Tag Archive: Game of Thrones

It is almost beyond comprehension that the second season of Game of Thrones is already older. I know that I was still in NY when the season began (and I’ve been back home for a couple weeks now), but honestly, I can’t remember the last time a season of television seemed to fly by more quickly. Perhaps, the final season of Lost because although it was only about 16 or so episodes long, I was so excited to see the conclusion of what was arguably my favorite (if not quite what I considered the best) television program of all time. Still, the wait between episodes that season seemed excruciatingly long. So, I’m going to stand by my assertion that no season of TV has ever just seemed to happen as quickly as Game of Thrones season 2. That’s what happens when you HBO delivers week after week of truly exceptional and character-driven storytelling. While I might posit that I enjoyed A Game of Thrones more than A Clash of Kings (the individual books that Seasons 1 and 2 were based off of respectively), I think it’s safe to say that this season of Game of Thrones was an improvement over the original season (I’m probably letting the immense accomplishment that was “Blackwater” carry too much weight in that decision). HBO took a serious risk when they chose to adapt George R .R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, and fans of the books knew that Season 2 was when Martin’s infamous labyrinthine complexity could become an issue. Yet, despite making some changes here and there (some minor, some pretty massive), Game of Thrones has maintained the breadth of character and literary ambition at the key of the novels, and I know that it’s going to feel like a Westeros summer as I wait for the next season to arrive.

The episode was 70 minutes long and had a significant amount of plot territory to cover (to draw all of the season’s various stories to a close) so I apologize in advance for how lengthy the recap section of this post will be. Speaking of Lost earlier in this post, the episode started out by taking a page straight from the Lost playbook. We begin the episode with a close-up shot of Tyrion’s eye (don’t worry non-book readers. He survived that wound last week) as he wakes up in a cramped room in King’s Landing with an obviously scheming Maester Pycelle standing over his bed. Covered in bandages, he looks a little bit like an extra from The English Patient. Pycelle informs Tyrion that after the arrival of Tywin Lannister (with the help of the Tyrell forces), Tyrion will no longer be the Hand of the King. Instead that office is held by Tywin himelf. After briefly ensuring that Pod finds Brom and Varys (and lets them know Tyrion’s alive so that no one tries to make it look like he died from his wounds), we transition to the throne room where a royal procession has begun with Joffrey naming Lord Tywin the new Hand of the King (and we get one of the many shocks of the finale). I could have probably done without the graphic shot of Tywin’s horse shitting though. Joffrey also bestows other honors by promoting Littlefinger to Lordship and granting him the castle of Harrenhal as his new home (as in the shithole where Arya has been staying half the season). He also grants Ser Loras any one wish his family desires as recompense for helping to defeat Stannis’ troops. As part of an obviously pre-arranged scene full of overly dramatic (intentionally and in-universe) theatrics, Margaery declares her love for Joffrey and her desire to be his Queen. After some false speechifying about honoring his engagement with Sansa, Joffrey announces his betrothal to Margaery. Sansa thinks she’s finally free of Joffrey’s evil grasp but Littlefinger is quick to remind her that she’s still a hostage in this castle.

This extended stay with the King’s Landing nobility is followed by two short though ultimately important scenes (well the latter anyways). Varys visits Ros in her room at Littlefinger’s brothel. We haven’t seen her since Cersei threatened to kill her (and is it an episode of Game of Thrones if Ros doesn’t take her top off at least once?) and begins to recruit her to be one of his spies. Next, we find ourselves somewhere in the middle of Westeros as Brienne and Jaime continue their journey to King’s Landing to negotiate for Arya and Sansa’s freedom. They come across three women hanging from a tree with the sign “slept with lions” hanging around them. The Starks troops murdered them for sleeping with Lannister soldiers (which is all about obliterating the black and white moral lines between the Lannisters and Starks). As Jaime is hectoring her and Brienne is stopping to give the women a proper burial, three Stark soldiers arrive and quickly suss out that Jaime is in fact the Kingslayer. Brienne kills them with brutal efficiency (and makes the last one really pay for it for hinting that he raped one of the women first). At the Stark camp though, Robb is informing his mother of his plans to not marry Lord Frey’s daughter because he’s in love with Lady Talisa. She tries to tell him how reckless his decision is which gives him the opportunity to immediately throw back her own poor decision making skills in her face concerning freeing Jaime. At Dragonstone, we see that Stannis was able to escape his failed siege of King’s Landing. After berating Mellisandre for her prophecies turning out to be false, he starts choking her in a murderous rage asking where her god is. After she says it’s inside of him, he releases her, and Mellisandre shows Stannis a vision in the flames (which we don’t get to see) that convinces him of the actuality of her powers.

At Winterfell, Roose Bolton’s son, Ramsay Snow (even if we never actually see him in person), has finally arrived with his troops and has surrounded Winterfell in a siege. After finally realizing that he’s been what can only be described as a massive douche this season (but knowing it’s too late to make up for it), Theon ignores Maester Luwin’s counsel to flee Winterfell and take the black at the Wall. Instead, he rallies his men the next day to go out in an honorable blaze of glory. But in the middle of his fiery speech (one of Alfie Allen’s best scenes of the season), his men turn on him and knock him out and throw him in a bag (presumably to turn over to Ramsay Snow to secure their own safe passage out of Winterfell and back home). When Luwin tries to protect Theon, he gets a spear in his belly for his trouble. We return to King’s Landing where Tyrion is about to get some really bad news. Varys lets him know what everyone watching the show already suspected. The knight that tried to kill him last week was acting under the orders of his sister. Plus, Tywin has fired Brom as the head of the Gold Cloaks, and all of his Hill People have left King’s Landing after Tywin finally payed them. Tywin went from one of the most powerful and dangerous people in the capital to now being one of the most vulnerable and hunted. Varys lets Tyrion know that their friendship is over for now (because Tyrion has too big of a target on his back). We think Shae is going to abandon him too (especially after we see the massive Omar Little-style scar that Tyrion has running across his face) but she nearly strikes Tyrion for assuming she’s only stayed with him for the money and she offers to run away with him. Tyrion stays though because this political scheming is all he knows even if it will be the death of him.

Back at Robb Stark’s camp, he marries Lady Talisa. Yeah, that’s not going to cause any huge problems later in the series. We briefly return to Qarth where Dany and Ser Jorah arrive at the House of the Undying. There are no doors into the tower but as Dany and Jorah walk around the building, Dany disappears into the building and continues her quest to find her dragons. We move to the wilderness around Harrenhal. Arya spies Jaqen H’gar on a cliff top and before you can say “disapparate” (I’m mixing my fantasy metaphors here), he appears behind her. Arya wants to learn the secret to Jaqen’s assassination skills, and he offers to take her with him to Braavos to be a “Faceless Man.” She wants to but declines in order to become reunited with her family. Still, Jaqen gives her a coin and tells her that if she ever decides to join him, to give that coin to any man from Braavos and say the words “Valar Morghulis” (my inner book nerd squealed when I heard those words said out loud). He seemingly magically changes his appearance and bids his farewell to Arya. Back at Winterfell, Bran, Rickon, Osha, and Hodor emerge from the catacombs to find the castle burnt to the ground. At the Godswood tree, they find Maester Luwin, dying, and they bid farewell (and he has Osha give him a quick and clean death). Luwin’s last advice to his young charges is to head north because there’s no way they’ll survive a journey to get together with Robb again. In Qarth, Dany explores the decrepit halls of the House of Undying. She opens a door and finds herself in the snow-filled, destroyed ruins of the King’s Landing throne room. After being tempted with the Iron Throne, she hears her baby’s crying and continues on. She leaves this room only to find herself North of the Wall in the snow-filled wastelands. She finds a tent beyond the wall, and when she enters that room, she finds Khal Drogo and her son that was never born. After being tempted again with another of her greatest desires, she leaves once more to the sound of her dragons’ cries. This brings her to the center of the Tower where her dragons are chained. The warlocks torment her with being their prisoner forever and wraps Dany in her own chains. However, she gives her dragons the order that she has trained them with to burn things, and they set the warlock on fire in an impressive display of pyrotechnics (and these dragons are tiny. Imagine what they’ll be able to do when they’re fully grown).

And of course the season finale would create the longest section of recaps yet. Five paragraphs. Sweet Jesus. We’re almost there though. I promise. North of the Wall, Jon Snow and Qhorin Halfhand are being led in chains by the wildlings (including the fiery Ygritte) to be presented in front of the King-Beyond-The-Wall, Mance Rayder (and if the casting rumors are true, he’ll be played by Rome‘s James Purefoy next season). The Halfhand finally decides it’s time to implement his time to get Jon accepted into the Wildlings group (even if Jon doesn’t really know what’s happening). He picks another fight with Jon and steals one of the wildlings swords. The Lord of Bones decides to let the two fight to the death, and after Qhorin makes one too many cracks about Jon being a bastard, Jon finally kills him (and I believe he tells Jon that he’s now the Night’s Watch’s last chance). The Lord of Bones cuts the ropes binding Jon and declares him the man that killed the Halfhand (something no Wildling had ever accomplished [obviously I guess]). We return to Qarth where Dany storms into Xaro Xhoan Daxos’ quarters (where Dany’s servant Doreah has already started banging him). They drag Xaro to his supposed treasure room which we finally see opened and discover that there’s nothing in it. The vengeful Mother of Dragons locks Xaro and Doreah in the vault alive as punishment for their betrayal. They ransack Xaro’s home with the hopes of getting at least enough money to buy a ship so they can return home. Finally, to close out the second season, we get the BIG twist of the finale. Sam and other members of the Night’s Watch are digging latrines Beyond the Wall when they hear the horn blow once. This means rangers are returning home. Then, it blows a second time. This means wildlings. Then, it blows a third time. The horn never blows three times. That means White Walkers. Sam’s brothers flee as any one with common sense would. Sam doesn’t have that kind of energy and he collapses in tears. Suddenly, we get our first real look at the White Walkers who are in a full blown zombie army mode. One of them, a blue-skinned demon looking thing (cause there are different types of White Walkers), stares at Sam and gives the command for his army of Westerosi zombies to march, and there are a fuck ton of them.

(Was there any way I wasn’t going to use that amazing CGI shot of a White Walker in this episode?) So, we’re already at 2200 words and I’ve hardly done any actual critiquing of this episode. No one is actually going to read all of this. Yet, I must persevere. First things first, while I still believe that Peter Dinklage is the best person in the cast and he’s likely going to win an Emmy every year that this show is on, if anyone else is going to get an Emmy nomination this season, I really hope it’s Alfie Allen. He had the most morally complex role of the series, and in one single episode, we saw virtually every single side of his character. The show even took the opportunity to have Theon deliver a William Wallace style inspiring speech (except here Theon knows he’s going to die) only to have the show brutally subvert the blaze of glory Theon thinks he’s going to receive. Theon is only eclipsed in assholery by Joffrey, but Alfie Allen makes every second he’s on screen an interesting study in what it means to be torn between loyalties (as well as turning Theon into a poster child for daddy issues). The scene where Peter Dinklage breaks down in the arms of Shae as he realizes just how far he’s fallen (and how she’s the only good thing left in his life [a whore that he has to pay]) was seriously excellent, but for the second week in a row (last week it was Lena Headey’s drunken confessions to Sansa as Cersei), he’s been outshined by this show’s truly excellent cast that is honestly only rivaled in consistency by The Wire and Oz. It has the best ensemble cast currently on television, and this was the season that confirmed it.

I’m not generally one of the people that takes every opportunity to nit pick all of the changes the show made from the books (this season made a lot of changes), but there was one aspect of this episode that I was really frustrated by. One of the turning points of the entire series and arguably the most important scene in all of A Clash of Kings (besides the Battle of Blackwater) was Dany’s trip to the House of the Undying and the various prophecies that she received while she was there. There’s a valid point to be made that they were just temptations given to her by the Warlocks, but considering that everything she saw in that house decided virtually every action Dany takes over the course of the next three books (which equates to the next four seasons of the show since Book 3 will be two seasons), it’s fair to argue that they’re central to her entire character arc for the rest of the show. So, when the series drastically changed the visions she had (and completely removed any mention of the three-headed dragon), it’s marked one of the biggest and most potentially drastic deviations from the source material yet. The visions she had were cool (especially the one with Khal Drago), but it’s going to have to wait to see whether or not this doesn’t cause massive discontinuity with the canon of the A Song of Ice and Fire books down the road once George Martin finally gets down to publishing Books 6 & 7. Also, Xaro is in Book 5 (sorry spoilers I guess). Unless, he escapes that vault, the series also just removed another potentially massively important part of another book. We’ll see how it works out.

Is it weird that the scenes between Brienne and Jaime were some of my favorite of the episode? Probably not since Jaime becoming a point of view character in A Storm of Swords was one of the best decisions that George R. R. Martin made in the series. Still, their playful antagonism matching up Brienne’s almost comical stoicism and seriousness against the roguishness and at this point, nihilism, of Jaime Lannister makes for the best “odd couple” in the franchise. We’re going to be seeing a lot more of Brienne and Jaime next season, and it’s good to have this early bit of proof that Gwendoline Christie and Nicolaj Coster-Waldau have great on-screen chemistry. I was also really impressed by the way that the show finally took the chance to show that the noble Starks aren’t all perfectly clean. Yes, every Stark we’ve ever met is a good person (even if Arya is on track to crazy town and being a teenage assassin), but they’ve sided themselves with some very questionable people. And one of the major themes of the books is the price that the common people of Westeros have to pay for the ultimately petty squabbles between the noble lords, and we got our first taste of that this episode. When Beric Dondarrion and the other outlaws who are fighting for the people begin to show up next season (assuming they do), we’ll get an even better picture of the sort of hell that Westeros is becoming all so that rich noblemen can fight for honor and their own power.

Okay, I’ve reached three thousand words about this episode. I think that’s probably a record for the longest post I’ve ever written for this site. I won’t punish my readers anymore (presuming any of you even made it this far). At the end of the day, it was an excellent episode even if I was disappointed with aspects of it because they didn’t leave up to the dream standards I had set in my head for the way the show would handle the House of the Undying. It managed to provide plenty of resolution to many of the show’s storylines while simultaneously putting the pieces in place for where the show is going to go in its third season (A Storm of Swords is my favorite book in the series by far and I’m incredibly excited for its prospects of being adapted to TV). Game of Thrones is going to be gone for a while. Winter will come and go. We will have a dream of spring before it returns (that was a play on the anticipated title of the seventh and final book). I doubt Martin will finish any of the other books before the next season begins. Yet, the excellence of this season and the strength of HBO’s vision in bringing Martin’s work to life means that the wait will be well worth the wait. I’m going to miss delving into the dirty world of Westerosi politics, but give it time. We will return.

Valar Morghulis.


Final Score: A-

My blog schedule over the course of the last five days has been slightly non-existent to put it lightly. I was watching the Barbara Streisand film Yentl like three days ago (cause it’s on my list, but surprisingly I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen so far), and because I haven’t had the motivation to put it back in yet (mostly because my dad and sister have been home and no one wants to watch me watch Yentl in the living room) and I also don’t want to start any other movies, I haven’t really done any other blogging. I also haven’t watched that much Angel because I don’t want a million plots occupying my mind while I try to remember the specifics of what happened in the first half of Yentl (and also what stylistic and cinematic aspects of the film I enjoyed or didn’t enjoy). I’ve spent the interim prepping a big feature I’m doing on Bonnaroo for work as well as putting the finishing touches on my schedule for what acts I want to catch. I actually finally finished my schedule today. I am seeing a shit ton of awesome bands. Actually, that might be my next post (even if it will bother my friends on Facebook and Twitter cause it’s the only thing I’ve been talking about for the last month or so). Anyways, despite all of my distractions, last night’s episode of Game of Thrones was so phenomenal (and an instant qualifier for one of the best episodes in the history of television in terms of epic scale and spectacle) that I couldn’t put off my real blogging any longer. So, without further ado, let’s wade into the murky waters of the “Blackwater” and see who won control of King’s Landing by the end of last night’s episode.

For the first time all season, this episode pretty much told one cohesive story (instead of like eight individual ones that may only vaguely interconnect with one another) so I actually think I will be able to limit the recap section of this review to one paragraph. Praise the Seven! It’s the eve of the inevitable invasion of King’s Landing by the forces of Stannis Baratheon which outnumber the forces of the Lannisters 3-1 land and sea. Stannis feels assured of his victory, and while we’d love to see Joffrey ousted as King, we also know that if the Lannisters lose this battle, it will mean the deaths of Tyrion and Sansa. Sansa has procured some medieval euthanasia in the likely chance that King’s Landing falls and has ordered Ser Ilyn Payne to execute herself and all of the other women in the castle if Stannis wins in order to keep from being raped by his army. Joffrey is on the battlefield but he’s only on the battlements of the castle which he means he’s pretty relatively safe unless the castle would fall. However, Tyrion isn’t willing to go down without a fight. He finally reveals his trump card which is to wipe out the opening wave of Stannis’ fleet (which includes a completley annihilated Davos’ son and a potentially dead Davos) with a massive wildfire explosion using a ship packed full of the wildfire. The explosion looked amazing but more on that later. However, as Stannis immediately points out, that was Tyrion’s only trick, and he used it right off the bat. It doesn’t take long before Stannis’ overwhelming forces have the castle completely surrounded and it’s only a matter of time til they will breach the walls.

Well, it’s going to be two paragraphs so ignore the beginning of the last one. When Lancel Lannister (who received a semi-major wound in the battle) informs Cersei of the deteriorating nature of the siege, she orders Joffrey off the battlefield which crushes the morale of his men (and it didn’t help that the Hound ran away in the face of the fire and told Joffrey to go fuck himself). However, Tyrion finds his own inner warrior and leads the troops himself and when they fight off the men currently surrounding the castle, Tyrion basks in the minor victory and the men chanting “Half-man!” However his victory is shortlived when re-inforcements from Stannis arrive and run his troops over again. Tyrion is also betrayed by one of his own knights who slices his face open. He’s only saved from death by his squire Podrick Payne. Sansa manages to escape Maegor’s Holdfast (at the urging of Shae) despite being told by Cersei the whole episode what will likely happen to her if the castle falls. She’s greeted in her chambers by the Hound who offers to help her escape and return to Winterfell but she declines. As Stannis’ victory seems at its most guaranteed, it is ripped right out of his hands by the arrival of Tywin Lannister who has supplemented his forces with the Tyrells. Ser Loras actually is the one that busts into the Iron Throne room right as Cersei is about to poison her son Tommen with a painless death. Shit just got real in Westeros.

The only episodes of television that can rival the epic ambition of this episode are from Band of Brothers. They also had much, much larger budgets than Game of Thrones did. This episode almost didn’t even happen in this sort of format. We weren’t going to see any of the battle. We were only going to hear about it from Cersei’s POV. Thank God that didn’t happen! The episode spent about fifteen or twenty minutes building up the tension for the battle. We spent what could have been the last moments with several characters. Game of Thrones fans know that George Martin isn’t afraid to kill of major characters and an epic battle for the control of the kingdom seems like the most appropriate moment to kill off important figures (which is probably why none except possibly Davos died because Martin subverts your expectations). But once that battle began, we might have gotten non-battle scenes now and then but the intensity and suspense never dropped for a second. From the second that Brom shot his flaming arrow into the wildfire boat and that simply amazing explosion, Game of Thrones blew away any expectations and it did it all on the show’s increasingly spread thin budget. I lost track of the number of times I said something along the lines of “Oh Shit!” or “Holy fuck!” during that episode. It was at least a dozen or more. From the moments that deliberately recalled the Normandy invasion in Saving Private Ryan to the more classical fantasy siege scenarios that were reminiscent of Lord of the Rings, last minute director Neil Marshall took the script (written by Martin himself) and turned it into the TV event of the year. It was gory, action-packed, brutal war, and I devoured every second of it.

Let me clarify something before I get into the gist of this next paragraph. I loved the action sequences in this episode. The choreography was just stellar and while it may not have been as impressive as the battle I had in my mind when I was reading the books, by the standards of television, it was almost unparalleled. However, the best moments of the night were the character moments because every single actor on this show brought their “A” game and then some. And as much as I love Peter Dinklage, the MVP award for “Blackwater” goes to Lena Headey. She had to carry much of the emotional weight of the evening, and for the first time in a while, we saw some chinks in the armor of one of the toughest and most resolute woman in all of Westeros. As she gets increasingly drunk and more brutally honest and confessional with Sansa, Lena Headey just nailed Cersei’s desperation, fatalism, and cynicism. It was astounding, and the scene where she’s telling Tommen a fairy tale as she’s preparing to poison him was one of the best of the whole series. Peter Dinklage was still wonderful and I really hope that I wasn’t the only reader of the books that was yelling “Half Man!” along with all of the characters on the screen. I just loved how prototypically “Tyrion” his inspirational speech was. There’s a reason why Tyrion has quickly become one of my top 5 TV characters of all time, and Peter Dinklage notched another fantastic performance under his belt. The Lannisters might be the biggest douches in all of Westeros but they always make for the most compelling moments of the series.

Sandor Clegane (aka the Hound) is my second favorite non-POV character in the books (only behind Ser Jorah), but so much of the character development he got in the books (particularly in A Clash of Kings which this season was based off of) hasn’t really happened. We got some flashes of it when he saved Sansa from the rapists, but that was about it. Finally, he got the attention he deserved in last night’s episode which gave light to both his twisted sense of honor (his willingness to save Sansa because he pities her and recognizes the bullying she receives from Joffrey as the same kind of sadism he suffered at the hands of his brother, the Mountain) and his almost fetishistic knack for violence. The man only has one achilles heel though but despite being one of the bigger bad-asses in the series, we finally see him succumb to that fear and runs away from the battle and publicly denounces his patrons. Rory McCann was pretty excellent the whole evening. Lena Headey was still the best (I can’t believe she managed to outshine Peter Dinklage) but I was reminded on the show for the first time ever why I always thought Sandor Clegane was such a compelling and morally complex character. I could go on a huge rant about how this battle was all about deconstructing traditional, clear moral lines in fantasy and historical battle scenes (where there’s an obvious good guy and an obvious bad guy) but I’d rather not write another 2000 words about this episode.

I can’t believe there’s only one episode left in the season. I’ve read the books so I know just how much is going to happen next week as well (unless some of its is pushed over to season 3 though I doubt it) so next week should be almost as entertaining if not quite as bombastic as “Blackwater.” This was without question the best episode of TV to physically air (if not the best I’ve watched) since the season finale of Breaking Bad which was the last (and only other individual episode of TV) that I’ve given a perfect score to on this blog. It’s that good. Honestly, the only other episode of TV that I’ve watched in a long while that I would put in this league (just for sheer character-driven storytelling prowess and sharpness of the realization of its characters) was “A Night to Remember” (I think I got the episode title right) from the second season of Mad Men. No matter what the rest of the legacy of Game of Thrones the television series ends up being, it will always have this truly spectacular episode to stand as proof as just how far and above it is in the realm of grandiose storytelling.

Final Score: A+

Holy fucking shit! I just finished the penultimate episode of the second season of Game of Thrones, “Blackwater,” which featured the climactic battle for control of King’s Landing between the forces of the Lannisters and the invading Baratheon army. Jesus christ, it was epic. Like, possibly one of the most epic episodes of TV that I’ve ever watched. It was just absurdly good. I’ll have a proper review up tomorrow. Anyways, my Song of the day choice is really simple. It’s the song that was played over the episode’s closing credits, “The Rains of Castamere”. For fans of the books, you’re familiar with the song because it is mentioned off and on throughout the entire series but also because it plays a very prominent role in one of the biggest moments of the third book. So, one of my favorite indie bands (who have already had two shout outs on my song of the day), the National, were chosen by George R. R. Martin to do an actual instrumental version of this incredibly important song to Game of Thrones’ lore. It was a perfect version of it and Matt Berninger’s deep baritone (which makes him sound even more like Nick Cave than usual on this song) just nailed the feel of this track and theGame of Thrones universe. Seriously though, if you aren’t watchingGame of Thrones, you need to. Immediately.

Moving is a pain in the ass. Cliche perhaps… but true. I’ve been back in the 304 since Saturday afternoon (it’s less than a minute away from officially being Wednesday as I type this), and I still don’t feel comfortable yet in my own home. I’m probably sleeping better than I ever did in NYC but that mainly has to do with the almost stark silence that greets you in rural WV compared to the never-ending bustle of noise and activity in Brooklyn. Also, my bed here is simply infinitely more comfortable than my bed in Crown Heights was. Today was the first time since I got home that I really took the opportunity to sit down and get some writing done. I took a day’s break from my late spring cleaning mission (for it is truly a quest worthy of the heroes of yore) to catch up on the many posts I’ve needed to write for this blog as well as an album review that I had to do for work (Bloom by Beach House). So, I apologize to my loyal readers (if you exist which my consistently increasing readership suggests you probably do) for this sizable delay between the airing of Sunday’s Game of Thrones (which I was able to watch as it aired for the first time this season since I was at home where we have HBO) and my post providing my ever-insightful (and ever “far too long and rambling”) thoughts on this week’s return to Westeros (and beyond). This episode will be known as the calm before the storm that is next week’s big-budget epic spectacle, “Blackwater.”

The week begins in Winterfell where Theon Greyjoy believes that he has successfully stopped every last messenger raven from escaping Winterfell so that King Robb will not know that Theon has apparently murdered Bran and Rickon. Theon believes himself to be on top of the world and when his watch reports riders at the gates, he assumes his sister has finally sent him the 500 men he needs to hold Winterfell against a future attack. However, it’s his sister who’s arrived, with hardly any men, and she brings orders from his fathers to abandon the castle and return home. After taking Winterfell with only 20 men, Theon obviously isn’t ready to give up his castle so easily and elects to stay despite his sister’s grim description of his chances for survival. Beyond the Wall, Jon Snow is taken back to the Wildling camp where his fellow ranger Qhorin Halfhand is left as the only living member of his scouting group and they’re paraded in front of the camp’s leader, the Lord of Bones. The Lord of Bones wants to execute Jon but Ygritte evens her debt with Jon by convincing the LoB to spare Jon and bring him in front of Mance Rayder himself to decide his fate. Qhorin Halfhand tells Jon that they need a spy in Mance Rayder’s army and then proceeds to pick a fight with a very confused Jon Snow. In Robb Stark’s camp, another of Robb’s flirtatious scenes with Lady Talisa (I really don’t understand why she isn’t Jeyne Westerling because it seems like such a meaningless thing to change unless she’s actually a red herring) is interrupted with the news that the Kingslayer has escaped for real and even worse, he escaped with the help of Catelyn and Brienne. Catelyn has undermined her son’s leadership, and this is obviously going to sow discord in his camp and Robb orders that Catelyn be put under armed guard. We get a brief scene with Jaime and Brienne as Brienne begins her journey to escort Jaime to King’s Landing to bargain for the release of Arya (who they don’t have) and Sansa.

At Harrenhal, Arya continues her duties as Lord Tywin’s cupbearer when she finds herself in a meeting where Stannis and his advisers face the cold truth that they will likely lose King’s Landing to Stannis Baratheon. This leads to the confusing decision (though it will make a lot of sense next week) to go after Robb Stark. Arya realizes it’s her last chance to cash in her last death that she’s owed by Jaqen H’gar. Unfortunately, she can’t find Jaqen before Lord Tywin rides out with his horses, and Jaqen informs Arya that he would not be able to assassinate Lord Tywin in the timeframe that she’s demanding. Arya’s pissed, and so she finally gives Jaqen his last name, his own. Arya uses this dirty trick to convince Jaqen to help her, Gendry, and Hot Pie escape (which he agrees to while also telling Arya that she has no honor). True to his word, he sets up the corpses on gate guard duty to make it look like they’re still alive and Arya and her ka-tet are able to walk right out the front doors (I may be mixing my fantasy vocabulary words there). At King’s Landing, Tyrion desperately searches his history books for a solution on how to beat Stannis Baratheon’s forces but can’t come up with any solution where he wins. He, Bron, and Varys have an intellectual debate about the lengths they’re going to have to go to maintain control in King’s Landing once the siege begins and how hellish things are just about to get (as in next week, and it’s going to be amazing). This becomes a conversation over defense tactics with Cersei and Tyrion where we learn that Joffrey will be actually fighting during the battle. Tyrion is probably excited about the prospect of his nephew dying in battle, but this decision is honestly about inspiring the troops with the presence of their leader. However, Cersei takes this as another attempt by Tyrion to rob her of one of her children (even though sending Myrcella to Dorne really was in her best interest) and she reveals her hand against Tyrion, or what she thinks was her hand. She taunts Tyrion by telling him that she has one of his whores. We’re led to believe it’s Shae and that Cersei plans to inflict any injuries or death on her that Joffrey may suffer tenfold when it’s revealed that the whore is actually Ros. Cersei may not have had Shae, but she crossed the line and Tyrion threatens to get his revenge against her when she’s most vulnerable.

At Robb Stark’s camp, he gets another visit from Talisa and he complains to her about the burdens of power and leadership, and we finally learn a little more about her backstory and why a high born girl from Vilantis (I hope I’m spelling that right) is a combat medic and not planning parties with the other noble ladies. The sexual chemistry between these two finally reaches a breaking point with Robb declaring that he doesn’t want to marry Walder Frey’s daughter and Talisa obviously saying she doesn’t want him to marry her either, and they proceed to make the whoopie on the floor of his tent/war room. In what can only be assumed to be very close to Blackwater Bay, Stannis and Davos hold council on one of his ships where we finally learn the reason why Stannis puts so much faith in Davos. Stannis also tells Davos that when he wins the Iron Throne, he will name Davos his Hand of the King. In Qarth, Dany wants to enter the House of the Undying to rescue her dragons but Ser Jorah thinks it’s too dangerous. Dany knows (because of the prophecy from the witch) that these will be the only children that she will ever have and she can’t abandon them. Back at Winterfell, Theon decides to finally take down the corpses of the children that he’s been hanging from the castle gates (with no idea that Roose Bolton’s bastard, Ramsay Snow, is going to be breaching his walls any second now). We catch a glimpse of Osha sneaking beneath the walls of Winterfell and Maester Lewin follows her. There we discover Bran and Rickon hiding and it’s revealed that Theon had burned the bodies of the two boys that lived on the farm to preserve his own pride. Bran overhears the whole conversation which should burden that poor kid with even more guilt.

First things first, Peter Dinklage has another episode that can be used as an Emmy submission tape. The antagonistic chemistry he has with Lena Headey is really impressive, and the hatred and tension in the scene between Tyrion and Cersei was just palpable. The craziest aspect about those scenes was just how violently and quickly the mood changed. It started off as this witty repartee back and forth between these two highly ambitious and intelligent foes and while Cersei was upset about Tyrion’s plans to have Joffrey fight (even though Joffrey also wants to fight), you thought this was just going to be another scene of Tyrion intellectually bitch-slapping Cersei across the room. Then Cersei revealed the card she thought she held over Tyrion and the whole dynamic of their relationship changed. Peter Dinklage just nailed the vulnerability and fear that was infecting Tyrion at that moment. It was obvious that he knew Cersei wasn’t going to drag Shae into the room (we can assume that he was the one that gave Ros the Lannister necklace she was wearing), but Peter Dinklage really let us know just how much Shae means to Tyrion, and when he threatened to pull Cersei down when she was at her happiest, you had no choice but to believe the veracity of his threat. These siblings are past the point of no return, and (jesus it’s hard to talk about this show without betraying that I’ve read the books) now it’s  a matter of seeing who will have the last laugh. So, seriously, with all of the wonderful episodes and scenes under his belt again for this season, I’ll really be shocked if Peter Dinklage doesn’t win another Emmy for this program.

This was the episode that will ultimately set everything in motion for next week’s epic battle for King’s Landing. It’s not a spoiler that it’s coming considering every character on the show has been talking about it for the last three episodes. And it’s going to be something incredible and virtually unprecedented on television. Still, what’s going to make that episode so special is all of the plotting and character development that’s gone into making us care about all of the players that are involved. Davos Seaworth is going to be pretty central to next week’s story and if we hadn’t gotten to know more about this onion knight over the course of the season (he’s one of the most underrated POV characters in the series imo), we wouldn’t care about how he’s going to fare next week. If Peter Dinklage didn’t give master classes in character acting as Tyrion every week, we wouldn’t have a reason to simultaneously root for his survival while we hope something terrible happens to the sadistic Joffrey (flawlessly played by Jackie Gleason). These episodes might not have the same kind of visceral impact as “Garden of Bones” or “A Man Without Honor” but they’re ultimately the ones that hold the series together on an endlessly complex program likeGame of Thrones. This season may have tested the intellectual capacity and patience of certain subsets of its audience, but I feel pretty confident when I say that everyone will feel like their faith in the series was affirmed when “Blackwater” airs next week.

It’s 1:20 in the morning and I want to read a little bit of Thomas Pynchon’s V. before I go to bed so I’m going to spare you all any more ramblings about another great episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones. I don’t think this show is ever going to be quite as good as my favorite sci-fi/fantasy program of all time, Lost, just because Lost had philosophical and literary ambitions that Game of Thrones doesn’t really want (though book 3 almost got there), but I’ll be damned if any TV show that I can think of (the only real contender is Rome) can match the spectacle and regular display of cinematic grandeur that Game of Thrones achieves on a weekly basis. This will be the show that proves to antsy TV producers out there that if you have the right source material and a committed budget and a confident network, you can make top notch fantasy programming that challenges the so called more “serious” modes of storytelling for dominance of critical praise and emotional depth. This season of Game of Thrones has simply flown by and while I can’t believe that there are only two episodes left, I’m glad that I know just how epic next week will be.

Final Score: A-

I’m going home in a week which means my internship here in NYC is coming to an end. This is going to be a recurring theme in many of my posts for the next week because honestly, it’s the biggest thing on my mind at the moment. If there’s going to be any upside to me coming home, it’s that I’m not going to be doing as much work-based writing for the website where I’m a rock critic. I’m still going to be a contributing writer but it will mostly be long-term features like album reviews and interviews (less blog posts). So, if I’m doing less writing for work, it will be easier for me to find the energy to commit to this blog. I have a promise to myself that I won’t retire this personal blog until I get a full-time position writing about popular culture (and even then, the blog will be less retired and more just given a lower priority in my free time). Still, when I spend most of my week writing about music, I do find myself unable to muster the same enthusiasm to sit down and write some more during my free time. I just worry that it’s negatively impacting my writing because last night’s episode of Game of Thrones continued the serious momentum from last week (and wreaked havoc with the established canon of the series) and delivered another compelling and thrilling episode.

This episode segues mere hours after the events of last week. At Winterfell, Theon (and the rest of his men) wake to discover that Osha, Hodor, Bran, and Rickon are nowhere to be seen. He orders a hunt for the boys and promises Maester Luwin that he’ll hurt the boys for running away, but he won’t kill them. Beyond the Wall, Jon Snow wakes up in an almost equally bewildering predicament, snuzzled up against the wildling Ygritte (with his hand on her breast and apparently a serious case of morning wood). She taunts him sexually again until she realizes he’s a virgin and begins to take pity on him (all while still insulting him). At Harrenhal, Arya and Lord Tywin have the most tense tete-a-tete between an old man and a little girl ever when Arya’s ego and pride finally get the better of her. Tywin is executing prisoners trying to discover who assassinated Emory Lorch (an act of aggression that Tywin Lannister assumes was meant for him) and he recounts the story of a past Targaryen king and his dragon who conquered the unconquerable fortress of Harrenhal (and explained why the castle is a battered Mordor-esque ruin). When Tywin omits the actions of the Targaryen king’s sisters (who also rode dragons), Arya corrects him and keeps talking showing that she knows far more than any daughter of a stonemason. Arya only digs herself a deeper whole when Tywin picks up that her pronunciation of “my lord” instead of “m’lord” marks her as a high born girl instead of the commoner she pretends to be. Arya nearly fends off his perception until she tries to take the charade too far yet again and Tywin says she’s too smart for her own good but still seems to think fondly of his little cupbearer (because she reminds him of Cersei).

At King’s Landing, Sansa shows uncharacteristic humility and gratitude and tries to thank the Hound for saving her from the rapists. In typical Sandor Clegane fashion, he brushes off her compliment and tries to act like a heartless killer (though book readers know he has other, more complicated motives that we’ll sadly never hear on the show I fear). Sansa has a nightmare of her attempted rape only to awaken and discover that she’s had her first period which means she is now able to wed Joffrey and bear his children (which is an obviously terrifying though). Though she and Shae try to hide it from Cersei, she finds out anyways and offers some shockingly honest advice to her soon to be daughter-in-law. She straight up admits (basically) that Joffrey is a rotten bastard and tells Sansa that the only thing she can do is love her children. She doesn’t expect she’ll ever be able to love Joffrey. In Qarth, Dany demands action on her stolen dragons but is wise to not trust the offer of help from Xaro Xhoan Daxos. Ser Jorah returns (who was trying to find her a boat) and Dany orders him to find her dragons. Back beyond the Wall, Jon and Ygritte continue their argument over whose people lead a “truer” life and she makes a pretty convincing argument that the Wildlings may be a little more savage than the Westerosi but their lives are more honest. She tries to seduce him again and he has to put his hand on the hilt of his sword (not a visual double entendre I’m sure…) to get her to back off. It was all a ploy to get him flustered though and she tries to escape again, and this time she leads him straight into a wildling ambush. Ruh roh Rooby

At the camp of Robb Stark’s army, Robb has another sexual tension filled scene with the nurse who requests his help to procure medical supplies to see to the wounded. Later, the Lannister cousin who was sent to be a messenger to Cersei finally returns (in what seems like ages since he departed) informing Robb that Cersei rejected his offer of peace. The younger Lannister is sent to the same pen as Jamie (! he’s back!) where it looks like they’re bonding at first (and we’re seeing a sympathetic side of Jamie Lannister) when Jamie kills his cousin, one of his guards and attempts to escape his imprisonment. Back near Winterfell, Theon (who’s in a righteously pissed mood for fear that losing the Stark children will cost him all the respect of his family that’s he only recently earned back) stumbles upon a farm and finds a hint that the Starks may be hiding there. With a dark look on his face, he orders Maester Luwin to return to Winterfell. In Qarth, we discover that the warlock Pyatt Pree and the Xaro Xhoan Daxos were the ones that took Dany’s dragons as they stage a coup and eliminate the rest of the Qarth’s 13 leaving Xaro as Qarth’s King. Dany is told that her dragons are the the Tower of the Undying and she rushes off to rescue her children. In the Stark camp, Jamie is captured before he can get very far and Catelyn is forced to save his life from Robb’s bannermen even though she hates Jamie as much as anyone else. Still, she and Brienne confront a very hostile Jamie alone in his cell and she draws a sword on him. Finally, back at Winterfell, Theon drags Maester Luwin out to a public ceremony where Theon is preaching what happens when you disobey his rule when he displays the burnt and completely destroyed bodies of two children who we can only assume are Rickon and Bran.

I always feel like it’s a small miracle when I can keep my “recap” section of these reviews to just three paragraphs. That should speak leagues to how essentially absurdly complex the plotting of this series has gotten. You’d think that for an episode which only featured Tyrion in the shortest of scenes, the series would suffer, but it managed to get by just fine with very little Peter Dinklage (which could give credence to those who claim this season lacks any sort of identifiable center, but I’m perfectly okay with the sprawl of the franchise). The scenes between Maisie Williams and Charles Dance as Arya and Tywin were among some of the best of the season. Arya is incredibly intelligent and crafty (she’s had to be in order to survive), but she doesn’t realize that she’s trying to outsmart the only person in Westeros who could keep up in a battle of the wits with Tyrion, Varys, and Petyr Baelish. You can honestly see where Tywin is becoming affectionate of and attached to this cupbearer even though he knows she’s hiding some major secret. I highly doubt he’d keep her around if he knew she was Ned Stark’s daughter but it’s a sign of how much he respects her intellect (and her ability to surprise him) that he’s keeping her around despite beginning to see through all of her deceptions. Similarly, the scenes with Sophie Turner and Lena Headey (and later Headey’s moment with Peter Dinklage) were great at casting one of the series primary villains in a more realistic and sympathetic light. Headey nailed the whole notion of a mother who has to recognize that there is almost nothing worth loving in her son yet trying to find a way to love him anyways. It was heartbreaking.

This season of Game of Thrones has played much looser with the accepted canon of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series than last season did, and the number of differences isn’t even close. Season 1 changed plenty of things, but generally, they were just expanding on characters back stories in ways that were only hinted at in the books (Renly’s homosexuality) or they were giving us insight into characters who wouldn’t be that up-front for a long, long time (Jamie, Cersei) because they weren’t point of view characters yet (spoiler alert. sorry). I actually appreciated virtually every change in the first season except perhaps the addition of Ros whose only job seemed to be take her clothes off. Season 2’s changes are starting to seem a lot more arbitrary and I’m worried that the show is going to start accidentally creating major conflicts with the last two books (though they say the consult with Martin to make sure that doesn’t happen). I get some of the changes this season. Like, while I think the addition of a whole story about Dany’s dragons getting stolen is unnecessary, I know why they’re doing it. Dany really doesn’t do jack shit in A Clash of Kings. But, there are other problems where the show is killing off characters early, not introducing incredibly important major characters, and failing to to give minor characters the moment in the spotlight they need for their later earth-shattering moments to register that has me worried about how this show will hold together. For anyone who hasn’t read the books, do you guys even remember who Roose Bolton is? He’s been shown in a total of two scenes thus far but his importance later on can only be described as titanic.

Small quibbles about the foundation of the television series (and my worries that it will be able to remain faithful to Martin’s source material) aside, this episode was full of so many great moments and great insights into our characters that I only began to worry about these things after the credits rolled. How great is Downton Abbey‘s Rose Leslie as Ygritte? I wasn’t sure how I felt about her during last week’s episode but having a whole episode of her taking on Jon Snow philosophically and sexually, it’s clear to see that she was a perfect choice for the woman that will ultimately change Jon’s life (for better or worse remains to be seen on the show). She’s feisty, sexual, passionate, and emotionally explosive. She’s the perfect foil to the enormously reserved and guarded Kit Harrington as Jon Snow. How wonderful was it to have Nickolaj Coster-Waldau back as Jaime Lannister (realized I spelled his name Jamie this whole post but I’m not going back and fixing it). Jaime is another one of the series “big bads” (in a universe where moral ambiguity is the name of the game and then some), but Nickolaj Coster-Waldau gives him such a joie de vivre that he’s a wonder to have on screen. There’s such a dynamic element to Coster-Waldau’s performance that lends credence to the explosive possibilities of Jaime doing something completely unexpected at any given moment.

I’ve reached the 2000 word mark for this post which means it’s time for me to stop writing before I scare off any and all potential readers. That’s my rule of thumb. If I’ve typed an 8 page treatise (assuming the publishing standard of 250 words for a page), it’s time to draw my long-winded pontification to a close. Anyways, this season of Game of Thrones has without question found its rhythm, and if a certain scene from the book with Dany (which is one of my favorite moments of the entire series) finally happens next week, it will be another great episode. Plus, episode nine (two eps away for those that are math challenged) will be the long-awaited Battle for Blackwater and HBO has gone on record saying that’s where much of this season’s budget went. It’s one of the most tense and action-packed battles of the entire book series and it should make for one of the most epic hours in the history of television. I can’t wait. You won’t be disappointed.

Final Score: A

And the award for longest amount of time to pass between an episode of Game of Thrones airing this season and me actually doing my review goes to episode number six, “The Old Gods and the New.” I had a concert Monday, an Occupy Wall Street album release party Tuesday, and while I watched the episode last night (Wednesday), I didn’t actually have an opportunity to do my review. It’s a shame because much like “Garden of Bones,” this episode was one of the best of the season (not that I haven’t been thoroughly enjoying the whole thing) because it showed just how committed HBO is to dark and morally ambiguous storytelling and that it isn’t going to shy away from any of the most gruesome aspects of the books (in fact, it’s prepared to make some of them even worse, i.e. Joffrey making one prostitute torture another). Because… wow. “The Old Gods and the New” did not hold back one bit and delivered some of the most disturbing and explosive moments of the whole season. I knew going in that season 2 was going to suffer from a lack of flagship moments (having read A Clash of Kings), but it’s great to  remember that sometimes enough small moments of horror can make up for not having a single “Ned Stark is executed” moment.

After hinting at Theon’s plans to capture Winterfell last week, Game of Thrones takes the budget-friendly route and begins this week with Theon crashing into Bran’s bedroom to inform the young prince that Winterfell now belongs to the Greyjoys. Theon convinces Bran to surrender to his men to prevent any further bloodshed, and in a rain-soaked proclamation in the castle courtyard, Bran hands over control of Winterfell to Theon. Theon tries to assert his dominance over the castle that he once called home (though he was also technically a hostage), but it’s obvious that everyone in Winterfell despises him (and it’s only going to get worse). Cue the arrival of Ser Rodrik, dragged bruised and bleeding into the courtyard by Theon’s men. Rodrik spits in Theon’s face and wishes he had killed him as a child rather than trained him to fight. Theon wants to lock him up in the cells for the rest of his life but under pressure from his first mate, Theon decides to execute Rodrik to prove a point to the people of Winterfell. Of course, Theon’s life being one tragedy after another (I honestly believe he’s one of Martin’s most complex characters but more on that later), even his execution of Rodrik can’t go well and it takes him about six swings of his sword (and his foot) to finally lop off Rodrik’s head. North of the Wall (shot in Iceland with scenery as stunning as a Lord of the Rings film), Jon Snow and the group of rangers (led by the grumpy Qhorin Halfhand) attack a small group of Wildlings. They take the scouting party out easily until Jon realizes one of them is a woman. The rangers question the woman (Ygritte) and leave Jon Snow to execute her when they’ve taken all of the information from her they can gather. Jon (being the anti-Theon in this scenario) can’t bring himself to execute the defenseless Ygritte and purposefully misses his sword swing. Ygritte tries to escape and Jon has to chase her through the frozen wastes. Jon is able to capture (and hogtie) Ygritte but he’s now separated from his men and is forced to huddle up against Ygritte for warmth and must fight off her obvious sexual advances (because chastity is part of his Night’s Watch vows).

Over at Harrenhal, Arya’s real identity is nearly spoiled by the arrival of Littlefinger who proposes to Lord Tywin that the Lannisters set up a profitable marriage for Margaery Tyrell to gain the support of her family (to help turn the tides of the war). Arya gets her hands on military orders detailing Tywin’s plans to defeat her brother when she is caught with the plans by Ser Emory Lorch (one of Tywin’s knights) and she is forced to use her second death wish (cut Charles Bronson a check) from Jaqen H’Gar to stop Lorch before he can cause Arya’s likely death. Back at King’s Landing, the Lannisters (and Sansa) are seeing Myrcella off at the ports where Tyrion has had her sent to Dorne for marriage (and to protect her from the coming battle in the city). Things get out of hand on the way back to the castle when a mob begins heckling King Joffrey and even throws a mudpie at his face. When he orders the execution of whoever attacked him, a full-scale riot against the starvation and cruelty in the capital breaks out and one of the men in the royal procession doesn’t make it back to the keep alive. The Hound and the Kingsguard have to fight their way through the crowd to get everyone back to the castle safely (though Sansa gets separated from the group and chased down an alley by a group of rapists). Back in the castle, Tyrion proceeds to slap the shit out of Joffrey for his behavior being the catalyst for this situation. Joffrey won’t send anyone to search for Sansa (which is their only bargaining chip to get Jamie returned alive) when she is miraculously rescued from the edge of gang-rape by the Hound. At Robb’s camp, we see him making googley eyes at the nurse from the season premiere (maybe? I forget which episode honestly) when his mother (and Brienne) arrive and Robb is reminded of his duties to House Frey and his betrothal to one of their daughters. He also discovers Theon’s betrayal and vows to kill him himself (though he has one of his bannermen, Lord Bolton of the flaying men alive ideology, send word to begin an attempt to capture the castle and take Theon alive).

Back at Winterfell, Osha offers to sleep with Theon in exchange for her freedom. We see Natalie Tena naked (who played Tonks in Harry Potter) and a little part of my childhood died. However, this plan was all a ruse for her to be able to sneak Bran and Rickon (along with Hodor) out of Winterfell before any harm could befall them. Finally, we get to see Dany again (who honestly doesn’t have much to do this season). She’s at the home of the Spice King (the wealthy merchant who refused her entry into Qarth before Xaro Xhoan Daxos invoked some ancient blood rite to secure her access). After making her wait an eternity for an audience, she asks him for ships in return for a payment of threefold when she retakes Westeros. Because she doesn’t have an army, her dragons aren’t yet fully grown, and she has no allies in the Seven Kingdoms, the Spice King makes the wise decision to turn down this potential investment invoking a full-on Dany rant which makes her sort of come off like her crazy brother. Things get worse though when she returns to her villa to find her khalasar massacred and her dragons missing. Oh snap (a major deviations from the book)!

Only three paragraphs of recaps! Huzzah! Anyways, Alfie Allen… Man. Is time for this guy to be an obvious contender for Best Supporting Actor at the Emmy’s? Theon has finally been revealed to be one of the Big Bads of the season, doing more harm to the Starks in between episodes than the Lannisters were able to accomplish all season, and while I occasionally bristle at the changes the show makes from the books, the show’s decision to make Theon a more sympathetic (if still incredibly douchey and egotistic) character has been one of the best decisions of the season. Alfie Allen sells every second of Theon’s emotionally torn state as a man who has to choose between what he knows is right and what he thinks will earn him the respect and love of his family. He constantly makes the wrong decisions but you can see Theon literally being torn in half on every line of Alfie Allen’s face, and for an actor whose worth I seriously questioned last season, he’s more than managed to pull his weight. Jackie Gleeson has also really come into his own in terms of his ability to up the evil quotient significantly each and every week. This show knows how to cast its villains.

One of the things that I’ve always appreciated about the series is that each character is supposed to be a deconstruction of a very specific fantasy archetype/historical figure. Tyrion is meant to be a sympathetic take on the cunning cripple ala a good version of Richard III. Sansa brutally subverts the fantasy princess/damsel in distress. Actually the entire point of her character (and why I like her character so much at a textual level) is to show just how bogus those fantasies are as she learns over and over again just how ugly the world she over-romanticized truly is. Jamie tears apart the idea of the noble swashbuckler (but he doesn’t really develop until next season so no more spoilers there). Ned was supposed to show how dumb the idea of honor above reason is. I could go on and on. Which brings me back to Theon. What makes his character so interesting (though no less despicable) is that he doesn’t fit neatly into one single fantasy archetype. Outside of Tyrion, he’s one of the most well-rounded and complex characters on the show and the fact that he’s a villain only makes him more compelling. If I have any one complaint about the show, it’s that some of the heroes can become a little too static (Jon and Dany specifically), and Theon’s character arc is one of the most complex and tragic of the whole story.

How about those scenes beyond the Wall? Along with Mad Men and Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones has always had one of the most cinematic and breathtaking visual styles on TV, and those shots were among some of the most memorable of the entire series. Watching Jon and the rangers trek through the winter wastes or seeing Jon chase Ygritte over hills of snow and ice were simply breathtaking. The show’s visual style translates just as well in artificial environments (i.e. the cities the show has had to create from scratch) because every town in this show has its own unique identity and style. Even if they never showed you Dany or Jorah, you’d know you were in Qarth because of the African/Egyptian decor and the Mediterranean flavor of King’s Landing is impossible to miss. Game of Thrones is almost shot like a movie that just happens to be broken up in to hour long segments and it lends the series that gravitas that can occasionally make up for scenes (or very rarely, an episode) that don’t work especially well. Game of Thrones is dripping with style and, most importantly, identity and it never ceases to amaze me how they do such a great job translating Martin’s words to the small screen.

Okay, I promise that I’ll stop rambling now. I still have to watch Tuesday’s episode of Glee (which I’ve heard is very lackluster and I’m dreading. There’s no way it can be worse than last year’s prom episode is there?). First though, I’m going to eat dinner and watch another episode of Angel (I’m so excited that I’m finally back to reviewing a Joss Whedon series and I’m seeing The Avengers in theater as soon as I get back to WV so I can see it with my dad and sister). Anyways, there are only four episodes left of this season of Game of Thrones. It feels like it is just flying by which is a great sign. The last season of The Walking Dead felt like it would never end with its sluggish and mostly awful storytelling/character development. It’s good to know that high-quality fantasy storytelling is still possible on television.

Final Score: A


I’ve officially come to a conclusion about this season of Game of Thrones. I don’t have any official capacity or weight to make these kinds of judgment so my official conclusion means about jack squat but I’m going to make it anyways. Game of Thrones has quickly become one of the three most complex television series of all time. Along side The Wire and Lost, Game of Thrones is now making zero concessions to casual viewers and assumes you’re in for the long haul and is basically telling you to kiss its ass if you aren’t. The fact that it’s become this complex even though it’s had to considerably dial down the scope and ambition of George R. R. Martin’s original source material makes this fact all the more impressive. This season is going to ultimately be a defining moment for the series (and the one where HBO may ultimately rue its decision to invest so heavily in this series [not because the quality will worsen but because its mainstream appeal will become considerably less viable]), and while I prefer my Game of Thrones to be labyrinthinely complex, I’m a weird kid, and it’s going to be interesting to see how deep this rabbit hole the series goes.

There was a shit ton happening this week so I know I’m going to be spending a lot of time recapping the episode. Please bear with me. At Renly’s camp, King Renly (one of five) strikes up a nighttime deal with Catelyn Stark to allow Robb to still be King of the North if he allies himself with Renly to defeat Stannis and the Lannisters. As he’s taking his armor off to retire for the evening, the shadowy smoke monster that Mellisandre birthed last week appears in his tent and stabs him through the chest. In the chaos afterwards, Renly’s Kingsguard blames Brienne for the attack and she has to fight her way out. She wants to stay and guard the body of Renly but Cately convinces her that she’ll be murdered by Renly’s men if they catch her and they flee together.  The next day, Loras and Margaery mourn the loss of the King (one his lover, the other his Queen) when Littlefinger convinces them that siding with him (which I’m assuming/know means the Lannisters) saves their lives and implies to Margaery that she could still be Queen yet. Back in King’s Landing, Cersei and Tyrion hear the news of Renly’s death which means that Stannis now has all of Renly’s bannermen (which means he outnumbers the Lannisters on land and sea). Tyrion is the only one who seems to understand how serious this situation has become (and why sending Myrcella to Dorne is actually in her best interest). Still, Cersei insists on keeping Joffrey’s battle strategy a secret from Tyrion despite the fact that Tyrion is obviously smarter than everyone else in the capital. After interrogating/humiliating Lancel some more, we find out that Joffrey wants to use the Westeros equivalent of napalm against Stannis’ forces. It’s called wildfire and it can burn through steel and melt flesh. One false move and it could easily destroy King’s Landing as swiftly as Stannis’ army. Obviously, Tyrion steps in and takes the reins from his nephew and places himself in charge of the defense of the capital.

At Stannis’ camp, Davos has a terrifying story for his lord about the macabre birth he witnessed and how that caused the death of Stannis’ brother, but Stannis doesn’t want to hear it. He would much rather just sit back and enjoy the fruits of his success than think about where they came from. The only thing that Davos is able to accomplish is to convince Stannis to leave Mellisandre behind at the forthcoming battle for the capital. In Pyke, Theon meets the crew of his ship, the Sea Bitch, and they have about as much respect for Theon as his sister does. However, Theon (thanks to his first mate) has an idea about trying to capture a Northern town which leads to a brilliant moment about their potential ability to capture Winterfell itself. Ruh roh roobie. At the hellhole known as Harrenhal (voted #1 Most Likely Place for a Rat to Burrow Through Your Chest in Westeros), Arya is Tywin Lannister’s cup-bearer and is privy to his war meetings where he plans to find a way to crush her brother. Twyin didn’t just realize that Arya is a girl. He also figured out she’s a northerner and grills her about the people’s opinion of Robb. It’s a wonderful scene where we see just how icy cold Arya is becoming lately. Arya also gets an offer from Jaqen H’gar who is now in the employ of the Lannisters (he’s the strange foreigner who Arya helped escape a couple weeks ago from burning to death). Because Arya saved his life (and his two companions), he will kill any three men that Arya names. Arya names the “Tickler”, the man that is the head torturer at Harrenhal.

Across the narrow sea in the mysterious city of Qarth, Dany still has her own hazards to navigate even though she is nominally a guest of the city. At a lavish party thrown by her immensely wealthy host Xaro Xhoan Daxos, a “warlock” from “the House of the Undying” introduces himself to Dany and his magic tricks. Xaro claims they are simply parlor tricks that are the product of a drug-addled mind, but Dany seems unsure. A masked woman also warns Jorah (and knows much of him) to keep close guard of Dany for she is not safe in Qarth. Later, Dany and Xaro go on a walk to Xaro’s massive vault of all of his riches. He offers her an army and a guaranteed victory in Westeros if she will be his bride (and also informs her of the death of Robert though he doesn’t know what happened to Renly yet). Dany honestly considers it but Jorah warns against it. If she invades Westeros with a foreign army, she will never have the love of the people. We also get even more hints of the romantic feelings that Jorah has developed for Dany over the course of the series. Somewhere in Westeros, Cately and Brienne are still running from the men loyal to Renly when Brienne declares her new loyalty to Cat, to serve and protect her as long as she doesn’t stop her from taking revenge against Stannis when the time comes. In Winterfell, Bran hears of the attack by Theon’s men (doesn’t know it’s Theon. Thinks it’s the Lannisters) and sends soldiers to defend Torrhen Square, unknowingly leaving Winterfell open to invasion. He also has a dream where the Sea destroys Winterfell. Beyond the Wall, the Night’s Watch are incredibly far north where they meet up with ranger-supreme Qhorin Halfhand who has dire news about the size and strength of Mance Rayder’s army. He takes Jon on a reconnaissance mission to further investigate the enemy position. The episode ends back in Harrenhal where Jaqen H’gar makes good on his promise to kill the Tickler when the Tickler winds up dead in the castle’s square. Valar Morghulis.

First off, a doff of the hat to Maisie Williams as Arya this episode. Her scene with Tywin Lannister was one of the best of the week. And it takes a special fierceness from a child actress (though she’s 15 so she’s not that young. She just looks absurdly young) to stand out in a scene with the imposing Charles Dance as Twyin. He reminds me of Christopher Lee as Saruman in Lord of the Rings. Yet, Maisie Williams made her lines ring harder than Valyrian steel. The child actors in this show have been without question impressive. Also, Iain Glen hasn’t had much to do this season as Ser Jorah (who is my favorite non-point of view character in the books. Along with, surprisingly enough, the Hound). But this week, he had a really great scene with Emilia Clarke (who looked stunning this week. She wasn’t wearing the dress she was supposed to be wearing from the books, but that’s a dumb complaint). There’s a lot of chemistry between these two, and they both showed some pains. Jorah loves her and must protect her at the cost of his happiness. And Dany doesn’t feel the same way about Jorah but still deeply cares for the man who has protected her through so much.

Let’s all sit back and think for a second about how dark of a sub-plot was just introduced at this half-point of the season involving one of the children heroes of the show. Jaqen H’gar is granting her the ability to kill three people that she chooses. And Arya is gladly accepting this offer. Arya winds up going down one of the most morally grey paths of the entire main cast (of the good guys anyways), and this is the beginning. Here is a child (for her character is much younger than the actress) ordering the cold-blooded assassinations of other men. She’s not killing them in self-defense or in a duel. She’s having them murdered. These are really evil men, but still. George R. R. Martin and HBO are continuing the trend from last week of not being afraid to have their kids do some really fucked up shit. What’s said is that I know the ultimate consequences of Arya choosing to kill some people instead of others, but I want get into spoilers. Also, I know just how dark this girl’s story is going to keep going and how relatively tame this is compared to things she’ll willingly be doing herself later in the show. If Maisie Williams continues to handle this material as maturely as she has this season, she could really gain a reputation as one of the capable young actresses in Hollywood handling disturbing material. She could wind up with the same kind of following as Chloe Grace Moretz in that regard.

I want to write more, but I also want to review Glee before I go to bed tonight. And I still have to review Bleach. I don’t know if I’ll actually wind up doing either of those. I’ve got a bit of a headache over the course of writing this post so I may end up just calling it an early night. We’ll see. It’s so weird that we’re officially half-way through the season though. I know HBO says it can’t really afford to do more than ten episode seasons of Game of Thrones but that sucks because this show is so great that it feels like a breath of fresh wind on TV that is snatched away from us nearly as quickly as it arrives. This episode was as busy as the show’s been all season, and if it lacked the extremely disturbing nature of last week, things are all relative in the Game of Thrones universe, and it’s still tackling heavier subject matter than nearly everything else on television. Things are only going to continue to pick up steam for the rest of the season. It’s been nearly a year since I read A Clash of Kings so while I remember the major details of what’s coming, I don’t actually remember many of the events that are coming leading up to the major climaxes of the season so for the first time in a while, I’ll actually be seeing the show without knowing where every plot point is heading, and I’m looking forward to it.

Final Score: A-

I wonder how many people decided to stop watching Game of Thrones after this week’s episode. While I think it was maybe the best episode of the series to date, it was also without question the most f***ed up episode of the series to date featuring even more torture and psychological abuse than usual. And this time, sociopathy isn’t just for the adults. The kids get in on the game either as the perpetrators (Joffrey… sweet Maker… Joffrey), victims (poor, poor Sansa), or witnesses (Arya, Gendry, their fat friend whose name I don’t remember). Hell, Gendry got to be a witness and a partial victim so we would say he was the victim of the most mental trauma this week but we haven’t even talked about the prostitutes yet. I’ve always wondered how the show was going to show just how evil/damaged its children protagonists/villains become (it had never shied away before) but tonight, we learned just how committed the show is to staying true to that aspect of the source material, and it just dove head first into the sadism department tonight.


After some starting banter between two Lannister soldiers, Robb Stark’s direwolf shows up and devours some people and a full-scale battle (which we of course don’t see) breaks out between the Lannister and Stark forces with the Starks emerging victorious. The next day, we’re introduced to Roose Bolton, one of Robb’s bannermen who suggests that the Starks torture Lannister soldiers for information by flaying them alive. Yeah, he’s not going to be an issue down the road. We also meet a young nurse tending to the soldiers who chastises Robb for the price of his war against the Iron Throne. Robb is obviously attracted to her but as of yet, she can’t seem to stand him. Back in King’s Landing, Joffrey (the little Ted Bundy in the making) decides to take out his frustration with his continued losses against Robb Stark out on Sansa. He has one of his Kingsguard, Ser Meryn Trant, strip Sansa and beat her, and it’s only the intervention of Tyrion that spares her from even more abuse and humiliation. Reminding Joffrey that the Mad King’s sadism was what led to his betrayal at the hands of Jaime, Tyrion wants to try and keep his nephew from making the same mistakes/being a giant psychopath. Bron has a great quip but more on that later. Tyrion thinks maybe getting Joffrey laid will calm him down, but to call that plan a failure would be the understatement of the century. Tyrion has two whores (one of which is Ros) delivered to Joffrey’s chambers, but Joffrey proceeds to have Ros viciously beat the other whore so he can get his jollies. You know, good all American fun…

We transition to Renly’s camp where Littlefinger offers his services to Renly (opening the gates to the city when Renly decides to invade) in exchange for Renly’s protection should King’s Landing fall. However, this was all a ploy to get Littlefinger in touch with Catelyn (maybe, it’s sort of vague) so he could offer her a deal sanctioned by Tyrion himself to go behind Robb’s back and release Jaime in exchange for Sansa and Arya (even though they have no idea where Arya is even though she’s technically in their capture). Next, we get our first sight of Harrenhal which is even more rundown and creepy in this series than it was in the books. It’s run by a group of mercenaries called the Brave Companions who are built along the same lines of Joffrey and who torture and execute one prisoner a day for information they know no one really has access to. Their sadism has resulted in Arya saying a list of names every night of the men/women who have hurt her and her family as people she will one day kill. Oh Arya, you used to be so cute and adorable. Now, you’re just broken. One of the lovely interrogation techniques was using a rat to burrow into a man’s chest (even after he had broken under interrogation). Sweet Jesus. Ironically enough, Tywin Lannister arrives and saves Gendry from being the next man to get Alien backwards (the rat goes in instead of an alien bursting out of your chest). He instantly realizes that Arya is a girl and tells the Brave Companions to put all of the prisoners to work and he names Arya as his new cupbearer.

We return to Renly’s camp where he is having  a parlay with his brother, Stannis. This is the first time the two have seen each other since both claimed the right to the throne (though to be honest, Renly does have zero claim besides his natural popularity). The two brothers couldn’t be more polar opposites with Renly’s youthful energy and confidence and Stannis’s dour and hard as stone personality. The only thing either has in common with the other is sheer arrogance. Stannis offers Renly one last chance to surrender which Renly turns down because he knows how much he outnumbers Stannis. We go to another new location, Qarth, a city in the middle of the desert ruled by a mysterious group of merchants/oligarchs known as the Thirteen. They offer shelter to Dany only if she shows them her dragons. She realizes they’re her only trading chip and wants to keep them safe for as long as she can although if they don’t get into the city, they’ll die of starvation and thirst. Dany threatens to kill everybody later (when her dragons are bigger) if they don’t let her in which isn’t going to win her any friends when one of the Thirteen, Xaro Xhoan Daxos, invokes some rite to get her people in the city. Back in King’s Landing, Tyrion has been able to deduce that his cousin Lancel has been porking Cersei ever since Jaime was kidnapped and he uses this information to blackmail Lancel into being his spy against Cersei. Lastly, we get the big twist/shock of the episode. After we get some backstory on why Davos is so loyal to Stannis, Stannis has Davos smuggle Mellisandre near Renly’s camp where she gives birth to a smoke monster baby (maybe he’s FLocke’s brother! that was a semi-obscure joke I guess). Yeah, she’s not evil at all.

Only three paragraphs on this week’s recap. YES! It actually leaves me with time/energy to do a real review of the quality of the episode, and since I definitely believe that if this isn’t the series’ best episode yet, it’s certainly in the top three, it deserves the full review treatment. There’s always a fine line to walk between gritty depictions of evil and inhumanity against Eli Roth-esque “torture porn.” This was one of the most graphically violent and disturbing episodes of the series, but every single moment of sadism and cruelty served to advance either the mythology of the world or to further develop specific characters. We knew how bad Joffrey was but watching him get off while having Ros torture another hooker is pretty much as low as this crazy man can sink. I can’t think of him doing anything especially worse than this in the books (this wasn’t in the books though) so we have officially seen Joffrey at his most evil. Kudos to Jackie Gleason to fully committing to this dark and mature material despite just being a teenager. Joffrey is evil incarnate but Jackie Gleason does a great job of bringing him to life. Similarly, Roose Bolton discussing flaying people alive and the rat torture scenes all served to show that most people in Westeros don’t adhere to the same notions of honor as the Starks (even when they’re the Stark allies) and that even villains like Tywin Lannister (who is arguably one of the series’ Big Bads) have redeeming sides compared to the even more psychotic people that serve beneath them.

This episode was chock full of serious business (it was almost unwatchable at times. Especially the torture scene with the prostitutes [that scene is going to stay with me for a long damn time]), but there was one moment that had me literally laughing so hard that I had to call my dad to discuss it (though he was watching a rerun of the HBO so we never really had the discussion). When Tyrion and Bron were talking about whether getting Joffrey laid would make him less of a prick, Bron said “There’s no cure for being a cunt.” Cue me laughing hysterically. Not since Deadwood has a show been able to use that word for comedic purposes so well (I miss Al Swearangen. I should review Deadwood at some point). Similarly, while most of the episode was still super dark, Tyrion got his own scene of brilliance when he intimidated Lancel Lannister. Tyrion may be tiny but there are few people in all of the Seven Kingdoms that can stand up to him intellectually, and watching him mentally overpower his dimwitted cousin was a treat. Lancel is actually one of the series villains that you wind up feeling really bad for because of the way that everyone in that damn kingdom uses him however they please.

For people who haven’t read the books, this season of Game of Thrones must be a confusing challenge to end all challenges. Not since Oz and The Wire have I seen a show take such pure delight in introducing as many new characters, locations, and plot dynamics as Game of Thrones. You would be forgiven for needing to have a pen and paper handy to jot down the various relationships between the main characters and why X hates Y but has a begrudging alliance with Z but would betray Z in a second to help out Q. Except, in that particular algebra problem, you would need to start incorporating characters from other alphabets to cover the enormous cast of Game of Thrones. This episode alone introduced two new locations and quite a few new named characters who all become absurdly important at one point or another. It’s so crazy that this is almost the halfway point of the season (next week is episode number 5 of 10), and the season still feels like it’s laying a million different pieces of a puzzle in front of us. While I’ve always loved that about Game of Thrones (though this season has been forced to excise much more material from the books due to time constraints though it’s also added a ton of things so I don’t really know what their plan is), it can be frustrating for many people and I hate to tell this to anyone who willing to stick with it for now but finds themselves worried. Each future season is only going to grow the world/cast exponentially.

Alright, I’m going to stop this because I still have a pretty awful headache and I’ve basically been staring at a computer screen or a TV screen ever since I got home from work. Needless to say though, shit is getting real in Westeros, and while I honestly foresee a lot of people who haven’t read the books giving up on the series soon (just because things are really only going to continue to get worse for everyone with very little in the way of victories for the good guys), to me, it was great to know that the TV show refuses to pussy out from the more challenging material from Martin’s novels. I’m waiting with baited breath for episode 9 of this season which has the potential to be one of the most epic episodes of television ever (supposedly the budget for that episode nearly equaled all of Season 1!), but for now, I’m willing to wallow in the mud that is the hellhole of Westeros (and now Qarth) because the writing, acting, and directing is as razor sharp as ever.

Final Score: A

Now that’s the Game of Thrones I don’t just simply enjoy. That’s the Game of Thrones that I unabashedly love (and by proxy, think there’s a possibility I’m a terrible person for thinking it’s so brilliant). After two weeks (where by no means was the show playing it safe or holding back since one episode ended with a mass murder of babies) of re-integrating ourselves to this environment and a lot of exposition about the series many new players (which still continued even in this episode), Game of Thrones reminded you that it’s not afraid to start killing people off (even children) at any moment. Not only did the show pull out its patented pitch-black darkness, it also had Tyrion pulling one of his biggest Batman gambits yet and outsmarting virtually everyone in King’s Landing. Peter Dinklage proved why he’s going to win every Emmy until the show is over that he’s eligible for (although I still think Aaron Paul was as good as him in Season 4 of Breaking Bad). Things are moving very quickly in Westeros because this is only a ten episode season even though A Clash of Kings was about 150 pages longer (in the US paperback) than A Game of Thrones. It should be interesting to see how much storyline was cut since tonight’s episode also provided the series first instance of a practically completely aborted storyline from the novel.

The episode begins not long after last week ended with Jon Snow being knocked out in the forest by Craster when Jon’s nosiness led him to Craster’s “disposal” method of dealing with any baby boys (namely feeding them to White Walkers). Jon gets thrown bloodied and beaten into Commander Mormont’s presence (who reiterates to Jon that the Wall needs men like Craster who has saved many members of the Night’s Watch) and Craster orders that the Night’s Watch be gone by dawn. The next day Sam says goodbye to his friend Gilly (one of Craster’s daughter/wives) and gives her his mother’s thimble as a going away present (awww. this will obviously end well). Back in Winterfell, Bran tells Maester Luwin about his dreams of seeing through the eyes of his direwolf, Summer, and the tales that Nan (his milk-mother/nanny) would tell him of people who possessed that sort of magical power. Maester Luwin proceeds to inform Bran that all of the magic is gone from the world including the dragons (yeah. they’re totes gone) and giants (you probably just magically resurrected them yourself Luwin). We haven’t introduced any new characters yet and this season is full to the brim of them so time to change gears to Renly’s camp where Catelyn Stark has arrived to negotiate with Renly over peace terms with Robb so they can defeat the Lannisters. Renly has the most men out of all of the armies (but with none of the battle experience of the others) and they waste their times having tournaments. Catelyn arrives during one such tournament where Renly’s lover/bodyguard Loras has his ass handed to him by a woman in a knight’s armor, Brienne of Tarth who joins Renly’s Kingsguard as her prize. She’s not a very attractive woman (butch is an understatement), and she is mockingly referred to as Brienne the Beauty. Renly is seated next to his wife, Margaery Tyrell (who is much older in this show than the books), who is Ser Loras’s brother. Renly seems open to Catelyn’s negotiations even though she (in true Cat fashion) insults him in front of his men.

In case you didn’t realize it last week, Theon has officially stepped up as a prime time player this season (and we’re likely to see more of him in person than Robb Stark) and we returned to Pyke where we get a look at the complicated web that is sexuality in the Greyjoy household as well as Balon Greyjoy’s plan to finally enact revenge against the Starks for killing his sons all those years ago. While Robb and his army are engaged with the Lannisters in the south, Balon plans to take the entire fleet of the Iron Island to invade the North and to capture every last hold (because of how poorly defended they will be). Obviously, Theon’s life just became a bit more complicated as he has to choose between his biological father/sister who he barely knows and who look upon him with disgust and his adopted brother of Robb whose father basically held him as a hostage his whole life (though he truly loves Robb). After thinking it over, he decides to side with his real family even though he’s got a very insignificant role in the invasion with just one ship compared to his sister Yara’s 30. We get a brief scene in King’s Landing where Tyrion convinces Shae to get a job in the castle so he can be near her without everyone realizing she’s a prostitute (which would lead to her death at the hand of Tyrion’s father, Tywin). Things move to another part of the Red Keep where Sansa is having dinner with Cersei and her two youngest children, Tommen and Myrcella (who we saw very little of last season). Cersei taunts Sansa about the “inevitable” fate of Robb, and Sansa eventually goes back to her room depressed where she takes her frustration/fear out on Shae whose new job is Sansa’s handmaiden. The last scene(s) in King Landing involve Tyrion telling Varys, Littlefinger, and Maester Pycelle three different stories about plans to marry off Myrcella to secure alliances for the Iron Throne trying to discover who the mole is for Cersei that betrayed Ned Stark.

We return to Renly’s camp where self-proclaimed King Renly (though he honestly has the least claim to the throne) is getting it on with Ser Loras (all the homophobes in the audience went to the bathroom in unison) when Ser Loras is both offended that Renly gave the prestigious honor of being part of his Kingsguard to Brienne and flippant with getting it on with the man love with Renly because Renly needs to impregnate his sister Margaery (to secure the alliance with the powerful House Martell which we’ll be seeing much more of in the future). Margaery arrives to commence with the babymaking with Renly who tries to say he’s too drunk to get it up when Margaery asks if he’d prefer it if Ser Loras primed the enginges (if you know what I mean). I guess it’s no secret which way the wind blows on this branch of the Baratheon family tree. She is perfectly willing to be the world’s most powerful beard. We return to King’s Landing where Cersei flips her shit on Tyrion’s plans to wed off Myrcella (which were real, not just his ploy to discover the traitors in his midst). Tyrion’s plan revealed that Maester Pycelle was the mole and after humiliating him in front of a prostitute, Tyrion has Bron through Pycelle into the dungeon. Varys and Tyrion congratulate themselves on Tyrion’s cleverness (you really shouldn’t get chummy with any of these bros Tyrion) and then Varys asks Tyrion a riddle about the nature of power. It’s a trick question because Varys is a social constructionist (if we’re getting all academic), and Varys gives the impression that he thinks it’s time to cast his lot with Tyrion. Somehow, I have to question his loyalty here.

Once again, the recap portion of this review is spiraling out of control thanks to this show’s labyrinthine plots. However, this is actually the end so maybe I should have just included all of this in the last paragraph. We return to the Kingsroad where the ragtag group of people being recruited for the Night’s Watch are staying in a huddled mass in a crowded building. Arya can’t sleep because she’s haunted by the memories of the murder of her father. She passes her nights polishing Needle (that would have been an easy masturbation joke had she been a boy and not just pretending to be one) when Yoren (the Night’s Watch recruiter) stops by and recounts the story of watching his brother murdered in front of his eyes (and then murdering the murderer years later) to try (probably unsuccessfully) to make her feel better. Suddenly, a group of soldiers arrive outside demanding that Yoren turn over the bastard Gendry. Yoren basically tells the soldiers to go fuck themselves, takes a crossbow for his efforts, and manages to kill several soldiers before he’s finally overrun. Arya gets herself caught by helping the prisoners in the cart escape being burnt to death and convinces the soldiers that Gendry was a little boy they mercilessly slaughtered by showing them the bull’s helmet. Cue end credits.

I’ve been writing this review for the better part of an hour and I’m only going to keep writing for what is likely another twenty minutes if not more. I love you Game of Thrones but man, reviewing you takes up my entire Tuesday night. A man has to eat at some point. So, where to begin this week? How about those scenes with Peter Dinklage? I’m going to say that every damn week, but man, he can say more with a raise of his eyebrows and a sly wink than most actors can with David Milch-quality dialogue (which is to say the best) and their whole bodies. That entire scene where he intimidates/humiliates/arrests Maester Pycelle and then tips Pycelle’s hooker not once but twice is Tyrion in a nutshell (fans of the books can attest to this), and Peter Dinklage just owned it. Gwendoline Christie played Brienne and while I was initially worried when she was first cast that she wasn’t going to be able to be manly enough for the part, the show’s makeup department did a serious number on her turning her into Ellen Degeneres on ‘roids, and Christie really nailed Brienne’s gruff and hard personality. Hopefully, she’ll be able to carry the tender moments as well later on. Natalie Dormer was excellent in the very Lady Macbeth role of Margaery Tyrell. I know just what the plans/motivations are of the Tyrell family members (whose names aren’t Loras anyways [cause he really loves Renly]). She’s a lot, lot older in this show. Cause I’m pretty sure she was like 14 when we first saw her in the books, and she was totes naked in this episode. I guess the series needed to appease those who wanted to see some boobs after the dude make-out session.

Before I continue with the plot stuff, I just want to say that for being the two most hated characters in the series behind Joffrey and Cersei (among the fandom, not in-universe), Sophie Turner and Alfie Allen really steal their scenes. And while I’ve never hated Sansa as much as the rest of the series’ fandom (Theon totally deserves every inch of hate he gets), Sophie Turner makes her so much more sympathetic thanks to her fragile and vulnerable performance. She generates pretty strong opinions in people though so maybe I just have a soft heart. As to the plotting, those scenes with Tyrion as he tried to uncover the mole were so well written (and well acted by Aiden Gillen and Conleth Hill as well) and captured the political scheming that is my favorite part of the A Song of Ice and Fire universe. The scenes where the Night’s Watch recruits unsuccessfully try to fight off the soldiers from King’s Landing continued this season’s streak of ending episodes on brutal notes (that involve the death of children). Someone should start a tumblr or something that counts down the number of kids who die this season before they reach puberty. It’s going to be in the dozens. Even though there was no Dany or Robb this week, all of the scenes (except for maybe Jon’s stuff) were so compelling that I didn’t miss their presence whatsoever.

It just struck me that we didn’t see any of Stannis, Davos, or Mellisandre this episode. This show has to be a bitch to translate into television because it ignores all accepted rules of the genre (namely that there have to be main characters that we have to see every episode). Spoiler alert, but if you didn’t realize it after last season’s death of Ned Stark, everyone’s head is potentially on the chopping block in this series. Martin is much more concerned with painting as detailed a portrait of the Westerosi world (and eventually beyond Westeros) and deconstructing the basic building blocks of fantasy, that little things like regularly seeing certain characters becomes less important. You will go hundreds and hundreds of pages without seeing a character (and sometimes a whole book or two) because Martin believes in patience. It works really well in the books, but I can see how it can be frustrating to some on the show, especially those who haven’t read the books. I’m going to stop ranting now cause I’m over 2000 words and that’s the point when I know I need to stop ranting. This has been the best episode of the season so far and I know that things are only going to get better from here. Winter is coming.

Final Score: A

Have I mentioned how much I really, really hate not having HBO at my apartment in Brooklyn? Having to wait 24 hours for the new episodes of Game of Thrones is pretty much the definition of a “First World Problem,” but it bothers me nonetheless. The fact that I can’t engage in water cooler conversations with my co-workers about the new episodes is a bummer (even if my office doesn’t have a water cooler or any similar style drink receptacle). Regardless, no matter how long I’m forced to wait to watch new episodes of Game of Thrones will be worth the delay if HBO continues to deliver episodes like last night’s and last week’s premiere, “The North Remembers“. Game of Thrones is poised to be one of the most expensive (without question) and complex (probably lining up right behind The Wire in terms of remembering who the fuck is who and why they’re doing what they’re doing) programs in television history just thanks to the source material alone. Yet, HBO continues to match the expectations of George R. R Martin’s rabid legion of loyal fans, and while I didn’t enjoy A Clash of Kings as much as A Game of Thrones (if for no other reason ****SPOILER ALERT***** I felt that the book lacked any “Ned Stark dies” moment), but this season is going to up the political drama and intrigue that lies at the heart of this franchise, and I can’t wait to see it all unfold.

The episode begins right where last week ended with Arya on the Kingsroad along with the rest of the new Night’s Watch recruits heading to the Wall. When a pair of Gold Cloaks arrive, Arya (who’s pretending to be a boy named Arry until she can reach Winterfell) immediately believes that they’ve been sent after her to kill her like her father. However, after the baby murder spree that capped off the season premiere, they are actually after Gendry (Arya’s new friend who also knows she’s a girl) because he is one of Robert’s bastards. While Yoren (the actual recruiter for the Night’s Watch) is able to scare them away, they were only two soldiers and they promised to return with more men. We flash to King’s Landing where Tyrion walks in on Varys having a conversation with Tyrion’s concubine Shae. Tywin (Tyrion’s father for those who have trouble keeping up with this show’s massive cast) ordered Tyrion to leave his “whore” (Tywin’s words) behind but Tyrion being Tyrion ignored him. In his own subtle Varys way, Varys makes it clear that he can reveal Shae’s existence whenever he pleases at which point Tyrion informs Varys that he’s no Ned Stark and that he knows how things work in King’s Landing and he won’t be pushed around. We’re about to find out exactly how serious Tyrion is about that statement. Not quite the moment I’m referring to but shortly thereafter, there’s a Small Council meeting where Cersei dramatically rips up Robb Stark’s terms for peace and Tyrion calls her out on being all sizzle and no steak. He’s pretty much the best.

Beyond the Wall, we join the Night’s Watch scouting party that is trying to ascertain the location of all of the missing Wildlings against the rumors of the ever-increasing army of the as yet unseen Mance Rayder. Poor innocent Sam is being taught in the ways of sex by his less mannered pals when one of Craster’s daughter/wives (we’ve entered the world of Hotshot from True Blood apparently) walks in the path of Ghost, Jon Snow’s direwolf. Sam shoos Ghost away and offers his condolences to the girl, Gilly. Since Gilly has been raped by her father/husband her whole life, this is obviously the nicest thing anyone has ever done for her. She tells Sam he’s very brave (and the audience lol’s unless they’ve read the books). Sam brings Gilly to Jon and tries to plot a way for them to help her escape but Jon has to give Sam “Life Beyond the Wall Reality Lesson 101” and say they can’t help her. We get a brief scene in the Red Waste where things are getting pretty terrible for Dany and her khalasar. They’re dying of thirst and starvation and things don’t get any better when a horse arrives with the severed head of her bloodrider Rakharo which Ser Jorah believes is meant as a warning from another Khal. Cue transition to (I need like a random battle swipe like they have in JRPGs for these moments since they happen constantly now) Pike, the home of Theon Greyjoy before he was taken as Ned Stark’s ward after Theon’s father Balon Greyjoy led an unsuccessful rebellion nine years earlier. Theon has been sent to negotiate with his father to help Robb Stark fight the Lannisters but before we get any of that, we learn that Theon is such a dick to women when he lays out his life story to a “Salt Wife” he is having very unromantic sex with.

There’s a scene at Littlefinger’s between Ros (the prostitute from Winterfell that is a TV series only addition that I don’t like because it seems like her only job is to be naked) and Littlefinger that certifies what a Grade-A douche Littlefinger is but we already knew that so we’ll move on. Back in the Hand’s chambers, Tyrion is having dinner with Janos Slynt (the Captain of the Gold Cloaks who betrayed Ned Stark to Cersei last season). After essentially bitch-slapping Slynt verbally, Tyrion informs him that he can’t have a man he can’t trust as Captain of the city guard and ships him off to the wall and names his bodyguard Bronn as the new Captain of the Gold Cloaks. Back at Pyke, Theon finally makes it back home but his expected fanfare is nowhere to be found. After having to pay a common peasant to fetch him a horse even though he’s the only living son of the Lord, a woman shows up and offers Theon a ride to the castle. Theon is a lech and feels this woman up on the ride there as she flirts with him slyly. Theon makes it to his father’s room and the father immediately lets Theon know that he hates what his son has become (which in Balon’s mind is a Northerner as opposed to a true Iron-Born [they live in a place called the Iron Islands]). After hearing Robb’s offer which is to allow Balon to be King of the Iron Islands if he assists Robb in overthrowing the Lannisters, Balon summarily dismisses the plans and insults Theon for being a glorified raven. In walks the girl that gave Theon the horse ride (who is in fact his sister Yara). So yeah, more incest on Game of Thrones. It won’t be the last time. Balon says that Theon isn’t worthy to lead Greyjoy ships and that his sister Yara will do so instead. We get another brief scene between Cersei and Tyrion where they have a verbal repartee after he fired Janos. He makes insinuations about her relationship with Jaime and she goes for the lowest of blows by blaming him for their mother’s death (she died giving birth to Tyrion).

Sweet R’hollor on a funeral pyre (going for in-universe epithets that I just made up instead of real cursing since people tend to get offended by my blasphemes) this recap is even longer than my last one. Anyways, we finally transition back to Dragonstone where we meet the first black person in the series. Salladhor Saan is a legendary Pentosi pirate that Davos Seaworth is trying to recruit to help Stannis Barratheon whose fleet is flimsy at best. After jesting that his price would be the right to bang Cersei after they sacked King’s Landing, Salladhor agrees to help Stannis thanks in part to the sheer faith that Davos has in his king (and we hear our first bit of why Davos is so loyal). Davos’ son is a true believer in Mellissandre and her religion but Davos just believes in his King. After a meeting where Davos informs Stannis of Salladhor’s new loyalties, Stannis and Mellisandre have a moment where Stannis confesses that he simply doesn’t have the men to defeat either his brother, Renly, or the Lannisters. Mellisandre offers him victory if he gives himself entirely to the Lord of Light which in this case means banging her on his strategy table so she can bear him a son. Yeah, Stannis, she’s a good person… The episode ends back North of the Wall where Jon sees Craster take a baby into the woods and abandon it. As he sees mysterious figures preying on the newborn, Craster walks behind him and cold clocks him. Cue credits.

I’m sorry readers that I devoted so much time to the plotting of each episode. However, having read the books, I know just how important even the most seemingly minor moments from this season will be, and despite devoting 1200 words to what happened alone, I’m realizing there are still things I left off like Jaqen H’gar (pictured above) and I’m sure something else will cross my mind later on. I generally try to give the most concise description of the plots humanly possible in these recaps but considering just how spread out and disparate all of these plots are, you can’t leave anything out because there is almost nothing in the way of filler anymore. The closest that we got to filler this episode was the gratuitous sex occurring at Littlefinger’s brothel but even that set up another chance for Aiden Gillan to wow us with his acting chops and to reassure everyone that Petyr Baelish is not a nice guy. This considerable complexity will be the show’s biggest strength (because likeThe Wire, this is a series that will truly be considered literary in its structure) but also it’s going to cause the series to bleed viewers who are going to have to give up navigating its labyrinthine plot. I love it, but for less hardcore fans, this is going to be the season where they will either learn to stick with Martin’s masterfully constructed world or abandon the show for something less demanding.

I think I’ll scare away readers forever if I let this carry on too long so I promise only one more paragraph (before the conclusion). Let’s give a round of applause to some of this season’s newcomers. I’m still on the fence about Stephen Dillane as Stannis who doesn’t seem to have the commanding presence or intimidation factor that I always sensed in the books, but Liam Cunningham is killing it as Davos. Davos is one of the new point of view characters in A Clash of Kings (along with Theon) and he quickly became a favorite of mine (unlike Theon who is going to go down a dark, dark path this seaosn). Cunningham bears a freakish resemblance to Jean Reno, but not even that can stop me from appreciating how well he’s selling the role of the bitter, old, and world-weary Davos. He’s got the potential to be the person to watch this season. Obviously, he can’t lay a finger on Peter Dinklage (who once again owned his scenes with Cersei and Janos Slynt) but it would get old if I sang his praises every single week. Still, actors like Lian Cunningham and Peter Dinklage (along with Conlyth Hill who plays Varys) can express so much hidden meaning and subtle ranges of intention that along with the show’s excellent script, this series return reminds me of what a ham-ridden and heavy-handed affair The Walking Dead was and may have re-ruined my ability to appreciate that show even after the good will the last two episodes of the season earned.

Alright, I’m done. I promise. The only people that should be forced to read 2000 words of anything I write are my professors and my editor at work (and I can’t imagine a single article I’d ever have to write for work that would be 2000 words long). I still find myself very excited about the direction the show is going. It’s already changed several things from the book (in the books Cersei ordered that Ned’s bastards be murdered rather than Joffrey ordering it), but other than the example, I’ve mentioned none have been especially major and it all works within the context of the series. I’m not going to be one of those fanboys who nit-picks the difference between the book and the show because I understand that each medium requires different things to succeed (unless they completely bastardize things ala the Walking Dead. then I might complain). This has the making to be another great season of TV, and there are still plenty of very, very important characters who are yet to be introduced. When Brienne shows up, I may have a fanboy attack of glee.

Final Score: A-