“The night is dark and full of terrors”. Melisandre says this as often as she looks glamorous, which is every single episode near enough, but who knew she meant it literally? If this episode didn’t solidify how good this show can be then there truly is no hope for you ever enjoying it. In an episode which significantly furthers several story strands and provides frankly insane developments to some, the land of Westeros becomes an even more dangerous place to inhabit as time slowly progresses.
After a few weeks of absence, Robb Stark finally makes a reappearance, just in time to set Grey Wind on an unsuspecting Lannister guard who makes a fart joke one second and then gets eaten the next. The battle is won later on, but not without a price, as is pointed out to him by one of the female nurses tending to the wounded, named Talisa, who’s also rather effective at wielding a saw to amputate a man’s leg (cringe). She explains that the men they’re so eager to slaughter en mass aren’t fighting for Joffrey because they want to, but because they have to. She questions Robb on what he plans to do should he win the war, but he’s unaware of what the future will hold. He has no desire to seize the iron throne for himself but he also has no idea of who will sit upon it should he succeed.
In a realm where playing the ‘game of thrones’ to an adequate degree means survival or sure death, Robb Stark is portraying the same noble tendencies that his father, Ned Stark, used to have before he had his head chopped off as a reward. Taking the throne from somebody and then not knowing who will take the seat afterwards is not a correct move in the game and I fear that Robb’s failings here may lead to an unfortunate end further on down the line.
As Robb deliberates over who’ll take the iron throne if he should win the war, evil demon-spawn Joffrey currently makes good use of it to instill fear and terror into those he rules over. After a string of victories in the North by Robb, Joffrey thinks it necessary to punish Sansa for these victories. Insisting that his mother, Cersei, will not allow him to kill her as a message to her brother, he decides to truly humiliate her instead. Stripped and beaten in the presence of a crowd whilst threatened with a crossbow, it takes the arrival of Tyrion to free her from a nightmare ordeal. Joffrey insists that he can do as he pleases now that he is king, but as Tyrion rightly points out, the mad king Aerys upheld the same viewpoint and he was killed and dethroned because of it.
Later on, he and Bronn decide to send Joffrey female companionship to “get some of the poison out”. Unfortunately, as Bronn also states, “there’s no cure for being a cunt” and Joffrey’s glee at forcing the two prostitutes he is sent to beat each other senseless states that as horrific truth. This entire scene is actually a little uncomfortable to watch as it is so well done. If you were ever in any doubt as to Joffrey’s pure evil and irredeemable qualities, your suspicions should now be confirmed. Whilst others fight for the iron throne for various noble intentions, such as vengeance and honor, Joffrey uses it to make himself a tyrant – a true presence of evil and omnipresent creator of fear. It’s a stark contrast to how it would be with one of the other kings sitting there, even with late King Robert but as Tyrion pointed out to him earlier, it may also prove to be his downfall.
As cruel and nasty as Joffrey is, he is still being played incredibly well by Jack Gleeson. It’s quite bizarre how well he’s playing the role, to be honest. When he creates an atmosphere on screen that makes you feel uncomfortable, then you know he’s doing exceptional work in the role. You could argue that Joffrey was never this evil and only became so once he sat upon the iron throne, corrupted by the power it provides its occupant. On the other hand, one could say that Joffrey showed cruel intentions before coming within a foot of the throne and seating himself on it only magnified those tendencies. Whatever your view, it should be unanimous that nobody could play the role as well as Jack Gleeson is.
Elsewhere in the Seven Kingdoms, Littlefinger pays an unwelcome visit to Renly’s camp, offering the would-be King a more ‘welcoming’ attitude for when they attack King’s Landing. If I were Renly, I wouldn’t trust a word that is uttered from this man’s mouth. Ned Stark can testify to that. Oh wait… Not content with making offers to Renly, Littlefinger also quizzes his betrothed bride, Margaery, on their relationship and what influence her brother, Loras, has over the King. As was made evident last week, Margaery knows how the game is played and knows it quite well, giving away nothing to Littlefinger, who would surely wield her words as a weapon against them.
Next comes a scene between Catelyn and Littlefinger and it is every bit as memorable as it should be. Catelyn blames Littlefinger for playing a crucial part in Ned’s execution, insisting that her husband trusted him and he stabbed a knife of betrayal in his back as a reward. The reason for his visit, however, is to request the release of Jaime Lannister in return for her two daughters who are being held captive at King’s Landing, one of which isn’t even there. She informs him that Robb will never accept such a deal. She is also given a big box as a token of good-will from Tyrion, containing the body of Ned Stark.
It’s becoming more and more clear that the war for the Seven Kingdoms is being played by many people across the realm but the true forces to be reckoned with are not the ones wielding axes and swords on the battlefield, but those wielding the power of words from behind the scenes. A man can cut an enemy from limb to limb with a well-placed sword slash but a man who can wield words well can use them as a much more effective weapon, capable of crippling an enemy from foe to fence. Tyrion is that man, and Littlefinger can also provide artillery support if need be.
After two weeks of absence, Daenerys and her ailing khalasar make a welcome return. They’re still struggling to survive in the hostile environment of the Red Waste, until one of her riders returns (with his head, fortunately) and says that the city of Qarth will love nothing more than to welcome the mother of dragons. Ser Jorah ominously tells her that the area around the city is known as the Garden of Bones, and that it grows larger with every traveler who stays there.
Upon arrival at the city gates, Dany is welcomed by the thirteen, the governing force of the city that consists of, yep, you guessed it, thirteen members. They will gladly allow her khalasar entry into the city, providing that they prove that she is indeed carrying three dragons. As they prepare to allow her to die right outside the gates, she warns them that when her dragons are grown , she intends to lay waste to those that have harmed her or stand in her way and that Qarth will be the first place she burns to the ground should they refuse her help. They’re still insistent on denying her access until one of the members, named Xaro Xhoan Daxos (trying saying that with an inebriated brain) pledges, via a sort of blood oath, to vouch for them and their activities within the city. They are then granted access to the beautiful, majestic city.
Once again with the inclusion of Qarth, Game of Thrones has demonstrated a remarkable skill at transforming a city made alive on paper into one vibrating with energy on the screen. This show is absolutely fantastic at making this fantastical locales look truly wonderful on the TV screen and Qarth is probably the best looking city to date. If it were real, I would definitely be booking a vacation there.
After being captured by Lannister guards last week, Arya, Gendry and the rest of the men headed for the Night’s Watch are taken captive at the destroyed entity known as Harrenhal. As they are starved, tortured and depraved of human decency, Arya begins to recite a ‘prayer’ before she sleeps at night, consisting of those she wishes ill-harm to fall upon. As more and more people begin to be added to that prayer, Sith Lord Tywin Lannister makes a reappearance and chastises those in charge for failing to make use of the skills their prisoners possess, and also recognizing Arya as a girl but not as the sister of the man who wins numerous victories against him. Sparing Gendry from a gruesome torture session involving a rat and a bucket, the remaining prisoners are put to work in Harrenhal, whilst Arya is to be Tywin’s personal squire.
Having Arya so eager to kill those she recites in her prayer is the beginning of a dark turn in who is still a little girl in all respects. It serves as a reminder that the war for the Seven Kingdoms is brutal and as such, can turn even the youngest and innocent of people into bloodthirsty people, wishing for death to fall upon her enemies. It may not seem like it now, but I feel sorry for those who take prominence in Arya’s prayer.
Back at King’s Landing, Tyrion is handed a warrant from the Queen Regent to release Grand Maester Pycelle, who was imprisoned after Tyrion discovered his treachery last week. The warrant being handed to him comes from his cousin, Lancel Lannister, who also happens to be bedding Cersei (seriously, this woman and her incest knows no bounds). After breaking him down and forcing him to beg Tyrion not to tell Joffrey of his indiscretions, Tyrion informs Lancel that he shall continue to do as the Queen Regent insists, whether that be writing her warrants or opening her legs, but he shall also be informing him of who she sees, what they talk about and where they do it. As said numerous times before, Tyrion is well aware of how the game is played and that even your strongest of enemies can be sitting as members of your own family.
Meanwhile, as Stannis and Renly face off against each other, demolishing any brotherly bonds they may once have shared and replacing them with malice and murderous intent, Stannis promises Renly that if he does not submit his troops to him within a day, he will destroy him, and from the way he says it, you better believe he means it. Later on, after it becomes apparent that his brother doesn’t intend on giving up his claim to the throne, Stannis tells Davos Seaworth, his ‘onion knight’, that ‘cleaner ways don’t win wars’, which doesn’t mean good news for Renly. He also tells Davos to escort Melisandre ashore.
As Davos and Melisandre sail ashore, sharing casual talk between them as they go, they encounter a wall of bars blocking access into a secret cove. As the light flickers and Melisandre de-robes herself, it is discovered that she’s hiding an enormous pregnant stomach. However, as she begins to give birth, it becomes widely apparent that the child she’s giving birth to is not of the human variety as it slithers out, black tendrils of smoke and shadow emerging from within. As it’s fully erupted, it stands tall in front of them, as black as the night and looking every bit like a dementor from Harry Potter, or a Nazgul from Lord of the Rings. We knew you were mysterious Melisandre, but this is disturbing, even for you.
I remember reading this scene in the book and frankly, finding it hugely disturbing then. That being said, I also remember looking forward to seeing how it was depicted on screen and I was not expecting something like this. Disturbing, strange and insane it may be, but it also uncovers some of that mystery and intrigue that has surrounded Melisandre since she first appeared. Underneath that glamorous exterior lies something powerful, influential and threatening and after giving birth to a shadow baby, it’s clear that this lady has a part to play in the game yet to come.
This week’s visit to Game of Thrones was excellent by all standards, probably the finest outing of the second season to date and a highlight of the entire show so far. We see hide nor hair of Jon Snow, Cersei or Theon this week but other stories took prominence instead. Some of the elements from the book have been changed, or removed entirely in the case of Catelyn’s father in Riverrun, but whether that’s a bad thing is of your own opinion as it allows them to concentrate on the stories that develop the characters, or the plot, more. Nevertheless, Garden of Bones was a superb episode featuring a fine balance of character development and story progression. We’re almost halfway through the second season and I’m glad to say that the quality has not deteriorated with time.