Wednesday, 9 May 2012

TV Review: Game of Thrones Season 2 Episode 6 'The Old Gods and the New'

Game of Thrones night, I was expecting a great episode. I was wrong. It was excellent.

In King’s Landing a ceremony is held for the departure of Joffrey’s younger sister Myrcella, the young girl is the latest chess piece to be moved in this season’s ongoing war for the monarchy of Westeros and has been promised to a Lanister aligned family’s son in marriage. As the Lannister clan looks on Cersei, who is distraught at the loss of her daughter, makes a vow to Tyrion that she will make him pay for sending her away. On their return to the castle the family pass through one of the hunger ravaged sectors of the city, the disgruntled citizens show no love for their king and openly berate him, upon being pelted with cow dung Joffrey’s gargantuan ego takes hold of him and he orders for the murder of the entire crowd causing a riot to ensue. Vastly outnumbered and wholly unprepared for such a conflict, the royal guards attempt to lead the royal family to safety and protect the life of their king.

The sending away of Joffrey’s sister shows the true ruthlessness of the Lannister clan’s pursuit of the control of Westeros. Tyrion, who is an excellent strategist, really thrives in the role of “Hand of the King” where he is given the power to make important decisions of the realm, what makes Tyrion an excellent “Hand” is that he has the guts to make the hard decisions that would trouble others, such as this arranged marriage. He is aware that this has angered Cersei, who is firmly against it, but he does so anyway for the promise of the allies it will bring to their army.

Hatred between siblings.

Having been rejected several times from having any control over King’s Landing this season and not having accomplished much besides complaining about her situation, Cersei is finally given a purpose when her hatred for Tyrion grows so strong that she declares a threat to him, that she will take from him what he has taken from her, a woman he loves. This seems like Cersei will enact this threat upon Shae if (or more likely when) she finds out how important she is to Tyrion. The majority of the blame for the riot lies with Cersei who ignored warnings from Tyrion and others about the unrest that has been brewing in the capital with regards to her son’s rule. When the riot does break out Cersei is visibly shocked that her people would attack their Queen Regent.

I found the writing to be of a very high standard this week (thanks to writer Vanessa Taylor) in that it was clear to see that Joffrey has not really evolved as much as he would like others to think as when he was struck by the cow dung he immediately,in a childish and immature fashion, demands the execution of an untold number of people when he is surrounded by only a minimal amount of guards. This lack of knowledge of simple politics (and common sense) shows that Joffrey is in no way fit to rule over people when he could at the drop of a hat order for their deaths. The most crowd pleasing moment of the episode came as the envoy got to safety, whilst crticising Joffrey’s idiotic outburst Tyrion provided a sequel to his multiple slap of Joffrey from the previous season, here Tyrion tires of Joffrey’s self-important delusions and strikes the King, mocking his ideal that no one can disrespect him in any way.

The Hound (who is one my two favourite characters in the show) saw some real growth to his character in this episode his frustration with Joffrey’s vile actions contrast with his sworn protection of the boy king whom he finds so despicable however his sworn duty is one that he will stand by, for now at least. His own sense of honour has come through on a number of occasions in the show but in what has to be one of the greatest moments of the season (if not the series) is his last minute rescue of Sansa from a gang of rapists using the most badass yet startling brutal methods to incapacitate them. The Hound has clearly felt sympathy for Sansa and the situation she finds herself in as his unsaid worry for the girl’s safety has been shown in a number of episodes so here it was nice to see that he cared about Sansa enough to go back into the riot to find her when all other guards sought only the safety of the royals, what is important to note as The Hound says to Tyrion is that he did not go back for her because she was a political prisoner and therefore useful as a bargaining chip with Robb Stark but rather because she was a young girl who had lost her father and is being held prisoner by a tyrannical adolescent. I can see the possibility of an uncle/niece relationship possibly forming between the two as the series goes on. We also glimpsed how Sandor sees Sansa through his nickname for her, “Little bird” and his analogy that her place with Joffrey is the cage which holds her.

The Hound shows how fierce he truly is.

Daenerys Targaryen’s time in Qarth has been short but unsettling, the inhabitants of this desert city are stranger than any other on the show and range from supernatural connections such as the eerie warlock Pyat Pree to the hidden ambitions of the wealthy Xaro Xhoan Daxos. Daenerys has been searching for an armada of ships to take her and her (now heavily depleted) army across the narrow sea however she has trouble acquiring such a benefactor, upon returning to her living quarters she is horrified to discover her men butchered and her precious dragons missing, meanwhile a robed figure carries a basket containing said dragons to the bottom of a large keep.

Daenerys did not have a large part in this episode yet her story was given a much needed push to keep the audience interested in her tale, the city of Qarth becomes more intriguing with every episode so I can’t wait to see the House of the Undying hopefully show up in the next episode. Also no Jorah (my other favourite character) this week was a huge disappointment; hopefully he’ll be back in force next week.

Daenerys returns to find her men slaughtered.

The most critical and memorable scenes of this week took place in Winterfell where a skeleton army led by the always-unpleasant (but brilliantly acted) Theon Greyjoy took the northern city. The oldest stark and therefore master of Winterfell, Bran Stark, was forced to give up his family's city to the superior manpower of “Prince Theon”, Theon who has experienced a lot this season reached a point of no return with his brutal execution of Ser Rodrick, this emotional scene also yielded one of my favourite lines of the season which I feel foreshadows the path Theon must now walk “Gods help you Theon Greyjoy, now you are truly lost”. Upon hearing of the capture of his home Robb Stark is furious and agrees to rally the remaining troops in the north under Roose Bolton’s bastard son Ramsay in an attempt to retake Winterfell.

The episode began so suddenly and made such an impact upon me that I could have sworn the opening was a dream sequence of Bran, an idea which was scrapped when Theon turned up. The darkness of this show has always been at the forefront but Theon’s execution of Ser Rodrick has to be one of the most disturbing and memorable scenes I’ve ever seen from this show, the addition of Bran made to powerlessly watch as it happens will greatly shape his future disposition and could bitter him to this harsh world as much the other characters. Alfie Allen has accomplished so much in his relatively short time of playing Theon, taking the character from a secondary support for Robb Stark with undisclosed loyalties to as much a villain as the show can deliver, a character that whilst being repulsive at many points the audience still felt connection to given his Stark foster family, has become a grotesque, power hungry antagonist and personally I’m loving it.

"Gods help you Theon Greyjoy, now you are truly lost"

After becoming a ranger of the Night's Watch (finally) in the previous episode Jon Snow continued his journey through the uncharted abyss north of the wall. Upon encountering a wildling group Jon and his fellow rangers work to dispatch them as quickly and quietly as possible to avoid giving away their position to the untold lurkers of the wasteland, the final wildling left alive is revealed to be a woman called Ygritte whose unfazed reaction to her attackers stops Jon Snow in his tracks, the others leave Jon to take care of the execution and head for the summit of the mountain. Clearly struggling to go through with the deed Jon shows pity on Ygritte and purposely misses his swing, the young wildling wastes no time in running away, leaving Snow to chase after her to amend his mistake.

Jon sure knows how to treat the ladies.

It was great to see Jon finally out of the shackles of his steward duty, the rangers is where any Stark (legitimate or not) belongs, Jon had really been sheltered away from his true potential as a warrior which made it all the more sweet to witness his return to form in the badass ambush of the wildling group. The second Ygritte's face appeared I think it was obvious to everyone that she wasn't going to be executed, no, she was a character now and more importantly Jon Snow's new love interest, a relationship which has had a rocky start to say the least but I'm already sold on the complicated dynamic of it.  

Yep. She's gonna be a main character.

 The scenes which take place in Harrenhal are riveting, every week I look forward to them for a number of reasons but primarily for the relationship between Arya and Tywin which I find to be one of best written and best acted scenes this series has yet delivered, the legendary Charles Dance is simultaneously powerful and elegant with his performance giving the patriarch of the Lannister clan depth that I found refreshing, the character is brought to life so masterfully by the actor that instead of resenting him for his villainous actions I've actually developed an immense respect for him after all he has built his empire and functions with honour and respect above all else, his children are mere shadows of the man he is (Tyrion, if accepted by Tywin would show his father how alike they truly are) and the drive he holds to achieve his ambitions.

It has to be said that Maisie Williams (the actress who plays Arya) is doing a fantastic job this season especially in her scenes with Charles Dance, the two have such chemistry onscreen that lends itself so well to the emotions of their characters that I forget I am watching a TV show and believe I’m watching the novel take place before me, Arya who in the first season hadn’t much time on screen where she wasn’t complaining about Sansa or the snobbery of Joffery has really come into herself this season where she has become a true Stark of Winterfell thanks to her unfaltering loyalty to her family and guts to stand up to whoever opposes her.

Arya's intentions in Harrenhal are not yet clear.
The scene in this episode where Littlefinger arrives at Harrenhal was a testament to the tension and excitement this series can achieve with very little dialogue, the facial expressions of Arya as Baelish arrives signify her horror that Tywin may finally discover her true identity, her careful movements to avoid Littlefinger’s gaze as the background music tensely swells was true edge of your seat stuff. Aidan Gillen continues his brilliant portrayal of the deceitful lord in this scene and his realisation of Arya’s identity was superb as he slyly let her know of his discovery whilst not informing Tywin.

Game of Thrones seems very much to be a show that focuses on characters above all else, which is perfect because no show on television gives the attention and respect to all of its cast members as this one does and the stories it tells are wonderfully unflinching in their grit. I have no idea where the series will go from here but I am sure of one thing, George R. R. Martin has created a world that will go down in history as every bit as engrossing as Middle Earth. 

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