“Gods help you Theon Greyjoy. Now you’re truly lost.” — Ser Rodrik Cassel
Tonight we saw season 2 of HBO’s Game of Thrones series hit it’s second half running towards what could only be a climactic season ender of epic proportions. The show took a sort of misstep with an wheel’s turning previous episode that was mostly set-up. The show has been that way from the very start of the season, but last week’s entry was even moreso. Tonight’s sixth episode was titled “The Old Gods and the New” and it was a theme of faith that ran throughout the episode.
When I say faith I don’t mean of the religious kind but the faith one puts into the actions of others. Whether that faith is deserving or not is irrelevant. We see the youngest characters of the series with their faith tested from beginning to end. While it was mostly the Stark kids both legitimate and illegitimate who had to suffer in tonight’s episode we also got to see Daenerys Stormborn tested as her stay in the city-state of Qarth begins to turn for the worst and her inability to think with her mind instead of her heart has put her in a precarious situation.
The episode begins with Bran’s dream from last week finally coming into fruition as the seas has come to Winterfell and gone over the walls. It’s Theon Greyjoy and his merry band of Ironborn reavers who have taken advantage of a defenseless Winterfell. Any lingering doubts as to which house his loyalty lies now ends with his taking of Winterfell and imposing himself as it’s lord. Theon has bought into his biological father’s Ironborn way of life as he’s taken his own lordship through the “iron price” and not gold. Yet, this part of the episode also show’s that Theon has much to learn about being a ruler as some of his petty behavior comes to the forefront in his treatment of Rodrick Casell and being fooled by the wildling Osha. Just like Renly Baratheon before him, Theon likes to play at being a lord and someone who thinks they have power over the people when it’s all just in his head.
The same goes for King Joffrey over at King’s Landing who witness first-hand that his maniacal, iron-fisted rule of the realm has weakened what had been a strong realm and which is now ripe for all-out rebellion from within the city’s walls and not just from without. A riot of his own making doesn’t end even with his shouts to his Kingsguard and the Gold Cloaks to kill everyone when they’re outnumbered despite their armor and weapons. Joffrey begins to see what his Hand has seen and that’s the people of King’s Landing don’t see him as their rightful ruler and would rip the city and those who follow him apart (like the poor Maester who got the zombie feeding frenzy treatment) even if they die doing so.
For a moment Sansa Stark doesn’t understand why the people hate her as much as Joffrey and season 1 Sansa petulantly peeks out after her close brush with rape and death at the hands of the mob. It takes some wise counsel from her handmaiden Shae to educate her as to why they hate her so. Whether Sansa will learn from tonight’s events or not will show whether her character has grown from the shallow, fashion plate and status obsessed young teen or season 1 to the more savvy and leery young lady who has been quite adept at steering through the maze that makes up the game of thrones within the castle walls. One thing for sure is that she seems to have gained herself a protector in The Hound.
Over and north of the Wall we find Jon Snow and the small band of Rangers led by Qhorin Halfhand doing a sort of long-range recon patrol deeper into wildling territory to find out just exactly what’s going on with the wildlings and their self-proclaimed king Mance Rayder. We see Jon get a lesson in the importance of being a Crow delivered not so delicately by the veteran Qhorin who also seem to see something important about Jon, but who also sees an idealist who may not survive the Wall if he continues to think like someone who lives South of the Wall instead of on and North of it. It’s easy to say that Jon learns his lesson, but as we see after a successful ambush of a wildling patrol Jon still hangs onto too much of the chivalry and nobility of the the southern realms instead of the reality of the Wall and the North. He’s been a frustrating character since the first season and his steadfast “Ned Stark-ness” almost gets him killed and has saddled him with a pretty, wild redhead who may just be the death of him before he reaches his potential.
We now come to the Arya and Daenaerys portion of tonight’s episode. These are two young girls who have been thrust into situations not of their making and trying to make the best of it.
At Harrenhal we see Arya continue her indentured servitude to Tywin Lannister who seem to treat her with more respect than he does his own commanders. Whether he suspects who Arya truly is he does seem to treat her less a servant and more like an unofficial sounding board. The conflict of emotions this treatment from Tywin was quite evident in Arya’s face as she smiles behind Tywin and his council’s back when he compliments her and berates one his generals. Her situation gets really precarious as one Littlefinger appears in Harrenhal to talk shop with Tywin. This scene was masterfully done by veteran tv director David Nutter who milks the tension Arya feels at the prospect of being found out by the duplicitous, but observant Littlefinger. Her faith in the enigmatic Jaqen H’ghar seems well-deserved as she gives him a second name and sees that name given over to Death as Jaqen has promised. With each day in Harrenhal it looks like Arya looks to be the one of the all the youngsters in Game of Thrones who has begun to see the reality of the world instead of the ideals she has been taught growing up.
Far across the Narrow Sea we come to Daenaerys who is still trying to fend off the advances of Xaro Xhoan Daxos and the other merchant lords of Qarth who wish to put their hooks into her if she ever wants their help in getting across to Westeros to take back the Iron Throne she sees as rightfully hers. Where Arya has learned to think with her head instead of her heart to put herself into situations to her advantage the same cannot be said about Daenerys who still believes that her rightful claim to the Iron Throne and being the Mother of Dragons would make everyone bow at her young feet and give her everything she needs to get what she wants. When diplomacy doesn’t get her what she wants she reverts back to threats and actually sounding more and more like her dead brother Viserys who also used too much empty threats to try and get what he thinks was due to him. The episode sees her with even less retainers than what she had going into Qarth and worst yet minus the three dragonlings.
While “The Old Gods and the New” was still a set-up episode it also contained much character growth for the young cast. We see them learn the hard way that being a ruler of a realm and of men doesn’t come easy or come across as a game without consequences. Idealism gets tested and for most of the episode comes off less a virtue and more of a near-fatal flaw that cannot survive in the war-torn lands of Westeros let alone the intrigues of the city-states of Essos across the Narrow Sea. Faith has been tested as Bran sees firsthand as he sees what he thought was a brother to him and his family turn against them in a fit of pettiness and need to prove himself to his biological sire.
With more pieces being moved across the board it’s getting much clearer now that the war for the Iron Throne is close to being decided, but it doesn’t mean peace will come to Westeros. While the elders fight the wars begun by a child and being won by another it looks like tonight’s episode also shows that no matter how things turn out this season it’s the children of the series who have been forced to grow up by the war who will have to pick up the pieces. Tonight we see that some look ready to do so while most still look ill-equipped to survive it.