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I have read all the books but nothing that we haven't seen in the television series will be discussed (same goes for the comments folks). And in that vein, I won't be speculating as to what may happen to any of the conflicts, characters and/or narrative threads (like other series I've recapped), instead only what has been shot, set-up and/or suggested in each show as well as how skillfully (or not) it has been brought to the small screen. And to that effect...
"No, my Lord. Anyone can be killed."
Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Sorry, bad The Shadow joke but we all remember the end of "Garden Of Bones", right? I mean, how could one forget the image of Melisandre birthing the shadow? In many ways, it was quite smart to end last week with that image, not only because it was shocking and served as a nice cliffhanger, but also to give the audience a little time to digest and ready for more fantastical elements. It was probably also a good idea not to instantly compound the magical craziness with the loss of a major character. However, you could argue that Renly's death would have been better served at the end of an episode than at the beginning because, in this case, it made the rest of "The Ghost Of Harrenhal" feel a little anti-climactic.
And the episode may be called "The Ghost Of Harrenhal" but that location is merely one of the many, many places that HBO's fantasy series took us during the course of the show. Too bad being whisked away to almost every single place currently in play in the second season of Game of Thrones afforded little time to actually, well, really develop all (or any) of the threads. And, although I've been preaching the importance of every second for telling such a sprawling tale, "TGhoH" felt rushed to the point where the emotional beats didn't feel fully earned. A satisfactory episode if not entirely satisfying after the jaw dropper that preceded it, "The Ghost of Harrenhal" perhaps moved too fast and too much for its own good.
"You can't avenge him from the grave."
"TGoH" opens with Cat and King Renly discussing the terms of a possible truce between the Starks and Baratheons, them being natural allies and all, when suddenly the 'Shadow' slithers in and slays the King. Of course, when the soldiers arrive all they see are Cat and the now dead Renly in Brienne's arms. I said it before, but I don't think that Gwendoline Christie can keep up with the rest of the group in term of her acting but she sure is a physical specimen. Brienne makes quick work of the accusing guards and Cat convinces her to flee by using the prevailing theme of this thread - you can't get revenge if you're dead. The same sentiment is reinforced between the pair of Ladies (sorry, Brienne hates that), later when she swears her fealty to Lady Stark as long as it doesn't stop her from avenging Renly and gutting Stannis. Also looking to gut Stannis is Ser Loras, but Margaery and Littlefinger are able to convince him to flee with basically the same speech (you dead, no revenge). I love Natalie Dormer's Margaery. She's fascinating, and dangerous when paired with Littlefinger.
Not far from Renly's camp, or should I say the scene of the crime, King Stannis and Ser Davos get into a bit of a heated exchange, well, as heated as Davos' devotion will allow. The Onion Knight is clearly not all that keen on using Melisandre's, uh, talents to fight the upcoming war against the Lannisters. Stannis counters by pointing out how they wouldn't have Renly's forces at their back if it weren't for the Red Woman and yet, Davos continues, using the words of Stannis' former (failed) maester as his reasoning. He warns service means telling hard truths and that even if Stannis were to win, it would become Melisandre's victory. Shockingly, the King listens to Davos' advice and agrees to leave her behind as they sail to Kings Landing... but they sail with Davos leading the attack into Blackwater Bay because hard truths cut both ways. So, from the Storm Lands, Cat and Brienne flee north to Winterfell and Stannis sets his sights, and ships, on the capitol.
"The allies we need are in Westeros, not Qarth."
Across the Narrow Sea, Danaerys is just hearing of Robert's death now, so don't expect word of Renly to cross the water anytime soon. But before she learns all about the fighting in Westeros or is proposed to by Xaro, she first has an inconsequential frolic in her new fancy quarters. Her dragons have learned to feast, and fans complaining of lack of the flying fire breathers are sated, while we have to endure some odd quarrel between handmaidens.
Later, at an extravagant party, Xaro shows off his impenetrable safe before asking for her hand in marriage and promising her Westeros. Of course, Jorah is not happy with Dany getting outside male council, especially from a potential husband, and he's able to convince the Khalessi that the best route is to go it alone. It seems their short time in Qarth may be coming to an end, so what lies ahead for Dany and her advisor? And what was up with the masked lady in the courtyard grabbing Jorah's ear? She seems to have Dany's well-being at heart but how can you trust someone in a mask? Oh right, Batman.
"They're all Iron Islanders, they do as they're told or they do as they like."
And if we're talking about trust, there is no better place to turn than Theon Turncloak and the Iron Islands. No masks there, just betrayal! As the newly appointed Captain of the Seabitch, Theon has a little trouble reigning in his crew, treating him like a little kid and fueling his fatal flaw of always feeling inadequate. Thanks, Balon. After Yara shows up for no reason except to shame him goodbye, Dagmer Cleftjaw also feeds into his feelings of inadequacy but at least his first mate is steering him towards shameful glory (and is played by Ralph 'Finchy' Ineson). The new plan will gain the respect of all those Theon aims to please. Well, except the Starks, who are sure to continue this week's theme of vengeance once they hear about this attack on Tohhren's Square.
"I dreamt that the sea came to Winterfell. I saw waves crashing against the gates. And the water came flowing over the walls. Flooded the castle. Drowned men were floating here, in the yard." Winterfell
It seems like forever since we've visited Winterfell. And our last visit, two episode's ago, was not much more than a wolf's dream but this time we get to see Bran in action. Rickon continues to misbehave (this time in the form of cracking nuts? oh kids...) while Bran plays the role of the Lord perfectly. He is smart, kind and just, offering aid to the commoners seeking help. When he hears the misinformation that some rogue band of Lannisters has invaded Tohhren's Square, he immediately sends his own castellan and 200 men to protect his banner men. Too bad this Young Wolf doesn't put more stock in his dreams because they are certainly more telling than Maester Luwin knows or Osha will admit because we know the Kraken, or sea, is coming. And winter. Always with the winter.
"I think they were afraid. I think they came here to get away from something. And I don't think it worked." Beyond the Wall
North of the Wall, Jon Snow and the Lord Commander discuss the only new character we meet this week, legendary ranger Qhorin Halfhand. The location they arrive at is also another important spot for readers and Sam quickly shares some of the importance of the Fist of the First Men. Sam's mood has certainly improved since meeting Gilly but I'm with comic relief Dolorous Edd, love is annoying. Jon quickly cuts through the comedy, adding an ominous note to the end of the first scene.
Soon, the Halfhand himself appears and it seems Jon's legend is also becoming well known. The Halfhand's says that since the wildlings are becoming more like the Night's Watch, in turn, the Black should go all wildling. The plan starts with Jon, the Halfhand and a few others being sent to take out wilding scouts. Jon is becoming increasingly more badass (and like his father) as the season progresses, and it's exciting to see him get his first mission as a Ranger. But what's out there in all that white?
"The contents of this room could lay Kings Landing low, you won't be making wildfire for my sister any longer. You'll be making it for me."
Tyrion is also on a mission and is our steady tour guide throughout this week's three visits to Kings Landing. First, and thankfully, we're met with the return of Cersei as she and her brother try to discuss Joffrey's preparations for war. And by try to discuss, I mean Cersei relishes every second of being able to deny Tyrion this information. Of course, Tyrion is too clever for her (everyone) and obtains all he news from Lancel, even if it is boring. Praising Peter Dinklage (a great band name) at this point seems just as boring but the man deserves all of it. He is truly a pleasure to watch and even more so when paired with Bronn. They really should have that sitcom.
The two take in a show at the local soapbox where Tyrion learns that the people not only hate the King, and he has no quarrel with that, but that they also think he's behind it all. Tyrion does take issue here since he's trying to help them and also doesn't appreciate the moniker 'Demon Monkey.' Lastly, the two drop in on the Pyromancer to check about all this wildfire that King Joffrey intends to use against the inevitable attack from his 'uncle' Stannis. While Bronn warns against its use and seems logical, "men win wars, not magic tricks," he's a little undercut by the fact that we know this statement to be false thanks to Melisandre's baby. What is really interesting though is the way magic and fantasy are bleeding there way into the series. No longer are wars won by numbers. Any war can win. Anyone can die. So what lies ahead for the Lions and Flaming Stags?
"You stole three deaths from the Red God, we have to give them back. Speak three names and the man will do the rest."
Once again of the finest acting of the week comes from Harrenhal and Arya's Maisie Williams. This time the young actor is paired with Charles Dance and not only does she hold her own, but she steals the scene out from under Tywin Lannister. I think the sequence with our 'Ghost' was probably the most engaging of the episode and the only real moment when I perked up out of my seat. Tywin Lannister inquiring into the life of his cupbearer, this 'Girl', who happens to be the younger sister of his latest, albeit well respected enemy. She exits the 'war room' to fetch Lord Tywin some water and runs into the mysterious Jaqen H'Ghar, who has now been given a position amongst the Lannister men.
However, uh, the Man does not forget the kindness that Arya, uh, the Girl, showed him and neither does the Red God. Is this the same Red God that the Priestess Melisandre worships? I'm asking rhetorically, don't spoil! Either way, his character is totally rad, one of the most compelling in Game of Thrones so far and only another reason why Arya's thread is the most rewarding. And "TGoH" ends back at Harrenhal for a brief tag. Arya is busy offering a shirtless Gendry some sword fighting, sorry, needlework advice before a scream reveals a dead 'Tickler,' just as Arya requested of Jaqen. I think the eye touch means, 'one down, two to go' and when Arya smiles, you can see she's getting more cold blooded. Not that everyone in her prayer doesn't deserve it. One down, two to go.
"Someone who can and sure rule, centuries come and go without a person like that coming into the world."
This week's episode of GoT was as briskly paced a show as you're like to find and more than ever the HBO's fantasy seemed stretched too thin. There are just too many characters and locations to visit in less than an hour of television and, not for lack of trying but even "The Ghost Of Harrenhal" still didn't get to them all. No Robb or Jaime in the Westerlands and, if you've been reading along (so probably not), their scene together in the premiere is probably still my favorite of the second season. We haven't seen Jaime in ages! And we barely got any Cersei and no Joffrey. The Romans were on to something with the Coliseum, we want to see lions. More Lannisters!
Or just more Game of Thrones? The series would definitely benefit from expanding the episode length to 90 minutes. It works for BBC's Sherlock (a series with only two main characters) and if there's one thing thing that fans of the series certainly wouldn't mind, it would more "Ice and Fire." As it stands the quick pitstops are not always entirely satisfying and certainly not the best way to tell this epic tale. How can the writers build anything of worth if there isn't time spent in the construction? And how can you stay invested in characters and conflicts when you haven't seen them in weeks?
It's a difficult task for D.B. Weiss and David Benioff and one that they have handled quite well most of the time. And even most of this episode but "The Ghost Of Harrenhal" tries so hard to advance almost all of the story lines in one sitting that this week's Game of Thrones felt a bit like just moving pieces into place. Kind of a dry week for Westeros (oh, and Qarth). And no, not just because it didn't have any nudity... there was still blood. This season is the "Clash of Kings" and last night five crowns became four. 5 episodes remain and a war is still happening while another brews. Well, at least one.
Game of Thrones returns with Episode 6, "The Old Gods and the New," next Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on HBO. It stars Kit Harrington, Emelia Clarke, Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. The show was created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, based on the "Song of Ice and Fire" saga by George R.R. Martin.