Review: Game of Thrones S2E03 “What Is Dead May Never Die”


“For they are the Knights of Summer and Winter is coming.” — Catelyn Stark

Yes, they are the Knights of Summer and Winter is coming. It’s a foreboding observation made by Catelyn Stark as she visits Renly Baratheon who also happens to be one of the five kings jockeying for control of parts or all of the Kingdom of Westeros. It’s an observation that perfectly fits tonight’s episode (third of the new season) as we see characters who are either better prepared for the war coming or still just playing at war. It’s a war that doesn’t just fit North versus South or Ironborn versus Wolves, but a war that’s coming straight down from beyond the Wall to engulf everyone in the kingdom no matter one’s allegiances.

“What Is Dead May Never Die” is part of the religious ritual performed by those of House Greyjoy and those who live and die on the Iron Isles. We see Theon Greyjoy having to prove himself worthy of his father and family’s trust that he is still an Ironborn and not the throwaway son turned soft by the Wolves of the North. It doesn’t help Theon’s confidence that his own sister Yara (forever Asha in my opinion) has been put above him in both succession and power by the very father who gave him up and bent knee to the people who he grew up with. He’s a prodigal son whose return to his family is not just wanted but ridiculed. Whether his taking of the oaths to become Ironborn in the ceremony of the Drowned God will show his true allegiance or further show that his father was correct about him and how he has changed from one who “Doesn’t Sow” to someone who has turned soft through the teachings of the Wolves and the Westerosi.

Theon is definitely not ready for the true war about to descend on Westeros.

In Winterfell, we get a brief interlude with Bran confessing to Maester Luwin about his peculiar dream where he sees himself running through the Godswood but not as himself but as an animal (most likely his direwolf Summer). This part of tonight’s episode once again shows that while the show hasn’t been focusing very much on the supernatural and magic which seem to still exist in Westeros and beyond it is definitely going to be part of the main narrative being spun since season one. Bran has begun to accept that he is more than just a young boy playing as lord of his House, but someone who has been tapping into something old and clearly forgotten (or dismissed as old supersitions by many). It’s a thing of the Children of the Forest and something that doesn’t frighten Bran. Even in this interlude we see Bran as someone more prepared for the true nature of the winter coming while those he looks to for counsel remain still a knight of summer.

While we’re up north, we finally get to see Jon Snow’s fate after last week’s episode. He’s definitely not dead, but he probably wishes he was as Craster evicts all the Night’s Watch from his home after Jon’s curiosity about what happens to boys born from Craster’s incestuous pairings with his daughter-wives. The reaction he was hoping to get from his Lord Commander wasn’t what he expected. Once again Jeor Mormont gives Jon a lesson in leadership and how with it comes the responsibility of having to make some very tough decisions for the greater good. A greater good that sometimes supersedes the evil next door as long as it that evil remains a convenient ally North of the Wall. It is a lesson that could go a long way into making Jon someone truly prepared for the Winter that is coming or fail to temper his idealism and put him on the path of failure.

But the true signs of power being wielded comes from characters in the South.

At The Reach we see Renly Baratheon and his queen, Margaery Tyrell (played by Natalie Dormer), holding court at a knight’s tournament where we also see the introduction of fan favorite (of the books, at least) Brienne of Tarth. A lady knight who seem to best even the talented Knight’s Flower, Loras Tyrell, and thus earn the right to become one of Renly’s Seven Kingsguard. It is not Brienne’s ability to fight the coming conflict that we see in this part of tonight’s episode but that of two powerful women trying to guide their respective king’s through the murky and dangerous waters of power. On one hand, we have Catelyn Stark who has arrived to offer terms of alliances with Renly for her son Robb Stark. On the other side we have Margaery Tyrell whose grasp of political intrigue surpasses that of her husband king and could be more than a match for both Catelyn and Cersei over at King’s Landing.

Catelyn doesn’t seem overly impressed by Renly’s show of power or his declaration that he has under his command over a hundred thousand men ready to march toward’s King’s Landing and take the Iron Throne and/or that of Joffrey’s head. What Catelyn sees around her are the Knight’s of Summer. Young men as bold and full of idealistic fire as their king, but wholly unprepared for the true nature and horrors that war brings. It doesn’t matter whether it’s war against the Lannisters or the true war that the gathering wildlings would give everyone south of the Wall. In the end, Catelyn Stark knows that for all the pomp and shows of strength that Renly has displayed at her arrival would count for nothing if their unpreparedness gets everyone butchered. To say that this doesn’t sit well with the young king would be an understatement.

Then there’s Margaery Tyrell who knows more about her husband’s personal proclivities in the bedroom than he thought she knew. She understands that despite the men rallying to Renly’s banner his hold on power remains tenuous if he’s unable to secure a line of succession by conceiving a son with her. This would be a difficult proposition considering how much Renly prefers Margaery’s brother Loras, but showing some iron strength as a queen she’s willing to do whatever it takes to give Renly that very son to secure their hold on the Iron Throne. She’s go to such lengths that she’ll invite Loras to their bedchamber if that would make Renly perform his kingly duties more comfortably.

Catelyn Stark and Margaery Tyrell may be two women who don’t wield weapons of war on the field, but they show that they’re two individuals who know the stark realities of the current state of the kingdom and more than willing to do the necessary steps to ensure success for their respective rulers. They’re definitely not knights of summer.

Finally, we return to King’s Landing where one Tyrion Lannister has begun to flex the very power that the Hand of the King wields in the kingdom. He may be sitting in the role because his father is off fighting Robb Stark, but Tyrion fully intends to do the job without interference from those inside the castle whose allegiance is more with his sister Cersei than with him. Tyrion has shown that while he detest having to play around in the circles of power in King’s Landing he has grown to be quite adept to it. His plan to root out Cersei’s spies amongst the Small Council was the highlight of tonight’s episode. His manipulation of Maester Pycelle, Varys and Littlefinger was some of the best performances Peter Dinklage has had in the role of Tyrion. With his plans and sting Tyrion has shown not just Cersei that he was someone not to be trifled with and at the same time show that he more than knows how the Game of Thrones works and as good playing such a dangerous game as Cersei, Varys or Littlefinger. He may have made enemies with those involved, but he’s also put them on notice that he is once again not Ned Stark and he may be better at this game than them.

The episode ends not with a character exercising their power over others or failing to do so, but of one of the youngest beginning to understand that in times of war even the young must begin to set aside childish things for hardship and violence. It is fitting that we see the episode end with Arya as she loses another valued mentor to violence, but shows her capacity to play those who think they have power over her. It’s another step that fans of the book will recognize that would lead this fan favorite (of both show and book) to places and sights, seen and unseen, that would make her one of the most important characters in George R.R. Martin’s medieval fantasy saga.

Notes

  • Great performance by James Cosmo as Lord Commander Jeor Mormont in the scene with Jon Snow after Craster kicks them out of his home. We see the weight of command of the Night’s Watch etched in every line on his weather-beaten face as he Jon’s news about what Craster does with newborn baby boys doesn’t come as a surprise. This is a man who pragmatism has become his new religion as he sees their true war against those North of the Wall has superseded what idealism he might have had when he first arrived on the Wall. This dawns on Jon Snow’s face during their conversation and it’ll be interesting if Jon sees what could happen to him when he looks at Jeor Mormont.
  • A sweet moment with Sam and Gilly, one of Craster’s young daughter-wives.
  • We have a Hodor sighting! HODOR! HODOR! HODOR!
  • We get the introduction of two new faces to the growing cast this second season: Natalie Dormer as Margaery of House Tyrell and Gwendoline Christie as the very imposing Brienne of Tarth.
  • Dormer definitely makes quite a first appearance as Margaery in something that Jennifer Lopez would consider quite the daring fashion. The fact that even with such a plunging neckline it doesn’t detract from the skill and power she wields to keep her peculiar husband from misstepping when it comes to prosecuting the war against King Joffrey (most likely against his older brother Stannis as well) and cementing their hold on the Iron Throne with a clear line of succession.
  • Christie’s first appearance as Brienne of Tarth was pitch perfect. This was a role that fans of the novels were going to scrutinize from the time it was announced who would play the Brienne the Beauty to how she would look in her knight’s armor. When I say she’s quite imposing it wasn’t being colored by hyperbole. She literally towers over Loras and Renly and probably most of the men in the scene she was in. She shows the same stance towards honor and duty tha Ned Stark showed during season 1. Time will tell whether this honor and duty-bound warrior would suffer the same fate as Ned Stark before the war sees it’s end.
  • We get a Sansa Stark sighting. Sophie Turner continues to play the role of Joffrey’s hesistant queen beautifully. People may hate her for how she acted during most of season 1, but this season has shown that Sansa has learned to navigate the dangerous corridors of King’s Landing in order to keep her true feelings about Joffrey, Cersei and the Lannisters from getting her killed. Like Theon, she becomes more and more sympathetic with each appearance this season.
  • Peter Dinklage is the man. The Emmy’s should just put his name on the best supporting actor in a drama series (or maybe on best lead actor) in the next awards show. His scenes with Pycelle, Varys, Littlefinger and Cersei wasn’t just fun to watch but a marvel as well.
  • Outmaneuvering the slippery Littlefinger made for quite the verbal joust between Dinklage and Aiden Gillen. It must be such a blow to Littlefinger’s ego to have not just one Lannister show where true power lies, but now a second has manipulated him not through violence but through intrigue.
  • Interesting to note how Tyrion treats the whores he comes across with more respect and care than those in power he finds himself surrounded with.
  • Tyrion and Varys may not like each other but tonight’s episode shows that they have come to respect each other’s abilities. Quite the odd couple the two make.
  • The show continues to show more than imply the relationship between Renly and Loras. Some fans of the books may howl at this, but it made the scene which comes after Loras leaves Renly’s bedchamber that much more powerful as Margaery literally throws Renly’s relationship with her brother back at her king and doesn’t see anything wrong with it as long as he performs his kingly duty with her. Loras may be the Knight’s Flower of Highgarden but Margaery is the true steel of this House.
  • Once again Gemma Whelan continues to impress in the role of Yara Greyjoy. She continues to be one of the stronger new faces this season. Her treatment of Theon in tonight’s episode has made who had been an annoying hanger-on to Robb Stark with a wide streak of misogyny to someone brought low by his family less than gracious welcome. We’re seeing in how Gemma Whelan plays Yara why Balon Greyjoy prefers her over his only son, but at the same time she has also made Theon a sympathetic figure.
  • While Theon continues to get browbeaten by both Yara and Balon he at least gets a shot in at Balon. He reminds the old man that for all his talk of the Greyjoy’s taking what they want he’s still somewhat of a hypocrite for bending knee to Robert Baratheon after his failed rebellion a decade’s past. Not just bending knee but giving up his remaining son to live amongst the very people who defeated him.
  • His decision in the end to take the oath and not warn Robb puts Theon on a collision course with the very person he calls brother and a House he’s known longer than his own birth.
  • “What is dead may never die but rises again.”
  • This Drowned God ritual takes on a more symbolic gesture than how it appears in the novels which literally involves
  • Yoren of the Night’s Watch, just like Syrio Forel of Braavos, you went out like a BOWSE. Arya may have lost another badass mentor, but she’s now been taught by them both how to survive and tell death not today.
  • Jaqen H’ghar appears briefly and I wouldn’t be surprised if he shows up more as the season continues.
  • Gendry is going to miss that bull’s helm.
  • Last and most important observation, the men may hold the power in Westeros but there seem to be a very powerful woman standing behind each and every throne and seat of power: Catelyn Stark with Robb, Melisandre with Stannis, Margaery with Renly and Cersei with Joffrey.

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