Watching the Throne: Game of Thrones, Episode 8

kimberlee rossi-fuchs gets westerosy….

As Game of Thrones starts to wrap up its sophomore season, an air of tension permeates the goings-on of Westeros, as explosions seem imminent in just about every corner of the world. “The Prince of Winterfell,” is a build-up episode which, as the various players prepare for battle on different fronts, sets the stage for what’s to come next. That’s not to say that this was an uneventful episode. As usual, a ton of storylines were packed into a briskly paced hour, but they all seem to point to something bigger lying just ahead.

For the third week in a row, the episode pens with a character who has been given a lot of emphasis this season, the newly self-proclaimed Prince of Winterfell, Theon Greyjoy. After word of the disastrous results of his overly-ambitious siege reach Pyke, Balon sends Yara, not the men Theon was expecting to help him hold the castle, to bring him back home. From the moment Yara rides through the gates, it’s clear who’s in charge, as she rides right past him and openly mocks him in front of their men, calling him both a “dumb cunt” for the apparent murder of the Stark children and, more cuttingly, weak and stupid. As Yara points out, every Northman now wants to avenge Bran and Rickon with his blood and with the support of the Greyjoy naval fleet so far away, Theon has no hope of holding Winterfell. In a rare moment of somewhat tenderness, she recounts a tale from their brief, shared childhood (albeit one that begins with her considering strangling baby Theon) and again asks Theon to return to the Iron Islands with her so that he won’t die alone and far from home. It’s the only inkling she’s given that she cares for him at all, but of course Theon is too far invested to turn back now and stubbornly stays put.

Though he recognizes the situation is rapidly spinning out of control, Theon doesn’t realize just how deeply he’s in over his head. Robb has already handed down his death sentence and has sent a splinter sect of his army, led by Roose Bolton’s bastard son (a character whose onscreen appearance I am dying to see) to take back Winterfell and bring him Theon’s head. Also, in a reveal that probably didn’t surprise many, Lluwin realizes Bran and Rickon are still alive when he catches Osha stealing bread and bringing it down to their hiding place in the Stark family crypts below Winterfell.Not only is Theon no closer to finding the boys who are literally hiding right under his nose, but if the burned bodies he flaunted last week are revealed to be the farmer’s sons, he’ll quickly lose the modicum of control he has in Winterfell. Theon has earned neither fear, admiration, nor respect from either his subjects or his own family and on the eve of approaching battle, his grasp on power is pitifully weak.

Although he possesses a better grasp on his current circumstances, as well as far more cunning and wit, Tyrion also finds himself unprepared to deal with a siege on the city as Stannis’ sizable fleet draws ever nearer to Kings Landing. Tyrion tries to forge a battle plan by turning to the history books, a tactic which the crude, yet shrewd Bronn deems useless. Unlike Tyrion, Bronn’s lived through a siege state before and realizes that once the gates are under attack, the deadlier enemies often rise from within the city walls, in the form of thievery, starvation, and desperation-bred violence. Likewise, Stannis has also survived a prolonged siege in the past, eating horses, dogs, and rats to stay alive while holding the fort at Storm’s End, and certainly possesses the experience and skills to make him a formidable foe. Meanwhile, the haughty, stupidly self-assured boasts of battle-virgin Joffrey, who plans to march into battle and give Stannis “a red smile from ear to ear,” serve to highlight for Tyrion just how frighteningly inexperienced their side is. As Varys tells him, Tyrion’s moral ambiguity and enjoyment and skill at the political game make him an excellent Hand, but will that be enough to help him lead an inexperienced and outmatched army to victory?

Cercei, of course, mocks Tyrion’s usefulness on and off the battlefield and believes he’s only sending Joffrey to battle not to raise troop morale as he claims, but as a plot to have the boy king killed. I’ve really enjoyed the scenes between Lena Headey and Peter Dinklage this season and this was no exception, as Cercei viciously gloats over taking Tyrion’s prostitute girlfriend hostage and he tries to mask his growing alarm until he realizes she’s got the wrong whore. (Poor Roz – last season, she was the naked vehicle for the history exposition scenes and now she’s a constant victim of abuse and the symbol of the war’s impact on the low-born folk.) Even though it’s a case of mistaken identity, Cercei’s attack hits close to home and exploits another weakness Tyrion is burdened with – his love for Shae. The following scene between he and Shae was powerful and it was striking to see the usually poised Tyrion become emotional, as he makes his love swear her loyalty in an attempt to justify his willingness to risk everything for her.

Robb Stark also takes a huge risk in the name of love, breaking his politically arranged betrothal to Walder Frey’s daughter and finally giving in to the desire that’s been growing between he and the nurse from Volantis all season. Their courtship occurs off-page in the novel, but the added focus on their relationship here makes Robb’s decision, which has such possibly disastrous political consequences, seem less rash and more rooted in genuine affection. I also loved the scene between Robb and Catelynn after he discovers she freed Jaime Lannister without his permission. (Ditto the scene between Jaime and Brienne on the run, which promises to be the start of a very dynamic relationship.) It seems that love also represents vulnerability for Catelynn, as, by releasing Jaime, she weakens their position with the Lannisters in an attempt to save her daughters.

Arya, meanwhile, misses out on a chance to take out Tywin before he marches off to battle with Robb’s forces and instead tricks Jaqen into granting her a few extra deaths so she, Gendry, and Hot Pie can escape Harrenhal. Beyond the wall, Jon and Qhorin Halfhand are Wildling prisoners and Qhorin suggests that Jon use the opportunity to go undercover and find out what Mance Rayder has planned. Samwell Tarly also makes a brief appearance and discovers a hidden cache of dragonglass. We only get the briefest glimpse of Daenerys this week just to show that yup, her dragons are still missing and she’s still pissed about it, so I guess we’ll see more on that next week. We’re down to the final two episodes and there’s still a lot of ground to cover, but with battle looming on the horizon in Kings Landing, Winterfell, and Qarth, it’s a safe bet that the next two weeks are going to be exciting as hell.