Monday, 30 April 2012

Game of Thrones: The Ghost of Harrenhal recap/review

Garden of Bones recap/review

A slightly unusual episode of Game of Thrones this week, but more on that later. In The Ghost of Harrenhal enemies started to come out of the woodwork, and all our characters began moving ever closer, bringing with them the inevitable start of a war that is going to see thousands of casualties. 

The Lannisters
As if the Lannisters don't have enough enemies outside the walls of King's Landing, they're determined to keep each other as enemies.

Cersei, her grip on power getting ever weaker, is lashing out even more than she usually does at Tyrion. Attempting to get one over on him, she tells him that Joffrey has a secret weapon and a plan, but that the King reserves the right to keep things from his close advisers. It's a dig at Tyrion, definitely, but is Cersei also speaking about herself? After all, Joffrey failed to tell her about his plan to have all Robert's bastards murdered. Perhaps Cersei doesn't know as much as she is pretending to about her son's intentions.

What she does know about is the wildfire being brewed under King's Landing, because she has issued the command to the alchemist's guild to make it. Unfortunately, Tyrion - his curiosity peaked by Cersei's crowing - also knows (and it's the first time we see him truly lost for words), as he now has Cersei's latest conquest as an informant. I found the scene where Lancel crawls out of Tyrion's chariot hilarious, and it was the little lighter moments in the episode that really made the rest of the episode - as dark as we've ever seen from Game of Thrones - seem even more horrific.

Having found out about the wildfire Tyrion wastes no time in taking Cersei out of the equation and making sure the wildfire - a deadly liquid which turns into vicious flame as soon as it hits something - is now being produced under his command. There has been a lot of talk of what power is in Game of Thrones, but this episode the words "fire is power" ring true, even if I can't remember who said them. 

The Starks
Catelyn Stark finds herself on the run following Renly's death - Brienne at her side. These two are the epitome of the strong woman in Game of Thrones. What makes them stronger is not that they're heartless bitches, both are keeping strong because of love - Catelyn for her family, Brienne for Renly.

Brienne is not only physically strong - she slays a few guards without even breaking a sweat - but also mentally. Her mind is concentrated on one thing: vengeance. It's a theme we see throughout tonight's episode, nearly everyone is out to avenge someone else. Brienne draws strength from Catelyn, who points out: "You can't avenge him [Renly] if you're dead." So Brienne chooses vengeance by remaining loyal to Catelyn who, understanding the need for revenge, promises she will let Brienne kill Stannis Baratheon.

Both Catelyn and Brienne are a great contrast to Cersei - as they get ever stronger Cersei seems to really be losing her grip on power.

Meanwhile Arya is busy serving Tywin Lannister at Harrenhal. There, she bumps into Jaqen H'gar - one of the men she helped free when Lannister's men came calling. He promises her vengeance (there it is again) and says he will kill three people to make up for the three lives she saved by freeing him and his two companions.

Arya, probably still muttering the names of those on her Kill List every day, decides to test Jaqen by asking him to kill the torturer at Harrenhal, something he does. By episode's end the torturer is lying on the floor at Harrenhal, while Jaqen watches from above and Arya looks up at him - seeing the ghost of Harrenhal perhaps?

Bran is still ruling on his own at Winterfell. It's been a couple of weeks since we've seen him, and in that time he really seems to have grown into the role, despite still being a child. When news comes in that a nearby ally's home has been attacked, Bran is quick to send out fighters to help, realising that he cannot expect help if he does not aid others. He's wise for so young.

His being wise may have something to do with the dreams he has been having. This week he tells Osha he has dreamt that the sea came in and flooded Winterfell, killing a number of people including the head guard who he has just sent away to fight. As yet we haven't seen any of Bran's dreams come true, but this one sounds truly ominous, and coupled with what we see this week of Theon Greyjoy, it doesn't take a genius to work out this won't end well.

The Baratheons
And so the battle between the brothers Baratheon comes to an end, and we find out what the black smoke baby was for - to sneak into Renly's tent and kill him.

Before the smoke baby did, we were treated to a glimpse of Renly acting kingly, and he was actually doing a pretty good job. He negotiated successfully with Catelyn, agreeing he would leave Robb Stark as King in the North if he swore fealty to Renly. It's a deal Robb would have taken, had Catelyn had the chance to present it to him.

Unfortunately Renly got stabbed by the smoke baby, which had grown into a smoke man by the time it got to him. This is a scene I had difficulty imagining when I read the book, but Game of Thrones successfully showed how it worked. And Brienne's scream of terror at seeing Renly dead was heartbreaking.

With Renly dead his bannermen have joined Stannis. All bar Ser Loras, who seems determined to stay and fight Stannis and his army until his sister Margaery and Littlefinger - swapping sides once again - tell him he can't. In an echo of Catelyn's words to Brienne, Margaery tells her brother: "You can't avenge him from the grave."

It's Margaery who's the true star here. Having persuaded Ser Loras they need to run, she is left alone with Littlefinger, and tells him she doesn't want to be a queen, she wants to be THE queen. He's more than a little impressed with that, and Margaery joins the long list of powerful and strong women in Game of Thrones.

Having had Renly killed, Stannis, showing no remorse over murdering his brother (even if he was only indirectly involved), makes plans to invade King's Landing. He has been under the thumb of a strong woman - Melisandre - pretty much since we met him, and it takes a talking to by the diplomatic Ser Davos Seaworth to make Stannis see he needs to assert his authority by himself, and not with Melisandre at his side. Having seen Melisandre kill a maester by poison, survive that poison with no effects herself, and birth a smoke baby which murdered Renly, I predict Melisandre's not going to be happy at being left behind. 

The Targaryens
In complete contrast to the air of doom and gloom pervading the Seven Kingdoms, Danaerys Targaryen and her khalesar find themselves in Qarth, full of colour and good food and gold and riches and nature.

Not only is Dany flourishing (she's found a hairbrush, clearly) her dragons are also doing pretty well. They may still be tiny but they're at the stage where they can now breathe out smoke. It's only a matter of time before they start breathing actual fire.

While in Qarth Dany finds herself being courted by one of the Thirteen (I can't remember his name), who wants to marry her, promising she can have ships and weapons to conquer the Seven Kingdoms with in exchange for marriage. The temptation is there, but it looks like Dany won't go ahead with it, following a heated discussion with Jorah Marmont.

Let's face it, it was only a matter of time before Jorah revealed to Dany that he loved her - especially as we've all known since we first saw the two of them. Dany isn't happy about this and we see the first cracks begin to appear between the two. Ironically they've managed to keep it together throughout the tough times, now that they're in comfortable surroundings they're falling apart. Too much of a good thing...

Still, Dany's not quite ready to give up on Jorah, and she seems to take on board his advice to find her own way to conquer the Seven Kingdoms, instead of relying on the help of a husband. Still, she only agrees with underlying anger at Jorah. 

Jon Snow
Gosh, it looks cold Beyond the Wall. Having left the horrid Craster after being chucked out of his house, the Night's Watch are moving further away from the wall in search of a ranger named Halfhand.

Instead they come cross a band of fighters belonging to Mance Ryder, a ranger turned bad who is now king (sort of) Beyond the Wall. Knowing they can't win on open ground in Ryder's territory they make the decision that all but a handful of the Night's Watch will fall back to the Wall.

The handful will try to kill Ryder and his men. And of course, ever noble, Jon Snow puts himself forward to be in the handful. Don't do it, Jon! 

The Greyjoys 
Theon Greyjoy is still struggling to fit in on the Iron Islands, and now finds himself in command of a ship full of men who think he's a joke. Added to that, they clearly respect and love his younger sister, who points out that her men would wait on deck for her for a year if they had to.

Theon's situation is almost a microcosm of the wider battle raging across the Seven Kingdoms. In the Iron Islands he represents the old way - the son who would take after his father. But he is battling against the new way - the strong young woman who has a new way of doing things. It's a bit like the battle for the Iron Throne - old versus new, everyone trying to find their place and hoping that place is on the Iron Throne.

Still, Theon manages to find an ally in his first mate, and it only takes a few minutes for him to come up with a plan. His men will attack a holdfast in the north, knowing the Starks will come to the rescue. At first Theon thinks this is a bad thing, but the implication that the Starks attacking means Winterfell will be left unprotected strikes pretty quickly. And so Bran's dream of the sea (Greyjoy) attacking Winterfell looks like it might come true. 

Violence and (gratuitous) nudity tally 
So look, this episode was weird, as I said right at the beginning. Why was it weird? Because there were no naked people. None. Zero. Nada.

And as if that wasn't strange enough, there was hardly any violence. There was plenty of talk of vengeance, but all we actually saw on screen was Renly being killed by the smoke baby.

Off screen the torturer was killed by Jaqen H'ghar. The most gruesome thing we saw in this episode was the torturer's dislocated neck as we saw his body on the ground.

There was so much going on that the violence wasn't needed (and the nudity isn't needed nine times out of ten in Game of Thrones) but I definitely noticed the absence, although somehow the episode seemed darker than those which have been filled with killings. 

When you play the Game of Thrones... 
Enemies started to come out of the woodwork this episode - Theon towards Winterfell, Stannis towards King's Landing, Mance Ryder towards the Night's Watch.

It seems people have stopped hiding and started making the move to their (final?) destinations. And really, with all the talk of vengeance this episode they were clearly getting restless. As Tywin Lannister said to his war council: "This is war, no one's content." 

Game of Thrones recap/review masterlist

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