Monday, June 4, 2012

HBO Game of Thrones Recap: Valar Morghulis

Something that is true in life as well as the world of Game of Thrones is that sometimes you're on top of the world, thinking you're a player and a big time shot caller. Something changes and suddenly you discover that you're weren't the king; you weren't even a rook. You were just a pawn in someone else's game. That certainly was the case this week for Tyrion Lannister, last seen unconscious and possibly dying on the battlefield. Well he's not dead. But he wakes up and the first face he sees is that of Grand Maester Pycelle, who is pleased at Tyrion's discomfort. Frightened, Tyrion calls for his squire Podrick in order to prevent any murder attempts by Pycelle but for now Pycelle is content to stick the knife in verbally. Tyrion learns that he's no longer Hand. That job is Tywin's. Bronn has been removed as head of the City Guard. Tyrion's personal guard of Vale tribesmen has been paid off and sent home. In revenge, Pycelle flips Tyrion a coin for his troubles.

As discussed Joffrey formally makes Tywin the Hand. Remember that Tywin DID tell Tyrion that the appointment was only temporary. Joffrey grants Littlefinger Harrenhal and makes him an official Lord. Loras Tyrell claims that Margarey (and boy is that a revealing dress she's wearing or what-I like) is still a virgin and would love to marry Joffrey. In what is an obvious put-on for the court audience, Joffrey pretends reluctance to break his betrothal to Sansa. Cersei and Pycelle say that because of the Stark treason and revolt that it would be okay in this instance and the religious authorities concur. Joffrey states that he will marry Margarey, who cynically plays to Joffrey's arrogance. Sansa pretends disappointment and shock and leaves court but can't stop a smile from breaking out. Littlefinger tells Sansa that she's not out of danger because married or not Joffrey won't let her go. He also tells Sansa that he will help her because she reminds him so much of Catelyn. Right. If Catelyn Stark, who wasn't even in King's Landing, knows that Littlefinger betrayed Ned, surely Sansa would as well. Why would Sansa believe anything Littlefinger says and more importantly why would Littlefinger expect her to?
Ros is cleaning up in the brothel and is visited by Varys. She realizes who he is after she tries to grab his manhood and can't find it. Varys is evidently on a recruitment hunt. He agrees with Ros that Littlefinger is dangerous but says that Littlefinger has weaknesses just like everyone else. He also points out that if Ros were working for him she probably wouldn't be in a position where she would be raped or abused. I didn't really buy that Ros wouldn't have known who he was or that Varys would travel to a brothel. We already know that Littlefinger owns the brothel and spies on customers.

Brienne and Jaime are continuing their journey south. Jaime is telling Brienne his insulting ideas about her sex life or lack thereof when they run across three women hanged by Stark soldiers or mercenaries for the "crime" of sleeping with Lannister soldiers. Brienne intends to bury the women because it's the right thing to do (again shades of Ned Stark) even though it will cost precious time. The men who hanged the women come across Brienne and are amused beyond measure that she's a woman. They admit they killed the women; one man implies he raped a woman first. They are suspicious of Jaime and when they realize who he is, decide they will take him from Brienne. Bad decision. 
They must not have seen the previous episodes because once again Brienne demonstrates her sword is not for show. She quickly kills all three men. She stabs the rapist through his privates. Jaime is a bit put out by this as whatever their sins these men were fighting on the Stark side. Brienne reminds Jaime again that she's sworn to Lady Catelyn, not the Starks. I really liked this scene, not just because of Brienne's bada$$ery but because we get to see that no matter how just WE think the Stark cause is or how much we want Robb to rescue his sisters and kill Joffrey, a lot of innocents are going to be harmed or die for that. Once war breaks out, crimes are done by both sides. We also get a nice contrast between Brienne's oath to Catelyn and Jaime's (patriarchal?) assumption that the oath includes all Starks.
Catelyn warns Robb that Walder Frey is not a man to cross and that a leader breaking his word sets a poor example for his followers. She doesn't mention it here but Catelyn was born a Tully and the Tully words are "Family, Duty, Honor". Catelyn reminds Robb that her marriage was arranged.* It took time for she and Ned to love and respect each other but Robb is simply not listening. He leaves and shortly afterwards marries Talisa. He does so under the Seven, not the Old Gods.
Stannis wants Melisandre-in her normal cleavage revealing outfit-to explain why he lost. She gives him a "God works in mysterious ways" answer which he doesn't want to hear. He chokes her but can't go through with killing her. She challenges his faith and tells him the war will go on for years before he wins but he will win. Melisandre believes Stannis is the chosen one. She tells him to look into the fire. Evidently he does see something.

At Winterfell Theon is surrounded by Northern forces. He's in a pretty bad mood and ranting again about how irritating it was to (as he saw it) to be kept a hostage all those years by the Starks (who, along with Stannis killed his brothers) and have to hear how lucky he was to be a hostage. As he knows Bran and Rickon are alive, Luwin has pity for Theon and advises him to join the Night Watch. Theon says he can't get out of Winterfell and even he could he's convinced that Jon Snow would find a way to kill him. He also says that it's too late to change.
This is almost C.S. Lewis like in that people that go to hell are not condemned by God; they deliberately place themselves there through their own actions and rejection of grace. Every choice Theon has made has been the wrong one but you can certainly understand the rationale behind his decisions. The best villains have human motivations.
In the morning Theon gives a ROUSING speech to his small band of Northmen. I mean this rivaled Tyrion's speech last week. Theon name checks various Iron Isles heroes. He says they're not going out cheap and their names will be used to inspire Iron Islanders and bring fear to their enemies for years. In any other story this is the kind of epic speech that brings a tear to your eye as the men rush out to fight and die against overwhelming odds (ie. the two brothers in Takers or the final assault in Glory). But this is Game of Thrones and at the climatic moment Dagmar Cleftjaw hits Theon in the head. He then stabs Maester Luwin. 

Afterwards Osha, Hodor and the boys sneak out of the crypts. Winterfell has been burned and everyone is dead. They find the dying Maester Luwin who advises them to go to the Wall, charges Osha to protect the boys and gets Osha to grant him a merciful death. Where is Theon? Who burned Winterfell? We don't know.
Varys tells the badly scarred Tyrion that Cersei was behind his attempted murder. Varys says that Tyrion won't get any credit for the successful defense of King's Landing but that he will remember, even if for obvious political reasons he can't be seen as friendly to Tyrion. Shae chides Tyrion for self-pity and says she's staying with him. This is important because an essential part of Tyrion's personality is that he is convinced that because of his ugliness and deformity no normal woman would want to be with him and that the whores he's with are only with him because of his money and power. If Shae can break through that we could see some changes in Tyrion Lannister going forward. Time will tell.

Hot Pie, Arya and Gendry are traveling and are surprised to see that Jaqen H'ghar is ahead of them. Arya wants to know how he was able to do all the things that he did. He replies that she still has a lot of other people she wants dead and if she wants to know how to be a Faceless Man she has to come with him. She declines on account of her family. He gives her a coin and tells her that if she ever changes her mind just give that coin to any man from Braavos (where her fencing instructor was from) and say "Valar Morghulis". He also changes his face in an apparent display of magic.
North of the Wall Ygritte is smacking Jon in the head with his sword. Did I mention I like her accent? Halfhand manages to attack Jon. Evidently amused, the Wildlings allow them to fight. Jon kills the Halfhand, who reminds Jon of their oath as he dies. Impressed the Wildlings release Jon. Ygritte takes him to meet the Wilding King.
Daenerys goes to the House of the Undying and passes through several illusions, including one of her husband, Khal Drogo. Finally she finds her chained dragons. And don't they look so cute and pathetic. She is magically chained as well as the wizard Pyat Pree explains his magic is stronger with dragons nearby and the dragons are stronger with her so he will just imprison them all. He's not the sharpest pencil in the box because as the dragons are stronger with her she just orders them to burn the wizard. Which they do. It's rather impressive actually. Daenerys is unharmed by the fire which passes around her. Daenerys, Jorah and remaining Dothraki surprise Xaro in bed with a Dothraki woman (Doreah) that betrayed Daenerys. They force Xaro to open his vault and upon finding it empty decide to lock both traitors inside permanently. They loot what they can in hopes of getting funds for ships. I didn't really care for this storyline. It had a bit too much of the "Evil Overlord overlooks critical flaw in design". Like making a Death Star that has a special secret passage that if bombed will destroy the the entire ship or making a ring that can control everything but can be destroyed by the simple method of dropping it in a volcano, it seems like Pree didn't really unit test his plan. The dragons are STRONGER with Daenerys around and you're going to put Daenerys right next to them. Right. Well we see why most evil overlords don't last long. At least we didn't get a "No this cannot be!!! My plans were perfect!!!" from Pree as he burned.

Sam Tarly is boring his friends yammering on about Gilly. They point out that the only reason Sam is impressed with her is that most girls don't talk to him. Then they hear three blasts of a ranger's horn. This NEVER happens and means White Walkers. It gets very cold very quickly and a storm arrives. Sam's friends leave the fat boy behind as they run for cover. Unable to keep up, Sam tries to hide. He is right in the middle of an army of White Walkers and wights. Evidently they are headed for the Wall.

Well that's it for this season. This episode felt a little rushed and anti-climatic. Season 2 saw a lot more changes from the source texts than Season 1. Some of these worked, some didn't. I may do one final post on that soon but again I urge everyone to read the books. The books are not limited by budgetary or timing concerns. HBO is doing a good job overall but television is a different medium. Things would be much better if we had a longer season, even by two episodes, but financial and timing constraints mean that we're lucky to get as many as we do. 

*Catelyn Tully was originally betrothed to marry Ned's older brother Brandon. Brandon was the heir to Winterfell, not Ned. Brandon was murdered by the Mad King Aerys along with his father Rickon Stark when they demanded justice for the kidnapping of Lyanna Stark, Ned's sister. In order to maintain the alliance between the Tullys and Starks, Ned stood in for his brother and went through with the marriage.It was the right thing to do and Ned and Catelyn are very big on doing the right thing.

*This post is written for discussion of this episode and previous episodes. If you have book based knowledge of future events please be kind enough not to discuss that here. Most of my blog partners have not read the books and would take spoilers most unkindly. Heads, spikes, well you get the idea
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