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This might be the first episode of Game Of Thrones’ second season that gives off a hint of discomfort, prompting squirming reactions akin to Milhouse watching Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie and saying, “When are they going to get to the fireworks factory?” Which, really, is to the show’s credit. Since we’re in the closing act of the season and shit is likely about to get real, an episode that’s about getting characters in position is forgivable. While the show has mostly eschewed a storyline or two per episode to keep the focus narrowed and more involved, “The Prince Of Winterfell” checks in with nearly the entire cast and ladles in a heavy dollop of romance to keep things intriguing. Which is fine, but when you’re waiting for Stannis to invade King’s Landing, or Daenerys to invade the House of the Undying, or Robb to invade anything, kissing will only get you so far.
Perhaps the most involving stuff revolves around the titular Prince, Theon Greyjoy, who greets his sister to start the episode and quickly sees the writing on the wall: His triumphant conquest of Winterfell was meaningless before it began and even more so now that he’s supposedly killed the Stark children (more on that later). It’s amazing that Theon’s plot still pulls focus, since he’s such a difficult character and his behavior since arriving at Winterfell has been foolish even by his standards.
But Yara’s surprisingly sympathetic confrontation, and Theon’s insistence on seeing his conquest through, added even further shading to the twisted Greyjoy saga. Yara’s moment of compassion for her brother kinda clicked everything into place. In all of the scenes on Pyke, Yara had come off as a bit of a kiss-ass; her reputation was clearly earned, but she basically chimed in on everything her father said. But here, alluding to she and Theon enduring Balon’s parenthood and their connection as young children, Yara makes it clear that she’s mostly interested in survival, not glory. The Greyjoys are not Targaryens, and they don’t care about controlling the North; they’re just perpetually in search of battle and strife and ways to prove themselves.
Once again, Theon’s been acting like a mainlander, thinking Winterfell the grand prize (although his troublemaking first mate is partially to blame for all this). Later, it’s confirmed that he didn’t kill the Stark children—just the two orphan boys, in an attempt to prove a point to the villagers. He offers to pay off the farmer to keep his mouth shut, but, of course, the farmer has already been put in the ground by Theon’s men. Theon’s demise, or at least his overthrow, can’t be far off. Yara knows it, telling him to leave and not die near the sea. But I understand Theon’s thinking: He can’t return to the Starks, he can’t go back to his father, so why not stand his ground?
The Stark family is behaving pretty badly right now too (although for far better reasons than Theon). Last week’s little cliffhanger with Catelyn and Jaime is resolved with a fairly surprising twist: She sends Brienne off with him to trade him for her daughters, a bonehead move by anyone’s standards since Jaime is one of the best fighters in the world and Brienne, walking into King’s Landing, would pretty much be doomed to death. Remember, this is Cersei we’re dealing with: she’s doesn’t honor contracts brokered by Petyr Baelish.
It’s a twist that’s been hinted at for many episodes, though, and it’s a dramatically promising one. Robb has to lock Catelyn up to try and fend off further discord within his own forces. Meanwhile, the quippy, nihilistic Jaime is on the road with the pious Brienne, a comedy team made in heaven. This’ll be a great way to draw both characters out of their shells. They’re both very intriguing, but they both operate behind a thick veneer: Jaime’s dark humor seems to be masking even darker pain, and Brienne’s thick skin has obviously been built up over years of taunting. So setting them to work on each other is a genius move.
A much less surprising twist comes when Robb finally hooks up with Talisa. The most interesting thing about this plotline is the actress playing Talisa, Oona Chaplin, is Charlie Chaplin’s granddaughter; otherwise, it’s been a bit of a slow burn (plausible, considering how busy Robb is). Talisa’s description of life in Volantis is fascinating, however, especially the fishing-boat slave with a fish tattooed to his face, since it hints at the complicated back-story of slavery in this universe that is still mostly unknown to us.
Mostly, though, this is just another screw-up for Robb, who’s a master on the battlefield but increasingly showing his ineptitude everywhere else. I guess it wasn’t his fault that he trusted Theon, or his mother, but this is an area where he easily could have avoided trouble. Just… don’t hang out with the sexy Volanti nurse, dude! It’s a big camp, you’re in charge, you don’t have to run into each other!
Also in the doomed romance department: Shae’s brush with danger at the hands of Cersei, who captures and tortures another prostitute (poor old Ros, who’s really been through the wringer on this show) thinking she’s Tyrion’s girl. For Tyrion, the fact that Cersei even got that close is enough to strike mortal fear in his heart, which means Cersei is right: Tyrion’s love for Shae is his weakness, and it’s going to get him in trouble. The fun stuff in King’s Landing comes with Varys, Bronn, and Tyrion, essentially the brain trust at this point, desperately trying to figure out how to defend the city. Joffrey has his own half-baked plans, but as Varys and Tyrion confide in each other, if they want to survive (and boy do they want to survive), they’re going to have to work on something better. It’s the closest thing to an alliance Tyrion has struck, and whether it’ll prove to be fruitful remains to be seen. But it’s fun to see them making friends.
Elsewhere, there are brief check-ins with the other major characters. Stannis chats with Davos about his working-class origins and Stannis’ own bitterness at being denied the Baratheon homestead under Robert. Stephen Dillane is absolutely electrifying in this role, which is funny since Stannis is such a grump and his idea of delivering praise is utterly unenthusiastic. Still, he’s magnetic; it’s understandable why he’d rub some people the right way even as he rubbed so many the wrong way.
Arya, denied the chance to kill Tywin (though did she ever really want to?), uses her brains and persuades Jaqen to set her free by naming Jaqen as her final target. It’s a nice capper to the Harrenhal storyline (although I’m sure it’s not the last we’ve seen of Jaqen). I’m just glad Gendry’s still alive and we’re not going to have to endure more grim scenes at the burned castle without Tywin around to cheer me up.
Jon, up north, has been captured along with the Halfhand, who seems to have notions of infiltrating the Wildlings by sowing fake discord between them. Anything that gives us more info on the Wildlings (like the Lord of Bones dude this week) is welcome. Meanwhile, Ygritte repays her own life debt by arguing for Jon’s life, a nice reversal that maintains the wildlings’ menace without Jon just being killed on sight.
Finally, Daenerys doesn’t have much to do except ponder going into the House of the Undying (Jorah just wants to get the fuck out of there, but he’s a scaredy-cat). It’s plots like these where you could really feel the episode stalling: obviously, some big denouement is going to happen with the warlocks, and we just… can’t… quite get to it yet. But waiting is okay. If “Baelor” (episode nine of season one) is any yardstick to go by, next week’s going to be crazy.
- Yara may be sympathetic, but she still has a bit of an edge to her. “Are you the dumbest cunt alive!?”
- Jaime refers to three men that might be able to beat him in battle. Who does he mean? Loras? The Mountain? Barristan?
- “We could throw books at his men.” “We don’t have that many books.”
- Oh, forgot to mention Sam finding a cache of ancient obsidian weapons. Which they call “dragonglass.” Very apt.
“Why are all the gods such vicious cunts? Where are the gods of tits and wine?” Ah, Tyrion, you say things so well.