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Monday, May 21, 2012

"Game of Thrones," Season 2, Episode 8

WOULD A GIRL THIS CUTE TRICK YOU INTO KILLING YOURSELF? Maisie Williams as Arya
  • Courtesy of HBO
  • WOULD A GIRL THIS CUTE TRICK YOU INTO KILLING YOURSELF? Maisie Williams as Arya
Last week on The Vulture blog, “Game of Thrones” recapper Nina Shen Rastogi described how she started watching Season 2 wondering who would replace Sean Bean’s Ned Stark as the center of the show. She assumed it would be Tyrion or Robb and said, “I’m surprised to find that — of all people — Theon Greyjoy has become the heart of the show for me. Part of this is thanks to the fact that... Theon has had the most consistent presence and the clearest arc,” Rastogi writes, going on to argue that Theon’s storyline explores such central themes as power, family and loyalty.

I don’t know if I’d describe Theon as the “heart” of the show – the term usually applies to a character with a moral compass or sense of humanism, and Theon been making horrible, unethical choices. But Theon’s also one of Season 2’s most active protagonists, and has been changing the most: from Robb’s right-hand man to Stark family betrayer, from Greyjoy prodigal son to bloodthirsty usurper. Theon engages us partly just because we see him go places, do things and make decisions. Other regulars are held prisoner (Jaime, Sansa), remain largely passive by circumstance (Jon Snow, Cersei) or do their most dynamic things off-screen: we never actually see Robb Stark in a battle, for budgetary reasons. That may change next week for many characters, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

“The Prince of Winterfell” opens with the bodies of Winterfell’s ravens, which Theon has killed. It’s like the Westeros equivalent of cutting the phone lines: Theon doesn’t want the rest of the kingdom to know about his atrocities involving Bran and Rickon Stark. Then a bunch of soldiers arrive, who turn out to be his sister Yara and her men, who make themselves comrotable in the great hall. Rather than praise Theon for capturing Winterfell, Yara wants to send him home to Dad. Regarding the Stark killing stunt, asks “Are you the dumbest cunt alive?” (On this episode, “Cunt’s” definitely the word of the day.) The Greyjoys don’t care about him holding an inland castle and won’t support him, but Theon finally draws a line against his family: “I have taken Winterfell, and I will keep Winterfell.” Yara then offers some surprisingly kind words about when they were infants and how she didn’t strangle him in crib. In the Greyjoy family, that’s an act of charity akin to donating a kidney.

Overhearing Theon’s words about giving gold to a farmer, Maester Luwin studies the burned bodies and then sees Osha sneaking some bread. Osha reveals that she’s been hiding in the Winterfell catacombs, assuming that the family crypt’s the last place Theon’s people will look. They explain that Theon burned two innocent farmboys in Bran and Rickon’s place, but Osha wants to keep it a secret from the Stark kids. “They’ll never hear it from me,” she says, but Bran’s listening just around the corner, and seems impossible to not to overhear her in the echoey crypt. Good night, you princes of Winterfell, you kings of Westeros…

Further North, the Wildlings march the imprisoned Jon across a frozen lake (another stunning Icelandic location) and hand him over to “the Lord of Bones,” a chieftan type wearing a skeleton. Ygritte convinces Boney to spare Jon’s life, at least until Wildling chief Mance Rayder can decide what to do with him. Now they’re even, Jon having spared her life a few weeks ago. They’ve also caught Ranger Berek Halfhand, who quietly suggests to Jon that if one of them can win their trust, he could take invaluable intelligence back to the Night’s Watch. Halfhand makes a show of fighting Jon, who rolls down a hill looking bummed out.

Also in the North we check in on our favorite comic relief characters, Samwell, Dolorous Edd and the other guy, digging a latrine in the snow. They find one of the big rocks carved by the First Men, underneath which lies bundle containing a Night’s Watch cloak, some “dragonglass” (obsidian) and a horn. Say, didn’t Samwell have a crush on that pregnant chick?

Dany’s been a pretty active protagonist this season, leading her people across The Red Waste, seeking allies in Qarth and now trying to find dragons. This week, we only check in on her to find out that, yep, she still wants her dragons, resolves to visit the warlocks’ House of the Undying to get them back, and has Jorah mooning over her.

We find Robb and Talisa walking along, apparently back from their errand at the nearby castle. Talisa teases Robb for his strategic engagement to a Frey girl: “And you’re marrying her for a bridge.” Robb talks about Ned, who said, “Being a lord is like being a father,” reflecting responsibility of authority that few of the show’s other lords seem to endorse, although Tyrion and Dany come close. They get back to camp to discover that Catelyn released Jaime Lannister, a treasonous offense. Robb orders her held prisoner, and practically says, “Mo-om!:

Robb turns from his mother as a female confidante to Talisa. (Paging Maester Freud.) He chats with her about the pressures of being a young warlord, and she describes her high-born origins in the slave-state of Volantis and how she became a battlefield nurse. Half of the city was swimming in a river on hot summer day, her brother drowned and a slave resuscitated him. The talk of unclad bodies and people pressing against each other has an unsurprising effect on Robb and Talisa, who immediately start fumbling with each other’s clothes. Fortunately, they don’t do it on the battlefield map a la Stannis and Melisandre. However, HBO again reveals a double standard about female vs. male nudity.

Brienne, following Catelyn’s orders, marches along with Jaime as her prisoner. I love that they’re paired up: it’s like a Bizarro-world version of It Happened One Night or other rom-coms on the road. He tries to goad her into a fight, but she’s got a thick skin and no sense of humor, and knows he’s trying to trick her so he can escape. But why would he want to escape if she’s taking him back to the Lannisters?

They might have trouble catching up to Tywin, who gets word of Robb on the march and decides to ride out to meet him. Tywin leaving Harrenhal (and Arya) in the charge of torture-aficionado Gregor Cleghane. The prospect of Tywin clashing with Robb in battle finally inspires Arya to take action against him, so she finds Jaquen and says that he wants him to kill Tywin. Jaquen says he can’t do it, which seems kind of wishy-washy, no matter how well-guarded Tywin is. He asks for her to name a different person for the third death he owes her, and Arya says “Jaquen H’ghar” –oops, he’ll have to kill himself. She makes a deal to “unnamed” him as long as he helps Arya escape with her friends. That night Arya, Gedry and Hot Pie walk out the front gate, according to his instructions and realize that they guards are all dead. So Arya got Jaquen to kill at least three people for “one death” – that’s good value. Despite being a fugitive, a prisoner and a servant, Arya's been one of the show's most active protagonists.

We pay a shipboard visit to Stannis and Davos, en route to King’s Landing, and get a little more of Davos’ backstory. Stannis describes being under siege at Storm’s End during his brother’s rebellion against the Targaryens, and calls Davos an unsung hero for smuggling food to the starving people. (Don’t forget, though, that Stannis still cut off Davos’ fingers for breaking the smuggling laws.) Stannis plans to name a visibly-moved Davos that he’ll serve as Stannis’ Hand of the King if he wins the Iron Throne. Stannis’ sense of honor resembles a depraved, twisted version of Ned Stark’s, although Ned would never have sex with a witch.

In King’s Landing, Tyrion, Bronn and Varys prepare for Stannis’s attack, and Bronn says he’s had experience with sieges. (Maybe he was at Storm’s End too?) Tyrion visits Cersei’s chambers and tries to convince her to let Joffrey fight in battle. Haven’t we seen this scene before? There’s a twist, as Cersei reveals that she’s so angry about Tyrion shipping off Myrcella that she’s taken his whore hostage. Shocked, Tyrion demands to see her, so Cersei’s goons bring out… Ros, who’s been treated roughly in captivity. Tyrion’s relieved but pretends she’s the one he loves, and threatens her for it. He then returns to his room and finds Shae safe, and Dinklage movingly expresses Tyrion’s love for her.

As the servants prepare the battlements for an attack, Joffrey crows about giving dour Stannis “a red smile.” He’s slightly less hateful when he’s full of false bravado than when he’s torturing the innocent. Tyrion asks Varys what he wants, and Varys deflects the the question. Tyrion talks about how he never expected to be in a position of power, but has a gift for it. Varys says that he’s good at ruling, but enjoys “the game” (i.e., underhanded power struggles) more than Ned Stark or Jon Arryn did. On the show, we’ve seen Tyrion playing the game, tricking and maneuvering his sister and other rivals, but little about how he runs the city-state. Can he protect King’s Landing from an invasion?

Speaking of which, HBO released a special preview of the ninth episode, “Blackwater,” last night, which looks kind of like the battle of Helm’s Deep from The Lord of the Rings. The clip’s almost like a promise from HBO, as if to say, “Look, we know we’ve kept all the big battles off- and it’s been kind of slow lately, but next week everything will pay off!” Sure hope so.

Notes
Catelyn explains that she freed Jaime out of concern for her four children held prisoner, and I get that – but why does Jaime’s release improve that situation? Tyrion made a gesture of good faith by returning Ned’s remains, but can Catelyn possibly trust Jaime, Cersei and Joffrey?

The HBO show occasionally departs from George R.R. Martin’s books. The theft of the dragons and Robb Stark courtship scenes are all new, and if memory serves me right, Yara never visited Theon in Winterfell.

More references to King-Over-the-Wall Mance Rayder and the Bastard of Bolton, but a cursory check of the internet has no casting information about these roles, so maybe we won’t see them this season.

Tywin tells Cleghane to find “the Brotherhood,” but I suspect that either Team Arya or Team Brienne will find them first.

Cersei mentions that Tyrion’s whore had a valuable trinket, but I didn’t really catch what it was, or why Ros had it. Maybe she thought Ros followed Tyrion from Winterfell to King’s Landing. But would she think that Tyrion would give his favorite whore as a gift to Joffrey? Please.

Amid the Bronn, Varys and Tyrion’s amusing repartee, there’s a nice gag about the difficulty of pronouncing an ancient Westeros name. It’s like the writer’s nod to all the high-falutin monikers on the show.

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