes as it is born into the world.
This is not a creature bred and born to do good. And my suspicions are we will found out very early in episode 5 just how much not-good it’s bound for.