Watching the Throne: Season 2 Wrap-Up. Part 1.
**This section of the season 2 wrap up covers The Prince of Winterfell and Blackwater. The next section will deal specifically with the season finale, and I’ll tackle some season 3 speculation. It should be posted sometime this weekend. Enjoy!**
This recap is even uglier in the day light. Game of Thrones is a show where a whole lot is going on at once, and an easy criticism to levy at the series would be that there is perhaps too much going on. That the balancing act of all the different characters, locations, plotlines that the show has pulled off thus far is starting to get a bit shaky. That character is being sacrificed for plot advancement. While I agree to an extant with these criticisms, the last two episodes were among the more noticeable flawed episodes to date, they also contained individual scenes and performances that were far superior to anything else being aired on television (Yes, even you all mighty Mad Men). The majority of the episodes in season one were designed as build up for the last two episodes, and two big moments: Ned Stark’s death and the birth of the Dragons. Keeping that in mind, I try to grade GOT on a curve, and respect the big picture game the writers are playing, least I incur the wrath of The Wire creator David Simon. Re-watching all of season 1 in marathon viewing session was a far more satisfying experience compared to my initial week-to-week viewing of the show. I imagine season 2 will be no different, and that’s why I’m willing to forgive The Prince of Winterfell, a very ‘water treading’ edition of GOT.
In the North
A pile of dead crows are dumped down in front of Theon from the Rookery at Winterfell, there damp, dark, and lifeless bodies seems to compliment the general atmosphere of the occupied castle rather well. Winterfell was never the most joyful place in all the seven kingdoms, but under Theon’s rule any remaining traces of warmth and color have fled. Speaking of color fleeting away, Theon’s face when his sister Yara arrives at Winterfell is a study in cold disdain mixed with deep anxiety. Despite maintaining a stern veneer, or at least faking it enough to fool the brutish Iron Men, Theon clearly has mixed emotions about what he’s done. It’s also being made clear to the viewer that he feels guilty for killing the stable boys. He wants to give them a proper burial, and even suggests to one of his officers that they compensate the farmer for their loss. Theon while no saint, is not a fully committed sinner either, and not nearly as hard of a man as he’d like to be. His sister knows this, which is why she pleads with him to come back to the Iron Islands with her before the north men reclaim it, so he won’t die so far from the sea. I thought that was a very beautiful line, and a touching/surprisingly tender moment between the siblings. Theon of course, unwilling to let go of his pride decides to remain at Winterfell. The final image of Bran, Rikkon, and Hodor alive and well inside the crypts, was the biggest non-surprise of the entire season. Thanks to director Alan Taylor this candlelit scene looked beautiful, however, I don’t think any one really believed they were dead, even viewers who have not read the books.
Across the Narrow Sea
A very brief, but well-acted scene set Dany up for her season finale shenanigans in the house of the undying. Like the previous season, Dany comes to these last two episodes with much less than she started with. Last year she lost Khal Drogo, and his Kalisar, yet emerged from the flames of his funeral pyre unscathed and with three baby dragons. This year she has lost all but a few of her remaining followers, and her dragons to the machinations of Xaro Xoran Daxos and the undying ones. All she has left is her blind faith in the mystical mojo contained in her Targaryan blood that protected her before, and Ser Jorah Morment, who loves her unreservedly. Dany is well aware of his true feelings, and sweetly manipulates them to get Ser Jorah to take her to the house of the undying.
Catelyn Stark has released the Kingslayer, Jamie Lannister, in an attempt to save Sansa and Arya (whom she still believes is at King’s Landing). This doesn’t sit too well with Robb: 1) it interrupted his courtly stroll with Lady Talisa 2) it was bad move on her part from a strategic standpoint 3) it was a complete betrayal of his trust. This was one of our most Robb heavy installments to date. In the book this season is based on, A Clash of Kings, Robb is barley seen, Beefing up Robb’s character for the series was definitely a wise move on the writer’s parts; however, in the books Lady Catelyn only releases Jamie after she finds out about Bran and Rikkons “deaths”. It’s depicted as an act of desperation, and that makes it much more understandable. Why the writers chose to have her release him before finding out about their Bran and Rikkon’s “deaths”, is beyond me. I suppose the change up was due to pacing issues, but at the point, having not seen the finale two episodes, I still don’t understand why they didn’t just stick to the books on this on. Also, as I predicted in last week’s recap. Robb and Lady Talisa got groiny with each other, and Robb joins the oath breaker’s club of Westeros.
Jamie and Brienne do their best venturing into odd-couple/road trip/ buddy comedy territory this week. Their back and forth was priceless, and I think it’s safe to say that everyone is looking forward to seeing how this storyline will play out in season three. I already know how it plays out. Read the books. Really, the books are great, and again: reading is awesome. If you love the show, you will more than likely love the source material.
Well, it looks like Arya and Twyin aren’t going to become BFF’s afterall. As soon as she learns of Tywins plans to march on her brother’s army she seeks out Jaqen H’ghar to cash in on her third death. When Jaqen refuses to kill Twin Arya gives him his own name instead, which quickly gets him in a more cooperative mood. I’m always amazed at Maisie Willaims’ performance. She is an amazingly capable actress for her age. Watching her, Hot Pie, and Gendry do the road trip thing next season is going to be a blast.
Lots of prepping for Stannis’ oncoming siege going on in King’s Landing, and there were some surprisingly humorous moments with Tyrion and Bronn, and Varys. I especially loved seeing Tyrion and Varys hating on Joffery’s behind his back after he postured about giving Stannis a ‘red smile’. Most of these scenes were as light as air, the necessary narrative calm before the storm, and while we can debate about the effectiveness of these scenes, there is no denying the raw power of the scene where Cersei reveals to Tyrion that she’s captured his “whore”. However, it turns out the women Cersei captured is not really Shea, its Roz, the long-suffering prostitute from the north who thought her life would drastically improve if she made the trek down south. Tyrion, wanting to protect Shea throws Roz under the bus and pretends like Cersei has the right girl. It’s painfully evident Tyrion truly loves Shea, and believes she loves him as well; his concern and love for her is written all over his face when he rushes back to his chambers to make sure she is safe. The question remains though: does Shea really feel the same about Tyrion?
Beyond the wall
Jon and the Half-hand are taken prisoner by the wildings and are being lead back to their base camp where Mance Raider will decide what is to be done with them. However, it appears the Half-Hand is cooking up a little ole scheme, fighting with Jon to make it seem like he doesn’t trust him anymore. I suppose all will be revealed in the season finale, but first it’s time for the episode the entire season has been building too: Blackwater
This recap wants you to tell the hound to tell the King that it’s busy defending the city. Is Blackwater deserving of a high praise HOLY SHIT? I can say with authority: yes, it’s deserving of not only one HOLY SHIT, but in fact, many HOLY SHITS as the episode was filled with many HOLY SHIT moments both explosive and emotional. Once more, HOLY SHIT! That was an amazing episode, the best the series has offered up to date. Since it was confined to one locale, I’m going to be doing this recap differently. I’m going to list my top five HOLY SHIT moments from the episode, and my reasoning for choosing said moment.
5. The Hound and Bronn
The Hound comes upon Bronn and company singing a fun Lannister drinking song called the Rains of Castamere, a catching little ditty about how Tywin Lannister once crushed an unruly banner man and wiped out his entire bloodline. Bronn offers the hound a seat and warmly welcomes him to the party, The Hound, however, rebuffs this offer and proceeds to engage Bronn in a senseless “sword” measuring contest that leads to them being right on the cusp of throwing down. Thing is, these two characters aren’t drunken frat guys, they are two of the hardest men in all of Westeros, and when people like Bronn and The Hound throw down…someone is going to die. Luckily, they are both saved by chiming bells that are warning of the arrival of Stannis’ fleet. This is the first instance in the episode you realize there is something a little off about The Hound. He’s waxing philosophical about the love of murder and conquest that drives all men to do what they do, commenting to Bronn that he loves killing more than women, money, booze and singing. The Hound believes that being a stone cold-killer means that one must carry themselves in a stone-cold manner all the time as well, no singing or general revelry allowed. Bronn, and the other Lannister guards are all killers, but still able to enjoy the finer things in life from time to time; The Hound, however, appears to be incapable of doing this, and it’s clear he bears a great resentment towards the men who can. The Hounds is beginning to realize killing is the only thing he is good at, it’s the only reason people keep him around, and, most shockingly of all, he doesn’t like it anymore.
4. The Carnage
As a reviewer, I try to offer as much intellectually stimulating commentary as I can on while discussing all the nuances of Game of Thrones in these recaps. I love writing about how the show plays around with the themes of power, lust, corruption, and treachery, the cost of being a noble person in an ignoble world, ect. Sometimes, after writing about all those heady subjects, I feel like a pretentious windbag and have to remind myself about the other, less intellectually substantial, yet no less valid, reason I really love Game of Thrones: I’m a major gore hound. And Blackwater delivered bloody carnage in droves: people were crushed by rocks; people were cut in-half; people were burned alive. Guest director Neil Marshall has made some of my favorite genre movies over the last several years, such as Dog Soldiers, The Decent, and Doomsday (all of which I HIGHLY recommend…all caps, so you know I’m being serious) but Blackwater might be his greatest achievement thus far. Look, all the violence in the real world is a terrible thing, and I wish it didn’t exist, but fictional violence is, admittedly, tons of fun. The great director François Truffaut once said that it’s actually impossible to make an anti-war movie, because all war movies, by their very nature, are designed to enthrall the viewer into the thrill of combat and a spirit of adventure/heroism, and while I believe this is very legitimate criticism of the entire war-movie genre, I also believe that the more successful war movie, more often than not, take time to show the more harrowing and grimier aspects of war. Blackwater was no different: it gave us plenty of gory eye candy, but also offered up many scenes that reminded viewers about the true cost of war, both emotionally and physically.
3. The Hound and Sansa
A lot of (deserved) praise has been given to Lena Headly for her performance as Cersei in the black water episode. She was fantastic in this episode, watching her get progressively drunker and feeding Sansa a litany of (as Stephen Colbert would say) truth sandwiches was a sinister delight. But the quieter moment from Blackwater that affected me the most was The Hounds and Sansa’s scenes together. The Hound feeds her a truth sandwich about her father and brother as well; he claims that they were and are killers, just like he is, and that one day her own sons will be killers, so she better get used to looking at them. It’s harder truth than Sansa is willing to accept at the moment. It’s clear the hound has real affection for Sansa and has come to despise himself for the life he’s chosen to lead. He wants Sansa to run away with him not only because he’s in love with her, but it would allow him a chance at redemption.
2. BOOM goes the wildfire.
The episode was full of big and small moments, each one of them significant in a both a visceral and cerebral function. The clincher of the entire episode was the Wild Fire infused destruction of Stannis’ fleet. It was so BIG! Like, Hollywood blockbuster level big; Peter Jackson by way of Steven Spielberg by way of Christopher Nolan Big. The scale and epic grandeur of that one moment made up for any other slight nitpicks I might have had about this season. The eerie, green-tinted explosion was an awe-inspiring sight, and the chaos and carnage depicted on the burning ships afterwards was frantic and unnerving. Like Ned Stark’s execution last season, this was the moment everything had been building up too. And they nailed it.
1. Tyrion’s Speech
The dramatic highlight and best all-around moment of the episode had to be Tyrion’s speech to the troops. First, The Hound leaves after telling everyone to fuck off. Not long after that, the good king Joffery AKA: the cowardly, douchebag, piece of shit, asshole, worst fictional person ever, decides leaves the battlements as well….to go hang out with his mom….leaving Tyrion by his lonesome. Tyrion, running out of men to lead the charge against Stannis and his troops who are about to storm the Mud Gate, decides to lead the charge into battle himself. His speech was inspiring, clever, and full of great one-liners: “let’s go fuck them in their asses!” Tyrion is riddled with self-doubt and fear (anyone who cracks that many jokes always is) but in this moment he is being entirely genuine. Lord Varys told him earlier in the season that “even a very small man can cast a very large shadow”, and the moment when Tyrion emerged onto the battlefield and cut down a Baratheon banner-man he became larger than life.
They actually pulled it off: A big, epic fantasy battle on a TV series budget. If Game of Thrones can do this once, or twice a season, while still satisfying us with the smaller, character-driven episodes, I have little doubts about the show’s long term success.
One more time: HOLY SHIT!