Trust, betrayal and, to a lesser extent, loyalty are all themes surrounding this week’s episode of Game of Thrones. We’re now over 50% of the way through the current second season and more and more plots from the book from which the show takes its existence are beginning to unravel. Unfortunately, the show has seen fit to completely ignore some book plots whilst introducing seemingly pointless ones of their own. This doesn’t detract from the episode being yet another stellar offering but it also takes away points unnecessarily.
Starting us off this week is a trip back to the Northern dwelling of Winterfell. Last week, Theon devised a plot to seize Winterfell whilst a neighbouring town was attacked and those plans begin to come to light. It doesn’t take long for Theon and his band of merry-men to take control of the town and Theon demands that Bran publicly divulge control of the area to him, as the surroundings may belong to him but the population within do not. Upon doing so under the promise that no harm will come to anybody, Theon backtracks on that promise (indicating our first betrayal of trust this week) and brutally murders a captive Ser Rodrik Cassel – a job done badly as it takes several bloody swipes of a sword to remove head from limb. ‘Those who pass the judgement should wield the sword’, as it were. I’m not sure Ned Stark had a situation like this in mind when he devised such a regime.
Later on, a plan is carried out by Osha, who carries it out with devious methods, to whisk Bran and Rickon to safety – away from the events occurring at Winterfell. A guard loses his throat as a consequence but hey, when you take a town by force, what else can you expect, right?
If you leave this episode feeling nothing but burning hatred for Theon, you haven’t done anything wrong. In fact, you’ve probably done what was expected of you. Some may even compare Theon to the burning evil of Joffrey, but rest be assured things are not as black and white as they may seem. Whilst Joffrey is evil because he is evil, Theon is doing this because he wishes to belong to a family; he may have been raised with the Starks but he never felt part of them. Returning to the Iron Islands has made those desires come back to the surface and, knowing that he has to prove himself to be accepted as part of the family, this is why Winterfell currently sits under his control. Notice how one of the first things he asks Luwin to do is to send ravens to both his father and sister to inform them of what he has achieved. Yes, to ask for men of course but clearly to tell them that he is worthy of being a Greyjoy. Theon’s motives are a definite shade of grey and although his actions this week could easily make him comparable to Joffrey, there’s more to explore in this carefully-woven story.
From the dangerous grounds of Winterfell to the battle-worn expanses of Harrenhal and once again, Arya is masquerading as a nobody as Tywin Lannister makes war plans around her. He notices that she can read better than most of his other subjects and as Arya continues to listen in whilst playing serving-girl, she has to spend a small portion of time dodging the gaze of Littlefinger, who makes a sudden and rather unwelcome appearance. Hard as she might try, he catches her eye and stares contently but whether or not he notices who she really is remains to be seen. This is Littlefinger we’re talking about; if he did realise who she is but didn’t say anything, there will be a reason for it. There always is.
Not only contending with trying to stay invisible, Arya has to name another face for Jaqen H’Gharr to conveniently get rid of as her adventures at stealing sensitive notes from Tywin’s table are almost announced for everyone to hear. The scene with Amory Lorch, her next named victim, bursting in to Tywin’s chambers and then dropping dead was likely not meant to be humorous but ended up that way nonetheless. Once again, this scene almost demonstrates the ease in which Arya chooses to murder somebody compared to, let’s say, last season. There is no hesitation; no pause for thought. Surviving is clearly tantamount to morality and why depend on that when your enemies have little to consider?
The scenes we’ve been treated to between Tywin and Arya are really quite illusive. Tywin appears to be rather friendly towards her, offering no violence as incentive for her to obey him and instead almost treating her with a modicum of respect, appreciating her lies in order to survive and her smart way of seeing the world. You almost become blinded by the notion that Tywin is not as cruel a man as we’ve heard before. However, rest be assured that if he was aware of just who was serving him wine, he would not hesitate in having her thrown into a cell and used as leverage against the Starks. Tywin may portray a cool, collected and warm exterior (for the most part) but inside lies a steady stream of rot and cold-hearted logic. If he can treat his own son, Tyrion, as unwanted garbage as he has done in the past, it doesn’t bear thinking about how he’d treat Arya – the daughter of his most feared enemy to date.
I haven’t mentioned this before but Charles Dance is doing a fantastic job of bringing Tywin’s two personalities into the foreground. We already got glimpses of his talent in season one when he first appeared but his increased presence this time around have magnified them for us to see. His interactions with Arya are simply tense and so well done, by both parties involved, and I definitely hope to see them continue for a little while to come.
As kings clash and betrayals are abound south of the wall, we return North to the various struggles of Jon Snow and his new party of men being led under the command of Qhorin Halfhand. This week, they finally do what they were setting out to do and ambush a small group of wildlings, butchering all but one of them – a woman named Ygritte. Jon promises to kill her as the rest of his party continues on, but he cannot carry his promise through and she takes off running. Eventually catching up to her, she finds herself tied in rope and having to bunk down with him for the night (she may not take a liking to such a prospect but I’m sure we could find somebody willing to take her place. Anyone?) as he has lost track of his party and trying to find them in the dark is akin to wishing to be killed by the wildlings, who freely choose to use the cover of darkness to do their hunting rather than be hindered by it.
Ygritte’s appearance signals the beginning of a story that will take Jon Snow to the conclusion of the season and set the journey for the next. Not only that, the role has been cast brilliantly, with an actress who appears to embody the aspects of the character one can deduce from reading the book.
Also, on a more irrelevant point, I always envision the wildlings to have abhorrent dental conditions. As such, it’s quite the surprise when one turns up with brilliantly-white gnashers, such as Ygritte. Again, this is totally irrelevant and has no bearing on the show or this piece of writing but I thought I’d put it out there regardless. I can’t be the only one, after all.
Moving back to King’s Landing and Cersei is not a happy Queen. Her only daughter, Myrcella, is sent away under Tyrion’s orders and if she couldn’t possibly hate him anymore than she already does, it happens. She promises him that should he ever find somebody he truly loves, she will enjoy seeing him struggle as she takes her away from him. Delivered with such venom behind the words, Tyrion had better watch his back. Shae, too.
Not only content with dealing with his sister’s clear threats, Tyrion also has to fend off the rabid citizens of King’s Landing. They’re not happy with how they’re being starved and ignored by those in power and they’re out to show their discontent. As the King and the rest of his party walk down a path, Joffrey is hit in the face by a thrown pile of excrement (a hundred silvers to whoever committed the act) and the previously calm masses descend into rabid viciousness. People from both sides of the spectrum are killed with brutal force whilst the King and the majority of his party manage to reach safety, only they’ve left Sansa behind. Joffrey is so angry at the rebelling forces that he wishes them all dead, to which Tyrion rages at him that that attitude is what is causing them so many problems. Joffrey is incensed at how he is being spoken to but that pales in comparison to the proceeding slap he receives at his uncle’s hands. There are many things I get tired of in life but seeing Tyrion slap Joffrey’s weasel face is not one of them. Such a scene can brighten anyone’s gloomy day.
As the King and his party are safely out of harm’s way, Sansa is apprehended by four men and dragged into a barn. There, they rip off her underwear and are seconds away from brutally gang-raping her when the Hound makes a sudden appearance, against the King’s foolish desire to leave her be, and disembowels, slices and slaughters the attackers. Intestines flow out all over the floor but it matters not as the Hound carries her away to safety. He may appear to be a vicious servant of the King but he clearly has capable thought.
In some ways, the citizens of King’s Landing turning against the throne’s occupant is another demonstration of this week’s concept of trust and loyalty being shattered. Joffrey ‘trusted’ his subjects to willingly accept his actions and commands being issued from the throne without question, such as the way the King’s orders are generally accepted. But it didn’t happen that way. The people have reared their heads and said no, going as far as to try to murder their King as he passes them by. Joffrey’s answer is to want them all dead but as Tyrion rightly pointed out, that is why he is hated so much. Joffrey will likely continue his reign of horror to the end of the season and beyond but a permanent position on the throne of power is definitely out of the question. If his own subjects don’t murder him, somebody will. Preferably sooner.
Sansa later complains to her hand-maiden Shae that she hates the king and wishes him dead, but is reliably told to hold her tongue for she cannot be sure who exactly is hearing her words. “Don’t trust anybody; life is safer that way”, Shae explains verbatim. If there are words one should follow when playing the continuing game of thrones, it would be these. Robb Stark learned that lesson when he trusted Theon Greyjoy. Joffrey learned it when he trusted his city denizens to obey him without question. Ned Stark learned it when he placed loyalty over sense and had his head removed as a consequence. Trust is placed all too freely in Westeros and, most commonly, is ignored as quickly as it is received.
Whilst Joffrey struggles to keep a hold over his subjects in the south, Robb Stark readily keeps a grip over his in the North. He appears to be well-loved by his men, respected and yet inevitably slightly feared for his position. He encounters the field nurse, Talisa, who was previously hard with bearing the truth on him. They joke about her being a Lannister spy before they’re interuppted by a returning Catelyn Stark, who clearly notices the electricity between the two and reminds her son that he is bound to another by oath – an oath which cannot be broken under any circumstances. Robb claims that he is aware of that, but is he truly? That remains to be seen…
Later on, they are given word of the ongoing problems occurring at Winterfell. Robb wants to take his army back north and clean Theon’s rot out of the walls but doing so would tarnish everything he’s achieved in the war so far. He is advised to send Roose Bolton’s bastard son to do the job instead and he agrees, but as mentioned previously, trust can be broken as easily as it is obtained and King Stark may yet see that happen for a second time.
If there’s one thing noticeable about this week’s outing concerning the Starks, it’s how little Catelyn has actually had to do this season. Besides trying to broker an alliance between Stannis and Renly, continuing to grieve her husband’s murder and dealing with Brienne, she’s been somewhat irrelevant. In the book, there are entire sections dedicated to her as she visits Rivverun, the home which she grew up in. These sections, whilst not offering much to the overall story, furthered Catelyn’s character development, as she dealt with her father’s grave illness and resurfacing memories from long ago. These portions have been completely removed from depiction on screen and as a result, have left Catelyn looking like an almost useless character. It’s a shame because Michelle Fairley could’ve given these scenes considerable justice had she been given the chance.
Back we are at Qarth and once again, Dany is struggling to find a way to take her fight across the Narrow Sea and to the land for which she wishes to own. She meets with the spice king, the second wealthiest man in the city, to request ships to command to sail across the sea. With no army or allies at hand, the spice king questions her strategy and ultimately refuses to give her anything based on the notion of a dream. Dany attempts her world-famous ‘I am Daenerys Stormborn and I will burn you to the ground’ speech in order to sway his answer but alas, it fails to leave a lasting impression and she leaves with nothing.
Later on, Dany is still irritated at her request being turned down and heads back to her quarters, only to find her people murdered and her three baby dragons stolen, seemingly carried off to, what may be, the House of the Undying. It’s from these two points from which the problems lie, at least for me.
Firstly, Dany is beginning to sound like her brother, Viserys, and we all know what eventually became of him. The first time she recounted the dramatic speech about how she’ll take the throne and kill anyone in her way was effective the first time around, maybe even the second, but any consecutive attempts diminish the impact it has. Dany seems to be under the impression that merely sounding like a force to be reckoned with makes her one, but with three stolen dragons, a now-dead army of ten people and no way of crossing anywhere, that’s simply not the case. I would love to see her sitting on the iron throne but continuing to repeat the same speeches verbatim has the potential to make me start to dislike her.
Another issue regarding Dany’s story this week is the seemingly nonsensical plot twist at the end of the episode. Dany’s people being slaughtered and her three dragons being stolen didn’t happen in the book. It appears as though whoever has stolen them is taking them to the House of the Undying for purposes unknown. My main question is why has this plot been introduced? My initial thought was that it was being used as a way to get Dany into the HotU but she goes there of her own free will in the book, without her people needing to be slaughtered. So again, I am wondering what the point of this is. Besides what we’ve yet to see, I can only surmise that this is being used as a way to continue her story through the next four episodes of the season. Her story is already smaller in A Clash of Kings than the first book, after all. If this is not the explanation for why this has been done, then I have no idea.
‘The Old Gods and the New’ was yet another above-average offering of Game of Thrones this week, but certainly not without its issues. Slight deviations from the plot of the book are not bothersome but I take issue with entire sections being removed and then seemingly irrelevant ones being introduced. Besides those problems, Game of Thrones continues to make healthy strides towards the rest of the story yet to come. There are four hours remaining of this season – I only hope they’re as true to the book as possible.