This past Sunday HBO delivered one of the most riveting and visceral episodes of Game of Thrones of either season so far. We leave behind the supernatural creepiness of Shadow babies of last week’s episode and are smacked right in the face with the horrors of a lost man’s siege, a starving people’s mob, and an unknown figure’s lust for dragons.
The episode really opens with a triumphant and harrowing sequence of Theon’s sacking of Winterfell. Regardless how you feel about Alfie Allen’s portrayal of the “former” Stark’s ward, Allen is becoming this season’s breakout star. He deserves an Emmy alone for his quick turn from sitting on Bran’s bed, politely explaining the procedure to the siege, to the wild-eyed, naive commander who serves as a strong contrast to the former Lord of Winterfell, Eddard Stark. Theon is divided, lusty, and brash. Theon never wore chains in Winterfell but he was shackled to that family, that home, so when Theon takes Winterfell to him he is breaking free. In his head he’s doing the right thing. Initially he has no plans to harm anyone if things go to plan. Theon’s plan did not account for his new Ironborn crew’s way of life. The hard, compassionless culture of the Iron islanders has been something Theon’s been struggling with ever since he returned to Pyke. His own sister proves a better man than he to his father. Nobody respects him. Theon was supposed to be heir to House Greyjoy. Now he will take his title as Prince of Winterfell. But not without the iron price his man, Dagmar Cleftjaw reminds him. Theon has the inhabitants of the castle lineup in the courtyard to witness the crippled lordling Bran yield Winterfell to him. Most everyone is in shock at this point but a few protest before being clubbed down by one of Theon’s men. Another Stark man is brought in through the gates before Theon, but this isn’t any man, it’s Rodrik Cassel, Winterfell’s Master at Arms and loyal devotee to Ned Stark and his family. Cassel mentions that it was he who taught Theon how to fight, the irony is not missed. Rodrik spits in Theon’s face. This insult to the Prince of Winterfell will not be tolerated so Theon orders him to be taken to the cells to be chained up and this is where Cleftjaw reminds him that his men will never respect him if he doesn’t kill the offender on the spot. Maester Lewin begs to reason with Theon stating that he’s worth more alive then dead but Ironborn do not sow. Theon calls for the sword. Dagmar steps up but Rodrik calls him out for not doing the deed himself. Theon draws his sword. Bran and Rickon screech over the cries in the courtyard, pleading with Theon but to no avail. Theon as Rodrik says is “lost.” What happens then is one of the most graphic and brutal scenes I’ve seen on television. Theon hacks his way through the back of Cassel’s neck again presenting the difference in the way Ned swiftly carried out his sentence. In a fury Theon slashes down, his face covered in bloodspray, his eyes wild with half madness and half fear, he kicks the head from the body sending it rolling in the mud. As a book reader this was one of the most thrilling sequences this year because I had no clue what was going to happen. It felt a lot like Baelor when I questioned if they’d really do it. HBO is really doing it. The changes are coming and I feel for the better.
In a novel you can drag things out and build characters and worlds but TV is a much more demanding medium of action and drama. A lot of the changes in the episode felt almost like choices George should have made himself. Heresy I know. For instance in Jon’s storyline we meet the Wildling Ygritte who Qhorin and his crew stumble upon in the snowy mountains beyond the wall. Jon then is given a similar task as Theon, he must put the wildling girl to death, but unlike his former Winterfell roomate, Jon hesitates and brings the sword down inches from her head. In the book Ygritte gets away and we don’t see her for a couple of chapters but the show kept Jon and this kissed by fire girl together to spend the night in the cold–a scene that got my blood pumping. I’ll definitely be coming up with a dance move called the Wildling Wiggle. The television show this season has been placing emphasis on relationships and giving them room to breathe on screen (i.e. Robb and Talisa). I’m not too keen on turning thrones into a Rom Com but their scenes were a good break from the hacking and sacking we’re used to seeing. I don’t mind feeling like my soul has been crushed every episode but I at least want to have a modicum of “squeeee” I can curl up into occasionally.
Another huge change brought about in this episode from the book series is Dany having her dragons stolen from her in Qarth. She enters Xaro’s manse to find dozens of people slain including her Dothraki handmaiden Irri (RIP) and gasp! the cages for her three dragons empty. For all that Fire and Blood threats she’s been casually tossing about the city, the shit has finally hit the fan. I imagine a lot of flak from book readers for this as it is Dany’s only bargaining tool–as the mother of dragons, but objectively if you analyze her storyline in Clash of Kings there aren’t many strong points of drama or conflict. Having something so vulnerable and dangerous taken away from her at this stage is a really brave move on the part of the showrunners and I’m interested in seeing where this is going. Bold changes from the source material like this enforce the adaptation aspect of the show and that if there are big changes for the better then book fans (maybe not purists) will come along for the ride. In a way this episode felt like I hadn’t read the book at all when watching and that why it was so thrilling. I had no idea what was going to happen. It was like reading the books. I wanted to get online and look at theories and speculation. So I guess I can fairly speculate to this as I don’t know the correct answer without it spoiling anything. I think whoever stole her dragons (he was hooded and out of camera similarly to last season’s Jaqen H’ghar) has a motive to bring Dany to the House of the Undying which I believe was teased at the end of the episode and in mentioning in previous episodes by the warlock Pyat Pree who is now prime suspect. Just looking at the figure of the person carrying the dragons it’s safe to say that he or she is light skinned and possibly male. However I’m not ruling out Quaithe (the mysterious masked figure who talks to Jorah). Which brings me to my third suspect Jorah Mormont. I seriously doubt this will happen but that guy is seriously in love with Dany and I could see him trying to get attention away from her suitor, the big, black, dashing Xaro. We do however see Jorah in the preview for next episode without any indication it was him, but with Game of Thrones you can’t trust anybody!
Another moment from the show that really was pure “what’s gonna happen next” for me was the riot in King’s Landing. When sending Myrcella away (which drops the probability rate of incest in KL to 75%) the townspeople revolt against the ruling class, hurling insults and quite literally shit at the snide King Joffrey. Joff in his usual cretinous fashion demands that the unruly citizens all be executed (seriously this is your answer for everything? At least he didn’t have them spanked). Tyrion is merely worried about everyone’s safety including the Stark girl Sansa, one of the Lannister’s last bargaining pieces with the North. Remember Tyrion knows how this game is played. What transpires is almost ripped out of a George A. Romero film or AMC’s The Walking Dead, the mob of peasants attack and everyone scatters. It’s everything the Gold Cloaks and Queensguard can do to fend them off to protect Cersie, Prince Tommen, and yes even Joffrey survives damn’t. The High Septon (it’s like the Pope); however, does not. at least not with his arm in tact. Back on the other side of the gate Tyrion berates Joffrey for inciting the riot and thank the sevens we get another Joffrey slap via Tyrion and his arm does remain intact. Oh but where is Sansa? She’s been separated from them and barred off in a shack somewhere surrounded by a handful of men who aren’t looking to brush the young maiden’s hair. At the last second San/San (Sandor and Sansa) shippers rejoice as the Hound lifts one of the men up by his throat off the ground and disembowels him and cuts through the rest of them. He gallantly lifts the “little bird” over his shoulders and carries her to safety. Tyrion thanks him but the Hound snorts that he “didn’t do it for you.” Hmm, Who then?
It appears that Littlefinger in addition to running brothels also runs an efficient travel agency in Westeros because he hops from place to place more than the show’s editors. Little Finger in Harrenhal could mean a deal brokering between the Lannisters and House Tyrell, a very powerful alliance as Baelish treats with Lord Tywin but his presence could also be our little cupbearer’s undoing. Does he recognize her? Surely the most astute man in all of Westeros can spot Arya even with the haircut. We’ll see if this plays out or not. My theory is that perhaps both Tywin and Littlefinger know more than they let on.
There were however minor Things I didn’t like in the episode but didn’t kill the experience for me including Jaqen H’Ghar’s cartoony reaction to Arya’s hurried request to kill Amory Lorch, more plodding around Robb and Talisa’s relationship, and Dany’s contrived dialogue with the Spicer King. I hope the next episode will deliver on the developments made in the Old Gods and the New.