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Oof. At least when Ned got his head chopped off, it was in one clean swipe. Game Of Thrones has been brutal before, it’ll be brutal again, but there was something particularly gruesome about Theon’s botched execution of Rodrik Cassel (or, as I always knew him, beard-braids) which ended with him basically kicking his head off. Cassel’s death wasn’t the only wince-worthy bit of violence in a particularly tough episode—with Renly gone, the people of King’s Landing rioting and Winterfell in the hands of the Greyjoys, things seem especially grim for Westeros right now.
Theon’s “siege” of Winterfell leads things off with a long string of scenes, brilliantly done in showing how quickly things can spin out of control in warfare, especially for someone in Theon’s position. What was hinted at last week comes to fruition extremely quickly—the castle is undefended because of Yara’s attack, so Theon creeps in with a skeleton crew and rouses a particularly stubborn and uninterested Bran out of bed, declaring himself prince of the Iron Islands and Lord of Winterfell.
The whole thing seems almost comical at first. Bran can’t even surrender the castle until someone finds Hodor, Theon is roundly mocked by the townspeople, and you get the impression that if Ned Stark was still around, none of this would be going on. But things take a sudden turn when Cassel spits in Theon’s face and his first mate informs Theon that he must pay “the iron price” for the affront. Even as he’s conquered his old castle, it’s clear that Theon’s heart really isn’t in it—he’s trying to impress his father and sister, sure, but he’s also trying to save face with Bran and Maester Luwin, assuring them he won’t hurt anyone. That goes out the window quickly, and after Cassel’s nasty death, Theon is definitely a lot further over to the dark side.
Fortunately, Osha makes like Jenna Maroney and manages to get Bran and Rickon (and Hodor) out of the castle…using her sexuality! I liked how this picked up a stray thread from season one (Theon had rather aggressively hit on her when she was taken captive) and further cemented Osha’s status as one of the baddest of badasses around. With the introduction of another wildling this week, it’s obvious that the people beyond the Wall are smart, cunning and resourceful—hardly the savages we’ve been hearing about for so long.
Jon’s portion of the story was his strongest of the season so far. Not that I don’t like Sam and Jeor and all the Watch lads, but it’s nice to have him interacting with some new characters (who aren’t pedophilic, incestuous farmers). Halfhand is another in a long line of cold-as-ice Night’s Watch motherfuckers (RIP Yoren) who’s there to cut right through Jon’s idealism, lest he start thinking too loftily and try and save the world by himself. Seems Jon is always hell-bent on saving the world by himself. After bucking up his spirit with talk of Jon’s eventual death being a gift to those south of the Wall, even though they’ll never know his name, Halfhand immediately undercuts himself with a chuckle. If the Night’s Watch are grizzled, the rangers beyond the Wall are several levels more so.
Ygritte the wildling is grizzled in her own way, but it’s pretty obvious what purpose she’s going to serve—finally, a love interest for Jon, whose good looks have been utterly wasted so far serving up north. The whole thing is very contrived—Halfhand can obviously sense how green Jon is, but he leaves him to execute the gorgeous Ygritte on his own. When Jon can’t do it, he chases after her and then they’re lost together and have to snuggle up on a mountain just to survive the night. It’s all very meet-cute, really. But it’s also nice to have Jon out of his element. It’s more plausible that he’d behave stupidly with a pretty lady than, say, when he’s at Craster’s house.
While things are getting worse up north, the situation is no better in King’s Landing, where a riot breaks out after the departure of Myrcella for Dorne and Joffrey handles the situation about as well as you’d expect. To be fair, this wasn’t your run-of-the-mill riot—a few slogans shouted, some shop windows smashed, etcetera. No, this is an angry, hungry crowd—it’s not too long before people’s limbs are getting torn off and Joffrey is shouting for everyone’s head. Tyrion yells at him (and smacks him, very satisfyingly) for losing his cool, but I don’t know how much better I would have performed under that sort of pressure.
Sadly, the worst wound Joffrey suffers outside of the slap is some cow shit to the face. Sansa is almost raped before being rescued by the Hound, who takes care of things in his usual brute force fashion. But his affection for Sansa is obvious (“I didn’t do it for you,” he tells Tyrion), another in a long line of inappropriate romantic interests on Game Of Thrones. I hope the Hound gets more fleshed out in the weeks to come, because there’s definitely an interesting dynamic between him and his master (and his brother). He’s just as brutal, but without the explosive temper, and with more of a sense of right and wrong.
With all this nastiness going on, Arya’s plot is downright hilarious by comparison. She’s trying to avoid Petyr’s gaze when he visits Tywin (and offers an alliance with the Tyrells), she’s making off with Tywin’s battle plans by distracting him with talk of his father, she’s rushing Jaqen through his assassination of another Lannister stooge before he reveals that he’s rumbled her to her new boss. Okay, none of it’s laugh-out-loud funny (except for the usually inscrutable Jaquen’s eye-roll when Arya insists that he kill Amory Loch right away) but it’s funny how much of a relief the Harrenhaal scenes have become, just because Charles Dance and Maisie Williams are giving possibly the two best performances in the show. I liked the shades of grey we’re getting for Tywin—raised by a weak, loving father, he reversed the polarity for his own children, and has achieved great success but at an obvious cost.
Daenerys’ misadventures on Qarth are continuing to move pretty darn slowly. The return of the mellifluous Spice King (the first man to greet her when she arrived at the city’s gates) heralded another exchange where he’s excessively, patronizingly polite and Daenerys tries to win him over whatever way she can—through flattery, royal majesty, and finally just by being downright threatening. The revelation at the end that her dragons had been taken felt like something that was a long time coming—they were being kept in wooden boxes, for God’s sake—but it’s probably just going to lead to more negotiations with another Qarthian weirdo while Xaro looks on talking about how freaking rich he is.
Episode six of season one was “A Golden Crown,” and it ended with Drogo dumping liquid gold onto Viserys’ head. I remember that being the episode that really locked a lot of people into this show. I don’t know that season two has quite the same narrative thrust at this point—there’s a lot of stagnation both in the Westeros war and abroad—but this show has been as compelling as ever right out of the gate and has never flagged. With this many plot elements spinning around, there’s just always much more to look forward to every week.
- Robb gets a bit more flirting done with his sexy foreign lady-friends, but this time he’s interrupted by his mother, who reminds him he’s betrothed to someone else. I’m sure that won’t be a problem.
- Another thing that won’t be a problem—Robb sending that creepy deputy dude we met a couple weeks ago to recapture Winterfell. Apparently he’s sending his bastard? Sounds great.
- Lots of hints about the zombies from Ygritte—she wants her body burned, along with her friends, or at least her head cleanly removed. How do those wildlings survive out there?
- “You’re talking to a king!” Joffrey bleats before Tyrion lays the smackdown. “And now I’ve struck a king! Did my hand fall from my wrist?” Burn.