kimberlee rossi-fuchs knows winter is coming…
The first half of Game of Thrones’ second season has been spent building tension and mood, as forces of politics, chaos, magic, and violence continually clash against one another and render the world of Westeros dangerous and unstable. In this week’s “The Old Gods and the New,” some of the seeds planted earlier spring to ferocious life and shit starts to hit the fan, as well as the smug, royal face. In these rapidly escalating conditions, both established rulers and would-be kings alike discover that the ability to grasp or maintain power has become even more of a struggle.
The episode opens with a development which was hinted at last week, Theon’s ambush and overtaking of Winterfell. While his siege of his former foster home is an ambitious move, it’s an ambition fueled by insecurity and ego, not any true kingly aspirations, as Theon is motivated by a desire for fearful respect (commanding the now-captive Starks and common folk of Winterfell to refer to him as Prince Theon now) and the acceptance of his far-tougher father and sister. For all his swagger and bluster, however, Theon instantly reveals himself to be inept, exhibiting a complete lack of control and self-assuredness, as he initially balks at the prospect of executing Stark master-at-arms Rodrik Cassel for spitting in his face until his first mate convinces him that Cassel must pay the iron price for his infraction. Theon even bungles the execution, needing several, sloppy strokes of the sword – and finally a vicious stomp – to behead Cassel. Theon grows visibly uncomfortable and panicked with each failed attempt, while Cassel dies quietly and bravely, telling Bran he’s off to see Ned Stark and using his last words to warn Theon, “Now you are truly lost.”
Later on, Theon’s weakness for women, yet another manifestation of his misguided pride, serves to trip him up again, as Osha is easily able to seduce him and then, while Theon enjoys a post-coital nap, sneaks out of Winterfell with Bran, Rickon, Hodor, and the direwolves. As if his hold on Winterfell wasn’t tenuous enough, Robb Stark vows revenge and plans to send Roose Bolton’s bastard son (fans of the novels should be very excited by this promised appearance) to take back Winterfell.
Back in King’s Landing, Joffrey learns that while shrieking orders might work in the safe, sycophantic world of the court, the starving and livid commoners no longer have any reverence for the King’s bratty decrees. Marching back to the keep after Princess Myrcella’s bon voyage ceremony, Joffrey, Tyrion, Cercei, Sansa and the rest of their train are booed and assailed with demands for food. Tyrion recognizes the tension in the seething throng and urges everyone to hurry along when someone from the crowd pelts Joffrey in the face with a lump of shit (It’s a testimony to Joffrey’s wonderful hatefulness that I rewound that scene to watch the moment of fecal impact no less than four times).
Joffrey instantly and shrilly demands executions for the offense and the scene boils over from contemptuous heckling to full-on riot. It’s a frightening and chaotic scene, as the seething common folk literally tear apart a well-fed, royal Septon and nearly rape Sansa, until the Hound comes to her rescue. We’ve seen the Hound’s battle prowess before, but not in such bad-ass, gory detail as here when he makes quick work of Sansa’s would-be attackers, disemboweling one and slitting the throat of another. When Tyrion expresses appreciation at her safe return, the Hound scowls, “I didn’t do it for you.” His protectiveness and extremely gruff kindness towards Sansa adds an interesting layer to a character who has previously been portrayed as little more than a brutal henchman and its one storyline that I look forward to seeing play out.
Across the sea, Daenerys struggles to convince the wealthy men of Qarth to bank roll her intended conquest of the Iron Throne. After denying Xaro’s marriage proposal, Daenerys turns to the spice king for the ships needed to sail her army to Westeros. The flamboyant merchant greets her somewhat mockingly as “The Mother of Dragons,” and “my little princess,” and tells her that with no army and no allies, she represents a bad investment and, “I cannot make an investment based on wishes and dreams.” Despite her heated assertion that, “I am no ordinary woman. My dreams come true,” she is sent off empty-handed. Things go from bad to worse for Daenerys when she returns to her lodging to find members of her khalasar slaughtered (Alas, It-Is-Known girl, we hardly knew ye) and her three dragons missing.
This season has taken a lot more liberties with the source material than the first, but this new development is probably the boldest deviation yet. Though I suspect it’s one that will wrap up in essentially the same way as it does in A Clash of Kings, I’m interested in seeing just how we get there and I wonder if her slutty, dragon-obsessed handmaiden had anything to do with the kidnapping. Again, I think the writers have done a fine job tweaking the source material while staying true to the overall sprit of the books. In the novel, as well as in the first few episodes of this season, Daenerys meanders along with not much to do for long periods of time, passages which could translate as dreadfully boring on the screen. Deviations like these allow the writers to give a fan favorite like Daenerys enough screen time, without falling into the uneventful repetition of the earlier Red Waste scenes.
I’ve found Jon Snow’s storyline dull at times this season, but it seems like things are about to get more interesting, thanks to the introduction of yet another of the novels’ strong, female characters, the fiery red-haired Wildling, Ygritte, who soon after being taken captive by Jon, subtly begins to tempt his loyalty and vows. Similarly, Catelynn feels the need to remind Robb of his betrothal to Walder Frey’s daughter when she notices the sparks between him and the field nurse who calls herself Talisa. (I’m having a hard time reading that character and am not yet sure if she’s another of the writers’ creations or simply a revision from the novel.) In Harrenhal, Arya and Tywin’s interactions continue to be a highlight. Again, these scenes were also created for the show and much like the show’s increased focus on Robb, serve to flush out Tywin’s character a bit more than we see in the novels, as his subdued fondness for Arya’s wit and moxie and stern, but not unkind treatment of her serves to humanize the fearsome Lannister patriarch a bit. I also loved the scene between Arya and Jaqen and the dart he sent through Amory Loach’s neck the very moment Loach entered Tywin’s chambers to report Arya’s theft of the letter was perfect comic timing. If you’re keeping track, that leaves Arya with one death wish remaining and only four more episodes left to spend it.