Review: Game of Thrones S2E05 “The Ghost of Harrenhal”


“Anyone can be killed.” — Arya Stark

The first four episodes of the second season of Game of Thrones has been consistently good to great despite the addition of a large number of new characters to a cast already considered massive by tv standards. Last week’s “Garden of Bones” was the weakest of the four and worked more like a set-up episode for the rest of the season. With tonight’s fifth episode in “The Ghost of Harrenhal” we get another set-up episode that looks to be the weakest entry in this new season.

The episode’s title comes from the novel and what Arya calls herself during her stay in Harrenhal. She becomes the ghost of the title as she takes the offer made to her by the engimatic Jaqen H’ghar. But before we get to Arya and her adventures within the cursed halls of Harrenhal we start the episode back at the Renly Baratheon camp where the younger Barantheon entertains Catelyn Stark with an offer to take back to her son Robb in the North. Before the armies of Renly and Robb could come together to fight against their common enemy that the shadowy thing from the end of last week’s episode finally make it’s appearance to end the fight between the Baratheon brothers once and for all.

As Arya comments to Tywin in Harrenhal thus Renly’s fate early in the episode prove her words correct. Anyone can be killed and it would seem anywhere.

The rest of the episode from then on is all about setting up what I can only guess would be the two set piece events for the season. There’s the planned amphibious invasion of King’s landing being planned by Stannis Baratheon with his reinforced army now that Renly’s bannermen has flocked to him after their former liege’s assassination. Then there’s the stuff brewing up north of the Wall with the entire Night’s Watch searching for and preparing for the massive wildling army being formed by former Night’s Watch brother and self-proclaimed “King Beyond the Wall”.

Most of the dynamic writing for tonight’s episode occur down at King’s Landing and Harrenhal where we see both Tyrion and Arya adjusting to the ever-shifting status in both places. With Tyrion he must now contend with an older sister in Cersei who seem to be waking up to the fact that she cannot bully the current Hand of the King and realizes that she too can play the manipulative game as her deformed younger sibling. The fact that a weapon of mass destruction has been in production for quite sometime without his knowing and put into motion by his sister has put the usually cocky and confident Tyrion on his heels. But as we’ve seen since this show began airing the dwarf Lannister is very quick to adjust his footing. It’s going to be interesting how the writers will keep the personal battles between Tyrion and Cersei for control of King’s Landing to not feel like wheel’s spinning in place. Sooner or later one of them will find the chink in the other’s personal armor and make the “killing” stroke.

Further up north we see Arya do her own dance around the shifting circumstance she finds herself in as the personal cupbearer for the man who heads the house she despises and blames for the death of her father. The back and forth between her and Tywin was one of the highlight’s of tonight’s episode even though it didn’t move the story forward, but did add another layer of character growth on the youngest Stark daughter. Maisie Williams as Arya continues to impress in the role. She looked like she belonged in the scene with the older veteran actor in Charles Dance. It’s a small wonder that she’s become one of the show’s favorite characters.

With tonight’s episode we hit the halfway mark of the season and even though there’s still another half to go so much stuff occurred with tonight’s episode that it’ll be a surprise if the season finale gives all of them a satisfying resolution. I haven’t even mentioned the scenes with Theon trying to find his footing with his crew before setting off to raid the coastline near Winterfell as his father has ordered him to do.

If there was ever a weak point in this season it’s that we seem to get a new subplot introduced with each new episode and tonight’s episode was a perfect example. Not saying that tonight was poorly written and acted. Everyone seemed to be in top form, but instead of streamlining what is already turning out to be a season with an ever-growing number of storylines we get more. It’s going to be a wonder how the show’s writers will be able to juggle everything as the season enters it’s second half. Maybe they won’t find a resolution for every thread introduced this season and I’m betting that is how it’s going to pan out, but that could also mean delaying some of these threads for next season.

If there’s one thing people should know about George R.R. Martin’s novels it’s that plots, subplots and side stories only continue to pile on each other even when some past ones get a resolution. Sooner or later the showrunners will have to make a tough decision to abandon certain storylines from the novel even if it means angering and alienating the fans of the books who are already grumbling about some of the changes the show has already made in adapting the series to television.

I’m all for fidelity to the source material, but as Arya said in tonight’s episode, “Anyone can be killed”, and I say the same thing should go in how the show moves on into the second half and beyond. Any storyline can be cut and I’m all for it if it keeps the series from becoming a narrative bloated mess.

Notes

  • Looks like Renly Baratheon will not be able to play at war again.
  • Brienne is not a woman that any man should anger if what she did in Renly’s tent was any indication.
  • Littlefinger and Margaery Tyrell would make for quite a formidable couple if these two manipulative kids ever decide to get together.
  • We don’t see it happen often but Tyrion definitely looks like he’s not in control of the situation during his conversation with Cersei and then later on with Lancel and his talk of wildfire.
  • For all his work to try and protect the people from Joffrey’s madness Tyrion still ends up on the short end of the stick.
  • Stannis is turning out to be quite a conundrum. One second he’s willing to use underhanded tactics to win over his younger brother’s bannermen to his army, then turns around and becomes his rigid self once again. It’s a wonder that he still has Ser Davos’ loyalty.
  • Tywin at Harrenhal with his war council is a major change from the novel, but it makes sense now that we get a sort of confrontation between the Lannister patriarch and Arya Stark.
  • Highlight of the episode has to be Jaqen and Arya making an arrangement where the former shall repay his life-debt to the latter with the deaths of three names Arya will give the enigmatic soldier.
  • Tyrion finally gets his footing on solid ground again as he takes control of the wildfire production from his sister. I’m thinking King’s Landing would be better served to have the volatile wildfire in the hands of Tyrion than his more equally volatile sister and her insane son.
  • Daenerys gets another lesson in the cutthroat world of diplomacy as she gets a tempting offer from Xaro Xhoan Daxos.
  • Her next lesson on how to be a capable ruler comes from her trusted knight and advisor Ser Jorah who thinks Daxos’ offer will contain strings that she may not be able to cut once accepted.
  • Bran’s dreams seem to portent the coming Ironborns and the former ward and friend in Theon leading them.
  • Rickon Stark looks like he’s becoming wilder and wilder with each appearance.
  • A surprise for the lack of any sort of sexposition or even nudity. Might be a first for this show.
  • One down and two to go.

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.

Review: Game of Thrones Ep. 07 “You Win Or You Die”


HBO was kind enough to allow people who registered for their HBOGO.COM service to watch this seventh episode of Game of Thrones a full week before it aired. I wasn’t planning on watching it ahead of time, but since I already was signed up I decided to just go ahead and watch it. I must say that this latest episode continues to build on what has been a very strong first season for the tv adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s popular and critically-acclaimed medieval fantasy novel series of “A Song of Ice and Fire”.

The last episode was a major turning point for some of the characters in this series. “A Golden Crown” saw Daenerys Targaryen finally become her own woman in the face of her older siblings buffonery and childish tantrums. Behavior which finally got him the “golden crown” he deserved from Khal Drogo (and one which Daenerys seems to approve of). Tyrion Lannister using his wit and cunning mind to get himself extricated from the craziness that was Lysa Arryn and her court in the Eyrie of the Vale. The episode also brings together all the clues and evidence Ned Stark had been gathering about the death of the previous Hand of the King.

One would think that nothing could top all the pivotal events of episode six’s “A Golden Crown”, but this seventh episode surely tops that one with some building on the revelations of the previous episode. It’s really a major testament to showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss at how they’re able to not just stay true to the source material but also condense some of the minor threads of subplots and backstory into an hour episode that’s thrilling, engaging and not pandering to it’s audience.

This episode was aptly titled, “You Win Or You Die” as the fight for the throne of the Seven Kingdoms finally begins. We see the introduction of the Lannister patriarch who has loomed over the series as some unseen Sword of Damocles who holds King Robert’s tenuous hold on his kingdom. It was a treat to see veteran British actor Charles Dance as Tywin Lannister and see him playing the character as a no-nonsense, pragmatic but ruthless leader of his House. His brief time in this episode told us all we needed to know about Tywin. He’s so unlike his three children and this fact has become such a burden to him that he’s willing to take whatever virtue from the one child he sees as his most capable heir in Jamie that he’s willing to forgo all the faults. The scene of him butchering and dressing the stag while talking down (and propping up) Jamie for his foolishness with challenging Ned in episode five was very prophetic.

The episode also sees the return of Jon Snow and his part of the series’ story as he finally gets formally inducted into the Night’s Watch with Sam and the rest of the new recruits. What should’ve been a momentous occasion has been tempered by the sudden news of his uncle Benjen’s disappearance north of the Wall. It also shows Jon at his most petulant. What he saw as punishment from the Night’s Watch trainer and resident asshole in Ser Allister when he gets assigned as the Commander’s squire and steward was seen by his friend Sam as Jon being groomed for future command. For those who have been quite tough on chubby and cowardly Samwell should really have second thoughts about just how useless he is. He is surely becoming the voice of reason and logic to Jon’s more impetuous and “act now, think later” mentality. We also see the return of one of the direwolves as Jon’s (aptly named Ghost) brings him a gruesome gift once he has taken his vows.

The third major event in this episode before we get to it’s climactic finish brings us back to Vaes Dothrak and to Daenerys and Khal Drogo. With Viserys now out of the picture we see Daenerys begin to assert herself on Khal Drogo. While her brother’s dreams of becoming the ruler of the Seven Kingdoms have been dashed with a golden, metallic clang her own ambitions have not. She now sees herself as the true Dragon and still wishes to have the Iron Throne for her unborn son, Rhaego. While Khal Drogo still doesn’t see such things as important for him and his people an event in a marketplace which puts his khaleesi and son in danger finally convinces him of the danger the Seven Kingdoms poses.

This all leads us to the beginning of the “game of thrones”. Ned now fully knows why his predecessor was killed as the secret of Joffrey “Bieber” Baratheon’s lineage becomes quite clear. While more crafty and politically adept individuals would keep the secret from Cersei this is Ned Stark we’re talking about and he confronts his Queen with the news. To say that Cersei wasn’t flustered would be an understatement. This episode showed Lena Headey in full control of the Cersei character as we see her play the role with more iron and spine than what was shown in the novel.

“You Win Or You Die” finally sees an ignominious end to King Robert and his whoring and drinking. What was suppose to be a boar-hunt to help alleviate the stress he has been getting from both the Lannisters and the Starks finally gets him gored by the very boar he’s trying to hunt (though there’s suspicion that his inattentiveness during the hunt may have had some help). Mark Addy does a great job as Robert on his deathbed as he confesses his failings not just as a ruler but as a husband and as a father to the Seven Kingdoms, Cersei and Joffrey respectively. He appoints Ned to become the Regent of the Kingdoms until Joffrey is of age and does so officially with a sealed document.

One would think this final and dying declaration from a dying ruler would be enough to give Ned the power he requires to put the kingdom into order from the coming chaos but that would be selling all the characters with something to gain short. Robert’s not even cold when his younger brother Renly approaches Ned about plans to seize the throne from Cersei, but Ned being the honorable type refuses. Whatever ally he might’ve had to help him leaves the city as he confronts Cersei and Joffrey about the plans of succession. This is where the episode finally explodes into the conflict that’s been building since the very episode.

Some might say that this episode seems quite full of subplots and story threads and might not devote enough time for each. In fact, I was surprised at how much the writers were able to cram into this episode and still make each storyline have the time to make their events important to the series as a whole. While the episode ends with the the “game of thrones” in full swing in King’s Landing, the episode could also mean that things in the Wall and north of it has finally sunk into Jon and his fellow recruits as being truly serious. He and his new brothers must win or die. It’s as simple as that. Even Daenerys’ situation across the Narrow Sea fits the episode title well. With her now the bearer of the Targaryen line and her husband the leader of a powerful army she must also win or die.

Everyone in this episode seems to know the rules of the game their playing except the one person who seemed to be the one who had the most to win or lose. This episode showed Ned at his most intractable and honorable self, but it also showed just how much ill-prepared he is to fight in a battlefield where he doesn’t know who to trust and the very people who he shouldn’t trust might be his only allies. The final scene of the episode really highlight’s this dilemma for Ned and was such a great cliffhanger for the final three episodes to come before the series end’s it’s first season.

For fans of the books this episode shouldn’t disappoint and for new fans it should excite and really pull them in deeper into the world of Martin’s creation. Next week should continue the events we’re left to process as this latest episode ended. Will war finally break out between the two major houses of Lannister and Stark? Will Drogo finally bring his Dothraki horde into the Seven Kingdoms to gift his wife the Iron Throne she covets? What agenda does Littlefinger have and will it be the downfall of one of the houses?

There’s so much to be answered but seeing how this series just seems to get better with each successive episode I don’t doubt that episode eight will drop the ball and disappoint us with the answer (or will more questions arise) to those very questions.

Review: Game of Thrones Ep. 05 “The Wolf and The Lion”


For those bemoaning the fact that the last couple episodes of Game of Thrones had been lacking in the action department and had veered into exposition territory should be sated by the events of the fifth episode simply titled, “The Wolf and The Lion”. This episode still retains much of the excellent writing and storytelling done by showrunner David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, but it also brings to the forefront the violent conflict that will soon engulf the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.

George R.R. Martin’s books of which this show’s based on never lacked for brutality and medieval violence on a scale not seen often in fantasy. “The Wolf and The Lion” finally brings to this series the two lead houses which becomes the spark for the show’s upcoming conflict. The episode adds more intrigue to the proceedings even as it begins a hard boil into the climactic end that should make the second half of this series to finally and fully hooked it’s viewers.

We see Lady Catelyn and her entourage on the road as they travel to her sister’s realm at the Vale to conduct a trial of Tyrion Lannister who she has accused of conspiring to assassinate her young son Bran. It’s while on the road we see a hint at how violent this show can get as brigands from the hill tribes on the road to the Eyrie in the Vale ambushes her group. Blood flows and even Tyrion gets a chance to prove his martial prowess in defense of the very woman who has accused and planning to pass judgment on him. I must say that his scene with the kite shield and the head of a hill tribesman probably brought more than a golf-clap and courtesy cheer from fans of Peter Dinklage.

This episode also continues the show’s growing habit of inserting more backstory to supporting characters like Theon Greyjoy who we see visiting his favorite redhead Ros outside of Winterfell. This scene may seem out of left field for those who have never read the book, but for those who have it’s a nice touch seeing the seed of doubt enter Theon’s mind about his relationship with House Stark and his role as a noble son of House Greyjoy of the Iron Islands. Though I must say I think I became temporarily blinded when the camera failed to pan up and audiences were shown Greyjoy junk flapping in the breeze.

The rest of the episode really centers on the Wolf, the Lion and the Stag. The wolf would be Ned Stark who continues his investigation on the true reason why the former King’s Hand was killed. Each question answered brings up new ones and we begin to see Ned finally begin to notice that he is definitely out of his element. Intrigues, schemes and shadow-games surround him and for a man used to fighting enemies he knows and sees this revelation really knocks him back. The final nail in his growing fear that he made a mistake coming south is brought to bear by his friend and king.

A council meeting conducted by Robert himself brings the question of what to do with the newly pregnant Daenarys Targaryen. While Daenarys doesn’t appear in this episode her presence still looms large over the episode’s many subplots and threads. She’s deemed a danger to the Seven Kingdoms and Robert is willing to do the unthinkable (in the mind of Ned, at least) to make sure Daenarys never crosses the Narrow Sea with an army of 40,000 Dothraki horsemen and the might Khal Drogo to take back the Iron Throne. It’s this decision by Robert and his council to expedite Daenarys with extreme prejudice that finally convinces Ned that it’s time to go back North where the real danger to the Seven Kingdoms lie waiting for winter to arrive.

I won’t spoil the rest of the episode. Especially the last five minutes which really amps the action for this series. For fans of the books this sequence should be a delight. The show has been readily accepted by the book’s fans despite some changes in how certain characters have been introduced and allowed to grow. While these very fans understand the nature of adapting a novel of over 800 pages into a 10-episode series of an hour per they still worry that too much cutting and trimming will occur to fit the first novel into this season. I’m happy to say that the series and the book have met pretty much in the same place in terms of storytelling and further trepidations about how the showrunners ar ehandling the adaptation should really go away by now. If one is a fan of the book and has stayed with this series up to it’s halfway mark then complaining about changes and tweaks to characters and storylines is just nitpicking. For those who are new to the work of George R.R. Martin then this episode should whet their appetites even more for more action, intrigue and, of course, sex as the show moves inexoribly towards a boiling point and the explosion of war and violence when it finally occurs.

It will be interesting to see the second half of the first season of Game of Thrones play out as we finally begin to see battle lines being drawn. House Stark and it’s allies on one side and House Lannister and the lesser houses and bannerman loyal to them in the other. Then there’s the King Robert himself stuck in the middle trying to keep the Seven Kingdoms from imploding as the threat of a Targaryen with an army of Dothraki horsemen looms dangerously on Westeros across the Narrow Sea. This episode didn’t even mention anything about the problems at The Wall and what lies beyond it to the north. Not once did this episode mention anything about “winter is coming” yet that unspoken warning also looms like a shadow over everyone.

It’s going to be a very long wait til the next episode and, for those who have HBOGO, the next two episodes. Up next week will see the return of Daenarys and her idiot brother Viserys in the sixth episode titled, “A Golden Crown”.

Review: Game of Thrones Ep. 04 “Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things”


We’ve now come to the fourth episode of HBO’s very ambitious and expensive medieval fantasy series based on author George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” saga of which the first  book make’s up the first season. The first three episodes have done a great job at not just setting up the rules which govern this fantasy world of Martin’s but has deftly handled the many characters both main and supporting. It’s always been one of the many trepidations by fans of the books that the show may dumb down and simplify all these personalities both big and small for the tv screen. Luckily, for both fans and non-fans of the book the writers of the show have kept much of these characters intact.

“Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things” is quite an apt title for this latest episode as it deals with exactly just that. The show explores those three subjects. We begin with both cripple and bastard finding a common ground as Tyrion (Peter Dinklage in what could only be an Emmy-winning performance as the Lannister Imp) shows compassion instead of pity to the crippled Bran Stark despite his very own suspicion as to the cause of Bran’s fall. It’s also in these scene where we see the appearance of fan favorite Hodor (Kristian Nairn). Hodor’s introduction is one of several instances which has allayed my concerns that such minor characters would be trimmed from the book as it makes its way onto the show. While I’m sure the show will not introduce every name from the book at least they’ve taken a deep understanding as to which of the supporting cast in the book must remain even if they are quite minor.

The rest of this episode really deals with the “Broke Things” of the title. We see just how broken the situation has become not just in Castle Black with the Night’s Watch but all across the Seven Realms of Westeros. The king’s insistence in holding a tourney for his newest Hand has led to more debt as more people flood into King’s Landing to witness this event. We see the broken relationships between family members in the houses of Stark, Lannister and Targaryen. It’s these cracks which has led to corruption and intrigue which could only lead to tragedy for the current holder of the Iron Throne and for all of the Westeros.

Even some of the characters themselves show signs of being broken things with the most visible being Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) whose cocky and self-absorbed personality shows hints of humanity. He sees what his king has been doing to hurt not just the kingdom he serves but to his sister Cersei whom he loves. There’s a brief hint in his expression as he stands guard outside Robert’s bedroom as whores attend his brother-in-law knowing he cannot do anything to fix it without living up once more to his infamous moniker of Kingslayer.

This episode introduces several new characters that should have some impact in the coming weeks as the show leads to it’s climactic season finale. One character which should please fans and make non-fans of the book lean with interest is the “Mountain”. Gregor Clegane is aptly named and comes in as Sandor “The Hound” Clegane’s (Joffrey Bieber’s personal guard with the half0burned face) older and much more brutal brother. We don’t hear him speak, but his entrance and what he does during the jousting tournament looms large in that sequence. It helps that Petyr Baelish (Aidan Gillen great in the role) gives Sansa a brief tale concerning the “Mountain” and the “Hound” which adds some mystery to the two siblings which the writers will hopefully explore further as the series moves along this season and the next.

The other new character that gets some major time in this episode was one of the stronger ones in terms of portrayal. Samwell Tarly (John Bradley-West sticking the role almost perfectly) is the latest recruit to don the black of the Night’s Watch and he’s as far from the ideal candidate for the black as any this show has shown. He’s fat, cowardly and almost effeminate in his behavior, but the character comes in as a broken thing. He’s forced to join the only thing he knows would accept him despite his shortcomings and the only haven from the suffering he has endured from his own family. At first it seems like pity that forces Jon Snow to take Sam under his wing for protection, but as he learns more of Sam’s background from Sam himself the more he sees similarities between the two of them. Only the turn of the fate having put Jon in the compassionate care of Eddard Stark has made him into the young man he is and becoming. It’s this growing rapport between Jon and Sam which really governs the Night’s Watch part of Game of Thrones.

But the show is not all about cripples, bastards and broken things. We see the beginning of the inner fires in both Daenerys Targaryen and Catelyn Stark in this episode. With the former we see how much she continues to grown into the role of Khaleesi of the Dothraki Horde. The confrontation between her and her older brother Viserys should begin to allay fears fans have had about how the writers have been handling the Daenerys character. Yes, the first three episodes haven’t really shown Daenerys being strong and kickass, but even in the book she wasn’t written to be such a character right from the onset. In both book and show her growing confidence still takes time. It just happens that the show just made her quite pliable and weak to start off with. I think that by the time this season ends Daenerys will grow into the confident character fans have been waiting to see.

With Catelyn Stark the situation has been a bit more complex as her character has been given several more layers of complexities with her book counterpart didn’t have. In the book she’s almost Ned Stark’s equal in almost everything, but lost in that was an emotional core which the show has given her. It’s this emotional layer which has added a loving motherly aspect to the character. It sometimes came off as helplessness in the previous episodes, but what mother wouldn’t feel so frozen with worry and inaction for the tragedy to have struck one of her sons. The fire that fans have been waiting for begins to fan as Catelyn sees herself confronting one of the very Lannister’s who she believes had a hand in the assassination attempt on her crippled son, Bran. Her reciting the many different bannermen who are loyal to her house and to her husband’s house was very inspiring and just a hint of what will come next as a storm of swords and a clash of kings loom over the horizon of Westeros.

Overall, “Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things” continues a streak of excellent episodes in the premiere season for Game of Thrones. We see more intrigue and machiavellian machinations than action, but it’s entertaining and thrilling nonetheless. This show has shown that fantasy, especially on TV, doesn’t have to be always about battles and bloodshed (though the spearing of the knight at the joust was done bloody well enough). It’s the political maneuverings and intrigues which will ultimately drive this show towards the very battles and bloodshed fans of these type of shows end up craving for.

Next week’s episode will be “The Wolf and The Lion”.


PS: It was great to see Jon Snow’s direwolf finally appear in its grown form. We’ve already it as an albino pop, but not grown like we’ve already seen with Summer, Nymeria and Lady. Ghost will soon become a favorite with the show’s fans the more he appears. The only one’s we haven’t seen are Robb Stark’s Grey Wind and Rickon Stark’s Shaggydog.