Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Review: Game of Thrones "The Prince of Winterfell"

Non Spoiler Review:
The imminent attack on King's Landing is a pall over The Prince of Winterfell as armies are on the move and the fallout of the conflict affects Robb, Theon and Tyrion's familial and personal relationships. With little idea of how to repel Stannis' fleet, Tyrion faces an attack from Cersei. Robb suffers a betrayal from someone close, while Arya realizes she must act. In the north, Jon is offered a chance at redemption. Theon continues to struggle to gain the respect of his subjects.

Given the hype over next week's Blackwater, this one was a quieter, more intimate affair, touching on everyone's storylines to set up for what's coming. Game of Thrones continues to balance its action with well-written, gripping drama. Everyone's bad decisions are catching up with them and odd alliances are forming. Surely some of these characters can't last the next couple of weeks. It's all quite a dark mess, but certainly enjoyable.

It's hard to pin down a best episode of the season now, given the amount of great scenes and dialogue thrown at us the last month. My only real critique is Jon's characterization, which at this point now seems to be pointing to a singular conclusion. But then again, the series has no qualms for pulling the rug out from under our expectations.

Spoilers Now!
Yara arrives at Winterfell with a handful of riders, informing her outraged brother that their father has ordered him home so they can have a chat. She mocks him for killing the Stark boys, who would have made valuable hostages, and now he's the most hated man in the north. Winterfell is hundreds of miles from the sea, and their power comes from their ships. He assures her they've killed all the ravens, so Robb Stark won't find out about his brothers' deaths. He will keep Winterfell.

Yara tries a different tact. He was a terrible baby, she admits, and she wanted to strangle him, but when he looked up at her he stopped screaming. She asks him not to die so far from the sea. 

Jon is brought to Mance Rayder's Lord of Bones, Rattleshirt, who has no need of him, given he's also captured Qhorin. Ygritte explains he's Ned Stark's son and Mance will want to see him, so that ensures his safety for the time being. She tells Jon they're even now. Jon is brought to Qhorin, admitting he couldn't kill her. The others were looking for them, but the Wildings found them before they found Jon. Only Qhorin survived, and the weight of their deaths is on Jon. As they're led to Mance, Qhorin explains he will be marching on the Wall unless Jon can stop it, so Qhorin starts a fight with him to make it appear they think he's a traitor.

Back at the Night's Watch camp, Sam and Grenn are digging latrine pits and ponder at Jon's fate. Most think he's dead. They suddenly unearth a vault from the First Men. Inside is an old Night's Watch cloak full of dragon glass (obsidian). 

Robb has confided his future wedding commitments to Talisa. It was a promise made when he thought he could save his father. She asks why he doesn't just go home, but he vows they will never be safe until the Lannisters are defeated. Riders arrive revealing Jaime escaped in the night. Back at camp he asks his mother to explain herself. Catelyn tells him she did it for the girls. Returning him to King's Landing might get her children back. Lord Karstark is furious and calls her treasonous. Robb isn't sympathetic either and has her taken away, ordering her guarded day and night. He sends men after Jaime.

On the trail, Brienne has the captive kingslayer. She has zero respect for him but she won't be provoked to anger despite his constant taunts. She suggests one day they might find out who is the better fighter, but for now they set off in a boat.

Tywin is outraged to learn King's Landing is two days away from attack, and there are urgings for the king and Cersei to ride west to safety given Stannis will execute them all. Arya listens to them debate the conflict. Robb is too close to Casterly Rock for Tywin to support King's Landing, but the Greyjoys have done them a great favor given Robb sent a splinter force to retake Winterfell. Robb doesn't know enough to be afraid, which makes him very dangerous, Tywin muses, so decides they'll ride at nightfall for a sneak attack, while Clegane maintains a garrison at Harrenhal to root out the Brotherhood. Arya will stay on with Clegane as his servant. Arya attempts to find Jaqen, but fears he's gone off with Tywin's men. 

However Jaqen finds Arya, and asks for the final name. She needs Tywin dead right now, but that's something he cannot do. He never promised when he would kill. Only death. So she names Jaqen himself. He counters that it's no joking thing and demands to be unnamed. She promises to unname him if he helps her and her friends escape and will obey him if he does this thing, so he instructs her to walk through the gates at midnight.

A troubled Tyrion is trying to plan the defence of King's Landing. Bronn tells him he won't find the answers in books. Varys arrives, complimenting Bronn for reducing thievery. In a city under siege, food is worth more than gold, he explains, and thieves love a siege, as it makes them the richest men in town when it's over. Varys suggests some extreme measures will be necessary. Stannis knows the strengths and weaknesses of the city. Tyrion figures Mud Gate is where he'll land. 

Later, Cersei shares a drink with her brother at dinner. Joffrey is planning on fighting, but she says he's not ready and his place isn't on the battlefield. Sadly, it's not on the throne either, her brother counters. Cersei is well aware that he wants to send Joffrey to die. But Tywin explains he needs to be out there.

Cersei asks him why Varys is so dangerous—because he doesn't have a cock. Perhaps she's dangerous too, he adds. She explains he's as big a fool as every other man, and reveals she has Tyrion's whore, suggesting he hide his whores more carefully. If Joffrey is hurt, then she'll suffer every wound he does, and if he dies, Cersei will devise the most painful death for her. To prove her threat, she has the whore brought in. It's Ros. Tyrion manages to conceal his relief and goes over to her, telling her to be brave and vows to free her. Ros asks not to be forgotten. Tyrion then promises he will hurt his sister—one day when she thinks she's safe and happy her joy will turn to ashes, and the debt will be paid. Cersei is still quite sure of her position and smiles as he leaves.

Tyrion rushes to find Shae and is relieved to find her in their quarters. Shae assures him she won't let people hurt him. He expects he will have to kill for her before it's all over. 

None of the ravens Robb has sent have returned. Roose assures him his son is only days away from Winterfell. Theon wouldn't dare to hurt the boys—they're his only hope of escaping the north. Robb wants his son advised that any iron born who surrenders will be allowed to return home, except for Theon.

Talisa interrupts and consoles him. While he's feeling the weight of a crown, she admits she was raised to be a lady. When she was twelve her parents attended a wedding and she was left with her little brother. They went swimming and her brother was found face down in the water. A slave pushed her out of the way and saved him. After that she decided she would not waste her years or live in a slave city again. Robb confesses he doesn't want to marry the Frey girl, and she admits she doesn't either. But he needed that bridge to cross. They kiss and have sex.

Gendry, Hot Pie and Arya wait for Jaqen to arrive as they hide by the walls. Arya is willing to trust him, and finally walks towards the gates as she promised. They find the guards are hanging dead. 

Stannis' fleet is a day's sailing from King's Landing. On the eve of battle, Stannis muses to Davos that Rob and Ned were the heroes of the previous rebellion, and all the rest were forgotten. Renly got Storm's End and never fought a day in his life. The city starved, and Stannis had to eat horses and cats and rats, but he promised to hold it for Robert and he did so. Only Davos slipped through with a boatload of onions to save the starving city. Stannis held Storm's End and he gave it up because Robert asked. Now he's the rightful king, and when he sits on the Iron Throne Davos will be his hand. Davos is honored, given he's such a lowborn man.

Varys admits to the king he has heard nothing from the north since Theon captured Winterfell. Joffrey wants to strike against the north, but Tyrion reminds him Stannis is coming to King's Landing. Joffrey is anxious to fight him, too, and has little grasp of the threat to the city. When he's gone, Tyrion asks to converse with Varys as two honest and intelligent men. Tyrion never expected to have any real power, however Varys assures him he's been a good Hand—he enjoys the game and plays it well. If Stannis breaches the gates the game is over.

They discuss Stannis' ruthlessness, how he will burn his victims in the name of his new god. Then Varys adds that he heard Daenerys Targaryen still lives in Qarth and has three dragons. If what they say is true it will be years before they're grown, but there will be nowhere to hide then. One game at a time, Tyrion says.

In Qarth, Jorah has found a ship that leaves the next day and wants to flee with Daenerys, but she won't abandon her children. He points out they are dragons and they'll die in Qarth if they stay. She suggests he sail and leave her to go to the House of the Undying herself. The dragons are the only children she will ever have, and she wants to be taken to them.

Theon has had enough of the hanging bodies on display, but Dagmer suggests they leave them up a few days more. Theon wants to give gold to the farmer for his troubles, but Dagmer killed him and his wife to keep them silent. Luwin suddenly notices Osha in the shadows as Theon and Dagmer converse, then looks at the burned bodies a little more closely.

Osha explains they got to the farm and then doubled back, walked through the streams to fool the hounds, and made their way to the tombs beneath Winterfell, as they are the last place they'd think to look. Luwin tells her she's right. And Theon burned the farmer's boys. Both agree they mustn't know as Bran will blame himself, only the young lord is listening as Hodor and Rickon sleep.

The Verdict:
Catelyn's betrayal of her son's authority was a profound moment, and I'm pleased that Robb acted to punish her. There was absolutely no excuse for what she did, though it's certainly in her character to do so. Interesting that she presumed to lecture Robb about his love life and responsibilities one week and is ready to undermine the war effort with her own family concerns. I hope there are further repercussions for this, because Catelyn needs to be brought down a peg. Ned would not have approved.

Brienne has grown quickly to be one of my favorite characters and I'm looking forward to what she can accomplish. I hope shes not one that will be made cannon fodder too quickly, and if she gets to kill Jaime in battle, all the better.

Speaking of cannon fodder, Theon has likely sealed his death warrant by remaining at Winterfell. I somehow doubt he will meet his death at the hands of Robb, but probably locally (perhaps Osha?). Yara's little reminiscence was a touching moment, but the entire Greyjoy clan better get a serious comeuppance.

So much for Tyrion and Cersei's bonding moment. This week brought a tense scene between the two sparring siblings full of juicy rejoinders. Though by the end of it I was pretty sure it wasn't Shae she'd captured. I do hope poor Ros makes it out of this one, and her pitiable "Please don't forget me" remark was a sad commentary on her traumatic time in King's Landing. Tyrion definitely owes her a favor for all he's put her through. And his threat to his sister was a chilling moment that is sure to foreshadow something ominous down the road. On the other hand, Tyrion and Varys make a great team and I'm anxious to see what they can accomplish together. Has Tyrion actually made a decision to use the wildfire?

Jaqen continues to be singularly a plot device in action (at least so far). It's a bit much considering how Arya needs to get out of Harrenhal and he's successfully delivered her and her friends. Can she get to her brother in time? And more important, will Arya be reunited with Robb and Catelyn this season? I have no idea. But what I would like to see is an appearance by Nymeria, who must surely be popping up again.

And speaking of dire wolves, where is Ghost? Will he be providing a rescue for Jon? We learn Jon's mistakes have gotten the entire party, save for Qhorin, killed. Things are really sliding out of control for his character and the only real way for him to achieve redemption is to man up and plant a sword in Mance Rayder when he gets the chance. Will we get to see this defining moment for Jon that would end the threat of the Wildings this season, or is it something that's going to stretch out into next? And was that a giant's skull the Lord of Bones was wearing?

Daenerys got a small moment that didn't really accomplish much, but it was her off screen reference by Varys that grabbed more interest with one of the more ominous lines of the series—one game at a time

Next week is the big one. If the hype is to be believed it will be one of the more spectacular hours on television. This one certainly served up the tension, and as I mentioned above, I love the juicy dialogue and scenes we've been getting between characters. Game of Thrones continues to succeed in managing the epic scale of things by balancing out the action with these equally compelling bits.

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