“Calling yourself King doesn’t make you one”. Wise words from Margaery Tyrell, who is this week mourning the very brutal loss of her husband and grieving the strongest chance she had of ascending to be the Queen of all of the Seven Kingdoms. As we tilt past the halfway point for the current sophomore season of the fantasy epic, more and more pieces of the ever-enlarging jigsaw begin to fall into place, with others crumbling under the pressure and fading into the night.
Our first character to visit this week is Renly. Catelyn pleads with him to broker an alliance with Stannis, his brother, rather than face each other on the battlefield. Naturally, he refuses but does promise to grant the Starks complete dominion over the North upon pledging fealty to him. This all depends on him actually winning the war and becoming king, which comes to a screeching halt as the shadow abomination birthed by Melisandre emerges and stabs the aspiring king in the chest, killing him stone dead. Brienne is overcome with powerful grief as the man she pledged to protect with her life and soul is killed right before her eyes. They are interrupted by guards who believe that she did the killing but they don’t get time to hear the truth before Brienne cuts them down like a lumberjack in a forest. Together with Catelyn, the two women take off from the camp.
Later on, Brienne offers to serve Catelyn, providing that when the time comes for her to enact her vengeance upon Stannis, she does not hold her back. Upon agreement, the two continue their journey to inform Robb Stark of what has happened, and then on to Winterfell.
The ‘bond’ shared between Brienne and Catelyn is rather wonderful. The two women understand the other and share a similar sense of strength of mind and character between them. Brienne wants to gut Stannis like a fish for being behind Renly’s murder whilst Catelyn wants the same for her husband’s execution. They’ve both lost people that meant the absolute world to them and both were murdered, fueling their passion for revenge and justice. It was a good pairing in the book; it’s even better here.
There’s also a scene proceeding Renly’s death where Margaery seems to be more disappointed that she’s lost her chance to become “the Queen” than losing her husband. In fact, it seems to be Loras that is the most upset over the loss. I’ve said before that Margaery was playing the game finely – perhaps at the expense of loving the man she was due to ascend to the throne with. Renly was merely her ticket to the position. She was willing to have sex with him, knowing where his true desires lay, in order to conceive a child to solidify their claim. Now that her ticket is gone, it’ll be interesting to see which path on the game-board she will undertake next.
As one king is eliminated from the game, another continues to sit on the iron throne in King’s Landing. We don’t see him this week but we do see plenty of Tyrion Lannister as he continues to fight to make sure they’re all not slaughtered in the upcoming war. With Renly gone, his troops will flock to Stannis’ fight, making his numbers vastly overcome theirs and a siege on the city is sure to not be far away. Cersei is drunk and still angry over Tyrion’s plan to send her only daughter, Myrcella, away. She insists the King has his own plans for how to defend the city – plans which do not need to reach her ears.
As helpful spy/sex-object Lancel Lannister reliably informs Tyrion, Joffrey is stockpiling a secret weapon called ‘Wildfire’, with the intention of launching it into Stannis’ ships and troops when they attempt to breach the city. Upon examination of the substance, Tyrion discovers a collection of over 7,000 jars, which his ‘sidekick’ Bronn thinks is a bad idea. Wildfire can burn through wood, steel and flesh and if mishandled, could easily lay waste to the entire city rather than the enemy. Tyrion agrees, insisting the pyromancer will discontinue making the stuff for Cersei and instead start making it for him.
Not to spoil anything but the foundations are definitely starting to be laid for the upcoming ‘clash of kings’. It’ll be very interesting to see how the show covers the ‘clash’ as in the book, it was extremely visual and descriptive. It’s not something they’ll be able to not dictate on screen and only reference to later on. They’ll have to show the events and how they’ll do that without spending their budget thrice times over remains to be seen.
After two weeks of noticeable absence, Theon Greyjoy makes a return as he prepares to take a rough crew of men, who don’t even see him as worthy of being their captain, to the Stony Shore and raid fishing villages. Yara, his sister, sees fit to taunt the poor guy on his piss-poor selection of men and their refusal to follow his order, throwing the fact that she’s got thirty ships at her command compared to his one, and that the crew would wait on deck for years if she commanded them to. Unbeknownst to her, Theon then begins to concoct a plan with one, less hostile, member of his crew to swoop in whilst Winterfell’s forces are busy fending off the attack on Torren’s Square, leaving the city ripe for the taking with no considerable forces remaining to protect it. You can take your thirty ships Yara and shove them in your pipe and smoke it.
After being informed of his brother’s murder and having no compassion over it, Stannis doesn’t want to hear the counsel of Davos Seaworth as he tries to tell him about what he saw Melisandre give birth to on the shore. He insists that if he was to take King’s Landing with her at his side, it will be her victory rather than his. Some of his men already believe that he is under her spell and that she’s the one pulling the strings. They’re hard truths but Stannis still takes them to heart, insisting that Melisandre won’t be going with them when they attack King’s Landing. Davos is then put in charge of leading the upcoming attack on Blackwater Bay – the huge battle I was talking about earlier.
It was never in any doubt to any reasonable standard that Stannis isn’t one to ‘feel’ much but this week set that in stone. Choosing to support Stannis sitting on the iron throne is like choosing a broken leg over a broken arm; Joffrey uses the throne as a weapon of fear against his people whilst Stannis would surely use it for similar purposes. The man doesn’t feel emotions as regular people do. He’s too hardened for that and a king without compassion for his people is never a good sign. But as we’ve come to see, none of the candidates for the position are more perfect than the other. Only Renly may have been a significant change and he’s already been eliminated from the game. Stannis or Joffrey? If I lived in King’s Landing, I’d be requesting a brick to do myself in with by now.
Also, Stephen Dillane continues to play a role in which he seems perfect for. Whereas the character of Stannis doesn’t seem to hold much in terms of depth and history, the actor that portrays him is doing a fine job of making Stannis as steely as possible. He may likely be a shit king, but I’d still like to see him on the iron throne above Joffrey. A broken leg over a broken arm maybe, but breaks heal.
As the clash of kings continues to dominate Westeros, Jon Snow and the Night’s Watch continue to trek through the snowy landscape of the area beyond the wall. Battling blisteringly-cold winds rather than Lannister troops, they meet up with a ranger named Qhorin Halfhand, who informs them of the threat the king beyond the wall’s troop numbers pose. Mance Rayder continues to amass an army capable of besieging the wall and not retreating from the feeble defense they’d provide. The only solution is to take a small group of men and sneak in, assassinate Rayder and scatter his forces into the wind. If you didn’t already assume so, Jon asks to be part of that group and his wish is granted.
Even though there wasn’t an awful lot of story progression for Jon Snow this week, that wasn’t what was so captivating about his scenes. What took a hold of me was the stunning scenery behind them. I don’t know where these sections were filmed but by God they look absolutely stunning in HD. The variation in environments in this show continues to impress. One minute we’re in the fairly average-looking King’s Landing, then we’re in the sandy areas of Qarth and then in the white landscape beyond the wall. All look absolutely gorgeous no matter how you look at it and breath life into locations that were previously only made alive on the pages of a book. I can’t say I’m finding Jon Snow’s outings as interesting as I was hoping for but who cares when you have scenery like this to gawp at every week.
Last week, Daenerys fought to be allowed entry into Qarth, the city that carries a reputation for swallowing travelers and spitting out their bones. This week, she and her khalasar are treated with beautiful garments, food and shelter to enjoy. As she comes to discover however, Qarth is carrying more secrets than one would imagine. Xaro Xhoan Daxos, the man who helped them enter the city and is supposedly the richest man there, offers her half of the entire contents of a vault – more than enough to fund her efforts to sail across the Narrow Sea and take back her throne. Of course, he has to provide him with marriage. He will offer to help her take back the Seven Kingdoms but it’s clear that Dany is unsure, and rightly so.
Not only does she have to contend with a proposition from Xaro but she also meets a warlock named Pyat Pree, who provides a demonstration of his power and invites her to the House of the Undying. Yes, I’d definitely want to be visiting a place with that name after an invitation by a guy who looks as creepy as that. Sure, why not? Regardless, it is of my opinion that the casting of Pyat Pree has been absolutely nailed down. The character is incredibly mysterious and somewhat spooky in the book and the on-screen depiction carries the exact same traits, even if his facial features make me want to duck under the bed covers.
As a matter of fact, I think these Qarth sections are being fantastically done. The city has been imagined extremely well and is not far from what I imagined it to look like after reading the book. As I’ve said previously, Dany doesn’t have as much to do in A Clash of Kings as she does in the first book but they’re doing a good job of compensating for that with these scenes. Qarth is supposed to be a foreign city, carrying unusual traits that aren’t typically found in the Seven Kingdoms. The TV show is doing a great job of making it look the part.
Oh, and Daenerys looks absolutely majestical in that blue dress. It’s quite the change from seeing her in rags the entire time.
Over in Winterfell, Bran continues to suffer from dreams in which he, or anybody else, can explain the meaning of. His latest dream involves the sea crashing down over the walls and bodies floating on the waves. If Osha’s face didn’t indicate that something rather bizarre is going on with these dreams, then nothing else will. We’ve barely seen anything of Winterfell or its occupants for this half of the season but with what’s planned to go down, I’m sure that will change very soon. Actually, I already know that. Y’know, from reading the book and all.
“No my lord, anyone can be killed”, says Arya as she’s questioned on where she’s from by Tywin Lannister. Oh, if only he knew. Besides dodging incoming questions from the Lord of Lannister, Arya is also treated to two things this week: Jaqen H’Gharr, one of the men she saved from the fire, and Gendry’s scrumptious torso. Seriously, where has that been hiding all of this time? Back to Jaqen and he promises her that for the three lives she saved, he will repay her with three lives taken, entirely of her choice. Realizing what this means, she names the torturer and as we see at the end of the episode, he makes good on his word as the very same man falls from a great height, neck twisted 360 degrees and dead upon impact.
As I mentioned last week, Arya is slowly becoming as fueled by revenge and justice as her own mother is, hundreds of miles away. Any trace of that sweet, innocent child that liked to play sword-fighting with the butcher’s boy and chase cats for practice has evaporated. What remains is a child that wants to see her enemies dead beneath her feet. The war has forced her to abandon those traces of child-hood and become an unintended warrior, who now has a very dangerous ally. Be warned you Lannister folk. Be very warned.
So, another fine outing by Game of Thrones this week. As we push past the halfway point, significant strides are being made as we move further through the story. For those who have not read the book, it must be a complete mystery as to where things are heading next. Whilst that element of surprise has been eliminated for those of us who have, it is still going to be an exciting ride as the next five episodes continue to unravel the clash of kings. One King may have been removed from the board but three still remain, and it’s going to be one bloody fight.