Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Game of Thrones. Season 2, Episode 5: The Ghosts of Harrenhall

I will begin by again linking to HBO’s most excellent guide to the 10,000 characters on this show, to help people keep up with who is who.

We start with King Renly, in his camp who was facing off against his older brother Stannis last week. He’s in discussion with Catelyn the Spunky who is assuring him that Robb has no interest in the Iron Throne – and them agreeing that Robb can be King the North but swear fealty to the Iron Throne. In exchange Baratheon and Stark will ally. But, despite Catelyn getting everything Robb could want, she still urges Renly to make peace with Stannis (why? On what ground? They both want to be king, Renly has the larger army – what compromise should Renly offer to a man who is famous for being uncompromising? And why is she even negotiating on Stannis’ behalf?)

However the discussion becomes moot when the evil shadow Melisandre conjured last week appears and kills Renly. Since the shadow disappears that leaves Brienne being blamed for his death – and forced to kill the guards to defend herself. Her grief over dead Renly is extreme and poignant – she always loved her king. Catelyn the Spunky convinces her to flee so she can avenge him later. Meanwhile Loras and Maegery are convinced to flee as well by Baelish.

We later see Brienne and Catelyn riding north to Robb’s camp – and Catelyn’s plan to return to Winterfell. She wants to convince Brienne to join Robb rather than waste her life trying to kill Stannis. Brienne instead swears to serve Catelyn, so long as she is not held back from avenging Renly and killing Stannis and Catelyn accepts her fealty.

To Kings Landing where Cersei and Tyrion are discussing Renly’s death. Cersei is celebrating – but Tyrion is worried because now the whole army is united behind Stannis. Cersei is also bitter about Tyrion’s plans to send Marcella to Dorne – but Tyrion says she’d be safer there – and that Marcella is a sweet, innocent girl (unlike her mother). Tyrion wants to talk about the siege preparations but Joffrey has decided to handle that himself – or so Cersei says.

Of course, Tyrion has other sources even if Cersei is stonewalling him and learn as about her plan to use wild-fire (like Greek Fire) against Stannis’s forces. He also tortures poor Lancel most cruelly (and amusingly).  He walks the streets of Kings Landing considering Tywin’s many losses against Robb and what chance they have against Stannis’s army – pausing at a street preacher to consider that dear King Joffrey is a horrendous choice as well. I’m glad that Tyrion firmly rejects and is angered by being called a demon moneky and manipulating the king – since he is doing his best to save them. He doesn’t just accept it.

Tyrion consults an alchemist to find out about wildfire, something that the Targaryens used to hold onto power after their dragons died – a chemical that burns extremely hot. Bronn, a ware veteran, is doubtful because people panic, even well trained soldiers and there’s a high chance of the pots breaking before they’re fired in the chaos – burning the city down. The alchemist has over 7,000 jars. Tyrion is also wary of wild fire – so decides to take control

Over to Stannis, he is pointedly not grieving for his brother Renly – and Ser Davros is most disturbed by what he saw with Melisandre but Stannis won’t talk about it or any debate about Lady Melisandre. He finally listens and agrees to lead the attack without Melisandre in the face of Davros’s hard truths.

With Tywin’s army at Harenhall, Arya is serving as cupbearer for Lord Tywin. Tywin shows himself to be a very intelligent man with very little willingness to believe what he wants and deny reality – facing the harsh truth that Robb Stark is a powerful force and they can’t keep underestimating him. he also pegs Arya as a northerner and asks her what they say about Robb – Arya tells some great tales about Robb and even mixes in a rather good, subtle threat. Arya also meets again with Jaqen H'ghar, the criminal who was being taken to the wall to the Nights Watch whose life she saved – he owes her 3 deaths. She chooses the Tickler (the torturer) first – I’d have gone with Tywin myself. And later, the Tickler is found suddenly dead

Now to the storylines that don’t seem to be involved with everyone else

At the Iron Islands Theon is captaining the ship, the Sea Bitch, and finding that his crew has about as much respect for him as his father and sister. And of course we have casual mention of – no, pride in! – being rapists which seems to be common to the Iron Isles. They won’t respect him unless he earns it – or so says his first mate. And between them they hatch a plan to do far more than raid some fishing villages

In Winterfell, Brann is ruling alone with Maester Luwin – but proves to be good at it despite his age – and when it is learned that one of the bannermen is under siege, Brann is quick to send a large force to protect them. He discusses his dreams with Osha – who takes them seriously. He dreamed the Sea came to Winterfell and flooded the castle

And up to the North, beyond the Wall where Jon the Pouty is marching with the Night Watch. We get a history lesson from Sam  and the introduction of a legendary ranger. Manx Rider has gathered all of the widlings together into a huge force –that could probably take the wall. Corwin Halfhand, master ranger, plans to kill Manx which will scatter his army, their best chance. Of course Jon wants to be part of it, despite not being a ranger – because he’s Jon the Pouty
Her Blondeness, Daenerys is in Qarth, is playing with her baby dragons and encouraging Doreah to sleep with men in Qarth and be her spy – and there’s some culture clashes with her personal servants bringing Dorthraki culture to Qarth. And then more of her warriors are discussing how to steal things from their hosts – and she has to correct them, like the proper civilising influence she is on the bad naughty savages. In between educating her people she meets the warlocks of Qarth – though Xaros, her host, dismisses them as parlour tricks. Xaro and Daenerys discuss what she wants and her interpretation of what a conqueror is – someone who takes what they want. And she has no shame of it. Xaros wants to marry Daenerys (a political alliance more than anything else) showing his ambition as a conqueror is higher than she expected. Xaros has heard that Robert Baratheon is dead – and this is the best chance.

Ser Jorah doesn’t approve – they haven’t verified the information and if they win Westeros with an army of foreign mercenaries, there’s no way they’ll win support from the Seven Kingdoms. And, of course, he loves Daenerys and is jealous. He has a very good speech as to the kind of Queen he thinks she would be (kind and compassionate. He forgot overwhelmingly entitled). He wants her to take 1 ship, go to Westeros and find allies there.

Cersei is an interesting character how she develops –  but at the same time she’s gone from a woman who seemed very controlled, very much behind most of her own plots and schemes but stymied by the actions of her husband – now she seems blocked and manipulated by Tyrion and one side and even more stymied by the horrendous and unpredictable actions of her son on the other. Her control was always precarious, but it’s now non-existent. The woman who made such a dramatic demonstration about power to Baelish has been almost entirely stripped of hers, perhaps proving Varys right –power is an illusion and resides where people believe it does.

I don’t like Catelyn as the eternal mother – everyone’s eternal mother it seems – last week she was scolding Renly and Stannis like unruly children and this week she’s urging peace between Stannis and Renly because… because of what?

I always wish that we’d seen more fallout from Joffrey’s gratuitous brutalisation of the prostitute in the last episode. It was bad enough that scene was there at all (since it serves no purpose  except to establish that Joffrey is evil, which we already knew) at very least we could have had Tyrion’s disgust, anger and outrage for the poor woman – but we only got a passing reference. Her pain and suffering is disposable, a passing consideration, not worth dwelling on.

One of the two gay men in the series is now dead. I think we also got to see more poignant, painful grief from Brienne over his death than we did Loras – who showed more anger than sadness, though he showed both, rage predominated. The flawed representation has now been cut in half – and Loras likely to be a much more background character for a while.

Storywise-  Theon and Jon just seem so very pointless. Daenerys less so because we can see the shadows of what will be – but instead she’s “civilising” her Khalasar who are, of course, savages who want to steal from their hosts. Her blondness is not only a saviour for the dark, savage Dorthraki but she is also educating them on how to be “civilised”. Oh and of course someone wants to marry her  blondness again.

And... wait let me recap... this whole episode didn't have a single breast. Not one naked woman all episode... NOT ONE! Oh my gods, someone send a doctor to the studio - is the writer ill? Game of Thrones without any humping, without any gratuitous female nudity? Daenerys even changed her clothes and we didn't see it! Even Margaery wore a dress that didn't require copious amounts of duct tape to hold it in place. I am shocked - and vaguely worried that they may try to make up for it next episode.