A word before we begin. This is a review of the television show. There are innumerable places that you can find spoilerricious reviews that welcome a discussion of the future events of the novels. Here, however, I’d appreciate a modicum of respect for those who are new to this world. So once again it needs to be reiterated: please no spoilers in your comments. This includes posts with “spoiler warnings.” The rule is simple. If you mention a spoiler, be it inadvertent or deliberate, your comment gets deleted, regardless of how well-thought out or eloquent it may have been. Have some courtesy for your fellow readers. Thanks.
The paths of the characters of “Game Of Thrones” are twisting and thorny and never as simple as they may appear. For each character who is motivated by virtue or a desire to right past wrongs, there are those who descend further and further into darkness, as if they’ve plummeted off a cliff and there’s no chance of salvation. This week’s episode, “A Man Without Honor,” dealt with those diverging paths as much as it dealt with the shaky concepts of honor, devotion, and dedication. Each of our characters has their own definition, their own vision, of what is “right,” and it’s these visions that are creating increasingly fascinating and complex scenarios.
Theon Greyjoy. Never before have I witnessed a character whose fall from grace has been as radical and as hateful as his. He has become a truly wicked character, and I love him for it — and Alfie Allen is absolutely brilliant in his portrayal. Since his decision to betray and conquer Winterfell, Theon is quickly being forced to learn harsh lessons and take even harsher actions in order to preserve his rule. Instead of the ideas of family and honor that he once learned at Winterfell, he now studies cruelty and bitterness. Veiled beneath a veneer of cheery sadism, Theon is at odds with himself, torn between becoming the Iron-hard lord he wants to be, and the kinder spirit he once was. In the end, as he says, “it’s better to be cruel than weak.” His growing education at the hands of Dagmer Cleftjaw (being portrayed with a brutal deftness by Ralph Ineson) leads to his final, hideous act, one from which he can no longer return. Theon’s path is set now, ensconced in his tenuous seat of power, and one cannot help but wonder if it won’t lead to his destruction.
Beyond the wall, Jon and Ygritte continue in one of the more strangely delightful relationships. Jon’s discomfort with his inadvertent sexual awakening at Ygritte’s bound hands serve as an apt contrast with her vivacious, acerbic worldliness. Their conflict explodes into a fiery confrontation of eerily and uncomfortably similar philosophies, and it’s in those moments that Rose Leslie finally captured the fieriness and passion of the character that she didn’t quite hit last week. Her long-awaited proclamation of “you know nothing, Jon Snow,” was almost physically jarring, one of the more impressive line deliveries, a marvelous punctuation to the sequence. Ygritte represents everything Jon has sworn to fight — chaos, disorder, wildness, going against everything he wants to believe in — honor, duty, and devotion. Yet what he wants is represented by the family that essentially cast him out, and what she offers may be everything he secretly desires. After the tables are abruptly turned, it made me hunger for the next step in Jon’s journey.
In King’s Landing, the bizarre relationship between Sandor Clegane and Sansa Stark continues, and the Hound remains strangely protective, yet also bluntly disdainful. It’s as if his cryptic promises of protection are veiled behind his outward appearance of a baser viciousness. Yet in a strange twist, the finest moments in King’s Landing came not from Tyrion, but from Cersei, in two forms. Her uncommon gentleness and frank honesty as she discusses Sansa’s changing body as well as her own personal trials created an almost mournful insight into her strange fate. One senses that Cersei sees a painful similarity in Sansa, and gives her a harsh, yet sage wisdom — the closest Cersei had ever come to actually admitting the monstrosity that she birthed in Joffrey. A character that I was relatively unmoved by in Season One, Lena Headey’s Cersei continues to grow and impress.
Perhaps it was that unlikely honesty that led to a painful, heartrending scene with Tyrion, full of regret and pain and genuine vulnerability, where she finally pulls away her cold, calculating mask and rips off the scabs of her incestuous indiscretions. It’s in that moment where we see the truth about Tyrion as well, a truth that Peter Dinklage beautifully conveyed without uttering a single word. At the end of the day, after all of the plotting and scheming and acidic wit, Tyrion is simply a man who wants to be loved, and is cursed to never be fulfilled. Even in that most tender and revealing of moments, the wall remained between him and his sister.
Across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys Targaryen continues her desperate search for her lost children/dragons, and her angry conflict with Xaro Xhoan Daxos finally come to a head. Her faith in her birthright and her power is weakened by the continued losses inflicted against those she loves and wants to lead, and Emilia Clarke is showing a lovely world-weariness for one so young. Daenerys grows bitter and turns aside Jorah’s kindness and devotion, and only her directive to find her missing dragons can salvage her faith in him. Yet the episode’s greatest twist was the betrayal of Daxos and the decidedly creepy sorcerer Pyat Pree, a stunning diversion from the novels that takes the story along a much more intriguing path.
In the camp of the King of the North, Robb Stark continues, like Jon Snow, to be an honorable man in the midst of dishonorable times, evidenced by his meetings with young Alton Lannister as well as the intriguing Lady Talisa. Poor Alton ends up housed with his fellow Lannister, Jaime, resulting in a touching, poignant of their two paths and an insight into how Jaime became the man that he is. His tale of Barristan Selmy shows how he finds the beauty and artistry in honorable bloodshed, and his admitting that he was destined for war, similar to his father in that sense. That should have served as a warning for the poor young man, and Jaime’s escape was as as vicious as it is unexpected. Of course, his freedom is short-lived, yet he finds salvation in the strangest of places, as Lady Catelyn saves him from the bloodthirsty Karstark mob. This episode was another strong one for Michelle Fairley, between her bold standoff with the furious Karstark and her unflinching confrontation with Jaime.
It’s worth noting that one of the things that separates “Game Of Thrones” from many other television shows is its portrayal of women. In a world ruled by men and violence and chaos and bloodshed, the showrunners have embraced George R. R. Martin’s determination to have his female characters stand out. And most importantly, unlike so many other efforts in all media, there isn’t just one strong female character. There are several, all riveting and intriguing and strong, yet all for very different reasons. Which brings us, of course, to …
Arya friggin’ Stark. I’m honestly starting to wonder if Maisie Williams deserves an Emmy nomination for her portrayal, and if there’s any doubt as to her increasingly amazing portrayal, no further than her scenes with and Charles Dance’s Tywin Lannister. They’ve become, quite simply, the highlight of the show for me. “A Man Without Honor” gave us some excellent moments with Dance, with Tywin’s commanding authority over Gregor Clegane juxtaposed with his surprising, if firm, kindness towards Arya. The scene was splendidly played out, showing Tywin’s steely obsession with his legacy seeming to be all he has left, caring for little else. Despite Arya’s feeling engaged by him, she never loses sight of her hatred for him, even contemplating murdering him in his own room. Their suspicious, burgeoning, begrudging respect for each other makes for glorious interplay. And in spite of Arya almost slipping up with her knowledge of the Targaryan history, he still finds her insolence and cleverness entertaining. This entire plotline is completely different from the novels, and is perfectly illustrative of how skilled the show’s writers are. I’ve decided that I could simply watch a “Tywin and Arya” show every week, and still be pretty damn satisfied.
Fortunately, we’ve got so much more to accompany them. “A Man Without Honor” was another excellent episode, a dialogue-heavy series of scenes that once again showed why this show is one of the best on television when it comes to drama and characters that you will inevitably love, no matter how loathsome they may be.
(image courtesy of Warming Glow)