kimberlee rossi-fuchs looks at the ghostly new episode…
Last week’s Game of Thrones ended with the birth of a shady and nefarious new power and while it’s hard to pinpoint a central theme to “The Ghost of Harrenhal,” this week’s hectic and far-flung episode, dark magic seems to touch nearly every storyline, permeating and further complicating the goings-on in war-torn Westeros.
“The Ghost of Harrenhal” begins with that mysterious smoke monster, last seen clawing its way out of Melisandre’s firecrotch, interrupting a promising negotiation between Catelynn and Renly, who are close to sealing the deal on a new Stark/Baratheon alliance. Rolling in like fog, the shadow rises into an undeniably Stannis-like form and stabs the unarmored Renly through the heart before vanishing like so much smoke, leaving Catelynn and Brienne as the only witnesses, and therefore only suspects, to the ghostly murder. When members of the Rainbow Guard rush into the tent and find Brienne cradling Renly’s corpse, the assume she’s his murderer and draw swords, but the grieving Brienne is able to swiftly and decisively dispatch of them (in an extremely bad-ass fight scene) before fleeing with Catelynn.
As Brienne, Gwendoline Christie is yet another example of Game of Thrones’ stellar casting. From her first appearance a few weeks back, it was clear that Christie certainly embodied the lady-warrior’s impressive stature and extreme tomboy carriage (she practically dwarfs Renly as she lovingly removes his armor), but this week she got a chance to display the vulnerability behind the size and steel, her unrequited love for Renly apparent in her wrenching, anguished cry as he falls. The later scene where she pledges her allegiance to Lady Stark is fantastic, as well, as she evinces the loyalty and virtue that make Brienne a true knight, despite her gender. In a show heavily populated with strong female characters, Christie’s Brienne is one I look forward to seeing a lot more of as the series progresses.
Meanwhile at Harrenhal, Arya also begins to enjoy the fruits of black magic. Although Tywin Lannister’s arrival at the castle put an end to the Tickler’s daily atrocities, the sadistic torturer is still high on Arya’s revenge list. So when Jaqen H’ghar, the enigmatically charismatic prisoner whom Arya freed from a burning wagon during the Lannisters’ attack on the Nights Watch recruits, offers to repay his debt to her by giving her three lives for the three lives she saved, she blurts out the Tickler’s name. Soon after, the Tickler is found dead of mysterious causes and a pleased and impressed Arya is left with two more names to cross off her to-kill list.
Back in Kings Landing, Tyrion continues to wrest control of the throne away from Cercei and Joffrey and he and Bronn take a tour through Flea Bottom to hear what the low folk are saying of the royals. In addition to the expected gossip of incest and corruption, Tyrion is legitimately surprised and somewhat hurt to hear the commoners describe him as a “demon monkey” and the fact that, despite his more noble intentions, the common folk hate him far more than they do Cercei or even Joffrey visibly stings him. I also loved the scene where Tyrion intimidates Lancel inside his tiny tent. Through his confidence and intelligence, Tyrion’s larger-than-life personality can fill a room as large as a king’s hall, so the choice of meeting place was not designed to make him feel more important, but rather to make Lancel kneel. It was a nice touch (as well as a great sight gag) and one which shows Tyrion’s ability to use his wits and work within his means to convey the image of power and control he knows he needs to project in order to play the political game. Tyrion also dabbles in a bit of magic, too, dealing with the ancient order of pyromancers, to procure thousands of pots of wildfire (think the Smuckers version of dragonfire – jarred preserves powerful enough to burn “wood, steel, and flesh”) to use in the upcoming battle against Stannis and his newly bolstered (thanks to Renly’s death) army.
On the other side of the world, Daenerys gets her first actual storyline of the season and we see her and her khalasar, after spending the past four episodes starving in the Red Waste, enjoying the comforts and luxuries of Qarth. In an uncharacteristic move, the show errs on the side of modesty in its depiction of the city as, in the novel, Qarthian dress code dictates that women’s garments leave one breast exposed, but here, Dany’s gifted garb is rather modest (much to the disappointment of many a fanboy, I’m sure). We also get a glimpse of her elusive dragons, as Drogon demonstrates a new-found ability to breathe fire. Spooky, blue-lipped warlock Pyat Pree is introduced and impresses Dany with a pretty cool cloning trick and an invitation to call upon the House of the Undying.
In addition to the magic of dragons and warlocks, Dany is also dealing with some tough political questions. The powerfully wealthy Xaro offers Dany the vast riches needed to fund her conquest of Westeros in exchange for a strategic marital alliance. While the offer initially sounds appealing to Dany, Jorah points out that wealthy men only become wealthy by giving less than they get and recommends that she find allies within her homeland, rather than gathering an invading force from without. Additionally, whereas Xaro wants to see her on the Iron Throne only because he sees himself ruling beside her, Mormont wants to see Dany crowned because both her claim and her intentions are just. “You have a gentle heart,” he tells her. “You would not only be respected and feared, you would be loved.” His words strike a chord in Dany and she abandons the idea of marrying Xaro and entrusts Jorah with planning her conquest of the Iron Throne.
Elsewhere in Westeros, Davos convinces Stannis to distance himself a bit from Melisandre, the widowed Margaery Tyrell still harbors ambitions of queenliness, Theon and his first mate hatch a devious plan to ambush a Stark stronghold in the North, and Bran’s dreams take on a more ominous, portending tone. (While most of the changes to the source material have been beneficial, I must admit I’m sad to see Jojen and Meera written out of Bran’s storyline.) Perhaps more than any character other than Dany, Jon Snow has suffered from the increased character spread this season and the relatively limited focus he’s been given has resulted in a few, sometimes boring scenes. This week, however, he at least got to explore some breathtaking scenery (filmed in starkly beautiful Iceland) at the Fist of Men this week and abandoned his post as Commander Mormont’s steward to strike out on a ranging mission with the grizzled Qhorin Halfhand, a plot line which will hopefully pay off well in the remaining half of the season.