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, 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...
"Don't trust anybody. Life is safer that way."
Last week's episode of Game of Thrones, "The Ghost Of Harrenhal," certainly had its moments but overall it was too quickly paced and stuck following "Garden of Bones," probably the most compelling episode of the second season. Creators D.B. Weiss and David Benioff have mostly done a great job juggling all the locations and characters, but"TGoH" was simply stretched a little too thin.
It's not an easy task to adapt a tome as large as George R.R. Martin's "A Clash of Kings" (let alone the entire "Song of Ice and Fire") with the never-ending list of characters and settings, so credit should be given to this week's writer Vanessa Taylor for somehow finding time to breathe in each location (as well as make repeat visits) in order to make "The Old Gods and the New" have greater emotional and thematic weight. Basically, she wrote a fantastic episode and one that definitely competes with "Bones" (which she also wrote, by the way) for the best of the season, if not the series. And once again, Game of Thrones opens with bang (clink) and the execution of a much loved, if little seen, supporting character.
"It's your dream, my Lord. The ocean has come to swallow this place. I ain't letting it drown me."
The episode opened with such a strong sequence that I feared, like last week, that the rest might not be able to live up to the devastating events in Winterfell. "The Old Gods and the New" starts in medias res with Maester Luwin frantically trying to send a raven while unseen attackers clamour at the door. Of course, we are aware that Theon and his Iron Born have plotted to attack, so two plus two and we know who's causing the racket. Theon bravely surprises Bran in bed and demands that Winterfell's young Lord surrender the castle or his people will suffer grave consequences. Only a boy, Bran takes the deal but he cannot keep the commoners loyal to House Stark at bay when announcing the news. Game of Thrones is always concerned with what it takes to make a great ruler but this episode differs by often examining the question by looking at those being ruled.
Instead of setting the story in the Ivory towers where the game is played, "The Old Gods and the New" moves onto the street to see the box score, starting in the North. The Starks may not be great at the 'Game' but the same qualities that make them poor players also make them loved by their people. And when some punk with daddy issues (another common theme this and every week) shows up, the people don't sit idly by. Unfortunately, that results in the loss of Rodrik, and even though Theon gathers the stones to swing it himself, he cannot come close to cutting the head off clean. Just like his rule, he's no Stark. Osha, however, has plans of her own and manages to move and shake her way into Prince Greyjoy's bed and then right out of Winterfell with the Stark boys, direwolves and Hodor in tow. No Reeds though (for book readers). Hodor!
"Wild creatures have their own rules. Their own reasons. You'll never know them."
And since we're talking about wildlings moving and shaking, we might as well head north of the Wall where Jon Snow is on his first ranging mission. After a quick lesson about the perils of getting too comfortable with the hostiles or the hostile environment (and a nice nod to a famous line of dialogue that I'm sure is still to come), the Crows spring onto the unsuspecting wildling scouts and make quick work of all but one. Ygritte. She pleads with them not for her life but for them to burn the corpses of her comrades. This seems to hit home with the wight-killing Jon and he's conflicted over getting rid of this 'enemy.' But there are no reasons to keep the red-haired woman alive, wildlings don't talk and they can't let her run home to Mance Rayder, so Qhorin orders that she suffer the Rodrik Cassel treatment.
For no good reason, Qhorin and the rest of the rangers leave Jon alone on the Frost Fangs to take care of business and, of course, our sweet hearted and noble bastard can't pull the trigger. Only one beheading this week. Damn! I guess Theon's shoddy work was gruesome enough to count for two. And besides, Qhorin was the one who compared Ghost and Ygritte in the first place (taming wild creatures), you can hardly blame Jon for the moment of compassion. He's able to catch up with her before she gets too far but it's far enough to put him out of reach of the rest of his brothers. Looks like Jon Snow's stuck spending the night with a woman. Oh no! And his issues about being a bastard are all stirred up, as well as something else once the cute girl starts grinding on him for warmth and comfort. I really enjoyed Rose Leslie as Ygritte and the two actors (her and Kit Harrington) are great together which is important since it looks like they'll be in each other's company for at least another week. If they survive the cold.
"You're a sharp little thing aren't you?"
As Game of Thrones continues it has been increasingly diverting and/or cutting from the original text (the Reeds) and nowhere is this more prevalent (or interesting) than Harrenhal. None of the exchanges between Arya and Tywin occur in the novels but it is perhaps the most compelling relationship currently on the show. I can't get enough of watching Maisie Williams and Charles Dance interact on screen so, uh, thanks to Jaqen H'Ghar for allowing for that pairing to continue! While pouring wine at a war meeting, Arya once again impresses Lord Tywin as well as overhears news of her brother's efforts. However, after showing her worth and Amory Lorch's lack, Arya soon finds herself in danger of being outed as a wolf amongst lions when Littlefinger shows up. We already know how he would lead, positively Machiavellian, and his schemes seem to rub Tywin the right way.
I loved the way they managed to ratchet up the tension for Arya at Harrenhal, already an incredibly perilous situation, but I could have done without the over the top glances from Aidan Gillen's Petyr Baelish. Still the sequence plays out quite well and we're not sure, with the last sentence from Littlefinger mentioning the Stark sisters (plural), whether or not he's aware it was Arya. The next time she's called upon to bear Tywin's cup, they have another wonderful scene where their relationship (mutual admiration?) appears to deepen before Arya puts herself on the line to snag the letter about Robb. She gets away with it momentarily but soon runs into the idiot captain she showed up at the earlier meeting. He takes the letter but can't keep his hands on her and luckily, Arya's able to convince Jaqen H'Ghar to put things in motion for kill number two. And somehow even Game of Thrones finds a moment of levity, not to mention the relief that Arya's secrets remain intact. Valar Morghulis.
"Kill them! Kill them all!"
Kings Landing was another sequence that examined leadership through the eyes of the people being ruled and, not surprisingly, Joffrey is an asshole. He's bad even for a Lannister and probably offers a good glimpse at what the Mad King's reign was like. After not giving two shits that his little sister Myrcella is sent away, he turns his squeaky wrath on his gentle brother for crying over her departure. Sansa is suddenly showing more strength as she stands up for young Tommen before they all head for home. The crowd grows unruly as they pass, probably because Joffrey is an inbred, cruel and useless leader who's letting his people starve. Once he's struck by a "cow pie", the King calls for, uh, all their heads which really just sets the people off.
Tyrion does his best to ensure everyone's safety (oddly offering Cersei encouraging words, even after she once again said the meanest possible thing she could think of to her younger brother) but he's no match for the surging crowds. They ripped a dude's arm clean from his body for The Seven's sake! Of course, Sansa ends up getting it the worst (except for the arm guy), being dragged into an alley and just about raped by a bunch of angry commoners. The Hound saves the day but he didn't do it for Tyrion. Does the Dog have a thing for his Little Bird? Sansa is cleaned up but clearly still shaken when we return to find her sitting with Shae a few hours later. Shae proves quite wise, not only telling Sansa why the peasants would have such hate for her but also passing along an important and, possibly telling, piece of information. The way she told Sansa to trust no one sure makes it seem like Shae's the one up to no good.
"Do you think the path from poverty to wealth is always pure and honorable?"
Dany's story has perhaps suffered the most this season. Nothing has seemed of any real consequence so far (save the one blood of her blood returning headless), with her spending the first few episodes wandering the Red Waste before finally settling in Qarth. This week decided to amp up her thread by throwing a major wrench in her plans. While waiting on the second richest man in Qarth (the Wallace Shawn wannabe), Xaro once again proposes to Dany in hopes that she has reconsidered his offer. She has not and seems quite pissed that Wallace Shawn has made her wait only to refuse her and pick apart her grammar. She will find no help or ships from him and I'm not really sure why she would think it possible in the first place. He's kind of a dick. She huffs and puffs to no avail and when they return to Xaro's the dragons are missing and one (only one) handmaiden is lying dead on the floor. What will the mother do without her dragons?
"I want to look him in the eye and ask him why. And then take his head myself."
Robb's victories have led him into the Westerlands and while mingling with the troops he spots the nurse who performed that sexy amputation the last time we saw the King of the North. He's quick to cut through the 'Volantis' lie but still unable to discover who this very pretty 'Lady' really is before she raises our suspicions by asking about his war tactics as well as mentioning a letter (a letter about his manoeuvres? Hm). Before he can ask her to his tent, Mom shows up unexpectedly and reminds our noble young King that he has already made a marriage pact and therefore can't go sniffing around other tails. As she puts it, they have a debt that must be paid. Suddenly, Roose Bolton interrupts with the bad news from Winterfell. Bolton says for them not to worry because his Bastard can take the Castle back for his king and bring him Theon's head. Of course, Robb doesn't want someone else taking his head but he will allow for the Bastard of Bolton to reclaim his House.
"The castle is mine but the people are still yours."
HBO's Game of Thrones continues not to show too much concern for canon as evert week seems to stray a little farther from the text, whether it's leaving out entire characters or creating new relationship and story dynamics. But If "The Old Gods and the New" is the result, the formula certainly seems to be working as the episode was an excellently crafted, superbly written and immensely satisfying. With four episodes remaining, where do we go from here? The Greyjoys have Winterfell while the young Starks flee.
The people grow restless in the capitol and are turning to violence as Joffrey's rule of them grows tenuous. Tyrion struggles to keep things together but the hatred between him and Cersei is intensifying. Robb continues to war with the rest of the Lannisters in the west, his mother and now Brienne in tow. Arya remains haunting Harrenhal with lord Tywin. And Dany's lost her dragons. Not to mention those we didn't catch up with this week. Something tells me we'll be seeing Jaime next week.
Preview next Sunday's episode ("A Man Without Honor") here!
Game of Thrones returns with Episode 7, "A Man Without Honor"," 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.