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...
"No matter what you do, you're forsaking one vow or another."
The first half of this season of Game of Thrones was consistently very good but a little too rushed and too scattered to be considered great. There were moments of greatness, no doubt, but as the pieces were being moved into place, the episodes as a whole were often lacking that little intangible quality to make them truly unforgettable. Okay, "Garden of Bones" was pretty unforgettable but for the most part the first five episodes of the season were weighed down with a substantial amount of setups and introductions (not to mention the ever-sprwaling nature of this adaptation). The balancing act of exposition is a common early season struggle for any serialized series and to the creators credit watching the setups was always satisfying, however, it's obviously more rewarding to see them payoff. And "A Man Without Honor" more than paid its debts. You know. Like a Lannister.
"You'll only have to do one thing..."
Game of Thrones opened in Winterfell this week but since the title comes from a conversation between Cat and Jaime, the Westerlands seem as good a place as any to start. Not to mention that we haven't seen Jaime in ages and he (like all the Lannisters) makes for some entertaining television. But first, Robb receives word from King's Landing about his recently proposed terms and, being a noble man, he doesn't kill the messenger but instead decides to build him his own pen. In the meantime, he's thrown in with his cousin the Kinslayer, uh, Kingslayer and the King of the North invites Florence Nightingale (the pretty 'foreign' nurse) to join him on his trip to the Crag. He'll accept Lord Westerling's surrender and she can speak to the Maester about restocking her supplies. I'm still waiting for their first flirtatious talk without mention of amputation.
In the pen, the young cousin tells a story about how he once squired for Jaime and the impression it left on him. Jaime, being oddly humble and sharing, tells a similar tale of his experience stepping in to squire for Ser Barristan Selmy. Too bad none of Selmy's honor rubbed off on the Lion but he too is a 'painter who only uses red.' Only his work this time is more a Jackson Pollock. He smashes his cousin's face in order to escape, killing a Karstark as well, only to be dragged back to camp and have to be 'saved' by Lady Stark. It was a good thing for him that she's mostly she-wolf now, that is until he tests her patience during their final scene. You think Cat will give him the steel? He shouldn't speak ill of the dead-Ned. Coster-Waldau plays Jaime to perfection and his Brienne insults were hilarious. He's like Saywer from Lost without any redeeming qualities. The Han Solo that didn't come back. And yet he's right, with all the vows and oaths, it's hard to stay true to them all. THEON! Sorry.
"Let them know what it means to choose the wrong side."
While Mrs. Stark scolds the Lion twin in the Westerlands, her own daughter spars with the head of the Lannister Pride at Harrenhal. And Arya and Tywin continue to be a thoroughly enjoyable pair to watch spar. Arya's second 'name' for the man, Jaqen H'Ghar, turned out more fortuitous than she could have hoped since the suspicion surrounding Amory Lorch's murder has resulted in the hanging of at least 20 more Lannister men. That's right, those were red cloaks dangling in front of the immaculately crafted castle. Harrenhal may be my the best CGI'd castle to date. A beautiful ruin. Here we not only get a taste of Lord Tywin's style of rule but the sequence between him and Arya also reveals that he's well aware of at last part of her deception. Will she heed his warning? Is she too clever for her own good? She's certainly to brave for her own good, even getting in a jab at Tywin before he puts her in her place. I could have done without the brief and unsubtle emphasis on the knife and Tywin's neck but overall the scene was another memorable moment for the duo. Sitcom!
"No one can survive this world without help."
And Arya and Tywin's little history lesson could also prove telling - how the Targaryens and their dragons changed the game and made even the most fortified castle in Westeros nothing more than a glorified furnace waiting to be rubble. But Dany is a long way from repeating the conquest of her ancestors since her dragons are nothing but babies and, well, missing. Xaro assures the Khalessi that they will retrieve her children but she's not in the mood to hear his rags to riches story and is much more happy to see Jorah return. For a moment anyway, since he too seems to soon wake her inner dragon by merely suggesting that she should put her trust in him. Of course, we (and the masked lady) know that the one-time slave trader has betrayed Dany before perhaps she is wise to stay weary. And no touching!
Speaking of the Lady in the Mask, Jorah pays her a visit for information and not only does she know about his initial scheming - even though she seems convinced that's in the past - but also the whereabouts of Dany's dragons. The thief is currently with the Khalessi which would be a great clue had she not assembled the entire 13 for questioning. Or begging. It turns out she won't need either as the thieves soon come clean. It seems that Xaro has been lying this whole time, and there was indeed something that the dragons could add to his wealth, a crown. He and Pyat Pree (creepy bald dude) staged this coup for Qarth and after they slit the other 11 throats, they tell Dany to visit the House of the Undying in order to retrieve her dragons. Yes, come see! Maybe it's just me but the House of the Undying does not sound like a pleasant place to visit. But somebody's got to go get those dragons.
"The more people you love, the weaker you are."
In the capitol, people are having a tough time getting over the riot that erupted in the streets of King's Landing last week. Sansa pays Sandor Clegane a visit in order to finally thank him for his 'heroic' assistance but, as usual, he decides to be difficult and show just how vicious a Hound he can be. Sansa no longer seems threatened, only curious why the man has so much hatred in his heart and I love the way he turns the sentence, saying how valuable that hate will be when he's all that stands between her and King Joffrey's cruelty. And right on cue (well, after some rapey-dreams), the pretty bird/little dove gets her first period making her finally fit to bear some royal children. And she's suitably horrified at the prospect. But despite her and Shae's best efforts (with the knife), it seems Clegane is a bloodhound and finds the stain before the ladies can cover it up. What follows are two of the best scenes of the season and, not surprisingly, both of them involve Lena Headey's Cersei Lannister.
Headey once again steals the show and the second sequence, with her and Peter Dinklage, is an acting clinic. But first to the first, which is a scene between the Queen Regent and Sansa where they discuss the big moment in a woman's life. Cersei is surprisingly gentle as she shares stories of her pregnancies and loveless marriage. She warns Sansa of the perils of loving too much and that it should be reserved only for your children. Even if your children are monsters. Or one of them. I love that the show has Cersei recognize the sadist in her son because she's anything but a stupid character and only her actions not her intelligence should be blinded by her maternal bond. The second scene shows an oddly tender and honest exchange between Cersei and Tyrion, the siblings at their most civil (even loving) surprisingly the best showcase for the actors' brilliance. The few moments at the end were as powerful as any confession, even though no words are spoken between the two. That's magic.
"You know nothing, Jon Snow."
Kit Harrington and Rose Leslie may not be Dinklage and Headey but the two are quickly emerging as one of my favorite pairs to watch. Jon and Ygritte wake up from their overnight cuddle and she immediately starts giving him a hard time (nailed it) about his vows, particularly the one about celibacy. Of course, Jon's issues stem way deeper than not liking girls or not knowing how to do it. He is scared to have sex but for completely different reasons. She then tries to argue that her people were there first but because they are both descendants of the First Men they have equal 'claim' to the lands. It does make you wonder who the Northerners (especially Starks) have more in common with though, their own bloodline of freemen in the wild north or the 'civilized' kingdoms of the Andals in the south?
Ygritte tells him they aren't savages just because they don't live in fancy castles and that Jon doesn't know as much as he thinks he does (or something like that). Okay. So he knows nothing. Everybody geek out. The line isn't just fitting for Jon and many characters in the show but also, and maybe more so, for the viewers. What you think you know about these people, about the world they live in and where George R.R. Martin plans to take you, well, you know nothing. Not yet. And just when it seems like Jon might finally succumb to one of her advances, he reaches for his sword instead and she once again makes a run for it. Not for lack of trying on her part, she looked ready to claw some other women's eyes out but Jon continued to turn away her advances. Too bad, since he soon finds himself surrounded by a pack of wildlings and now he's likely to die a virgin. I guess with his vows he was prepared for that but still, come on Jon.
"It's better to be cruel than weak."
Anyway, did someone say dead virgins? Oof, sorry. I've had better segues but how about those events in Winterfell? Remember when the Northern Castle was our one safe space? Well, those days are over with the reign of the occupying band, Prince Theon Greyjoy and the Krakens. Theon, who is giving Joff good competition in the most hated category, wakes to find that Osha is not just not in his bed but that she, Hodor and the little Lords (as well as their direwolves, Summer and Shaggydog) have all fled the castle. Theon's pissed and leads a search party to find the escapees who have just stumbled across a local farm. Bran, being the good Stark boy that he is, didn't want to risk the lives of any of the kitchen staff so the travelling fugitives are short on supplies and have no choice but to debate stopping by the locals for some food. Rickon can't survive on walnuts.
Theon's party soon arrives at the farm but apparently the scent has gone cold. Maester Luwin is relieved and tries to convince the young 'Prince' to cut his losses and return to WInterfell. Theon has other, crueler ideas, starting with whipping everybody at the farm but that's before his right hand man (Finchy) discovers the walnut shells. They send the Maester home ahead of the rest, while Theon stays behind to take care of business. When we return to Winterfell at the end of "A Man Without Honor," the young Greyjoy has assembled all his people in the square in order to show them what happens to those who disobey their new lord. Maester Luwin is also ushered in at the last moment and we witness the horror along with him. Those were some really authentic looking props and my stomach turns just thinking about the small figures being hoisted into the air. Happy Mother's Day Cat!
"Don't look so grim. It's all just a game."
What a fantastic show. Last week's "The Old Gods and the New" was arguably the season's first great episode but it, even six deep, was still saddled with introducing new characters and conflicts meaning more than a couple of scenes spent on expository ends. Don't get me wrong, it was still a stellar show but "A Man Without Honor" felt much more organic with all its seeds long planted and set a new standard for excellence in the second season and entire series. The "Song" may just be beginning but this season of Game of Thrones is coming to an end. Three episodes remain and, to paraphrase Arya, the only thing you can be sure of in George R.R. Martin's world is that anyone can die. And when they do, they often die horribly.