Friday, June 1, 2012

Game of Thrones 2.05: "The Ghost of Harrenhal"

“The King is a lost cause. It’s the rest of us I’m worried about now.”

Well, we’re one would-be king down by the end of “The Ghost of Harrenhal,” but the “Game of Thrones” story is still as fragmented and complex as ever. Also as ever, some of the most entertaining material was Tyrion scheming and doing everything he can to not be the next Ned Stark. Everything else seemed kind of peripheral because the plot was barely advanced. I’m not really sure how this problem could be rectified, however, considering that the book series upon which it is based is, by all accounts, equally sprawling (I’ve read “A Game of Thrones,” but I’m waiting to read “A Clash of Kings” until after this season so it doesn’t influence my viewing). I think this is a danger inherent in the “television as novel” approach that HBO has pioneered. While I appreciate it in a show like “The Wire,” where each episode, even if it doesn’t tell a complete story on its own, builds towards a cathartic conclusion to the season, I’m not seeing that happen in “Game of Thrones.” Probably because George R.R. Martin hasn’t written the last two books of the series just yet. I enjoy this world enough, though, that I’m willing to stick with it and see where things go, if only to keep looking at the gorgeous sets and costumes.

The episode opens in Renly’s camp, where Cat and Renly are still discussing the possibility of an alliance. Renly says that Robb is still welcome to call himself the King in the North, but the actuality of his position, if an alliance happens, is going to be exactly the same as the relationship between Ned and Robert was. In other words, Robb will be required to swear fealty to Renly. Cat doesn’t seem especially thrilled with this, but she doesn’t outright shoot it down, either. Before any real progress towards an alliance can be made, though, Renly says Stannis must be defeated. Cat is still considering the offer when Melisandre’s baby Smokemonster enters the tent and stabs Renly to death. Brienne, who didn’t have time to react (and, really, how could she have fought Smokey?), is hovering over Renly’s body when other guards enter the tent. She’s instantly blamed for Renly’s death and has to fight off a few knights who try to apprehend her. Cat convinces Brienne to run so she still has a chance for vengeance against Stannis someday, and Cat herself decides to run as well.

In the aftermath of Renly’s death, Littlefinger worms his way into the main tent to confront the Tyrells as they’re trying to mourn. He tells them that they need to leave before Stannis’ troops arrive if they wat a chance at survival. They (especially Loras) are reluctant, but eventually, Littlefinger convinces them to run. On the way out, Margaery tells Littlefinger that she didn’t want to just be “a Queen.” She wanted to be “THE Queen.” I’m not sure what we’re supposed to make of that. Perhaps Margaery will be a bigger player for the Iron Throne in the future? Brienne and Cat, meanwhile, are far away in the woods, on their way to rendezvous with Robb’s forces. After the rendezvous, Cat says she’s going to return to Winterfell to, you know, take care of her two youngest children for a change. Cat suggests that Brienne could fight for Robb, but Brienne doesn’t really want to because she’s never met Robb. She does agree to fight for Cat, though, and they go through a sort of elaborate pledging ritual. The upshot is that Brienne is pretty much Cat’s personal bodyguard now.

Meanwhile, news of Renly’s death spreads rather quickly to King’s Landing, and we see Tyrion and Cersei discuss the event and its implications for the war. They are having an argument over whether or not Stannis will be more of a threat now, considering most of Renly’s former soldiers will probably pledge themselves to Stannis. Got to keep it all in the family, you know. Tyrion is concerned because once he takes on Renly’s troops, Stannis will have a bigger army. Cersei, however, is confident that the Lannisters can outspend Stannis and that will be enough. Cersei also kind of delights in telling Tyrion that Joffrey is “personally” overseeing preparations in case King’s Landing is under siege but refusing to give Tyrion any details on those preparations. The grin on her face as she refuses to tell Tyrion what’s going on is just poisonous. Tyrion has his ways of getting information though, which makes him fit into King’s Landing a whole lot better than Ned ever did. He’s got his deal with Lancel, after all. He meets with Lancel in a covered cart, which is kind of hilarious, and Lancel says that Cersei has been meeting with members of the Alchemist’s Guild to commission the making of a substance called “wildfire.” It’s basically Westerosi napalm.

News of Renly’s death also affects Stannis and his crew, and Stannis and Davos have to have a talk about their upcoming tactics. It looks like they’re going to try and attack the Red Keep by ship by entering Blackwater Bay. Davos warns Stannis not to bring Melisandre with him to Blackwater Bay and King’s Landing. He thinks that Stannis will have a much more difficult time winning the hearts and minds of the Westerosi (who already think he has a stick up his ass) if he brings a sorceress who practices a strange religion along for the ride. After hesitating to give up Melisandre, Stannis eventually agrees. In retaliation, however, he says that Davos is going to lead his fleet into Blackwater Bay.

Tyrion and Bronn are talking military tactics as they walk through what looks like the King’s Landing medina. They come upon a protest, and the main speaker is talking about Twincest (aka Cersei and Jaime being Joffrey’s parents). I think it’s interesting that this is somewhat common knowledge now. Tyrion tells Bronn that he realizes Joffrey’s reign won’t be long, and he’s most concerned with keeping the rest of the Lannisters alive. Tyrion’s hopes for this outcome decrease when the lead protestor refers to him as a “demon monkey.” Bronn tells Tyrion that the people generally believe he’s pulling Joffrey’s strings. Tyrion, interestingly, seems more upset at being called a demon monkey than the idea that the people of the Seven Kingdoms might think he’s behind the atrocities Joffrey has committed. Tyrion and Bronn do eventually make it to the Alchemists’ Guild, and their leader shows Bronn and Tyrion a room filled with jar after jar of wildfire. The idea is that the jars would be catapulted towards Stannis’ ships, and the substance would light the ships on fire. Bronn’s skeptical, but Tyrion says that the Guild is no longer going to be making wildfire for Cersei. They’re going to be making it for him.

Theon’s looking out proudly at an Iron Island harbor, clearly all proud of the fact that he’s being given command of a ship, even if the mission is pretty lame (fight fishermen). His crew arrives laughing and carrying on, and it’s clear that they don’t respect Theon at all. They even take off in a dinghy without him. To make a bad situation worse, Yara stops by to take a few digs at Theon before going to lead her own pillaging mission. The one bright spot for Theon is his new first mate. The first mate offers to take Theon over to his ship, and he tries to impart some advice along the way. The advice is basically that Theon is going to have to aim higher than pillaging the Stony Shore if he’s going to win the respect of the crew. It’s looking like Theon might take this idea to extremes and try to take Winterfell itself.

At Harrenhal, Arya is prepping food and drink for Tywin and his top advisors. They are all trying to figure out how to defeat Robb, and it must be horribly painful for Arya to have to listen to these men plot her brother’s death and not be able to do a thing about it. As she’s serving the drinks, Tywin asks Arya where she is from. She tries to pretend she’s from a southern village, but Tywin sees through that when she can’t name the sigil of the House that lords over her purported home. He gets Arya to admit she’s a Northerner, but thanks to Arya’s better knowledge of Northern geography, she pretends to be from somewhere other than Winterfell, and Twyin doesn’t suspect she’s a Stark. Tywin does, however, ask Arya what they say about Robb in the North. Arya tells all the legends about Robb supposedly riding into battle on a direwolf, but when asked if Robb can be killed, Arya simply responds that “anyone can be killed.” Arya is then sent to fetch more water, and while she’s running that errand, she meets up with one of the scary murderers who was in a cage during the ill-fated convoy to the Wall. He says that in exchange for freeing himself and his two murderer/raper buddies, he’ll kill three people for Arya. Arya tells him to start with the Lannister guard who has been doing the torturing. By the end of the episode, that torturer is dead, and Arya and the murderer share a meaningful glance.

We also pay a visit north of the Wall in this episode. The Night’s Watch is on the move, and they’re looking for a ranger known as the Halfhand. Supposedly this guy has lived beyond the Wall during winter, so he’s supposed to be seriously badass. On the journey, Sam is being silly and Jon is being emo as they look at the beautiful, icy scenery. The Night’s Watch does eventually meet up with the Halfhand, and he says that the King Beyond the Wall has gathered all the Wildlings, and he’s teaching them traditional Westerosi fighting techniques. This will be nasty if/when the Wildlings finally attack the Wall. It is decided that it makes more sense to gather some Night’s Watch rangers and attack the Wildlings first. Jon, much to his emo surprise, is allowed to join.

At Winterfell, poor Bran and Rikon still have to hear grievances from the surrounding villages. Rikon’s being a little pest (understandably, since sitting up there is boring and Rikon’s a little kid), but Bran’s actually doing a really good job. He doesn’t need Maester Luwin’s help so much anymore. He offers some orphan children to a villager who needs help minding his sheep, and when Ser Rodrik says that a nearby keep is under siege, Bran gives him permission to take 200 men to defend it. This threat is pretty obviously the work of Theon and his crew, even though right now the working assumption in Winterfell is that it’s the Lannisters who are attacking. After hearing grievances, Bran gets ready to go horseback riding with Hodor and Osha, and he tells Osha about the dream he’s been having that involves a three-eyed raven. Osha won’t come out and say it, but it seems like she thinks that’s a bad omen. Bran also says he dreamed the sea came to Winterfell and flooded the place. The sea obviously being House Greyjoy, particularly Theon, considering they worship the Drowned God and all.

We end the episode (and this extremely long blog post) in Qarth. Dany and her servants are playing with the dragons and looking at some clothes, particularly a dress Xaro bought for Dany. There’s a little conflict over whether Dany should look like a princess or a Khaleesi for an upcoming big welcome party. At the party, this creepy warlock guy does a magic trick for Dany and invites her to the “House of the Undying.” Thankfully, Xaro rescues her from that conversation. Then a strange lady in a creepy mask warns Jorah that Dany really needs protection in Qarth. Later, Xaro asks Dany about the nature of her relationship with Jorah, and when she assures him that Jorah is just an advisor, Xaro takes her to a huge vault. He asks Dany to marry him and says half of the riches in the vault would be hers to use to buy ships and soldiers to take over Westeros. Dany floats the idea by Jorah, who, for obvious reasons, doesn’t like it at all. He tells Dany how awesome of a Queen she’ll be one day, and he promises to find her the one ship she’ll need to sail to Westeros.

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