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If there’s a dominant theme emerging from this season of Game Of Thrones and the convoluted “war of the five kings,” it’s that everyone’s best laid plans are absolutely meaningless. The many schemers and would-be rulers who are trying to set the table for ultimate conquest should be looking over their shoulders, because the situation is so constantly chaotic, it feels like the balance of power is upended every five minutes. Tyrion, who by this point is sporting a constantly worried expression, is smart enough to fear the future. But maybe the lame-brained Theon, whose conquest of Winterfell is going about as horribly as one would expect, has the smartest mindset. “Don’t look so grim,” he tells a justifiably horrified Maester Luwin. “It’s all just a game.”
Hey, that’s almost the name of the show! Many times, we’ve seen how the antics (or gaming) of the ruling class in Westeros spill into the lives of the ordinary folk—think of the poor butcher’s boy, executed just for looking on as Arya humiliated Joffrey early in season one. But Theon’s occupation of Winterfell is perhaps the starkest example yet. He arrived promising Bran that no one would get hurt as long as they surrendered—that lasted about five minutes (R.I.P. Rodrik). Now, with his prize of Bran and Rickon vanished, Theon embarks on a scorched-earth approach to find them again, leading to the death of the two orphan boys who Bran sent to help on the farm last week.
Oh, sure, we’re supposed to believe that the charred corpses Theon presents to the (tired-looking) populace of Winterfell are Bran and Rickon. But I find it hard to believe that the show would off one of its most crucial characters in such a way—even this show. I’ve read enough comic books to know that if the body is unidentifiable, and the murder happens off-screen, you shouldn’t believe a word of it. Plus, it’s Theon. The man can’t do anything right (although he’s finally getting his brutal crew in line, at the expense of his honor with anyone else). “It’s better to be cruel than weak,” he declares, but he’s doomed himself to being weak by taking the easy approach at every turn. It’s clear that Theon is a follower, not a leader—his plot to re-take Winterfell was barely-planned nonsense designed to impress his father, just as his attempt to sway his father was just an attempt to impress Robb. At this point, he’s basically taking orders from his first mate. I’m looking forward to the cruel, but more-competent Yara to assess the situation whenever she decides to show up.
Arya’s brief moment of carelessness last week (walking around with a secret war message in her hands) has similar reverberations this week, with Tywin instructing the Mountain to pillage the land looking for traitors after the death of his man before his very eyes. But we’re spared whatever horror that is, as well as any sight of the “brotherhood without banners” (some sort of dissident group the Mountain mentions). It’s all just Tywin and Arya, matching wits together in Harrenhal, and dammit if they aren’t some of the best scenes of the episode. It’s all down to Charles Dance and Maisie Williams, who have been knocking it out of the park every week.
These scenes are actually a sneaky way for the show to get in some background exposition—we’re learning about the original Targaryen invasion, Tywin’s weak father, etc., but it’s all gripping stuff since you’re watching Arya try to present the right balance of faithful servant and sharp-tongued Northerner to keep Tywin interested (and keep him from guessing her true identity). She can’t help but desire his praise, since he is such an archetypal scary father figure (and, of course, Arya’s in search of father figures). At the same time, it feels like Tywin knows something is up (Arya is too well-spoken and well-read to be a stonemason’s daughter) but he doesn’t really care because he gets a kick out of her. It’s a balance of power that I’m sure will eventually be upset, but for now it’s fascinating to watch.
Beyond the Wall, Jon’s sexy adventures with Ygritte are moving along just as you’d expect—she constantly teases him about his blue balls until he’s frustrated enough to be led into a trap and captured by wildlings. I’m very much enjoying Ygritte’s presence just for the energy it brings to scenes with the usually dour Jon, but I’m even more interested in getting a better glimpse into Wildling life. So far, apart from Osha and Ygritte, they’re just nameless Inuit warriors for the Watch to kill, but this is Game Of Thrones, and no villain is one-dimensional.
Okay, except for Joffrey, who probably attracts the most ire from anyone who watches this show. He’s never going to be afforded much sympathy, but we get the closest substitute here with Cersei and Tyrion having a frank discussion about the problem child, including Cersei admitting his parentage and Tyrion assuring her that the other kids are okay. (Two out of three ain’t bad, right?) I love that the dynamic between Cersei and Tyrion is anything but simple. Sure, she’s constantly professing her hatred of him and he’s constantly needling her with mocking jokes, but there is still that unbreakable family connection. Tyrion looks sympathetic when Cersei starts crying—sure, she’s the one who had children with her brother and spoiled them rotten, and he should trust his sister as far as he can throw her, but there is still a core kernel of humanity there, and it’s impressive that the show can still find it.
Cersei’s “flowering” talk with Sansa serves as the companion to this discussion, of course. Sansa is rightly horrified at the concept that she’s now ready to marry and have babies (and Shae threatens a handmaiden at knifepoint to try and keep it a secret) and rather than subject her to the usual bullying, Cersei acknowledges the issue—what person in their right mind would want to marry Joffrey? Sansa sticks to the company line, of course, professing her undying love for her beloved king, but Cersei, who had a troublesome husband herself (although Robert was just boorish, not evil) knows the misery that awaits. As she explains, she dealt with it by hardening her heart, but that’s not a fix when it comes to her children.
The ongoing saga of Qarth is beginning to bore—particularly the Xaro character, who is constantly going on about how poor he used to be and how rich he is now and blah de blah. There’s finally some action as Xaro and the warlock king take out the rest of the Thirteen in an alliance to rule the city, but I am growing as frustrated as Daenerys with everyone’s circular dialogue, which is distracted by gaudy clothes and wacky behavior (the tile-faced lady casually paints a naked man while delivering her lines, just in case you didn’t know she was peculiar).
I was very heartened, though, by the return of Jaime late in the episode (he’s been missing since the season opener, locked in his cage with nothing to do). He’s probably the least fleshed-out major character on the show, but I’ve always found him a fascinating mess of contradictions—a paragon of knightly mojo who can fight and love better than anyone, but cares little for honor and less for ladies (except for his sister). He’s getting even more cynical and jaded since being held captive, and his long scene with a lesser Lannister prisoner was undoubtedly the best of the episode.
It was clear, once Jaime started talking about a plan of escape, where things were heading—despite the family bond (and the friendliness) between them, Jaime barely thinks about having to bash the boy’s head in if it means a chance at escaping. Here’s someone who would probably nod sagely at Theon’s aphorism about it all being a game. To the end of the episode, even once he’s been recaptured, Jaime is kidding with Catelyn and marveling at Brienne’s proportions. Sure, there’s the implication that he’s baiting Catelyn because he wants to die (it’d hurt Robb’s bargaining position) but despite the cliffhanger, I doubt he’s going anywhere, just when he’s getting interesting.
I’m kicking myself for taking this long to realize that the actress playing Ygritte (Rose Leslie) is Gwen from Downton Abbey. She’s great in both!
Osha admires Hodor’s stamina, but thinks even he will eventually tire. Hodor’s not so sure: “Hodor.”
The Hound’s connection with Sansa remains at arm’s length, because he’s such a scary motherfucker and can’t really accept compliments.
Robb’s romance with the nurse from Volantis continues apace, breeding discontent among his allies. This kid can fight, but he’s gotta get his priorities straight off the battlefield.