Saturday, May 5, 2012

Review: Game of Thrones "The Ghost of Harrenhal"

Non Spoiler Review:
The Ghost of Harrenhal is another turning point episode that promises the remainder of the season is going to be one mass of crazy. Melisandre's plan has immediate political repercussions for Westeros, sends many on the run, and reforges alliances. In King's Landing, Tyrion turns his attention to investigating what defences the city has at its disposal and makes quite an ominous discovery. Across the sea, Daenerys finds Qarth full of surprises. North of the Wall, the Night's Watch is faced with meeting Mance Rayder's forces. At Harrenhal, Arya finds a new ally. And in Pyke, Theon and Yara prepare to set sail for their attack on the north.

This was a busy one, getting pretty much everyone involved aside from Robb. It jumps right into the action with a shocker (though not entirely unexpected). This moment provides a catalyst that reverberates across all the storylines and if things weren't already in high gear, they've certainly been kicked up a notch.

Everyone continues to get pretty fair screentime despite the enormity of the plotlines. Special note this week to the visuals—Qarth's vibrant colour palette really contrasts with Westeros' grimmer, earthy tones, and the scenes in the north were pretty spectacular, as well. Once again the series manages to convey an epic film style on a budget.

Spoilers Now!
Renly feels the Starks and Baratheons are natural allies, so offers Catelyn terms to take back to her son. He will destroy Stannis, and then together they will take King's Landing. Afterwards, he will allow Robb to call himself King of the North, as long as he swears fealty to him as Ned did to Robert. Catelyn seems to agree. However a wind blows through the camp, bringing Melisandre's dark offspring into the tent. It takes human form, stabs Renly to the horror of Brienne, and abruptly dissolves.

The kingsguard rushes in thinking it was Brienne who killed him, so she slays them. Brienne is despondent but Catelyn is frantic that they both leave, given how guilty they look. And she can't avenge Renly if she's dead. 

Baelish watches Stannis' ships approach the coast while Loras and Margaery mourn over Renly's body. He suggests Margaery and Loras return home, as Renly's bannermen will flock to Stannis. Loras doesn't believe Brienne killed Renly and thinks it was obviously Stannis. Baelish urges him to be smart. He won't be able to kill Stannis today, so he should flee and bide his time. Loras reluctantly agrees and leaves them. Baelish refers to Margaery as your grace, but she knows she's not a queen with Renly dead. Baelish asks if she still wants to be a queen. No, she replies. She wants to be the queen.

Stannis and Davos arrive at Renly's camp. Davos wants to speak about what he saw in the cave, but Stannis refuses. All of Renly's bannermen have joined him except the Tyrells. Davos suggests nothing is worth what it will cost him, and if he takes King's Landing with Melisandre at her side it will be her victory. Stannis agrees to hear him out. Davos reminds him she's a foreigner preaching a foreign religion and there are rumours that she whispers orders in his ear. He urges him not to lose those bannermen to her. Stannis decides to leave Melisandre behind and Davos will lead the attack into Blackwater Bay.

News of the murder reaches King's Landing, and Tyrion explains to his sister there are plenty of rumours—suggestions Renly's guard killed him, even that Catelyn Stark was somehow involved, but most likely Stannis. Cersei is pleased regardless, but Tyrion points out Stannis now has land and sea superiority. His sister remains unconcerned given Joffrey is taking personal charge of siege preparations and refuses to share any information with Tyrion about it.

Tyrion interogates Lancel and learns the king's alchemists are making wildfire to be launched from the city walls onto Stannis' ships and armies, given he overheard Cersei talking with the pyromancer.  Tyrion and Bronn walk through the city, as he tries to figure out what defences they have against Stannis. Tywin has been out of touch for weeks given he's busy losing to Robb. They come across a street preacher who is declaring Joffrey a rotten king. The king is a lost cause, Tyrion muses, and he's worried about the rest of them. However, he's alarmed to learn that people think Tyrion is pulling the king's strings, and the preacher refers to him as the deformed monkey.

Tyrion visits the pyromancer to see the wildfire—it melts wood, stone and steal and can't be put out. After the dragons died, wildfire was the key to Targaryen power. Bronn is skeptical given all the good soldiers are in the Riverlands, so he's doubtful people can man the catapults. They could just as easily burn down the city. They're taken to a vault where nearly 8000 jars are stored. Tyrion fears the contents could destroy King's Landing, and orders the pyromancer to make wildfire for him now, rather than his sister.

In Pyke, Theon takes over his ship, but his men offer him no respect. In fact one challenges his authority directly by suggesting he be made captain. Yara mocks him as she heads off to her 30 ships. His first mate is named Dagmer, and counsels him he'll need to prove himself to earn their respect. He offers up an idea that they attack a larger inland town called Torrhen's Square. Theon muses they would only be able to hold it for a few days until Winterfell sent soldiers, but then seems to get an idea.

At Harrenhal, Tywin gets reports that the northern lords are wanting to return home to get the harvest in before winter. He realizes he's underestimated Robb for too long and as long as he continues winning they'll believe he's king in the north. Tywin's growing impatient with his advisors and their lack of ideas. Arya continues to serve him and he asks where she's from. Maidenpool, she offers, but Tywin quizzes her on the names of her lords and she stumbles. He suggests she's a northerner. She wisely admits it, names another town and house, declares they call Robb Stark the young wolf and that he can't be killed. But she doesn't believe that—anyone can be killed. 

Arya runs into Jaqen and sees him in Lannister armor. She says she should have let him burn. He replies that all of them have since found their roles to survive in Harrenhal. He explains she saved him and the two men he was with, and so stole from the red god and that debt needs to be repaid by three lives. He tells her to speak three names and he'll kill them in payment. After a moment she offers the name of the torturer—the Tickler. 

North of the Wall the Night's Watch camp at a mountain site where the First Men stood before the Long Night. They rendezvous with another group of rangers under the command of Qhorin Halfhand, and have spotted a Wilding army in the distance. All the Wildings have joined Mance Raider, Qhorin explains, and they're nearly ready to make their move somewhere south. Mance will have them organized just like the Night's Watch, so he thinks they should do things the Wilding way—kill Mance before they get to the Wall. He chooses a small party to infiltrate their camp, but Jon wants to join in. Mormont reminds him he's not a ranger, but Jon points out he killed a White. Sam offers to take over Jon's duties while he's gone. Mormont comments he hopes Jon makes a better ranger than he did a steward. 

In Qarth, Daenerys finally gets her dragons to feed (and breathe a puff of fire). Xaro has made a dress for her, but she knows nothing about him or his motivations, so suggests Doreah find out from some of his friends. She wears the dress to a reception but finds some of her Dothraki followers are attempting to scope out valuables to steal when they leave. She forbids it. 

She's greeted by the warlocks of Qarth, who manages to appear in two place and offers an invitation to the House of the Undying. It is just a place of study for their parlor tricks, Xaro explains. Meanwhile, Jorah is greeted by a masked woman who appears to know of him. She tells him Daenerys needs a protector now more than ever given they will lust for her dragons and their fire.

Xaro remarks that Jorah is in love with Daenerys. He asks her what she ultimately wants, which is, of course, the throne of Westeros. Xaro explains he came from nothing but Daenerys points out he's a conqueror too given he's acquired so much wealth. She wants to know why he helped her. He takes her down to an impenetrable vault. He offers her half of what's inside if she marries him. That will give her the Seven Kingdoms. He reveals that Robert Baratheon is dead and Westeros is at war.

Jorah tries to discourage her, but she's been caught up on the news from Westeros and feels the time to strike is now. He counters that Xaro will own her forever and agrees she has a good claim to the Iron Throne but a gentler heart that would make her loved by the people. He advises she make her own way with allies in Westeros, not Qarth. He'll find her a ship with a good captain. She tells him to go ahead. 

Brienne and Catelyn have escaped into the forest. They should reach Robb's camp in the morning and then she will leave for Winterfell to see her sons. Brienne asks leave to go once Catelyn is safely back. Catelyn urges her not to go after Stannis. Brienne suggests she would serve Catelyn if she would have her, as she has a woman's courage and when the time comes she asks her to promise she won't hold her back from Stannis. Catelyn makes the vow, and Brienne swears her loyalty. Catelyn swears she will always have a place in her home.

Bran and Luwin continue to hear petitions, but Sir Rodrick interrupts and says Torrhen's Square is under siege, though they don't know who it is. He needs two hundred men. Bran orders him to take the men he needs as they must protect their bannermen. 

Bran wants to know what a three-eyed raven means and asks Osha to interpret it. He explains he dreamt the sea came to Winterfell and flowed over the walls. Osha dismisses it, but Bran persists for an explanation. She refuses to answer.

Gendry receives some sword instruction from Arya as she watches him make weapons, but a scream alerts them to a commotion outside. A crowd has gathered around the dead body of the Tickler, who has fallen from the walls. Arya finds Jaqen watching from a window, raising two fingers to her.

The Verdict:
Sad to see Renly taken out so abruptly, but his death has certainly shaken things up, and created an unexpected pairing between Catelyn and Brienne which looks like it could be quite interesting. His departure signals the last best hope for Westeros (unless Daenerys gets her act together and crosses the Narrow Sea). What will happen to the Tyrells now that Renly's dead? Baelish seems willing to promote Margaery (who is quite ambitious), but who would he see her married to? Does Baelish ultimately have the best interests of the kingdom in mind?

It's a wonder how Balon Greyjoy can control the Iron Islands at all, given the lack of respect everyone seems to throw around. But it looks as though Theon has decided to actually attack Winterfell. His arc is the one I have the most difficulty with, given I don't see his character doing such an about face and betraying the Starks (especially given the animosity his own father feels towards him). That's why I still hope he's got some plan to remain loyal to Robb, though that's looking increasingly slim.

Qarth presents a host of odd and curious characters, especially the masked woman who talks to Jorah. Are she and the warlocks important to the plot, or just eye-candy this week? Daenerys seems to make the correct decision to do things the hard way, and at least remain independent when she attempts to make her claim to the Iron Throne. A shout out to the little fire-breathing dragon, which was awesome. But why are we only seeing the red one and not the other two? It's beginning to become a noticeable oversight.

Arya continues to be a favorite, and her dialogue with Tywin was chilling. Surely things can't remain stable for very long, as her identity is sure to be compromised (and the Mountain could recognize her). Yet she's been handed these incredible three wishes from Jaqen (and manages to wile one away on some unimportant character). She'd best chose wisely next time.

The scenes beyond the Wall were stunning, and I especially enjoyed the casual little bit of the dire wolf wandering around in the background doing nothing in particular. I'm excited to finally see Mance Rayder and that Jon is getting into the fight.

It was satisfying to see some of the man on the street feelings of the current regime, and unfortunate for Tyrion that he's been lumped into the general hatred for the Lannisters. The wildfire weapon carries a lot of expectation (and danger). It can certainly become a major plot device when the battle reaches King's Landing. What will Tyrion ultimately do with it? It also felt odd how dismissive Cersei is about an impending attack. I thought she would be wiser than that given what we've seen of her in the past, but she's becoming positively blind to the mounting evidence of the threat facing them.

Stannis also makes an important decision and seems willing to distance himself from Melisandre, but will she allow it, and does she singularly support him, or could she switch alliances to suit her plans? I still want to know what Stannis thinks happened to Renly, and if he still believes she's carrying his heir. This is another quibble I have given his character is so morally rigid, I find it difficult to reconcile the ease with which he has let Melisandre indulge in untoward methods.

While Bran's three-eyed raven is open to interpretation, there's little doubt what the seas coming to Winterfell means. Like Renly's death, a successful attack on the north will definitely throw Robb's plans into chaos, as well.

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