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GAME OF THRONES “Second Sons” Recap

As always, my Game of Thrones recaps are written for the particular subset of fans who have not read the books. Also, since they are recaps of the episode’s events and not reviews, they are spoiler heavy. On with the show.

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After nearly three full seasons of treachery, battles, intrigue, sadism, and threats from all corners of Westeros and Essos, Game of Thrones is hardly in a position to be accused of bending over backwards to give characters many happy endings. Or even many happy moments. ‘Second Sons’ is a brilliant example of the show’s tendency to twist a normally happy occasion into a dour affair or to follow up a split second of joy with a bit of attempted murder. Whatever god holds sway over the world of GoT, whether it be Melisandre’s Lord of Light or another deity, it seems to be unwilling to suffer happiness among its many chess pieces gladly.

While I posited that last week’s episode “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” trafficked mainly in a case study of disappointment among its main characters, ‘Second Sons’ has a strong undercurrent of guilt running underneath its foundations, perhaps most obviously at Dragonstone, where Stannis speaks to his old imprisoned friend Davos on the same day that Melisandre delivers Baratheon bastard Gendry. The scene in the Dragonstone dungeons is sublime, with a clearly regretful Stannis kicking off the conversation by telling Davos that he doesn’t belong in a cell, despite having been the one who put him there. He then releases Davos, on the muttered promise that he will not attempt to assault Melisandre again. That is as close to a “You were right and I was wrong” admission as you’re ever going to see from an heir to the Iron Throne. (Stephan Dillane and Liam Cunningham were both particularly incredible in this scene, two of the finest actors among the entire GoT cast.)

That Melisandre has some kind of psychic or magical hold over Stannis can hardly be argued at this point. Davos forcefully implores his old friend to let Gendry go, as he is an innocent and Stannis is not a murderer but a wise and just ruler. Stannis begs off, replying that men, women, and children are dying every day in the fight for control of Westeros and that one more won’t make any difference. But his heart isn’t in it. It is true that Stannis knows far more about the danger rising from the North than Davos does, but whether the ends justify the means is a murkier thing altogether. Tellingly, Stannis again declares that the things he has seen Melisandre do cannot be anything less than the work of the Lord of Light. But instead of proclaiming this in the confident tones of an unwavering believer, Stannis’ monologue gives the impression of a tired repetition, not helped by the glimmer of haunted fear in his eyes. And later, when Melisandre leeches some kingly blood from Gendry, Stannis’ role in a blood-and-flame ritual that casts a spell of sorts against Westeros’ so-called “usurpers” Balon Greyjoy, Robb Stark, and Joffrey Baratheon is undertaken almost robotically. This is not a man on the verge of global domination. This is a thrall. The Stannis that Davos served is, for all intents and purposes, gone. But there is enough of Stannis left to feel guilt over the things he has done, and will do, in his attempt to sit on the Iron Throne. Regardless, Melisandre’s hold over him is powerful and her magic far-reaching. One has to wonder what these leech spells are meant to do against Stannis’ named rivals.

The other guilt-laden subplot in ‘Second Sons’ is the episode’s centerpiece – the wedding of Tyrion Lannister and Sansa Stark. (It is also a beautiful display of Peter Dinklage’s immense talent. If he is to win another Emmy, it will most likely be for his work in ‘Second Sons’.) For all his drunken, lustful debauchery and shiftlessness, Tyrion finally outs himself as a good-hearted guy being pulled every which way by a guilty conscience and higher powers beyond his control. Whether it be anger at his father for forcing him upon Sansa Stark, his inability to assuage Shae’s anger at his upcoming nuptials, or pity at Sansa herself for being stuck with him, Tyrion is rather hamstrung by negative emotions in ‘Second Sons’. The wedding is a nightmare, made all the more so when Joffrey gives the bride away in place of her father (who he executed) but not before telling her that if Tyrion can’t consummate the marriage, he’ll volunteer as a Lannister sperm donor, with a couple knights holding her down for good measure. Joffrey then pointedly takes a set of steps away at the altar that Tyrion was to use as part of the ceremony, drawing snickers from the audience.

What’s an Imp to do when the world is against him? His girlfriend hates him, his bride-to-be loathes him, his father rules him, and the king of the realm treats him like the court jester. So Tyrion finally does what Tyrion does best when life sucks – he gets massively drunk. This almost gets him killed when, in a classic “oh shit” moment that fans have been waiting for since Joffrey’s coronation, Tyrion physically threatens the king at the wedding feast for mocking him. A drink-addled Tyrion barely escapes an enraged Joffrey, backtracking on his harmless “joke” and retiring to his bedchambers to deflower his new bride at the order of his father. But the sight of the distraught 14-year-old disrobing is too much for even Tyrion’s wine-soaked conscience to bear and he tells her that he will not do the deed with her until she is ready, Tywin’s orders be damned. Of course, it is unlikely that Sansa will ever be “ready”, so another Tywin/Tyrion blow-up can hardly be far off.

Tyrion Lannister in 'Second Sons'

Besides two literal second sons in Stannis and Tyrion, the episode’s multi-layered meaning also centers the ‘Second Sons’ mercenary company camped outside Yunkai. Daenerys means to use them in her fight against the city, but the three captains are a rough lot, especially leader Mero, who directly insults Daenerys half a dozen times and slaps Missandei on the ass before leaving. Back in camp, the three hatch a plan to assassinate the Mother of Dragons that night and draw lots to see who will do the deed. The ‘winner’ is the youngest, Daario Naharis, who sneaks into the camp that evening disguised as an Unsullied. He easily infiltrates Daenerys’ tent but *surprise* Daario opens a bag he brought with him and dumps out the decapitated heads of the other two Second Sons leaders. Turns out Daario lives by the ‘do what you want, when you want to’ doctrine and he kinda has a thing for Daenerys and didn’t want to kill her when the lot fell to him. He pledges his life and his men to her. Nice knowing ya, Yunkai.

The episode ends with a return to the Samwell and Gilly subplot. The two come across a dilapidated shack in the wilderness and, as Sam surveys the scene, he notices a few crows sitting on a nearby tree but doesn’t notice the extremely creepy face on its trunk. They decide to bunk down for the night. Sam still can’t manage to get a fire started so Gilly has to handle it while they discuss names for the baby. (In a nice callback to life under Craster, Gilly doesn’t know any boys names.) As they talk, the cawing of the crows outside becomes louder and louder until it becomes unbearable. Samwell peeks outside to find the tree covered with hundreds of crows… who all stop cawing in an instant. The usefulness of Samwell’s obsidian dagger finally becomes clear with the approach of a White Walker. Sam bravely tries to defend Gilly but the Walker shatters his sword with ease, tossing Samwell aside, and approaches Gilly and her baby. Sam then remembers his obsidian dagger and stabs the Walker in the back with it. The Walker shrieks and is shattered into a million pieces himself. Sam grabs Gilly and they escape, as the crows fly after them.

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Random thoughts

– The Hound is another highlighted second son in this episode, come to mention it. Arya’s scene with him is a short one but a good one and sheds further light on the travels of multiple characters. Turns out that The Hound knows of Robb Stark’s journey to The Twins for the Frey wedding and means to take Arya there to ransom her to Stark. So chalk up another two characters riding for The Twins. That’s an awful lot of characters who are all heading towards The Twins at the same time, which makes my Spidey sense tingle. It seems strange that they would draw a simple wedding between two minor characters out this far when the Tyrion/Sansa wedding was handled so quickly. With only two episodes left to go in season three, no storyline feels as due for a climax of sorts in the season finale (with the possible exception of the Wildings’ march to Castle Black) than this one. Robb has been frustrating from a development standpoint this season, making rash decisions when prudence was called for and vice versa. It has been established that Robb has made several crucial errors in judgment in the third season and pissing off Walder Frey is just the latest. As Han Solo would say, I have a bad feeling about this. On the other hand, the teaser for the next episode shows an emboldened Robb confidently announcing how he plans to fuck somebody’s shit up, so perhaps the payoff will be Robb finally getting that infusion of soldiers that he needs and kicking ass up and down the North of Westeros.

– Anyway, seeing as how The Hound could have raped and murdered Arya with ease, I’d say that not doing so makes a decent case for The Hound not being as bad of a guy as they say. He practically says as much. Arya still hates him, though.

– Cersei’s mood is at an all-time low, so somebody probably should have told Margaery that it was a bad time to try to lay on some Tyrell charm. Margaery brings up the fact that they will be sisters after their respective weddings. In response, Cersei notes that the Tyrells are the second wealthiest family in Westeros and that the previous second wealthiest family in Westeros, the Reynes, got a bit uppity back in the day, so Tywin murdered every single member of the House Reyne and left them on spikes to rot. She then caps off the rant by saying “If you ever call me ‘sister’ again, I’ll have you strangled in your sleep.” Margaery’s frozen smile during Cersei’s diatribe is hilarious. Cersei next has to endure hubby-to-be Loras and his hapless attempt to pass along an encouraging anecdote, which she shoots down before he can even get a complete sentence in. Also hilarious.

– Even more hilarious is Olenna’s attempt to figure out the new and awkwardly-inbred relations that this tangled mess of weddings will cause. Nothing like your sister becoming both your stepmother and your aunt or some such nonsense. If only they had a way to look up the Hapsburg dynasty on the internet to know that this kind of thing never ends well.

– No Jon Snow & Ygritte, Jaime & Brienne, Bran & Co., or Theon (thank the Lord of Light) in this episode.

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That’s all for this week, folks. Game of Thrones will not air on its usual time next Sunday (due to Memorial Day weekend), but will instead return on June 2. Until then, what did you think about ‘Second Sons’. Leave your comments below!

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The Author

Gabriel Ruzin

Gabriel Ruzin

Gabriel is a genre film lover, giddy in the presence of beauty and awesomeness, cranky in the presence of artless junk. His first movie memory is watching Khan die in STAR TREK II as a 4-year-old (true story). Gabriel started his online writing 'career' a few years back on a WP blog before graduating to writing for a few bonafide movie sites, including serving as an editor for two. The Coen brothers, Terry Gilliam, and David Fincher are among his favorite directors. He co-hosted the Telluride Horror Show in 2011, 2012, and will host again in 2013. In the midst of writing a book on THE TWILIGHT ZONE for Applause Books. Film trivia whiz. Facial hair artiste.