Review: Game of Thrones S2E06 “The Old Gods and the New”


“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.

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 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”.