Monday, May 20, 2013

HBO Game of Thrones Recap: Second Sons

The previous two episodes were heavy on setup and exposition. After Sunday's show there are only two episodes remaining. The first few installments set viewership records for the show, last week's show not so much. There were murmurs across the net that the show runners were making too many changes from the books. I deliberately don't like talking about the books here because (1) I don't want to give spoilers-see warning below, (2) I don't want to be the smug condescending arrogant jerk who compares everything to the books and (3) the show and books are significantly different and ought to be enjoyed and understood separately. I have been surprised by some things and disappointed by others just as people who haven't read the books have been. I love the books but Benioff's and Weiss' creation stands on its own. So all that aside what happened in Sunday's episode? Was it another snoozefest intermittently interrupted by torture? Well maybe. There was only minor torture this week. We spent a lot of time in King's Landing. 

We open up with Arya grabbing a big rock and considering the proper way to smash the sleeping Hound's head in. But The Hound wasn't sleeping and coolly advises Arya that if she wants to kill him she had better do it right the first time otherwise he'll break both her arms. Charming fellow that Hound. Arya thinks she's being taken back to King's Landing but The Hound profanely informs her that he's taking her to The Twins, The Frey stronghold, for the wedding between Roslin Frey and Edmure Tully. The Hound intends to ransom Arya back to her brother and mother.

Outside of Yunkai Barristan sneers at the arrival of the Second Sons mercenary band. They have been hired to fight by Yunkai. Daenerys invites their leader to consider switching sides. Their leader, Mero and his second think that switching sides is bad for business. Mero is a lusty and openly misogynist thug who won't stop drooling over and insulting Daenerys in the crudest of terms. He must have missed the object lesson a few weeks back. The third mercenary officer, Daario, is a bit more polite and philosophical. He wants to know what's in it for the Second Sons. Daenerys gives her spiel about retaking Westeros. The mercenaries point out that she doesn't actually have ships or quite as many Unsullied as she claims. And anyway Mero would rather rape her. Yes he is just that crude. Later back in their camp Daario subtly mocks Mero for cavorting with prostitutes. Daario would prefer to be with women who are completely willing, neither rape victims nor prostitutes. Mero could care less. Daario gets the assignment to assassinate Daenerys. He infiltrates Daenerys' private tent but reveals that he killed his two leaders instead and now rules the Second Sons. He pledges to serve Daenerys. There are rather obviously some other things he would like to do to/for/with Daenerys.
Melisandre (cleavage alert!) and Gendry reach Dragonstone where Stannis stops sulking long enough to confirm that Gendry is Robert's son. Melisandre sends Gendry away to eat and relax. Stannis wants to know what Melisandre intends to do to Gendry and she tells him that's a stupid question. In the night's best scene, Stannis visits Davos. He stumbles over what was for him a heartfelt statement of sympathy about Davos' son's death. Using Davos as a sounding board Stannis tells Davos about Melisandre's plans for Gendry. Obviously Davos is opposed. Stannis is torn between the right thing to do and the easy thing to do. He uses a utilitarian argument to try to justify Melisandre's plans to himself. Stannis agrees to release Davos. He never uses the words "I'm sorry" but he doesn't have to does he?
These utilitarian arguments resonate throughout history and even today. When confronted with evidence that US sanctions against Iraq had contributed to the deaths of 500,000 children, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright famously opined that "we think the price is worth it". Well Albright and Melisandre might worship the same god as Melisandre is also a strongly utilitarian type. I strongly doubt however that Albright ever got a confused boy a little buzzed on wine, stripped naked and started playing hide the kielbasa. Because that's what Melisandre does to Gendry. That is right before she stops the sex, ties Gendry down and uses three leeches to draw blood from him. Evidently she wanted to kill him but Davos objected. Davos and Stannis enter the bedchamber. Davos watches grimly as Stannis intones the names of his enemies and throws the leeches into the fire. On one hand Gendry didn't get to finish what Melisandre started, which must be rather irritating. On the other hand he still has his life and his package, so there's that.
In King's Landing the wedding between Tyrion and Sansa proceeds. Reeking of insincerity Margaery tells Cersei that they will be sisters. Cersei takes the opportunity to remind Margaery of what happened to the Reynes of Castemere, another upstart family (like the Tyrells) who threatened Lannister dominance. As I wrote before, Tywin took this very badly. Cersei promises the same to Margaery should Margaery presume to call her sister again. Looking for every opportunity to mock Tyrion and frighten Sansa, Joffrey insists he will give Sansa away since her father can't and removes the stool that the height challenged Tyrion had planned to use to put a Lannister cloak onto Sansa.

The reception is something of a farce. Loras is obviously miserable. Cersei is mighty buzzed and upset herself. Tyrion is completely and totally drunk, so much so that Tywin doubts he'll be able to do his marital duties. Tyrion no longer cares about that. Joffrey smirks to Sansa that he will rape her as it doesn't matter to him which Lannister impregnates her. Joffrey then wants to start the bedding ceremony. In this marriage ritual the male guests undress the bride and escort her to the bed chamber while the female guests do the same for the groom. Tyrion refuses and says there will be no bedding ceremony. 
When Joffrey insists Tyrion again says no and stabs the table for emphasis, threatening to cut off Joffrey's manhood. Threatening the king is a capital offense but Tywin defuses the situation. In the bedchamber with Sansa Tyrion has an attack of conscience or disgust when he takes in Sansa's youth and obvious revulsion towards him. He says he will not have sex with Sansa unless she wants to. And as far as Sansa is concerned she will never want to. Next morning Shae sees that the sheets have no virgin blood and appears somewhat surprised and pleased.

Sam and Gilly find an abandoned cabin near a heart tree where Sam again shows that he is completely useless around the house. Obviously he neither paid attention to all the outdoorsy manly man things his father tried to teach him nor took any classes at Home Depot. Gilly has to make the fire. Gilly is also quite sensitive about Sam thinking she's stupid. Well if your father is also your grandfather and your mother is your sister I can see why folks might assume your brains are a little scrambled. But Sam means no harm. If you recall earlier Sam found a cache of obsidian weapons. I mentioned then that those would come in handy. And they do. When the ravens make a ruckus outside, Sam goes to see what the issue is. And it's not just a few ravens either. It's hundreds. A White Walker comes out of the woods. It shatters Sam's sword by freezing it. It wants Gilly's baby. In desperation Sam grabs the obsidian spearhead and stabs the White Walker. It turns out that White Walkers have the same reaction to obsidian as vampires do to sunlight. Rock on with your bad self Sam!

What I liked:
  • Gleeson continues to bring Joffrey to life in all his maliciousness. The kid is pure evil. Whether in great things or small, he just really enjoys terrorizing people. To kill someone's father and then say he will give them away at the altar is beyond malevolent.
  • Sansa finding the courage to say no and Tyrion finding a conscience. This could be important as we all know that a marriage that is unconsummated is not really a marriage.
  • Melisandre's scene with Gendry (for the obvious reasons heh-heh but also because it shows us that Stannis still has a conscience)
  • The arranged marriage situation. Although Sansa's example is extreme, being forced to marry into the family that defenestrated her brother, murdered her father and friends, and is attempting to defeat her brother, it's not unheard of. Marriage for romantic love and making individual choices on marriage are quite modern inventions as is marrying late. Old enough to bleed, old enough to breed is not just a saying. It's a way of life. We can see that no one is happy but their happiness is not as important as inheritances and alliances.
  • Daenerys being nude in front of Daario. It shows she's not afraid of him but also that there might be mutual attraction. Jorah if I were you I'd get rid of this pretty boy right now. Wait and it might be too late.
What I didn't like
  • Another episode with a severe lack of wolves. 
  • Bran and Arya's story lines continue to be somewhat shortchanged. 
  • Rather than switching from scene to scene every five minutes it might help pacing if each episode featured just one or two locations. We saw some of that last night.
  • The earlier overemphasis on the Theon torture porn continues to cause other story lines to be rushed and underdeveloped.
  • Melisandre's scene with Gendry (this scene was invented for the show and could be considered to be fanservice. Seeing Carice Van Houten naked is usually a good thing but again there's a lot to accomplish.)
  • Just two episodes left. I think HBO needs to find a way to have 12 episodes or maybe a two hour season premiere/finale. 
*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 NO SPOILERS. NO BOOK DERIVED HINTS ABOUT FUTURE EVENTS. 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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