The Game of Thrones is messy business for all involved, from warrior to King to everyday peasant walking the streets. The innocent pay the price for the guilty and a man without honor can be a significant player in the game. This week’s episode was not only one of the finest of the current season to date but also truly wonderful for the character development it provided. Three episodes still remain after this week and there is still an awful lot of ground to cover.
Our first visit this week is to Winterfell, where the Stark boys have made a hasty exit and Theon, now calling himself Prince, is enraged that two little boys, a wildling woman and a halfwit giant have managed to escape past his own guards. Maester Luwin begs him not to kill them when they find them and Theon insists that he won’t, though he may just ‘harm’ them instead. They find trace of them at a nearby farm and send Luwin back home, expectedly in order to slaughter them without interruption.
If there’s anything clear about Theon right now, it’s that he is rapidly digging a hole for himself that he won’t be able to get back out of. Taking Winterfell was a gesture meant to prove himself to the family who thought him weak and unworthy of the Greyjoy name. It’s all going to end badly, that much is for sure, and with the scene at the end, which I’ll get to later on, the whole of the North will surely want to mount his head on a spike for all to see.
Theon is an easily-disliked character for a long list of reasons but it’s hard to loathe the character. Alfie Allen is putting so much effort into making Theon what he is – both nice and nasty versions. I don’t think that Theon even likes what he’s doing to those he previously held in such high regard so an actor that can play the required amount of self-confusion is necessary. Luckily, they found the right one for the job.
Moving further North and we come back to Jon Snow, who’s now being accompanied by Ygritte, the wilding he took captive last week. She’s still teasing him about his lack of sexual experience and the way he blindly accepts the oath of the Night’s Watch without question. She continues to taunt him about his virginity, even offering to get down and dirty with him right there in the mud, but Jon being the faithful soldier he is, resists and as a result, loses a hold of his captive and promptly finds himself surrounded and outnumbered. It would’ve been so much easier for you to have just decapitated her when you had the chance, Jon…
Ygritte’s continued torment of Jon regarding the vows he swore to and abhorrently refuses to break raises an important point; Ygritte says she is more of a free woman that he will ever be, because unlike him, she is free to fornicate with whoever she likes and doesn’t have to refrain from enjoying the company of another just because an old man told her not to. In some ways, Ygritte is absolutely right in what she says. Are the people of the Night’s Watch nothing more than prisoners working under the guise of honor? They cannot opt out, they cannot be with a woman and they must forsake their lives for their vows if the need requires it, or else they will be killed as a punishment. Some were even brought to the Wall because they were prisoners, given a choice of either joining and still being a prisoner or refusing and facing sure death. It’s clear that a seed of doubt was sown in Jon’s head as he was being told this and it’s not hard to see why.
Also, it has to be mentioned that Rose Leslie, who plays Ygritte, is doing an exceptional job in the role. Those playful qualities are widely abundant, as well as that subtle hint of threat and manipulation as well. Ygritte knows what Jon’s weak spot is and finds extreme ease in exploiting it for her own need. I never paid particular attention to the character whilst reading the book but now I find her simply wonderful. I usually find issue with the show straying too far from the book’s plot but in some instances, I can truly appreciate the changes they’ve made. This is one of those changes.
Another episode sees another visit to the destroyed ruins of Harrenhal, where Tywin Lannister and his camp are currently residing. After Amory Lorch comically fell through his chamber doors sporting a poison dart to the neck, Tywin wants those responsible to be caught. Twenty men have already hanged for being suspected of the crime but still the mysterious assailant wanders free. Nevertheless, Tywin sees that Arya has brought him mutton, which he doesn’t like, but tells her to eat it when she offers to bring something new. He tells her that this war, whether won or lost, will be his last, before delving into a history lesson about their surroundings. Arya knows quite a lot about Harrenhal, and about the dragons that caused its destruction. She begins to get a little too cocky for her own good before being warned by Tywin that he may ‘enjoy her’ but she’s still a servant, and a captive one at that, and therefore should be careful.
Any scene between these two characters is a highlight of each episode. The way that these scenes portray such tension and precision is frankly wonderful. One of them is young and still a relative newcomer to the field of battle whereas the other is old, battle-proven and knows how the game is played. They just bounce off of each other like a game of ping-pong. Both Maisie Williams and Charles Dance are doing magnificent work in their roles and with the material required of them and I loathe the moment these scenes will have to come to an end.
As mentioned earlier, a deviation from the plot of the book is usually frowned upon, at least by me, but there are some changes that are truly welcomed. Arya and Tywin shared occasional scenes in the book but none of this frequency, as in the show. Giving them more scenes, more opportunities to play off of each other, was a wonderful decision and in this instance, I’m glad the book wasn’t stringently followed.
As one Lannister presides over Harrenhal, another continues to reign over King’s Landing and it’s not a pretty sight. After nearly being gang-raped last week, Sansa is eager to thank Sandor Clegane for coming to her rescue and slaughtering the men who threatened her. She doesn’t expect him to tell her that he didn’t kill them for her but that he killed them because he enjoys it. Although clearly repulsed, he rightly informs her that some day she will be glad of that when she’s the Queen and he is all that stands between her and her ‘beloved King’.
Later, Sansa has terrible nightmares about her attack and is equally as horrified to wake up and discover that she’s had her first period, meaning that she’s now able to bear Joffrey’s children and he’d surely make her if he found out. She tries to cover up the evidence but is disturbed by Shae, her hand-maiden, who assists with the cover-up until another maiden interrupts and heads off to inform the Queen. Shae, increasingly becoming a character of value, threatens to gut the girl if she says anything but it’s pointless as she gets back to see Sandor Clegane already there with full knowledge of the event.
Cersei, upon hearing of the news, gives Sansa a bit of advice; bearing the King’s children is the greatest honor for a Queen, even though she freely admits that Joffrey has always been difficult, and how Robert used to go hunting when she was in labor, rather than stand by her side. “You may never love the King, but you will love his children”, she says before telling her that the more people she loves, the weaker you are, clearly referencing herself in the process.
If you found yourself suddenly feeling some sympathy for Cersei this week, don’t fear that you’re going soft of heart because you definitely won’t be the only one. Cersei, despite being a wicked woman for the vast majority of her tenure on the show, is still a character that can be sympathetic when she wants to be. She knows she has a child who enjoys cruelty, who enjoys seeing people abused and beaten, and that she spent the majority of her marriage to Robert not loving him at all. Only her own brother would be with her when she birthed her children whilst her own husband would rather be out hunting than welcoming them into the world. She knows that Sansa doesn’t love her son (anybody with eyes would be able to see that) but she also knows that the same applied to her, and that loving her children was good enough.
In another outing at King’s Landing, Tyrion receives a scroll saying that Stannis Baratheon’s fleet of two-hundred ships has been spotted and they cannot be less than five days away from reaching their shores. Cersei says they’ll rain fire down on them from above but Tyrion knows that it won’t be enough and that Joffrey needs to start acting like a King. Cersei replies that her son doesn’t listen to her or to anybody else.
“It’s hard to put a leash on a dog when you’ve put a crown on his head”, Tyrion says, providing one of the best lines of the episode once again. Cersei begins to wonder whether this is the price she’s paid for having children with her brother. Tyrion attempts to comfort her by reminding her that the Targaryens wed their siblings for hundreds of years, but Cersei also reminds him that a whole lot of them went mad. There’s also a moment where Tyrion comes close to comforting his upset sister but they’re both rather uncomfortable at the prospect of intimacy that they both back away, unfortunately.
Any scene, whether positive of negative, between Tyrion and Cersei is usually always a highlight and this week’s was no different. Despite their differences, despite their own war going on between them, there is still a small part of both of them that wishes things to be different. It’s this kind of character development that I was talking about at the beginning, and that Game of Thrones is always so remarkably good at pulling it off. Peter Dinklage and Lena Heady are both excellent actors in their roles. Putting them together in scenes like this makes for a wonderful viewing experience. I could sit through an entire hour of them sparring with one another and have absolutely nothing to complain about.
After many, many weeks of absence, we finally get another look at Jaime Lannister and his continued imprisonment at Camp Stark. This week, he shares a cell with a distant relative of his, Ser Alton Lannister. Alton used to be a squire of his, and quite clearly holds the man in a high regard. He inches closer and closer to Jaime and it’s obvious that he’s going to end up being used as a tool for Jaime to attempt his escape. It succeeds and he frees himself from the cell, strangling a guard in the process but is later caught and dragged back to camp, with a hungry, baying mob wanting his head surrounding him. Catelyn has to save him from the father of the guard Jaime killed during his escape attempt, as much as it must surely pain her to do so.
Later, she visits him in his cell and calls him a ‘man with no honor’. However, as she’s then told, he only shared a bed with his sister and nobody else, surely making him more honorable than Ned Stark, who conceived a child with another woman but her. He taunts her about how much she must have hated Jon Snow when her husband brought him home, and it clearly touches a nerve as she calls for Brienne’s sword. We don’t know what she does with said sword but I don’t imagine it to be a pretty sight.
It is interesting to see Catelyn being given the truth she may not like to hear about her husband. She holds him on a pedestal, almost talking of him as though he was the perfect, most honorable man in the land and yet that was clearly not the case. He did betray her with another woman and then forced her to be a part of that boy’s upbringing. Not only that, she herself never held back anything when it came to Jon and she never treated him with any respect or niceties. These people like to pretend they’re honorable, that they’re ‘above’ their enemies when it comes to morality but when you really think about it, they’re no different sometimes.
It was also good to see Jaime again this week after so long away. He may be looking disheveled and beaten but he’s still very much capable of wielding his words like a weapon, much like his brother. I hope it won’t be another long time before we see him again.
After having had her dragons stolen from her last week, Daenerys is on the warpath; she wants them back, at any cost. She pleads with the Thirteen to give them back to her, as they will surely die without her, but the spice king tells her that they wouldn’t even if they had them, as they’re a menace whilst alive and better off dead. Pyat Pree, the creepy warlock from previous weeks, disagrees and says that the mother of dragons should have her children back…and he’ll give them to her. He stole them after making an arrangement with the King of Qarth. What King of Qarth, Dany asks. Xaro Xhoan Daxos is that King and the rest of the Thirteen are then murdered by Pyat Pree’s projections.
She tries to run but is stopped by one of the projections, who tells her that the dragons are at the House of the Undying, before being stabbed in the back by Jorah. Instead of blood, the clothes simply fall to the floor as though they had been walking by themselves.
Last week, I was a little confused as to why this whole plot involving the theft of Dany’s dragons had been written. It turns out that it was as I suspected – a way to get Dany into the House of the Undying. She goes there anyway in the book, without having her dragons stolen, but now I can see the benefits in giving her a true reason to go there. Making Pyat Pree ever-more spooky and mysterious than before gives Qarth a whole new vibe of dangerous. The section of the book that takes place inside the HotU was especially memorable and I hope the TV interpretation gives it justice. If Pyat Pree is any indication, that will surely happen.
It was also good to see Dany spending less time shouting at everybody that she will take what is hers with fire and blood this week. Her conversation with Jorah rang true – she has no men, no ships and nobody in Westeros knows she’s alive and therefore cannot support her claim as easily as she’s been saying. It made her sound less like a Viserys clone and more of the character she’s supposed to be, and I hope this continues on. She was extremely irritating last week – I care not for more moments like that.
Finally, to conclude this week’s episode, Theon returns to Winterfell and, in front of everybody he now reigns over, unveils the charred remains of two infant boys hanging from nooses. Everybody is horrified and Luwin is devastated, but is anything ever as it truly seems on Game of Thrones? The answer to that is no, so don’t assume that all of the facts have been presented to you just yet. Theon may be going down a dark road but is he capable of senselessly murdering two young boys? I doubt it.
‘A Man Without Honor’ was a wonderful, insightful episode not just for the story progression but also the character development. Game of Thrones has a solid, well-presented set of characters and it knows just how to take them that much further each week. It’s been especially good at this since it first began and it has yet to fade as it gets older. I still can’t believe we only have three episodes remaining, however. Where has the time gone? It must surely be the work of a Warlock…