Saturday, May 12, 2012

Review: Game of Thrones "The Old Gods and the New"

Non Spoiler Review:
The episode kicks off with Theon's successful overthrow of Winterfell, leading to events spinning out of control. Theon's treachery prompts a response from Robb, while a send off for Myrcella in King's Landing shows just how tenuous Joffrey's reign is. Jon is given some responsibility that might be too much to handle. Daenerys attempts to secure allies and ships to cross the Narrow Sea. Arya's situation at Harrenhal grows more tenuous as Baelish pays a visit.

Probably the most tension-filled chapter this season, several characters are placed in jeopardy and there will be some serious repercussions for behaviours and bad choices. It was all a mix of demonstrations of loyalty and nobility contrasted with brutal treachery. On the political end of things, the Lannisters get their eyes opened to just how hated they are.

The remainder of the season is going to be all about escalation. The writers continue to successfully juggle the wealth of storylines and make it all come together each week. And they still manage to give pretty much everyone their due. Arya and Tywin remain the big surprise, as their scenes together are some of the best.

Spoilers Now!
Luwin frantically scrawls out a message and gets it off by raven before soldiers break through the door. Theon arrives at Bran's bedchamber announcing he's taken and occupying Winterfell. Sleepy Bran asks him why. Theon explains he's a Greyjoy and can't fight for Robb and his father both. Bran simply refuses to tell the people he's yielded Winterfell and says they'll fight him and throw him out. Theon points out his yield will keep his people alive and that's what a good lord would do. As Theon leaves, Bran asks if he hated them the whole time, but gets no answer.

Bran announces to the courtyard he's surrendered Winterfell. Theon explains Balon is now king of the Iron Islands. He orders a raven sent to Pyke informing his father of his victory and his sister to bring 500 men to supplement his forces. Luwin obeys, while Osha steps forward and asks to serve Theon. She wants a spear in her hand again. Theon dismisses her outrageous request. As Osha joins him, Bran asks why she would turn on him. She replies that it's his dream, and she's not about to let the ocean swallow her as well. 

Sir Rodrik is led in, thoroughly disgusted with Theon's betrayal and spits on him. Theon orders him taken away, but Dagmer warns he must pay the iron price, or they'll never respect him. Theon abruptly sentences him to death but Luwin urges him not to make a hasty decision given he's worth more alive than dead. The Stark's will pay for him. Theon reminds him to address him as Prince Theon, or he'll be next. Rodrik is taken to the execution stone as Bran begs him to stop. Rodrik is defiant and tells Theon he is truly lost, goading him into performing the act himself. Theon does so, but makes a horrible mess of it to the horror of all watching.

In the north, Ghost seems to be having a mind of his own rather than following along with Jon and Qhorin Halfhand. The Wildings sleep during the day and do their killing at night, Qhorin explains. They take out some Wilding guards, one of whom is a girl, Ygritte. Qhorin advises him not to trust her or put much faith in her interrogation. She suggests they burn the other bodies given they will rise. Qhorin says she must be killed, so Jon agrees to do it.

They leave him to his task, but she sees he's never killed a woman before. She puts her head on the stone for him and tells him to strike hard or she'll come back and haunt him. His sword falls on the rock instead. That gives her opportunity to knock him down and flee, prompting a long chase over the rocks until he manages to catch up and bring her down. The sun is going down and his friends are out of sight. Jon ties her up, but they ultimately have to camp for the night given they can't find Qhorin. She wants to light a fire, but he's adamant they don't. She calls him stupid but brave as they fall asleep together.

Tywin is frustrated by the ineptitude of his bannermen, particular Amory Loch, who has mixed up messages between houses and sent a message to one loyal to the Starks by mistake, given he can't read. He sends him away just as Lord Baelish arrives (with a stunned Arya in the room). She has to clear the table and serve wine as Baelish explains his mission.

Baelish talks of his travels to Renly's camp and rumors of dark forces at work there. After the Lannisters and Starks, the Tyrells command the largest force but have not declared for anyone yet. Loras wants revenge on Stannis, while Margaery wants to be queen. While Tywin wants them punished, Baelish suggests they do so only after Stannis and Robb are defeated. Then Baelish catches sight of Arya and seems to pause. Tywin sends her away as Baelish agrees to ride to Highgarden to meet with the Tyrells. He also adds Tyrion has brought a proposal to Catelyn Stark regarding her daughters.

On the shores of King's Landing, Princess Myrcella is sent off in a boat to Dorne, while Cersei watches, accompanied by her brother, the king and Sansa. She tells Tyrion that she hopes he finds love with someone so deeply that she can take her from him and he might know what loss feels like. Joffrey chides his younger brother for weeping. The group begins their return to the palace, but the city streets are crowded with hungry citizens who begin to hurl insults, and a cow pie, that hits Joffrey in the face. Infuriated, he demands they be killed, which prompts a huge riot and the Hound carries Joffrey away as Cersei, Sansa and Tyrion attempt to follow. The priest who gave his blessings on the shore isn't so lucky, and is literally torn apart. Sansa and her ladies are cut off and she flees into a tunnel followed by some men. 

Within the palace walls Tyrion calls Joffrey a vicious idiot for letting the people starve and calling for their deaths. Joffrey is too angry to reason with, so Tyrion strikes him and asks of Sansa. If she dies they'll never get Jaime back. Joffrey refuses to send his guards in search of her.

Sansa is about to be raped when the Hound finds them and kills all the men, taking her back. He returns her to the palace and tells them to see to her cut and put her back in her cage. Then he adds a comment to Tyrion that he didn't do it for him.

In Qarth, Daenerys awaits to present her case to the head of the council, while Xaro chides her for not taking his offer. The condescending merchant finally appears, and she asks for ships to cross the Narrow Sea, promising to repay the debt threefold when she retakes the iron throne. He points out she can't retake what she never had. She doesn't have an army or powerful allies. She explains Mopatis from Pentos gave her three petrified dragon eggs thought dead, but she dreamed they would hatch in a great fire, a fire that left her unhurt. She is no ordinary woman—her dreams come true. He admires her passion but is ultimately a businessman and refuses. 

Arya cleans Tywin's table and finds a note there regarding Robb. Tywin asks who taught her to read, then muses about the difficulty he had with Jaime teaching him to read. Arya explains her father was a stone mason who taught himself to read, but he's dead. Loyalty killed him. Tywin thinks she's a sharp girl, so she asks him if he knew his father. Tywin grew up with him and watched him grow old, he says. He loved them and was a good man, but he nearly destroyed their house. While Tywin reminisces, Arya takes the note and goes to fetch wood for the fire. 

She runs into Amory Loch on her way to the armory, who sees the note and takes it, despite that Arya claims Tywin gave it to her to deliver to the armory. He doesn't believe her, so she flees and gets away, then desperately searches for Jaqen. She tells him she needs her second choice now, and at last convinces him to go after Loch. Shortly thereafter Tywin's door opens to Loch, who abruptly falls dead.

Robb notices Talisa in his camp and finds her far more flirtatious than their initial meeting. However Catelyn and Brienne make their appearance and he introduces them. Talisa excuses herself, but Catelyn sees her son is smitten and warns him he's inherited his father's responsibilities, promised to another. Robb realizes that, but they're immediately interrupted by news of Winterfell's defeat.

Catelyn and Robb try to digest the information of Theon's betrayal and Rodrik's death (and Catelyn can't help reminding her son she warned him not to trust the Greyjoys). Robb initially wants to march the army back north, but Roose Bolton wisely counsels him they have a war to win, and he doesn't have to do everything himself. Roose suggests his own bastard, Ramsay can rally the remaining soldiers in the north and retake Winterfell, promising to bring Theon's head. Robb agrees, but insists that Rickon and Bran's safety is paramount, and Theon is to be taken alive so Robb can take his head himself.

At Winterfell, Osha visits Theon again, wanting to be of service, suggesting there are other ways to serve than with a spear. She takes off her robe and Theon sends away the guard. She explains it comes at a price—she wants her freedom, so he promises her she will have it if she serves him well.

As Theon sleeps, Osha sneaks outside, only to be stopped by the guard on her way to the godswood. She says Theon has offered her up to the rest of the men and quickly kills him as he falls to her seduction. She whistles for Hodor who brings out Rickon and Bran, and they head off into the night with their dire wolves following. 

Back at King's Landing, Sansa is tended to by Shae. Sansa can't understand why someone would want to kill her and would willingly give them her own food. She hates the king more than them. Shae tells her never to say such things out loud in case the wrong people hear her. Sansa trusts her, but Shae advises her not to trust anyone.

Daenerys and Xaro walk back to her quarters, while she laments that none of the merchants will risk their business interests and support her. Xaro tells her the path from poverty to wealth isn't always pure and honorable. When they get to her lodgings, they find the courtyard full of the bodies of her people. Xaro tells them to bar the gates as Daenerys runs up to her quarters to find her dragons gone and her servants dead. Meanwhile, a man carries the dragons up the steps to a tower.

The Verdict:
There was a great tie in with responsibility and the lack thereof with both Jon and Theon's executions. We have Ned's dutiful and flawless execution of his Night's Watchman in the first episode to compare with his later brutal death, and now Theon's horribly botched one, done only to prove his authority. Meanwhile, Jon demonstrates that he's not yet ready to handle the responsibilities of a ranger by lacking the mettle to go through with Ygritte's.

I'm relieved Robb made the wise decision to not return his army to Winterfell and let Roose Bolton handle it. I don't doubt they can retake the city, but given the Boltons' manner of punishment, things don't bode well for the Iron Island conquerors, least of all Theon. So his days could certainly be numbered. I can't see an escape for his character unless he manages to get out of Winterfell before it goes down.

I wonder how large the Greyjoy rebellion will play out in the grand scheme of things—is it just a minor plot point? It could play a larger factor in the greater war, or it could all come down to Theon leading his family to destruction by bringing Yara to Winterfell just in time to face defeat. Certainly a suitable punishment for his character. Meanwhile, Osha doesn't let us down by playing off Theon's horniness and getting everyone out safely. Odd that she didn't chose to kill him before she left.

How likely is it that the Tyrell's will ally themselves with Tywin? It's very difficult to believe what Baelish is proposing given his motivations are clearly for his own position, and how willing Tywin would be to remove Cersei and/or Joffrey to accommodate. But the scenes at Harrenhal have been surprisingly some of the strongest stuff. The relationship between Arya and Tywin is quite charming (and sometimes chilling). Did Baelish recognize Arya? It appeared he caught a glimpse of her. My only real critique comes with Jaqen, who behaved very much like a deux ex machina managing to dispatch Arya's troubles in the nick of time.

The uprising at King's Landing and the way it came out of nowhere was quite effective. Cersei's wish for revenge on Tyrion is pretty ominous, and it seems Shae has learned the ropes quickly too, given her counsel to Sansa. Ironically, Myrcella is likely the only Lannister in a safe place. I'm still wondering how far Tyrion will go to fix the situation there. Who is he willing to sacrifice? He still wants Jamie back, so his loyalty to his family appears to be his priority. But what happens when that and the well being of the kingdom comes into conflict?

It's convenient that Daenerys has pretty much been freed of her responsibilities to the Dothraki and can do whatever she needs without hauling them along. Does the House of the Undying have her dragons? Yet Xaro's comment that she might have to do dishonorable things to succeed implies he could be involved himself.

What is the nature of the rising dead in the north? Ygritte makes mention that the dead Wildings must be burned. Does that mean the White Walkers have performed some magic on them? And what happens to members of the Night's Watch who might die there?

With all the betrayal we saw, loyalty and nobility does shine through in some surprising places. Osha has remained true to Bran with a scheme to free them, and the Hound obviously has Sansa's best interests at heart (and not Joffrey's, given the king refers to him as dog). Could the Hound ultimately become the new king slayer this season?

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