It’s good to be an eldest son in Westeros, where primogeniture assures the senior boy possession of the titles, lands, and glory that come with being the heir of a highborn family. Unfortunately, the younger sons typically don’t fare as well and are often met with at best, disinterest and at worst, open hostility. Though last night’s episode, “Second Sons,” takes its title from the band of sell swords Daenerys tries to win away from the Yunkai, it also alludes to some of the disavowed, debased, and dismissed lesser sons of Westeros’ noble families whose stories figure prominently in this week’s episode.
The episode opens with Arya attempting to smash the skull of the Hound, who is the latest in her line of loathed travelling partners / captors. Arya’s had a lot of time to hone her rage at Clegane since he killed her friend, Micah, at the behest of Joffrey back in season one, but that intense hatred may subside ever so slightly when she learns that he is planning on taking her back to her mother and brother at the Twins, not the Lannisters. Although dubious about Clegane’s truthful claim to have saved her sister’s life, Arya appears to be grappling with the fact that although he may be a ruthless killer, the Hound may not be the monster he’s made out to be. In addition to being physically and mentally scarred by his elder brother, Gregor’s cruelty, the Hound, as he points out, is often unfairly saddled with his brother’s dark reputation, as well.
Across the sea, Daenerys continues her rapid evolution from timid girl to regal leader, exhibiting much poise and assurance as she entreats with the three leaders from the Second Sons, the two thousand-strong band of sell swords the Yunkai have hired to protect their city, and attempts to win them over to her side instead. When the vulgar Mero (aka The Titan’s Bastard) gropes Missandei and tries to insult and sexually intimidate both women, Daenerys remains cool, smiling in his face, promising titles and lands when she claims her throne, and never losing sight of the goal at hand. (Daenerys’ politic composure when dealing with Mero stands in stark contrast to Cercei’s venomous lashing out at Margaery. While Daenerys control is befitting of a queen, Cercei’s outburst is further indication at just how ill-equipped she is for a leadership role.) While her commanding demeanor and enticing promises don’t win over Mero or the other lieutenant, who plan to assassinate her, Daario Naharis is taken with the beautiful dragon queen and presents her with the heads of the other two lieutenants and pledges the swords of the Second Sons, as well as his heart, to her cause. As Daario, Ed Skrein’s got both the necessary smoldering looks (although he’s no Jason Momoa – RIP Khal Drogo) and a palpable chemistry with Clarke’s Khaleesi, which adds some immediate interest to their new alliance.
The episode spends a great deal of time with the series’ most beloved second son, as Tyrion and Sansa’s betrothal comes to fruition in one of the most awkward and uncomfortable weddings in TV history. From the get-go, the wedding is an utterly embarrassing affair and it’s clear that the only ones having any fun at all are Lady Olenna, teasing her grandchildren about their pending Lannister marriages in her customary superior and detachedly amused manner, and the gleefully sadistic Joffrey, who revels in humiliating both his former betrothed and his uncle. I don’t think Jack Gleeson gets enough credit as Joffrey, since some viewers have the tendency to transfer their hate for the character to the actor, but Gleeson is really magnificent as the boy we love to hate, seamlessly swinging from juvenile bullying tactics (the smug pleasure he takes in walking Sansa down the aisle, his cruel removal of the stepstool from the altar to highlight Tyrion’s dwarfism) to more frightening menace (threatening to rape Sansa).
By the time the reception begins, it’s hard to tell who has suffered the greater indignity – the tortured Sansa, who’s had all of her girlish dreams turn to shit, or the degraded, disrespected, and increasingly drunken Tyrion, seated next to a bride who’s clearly repulsed by him and before a court that openly mocks him. When Joffrey attempts to continue the humiliation by initiating the bedding ceremony, Tyrion finally loses his cool and icily threatens his nephew that he’ll be “fucking your bride with a wooden cock,” if he continues. Even though he immediately has to laugh the threat off as a bit of drunken buffoonery, it’s always great to see Tyrion put Joffrey in his place. Also fantastic is the private scene in the newlyweds’ marital chambers, which serves as a great character study of the two – with Sansa, ever the dutiful lady, bravely preparing herself for her wifely responsibility and Tyrion, too inherently decent and proud to make her go through with it.
Meanwhile on Dragonstone, Stannis welcomes Melisandre and Gendry, the bastard son of Stannis’ late brother, King Robert Baratheon. Initially, Stannis is supportive of Melisandre’s plan to utilize Gendry’s royal blood for their cause by sacrificing him to R’hllor, but after consulting with a temporarily still-imprisoned Davos, changes his mind in favor of a more humane leeching. Although I find Stannis scenes a bit boring at times, I really enjoyed his dungeon conversation with the honest Davos, especially when the discussion turned to the topic of religion. His faith shaken by recent events and the loss of his son, Davos wonders if the gods are merely a fairy tale designed to soothe man’s fears. As Stannis reminds him, though, they have both seen proof of the Red God’s power – Stannis, through his vision and Davos through witnessing Melisandre’s birthing of a shadow assassin. In his supposedly reluctant duty to claim the Iron Throne, Stannis can’t help but choose to align himself with the one god who clearly makes his presence felt and although his often-alienating relationship with Melisandre has seemed questionable in the past, it’s really hard to argue with that logic here.
While Melisandre’s god certainly seems to be responsible for a lot of recent supernatural shit, he’s not the only other-worldly force suddenly let loose in the realm, as Sam, Gilly, and her newborn son come face to face with a white walker. Having escaped the bloodshed at Craster’s Keep, the trio camps at an abandoned shelter, building a fire and brainstorming possible names for the baby boy. When Gilly says she likes the name Randall, Sam asks her not to name the baby after his father, who was a “different sort of cruel,” than Craster, but damaged Sam nonetheless, disowning his sensitive first born because of his cowardice. Despite his cowardly nature, Sam stands up to protect Gilly and her baby when the moment comes. The arrival of the white walker was perfectly eerie, as the sudden appearance of a boisterous flock of crows was followed by a sharp, bone-chilling silence as the walker lurched forward. Sam’s ultimate victory, using the ancient weapon he discovered on the Fist of the First Men to slay the walker was pretty satisfying, too and served as an exciting end to yet another strong Game of Thrones outing.