Apologies for my absence last week, as I was busy happily and sleeplessly taking care of my new son. A huge thank you to the marvelous Joanna for covering for me.
The world of “Game Of Thrones” gets colder and more terrifying with each week, and it’s a tribute to its writers and directors that we keep coming back for more, despite the show’s continued bleakness. Yet it’s not just that grimness and fear that propels the show, it’s an uncommon depth of writing and strength of character that makes it so remarkable an achievement. These characters live and die, love and hate, trust and betray each other with such vivid realness that it makes it totally fulfilling.
Betrayal was the theme that embodied this week’s episode, “The Old Gods And The New.” Each of the featured characters dealt with a deadly deception in some form or another, and each of them reaped the consequences. Although, one can only wonder if betrayal is the right word when it comes to the events of King’s Landing — is it betrayal when a dog bites the hand that beats it? Cersei’s venomous threats as her daughter Marcella departs demonstrate both her maternal devotion as well as her bitter resentment towards Tyrion, despite his best intentions. Yet the real focus was on the riot, spawned by the glorious shit-throwing and Joffrey’s subsequent viciously temperamental brattiness. Tyrion’s reprimand of Joffrey was yet another acting coup for Dinklage, showing a sense of hapless desperation that extended beyond his usual cleverness. And of course, yet another glorious royal slapping. I’ll never get tired of seeing that kid take a shot to the kisser. But no moment was more poignant than poor Sansa, once again the victim of Joffrey’s bitter, foolish ignorance. Left to suffer for no reason, Sansa is abused worse then even before, only to be saved in the bloodiest, most brutal fashion imaginable by a stoically vengeful Sandor Clegane in one of the show’s most awful yet satisfying scenes.
North of the Wall, we find Jon Snow and Quoren Halfhand seeking the truth of the gathering wildlings. Pursuing the stark landscape of harsh cold and unforgiving rock, the small band soldiers on as the Halfhand gives Jon a lesson of hard truths and grim motivations. But most intriguing is the result of their ambush of the wildlings and the capture of the fire-haired Ygritte (Rose Leslie). Her bold defiance and tearful bravery in the face of her own looming death made for a gripping introduction to a new character. Jon’s guileless compassion yields only more troubles as she escapes, and her subsequent recapture ends up with him lost with her in tow. Hers is an enjoyable new character, a smart, brazen woman who has a good deal more liveliness and vibrancy that contrasts nicely against so many of the show’s other, darker characters. Her strange, almost coarse seductiveness presents an all new challenge for the beleaguered Jon Snow.
One of the more enjoyable deviations from the novel is the unusual developing relationship between young Arya and Tywin Lannister. Tywin’s suffers fools poorly, and his cold disdain and unrelenting fury towards those who fail him is offset by a begrudging respect of Arya’s clever frankness and attempts at deception that borders on fondness. “Loyalty.” Yet all the while, Arya is filled with a seething hatred and resentment, resulting in her surreptitious theft under the pretense of friendly curiosity that was dangerously close to being too bold. As a result, she’s forced to use one of her “deaths” on Amory Lorch, who is suddenly and slickly dispatched by a delightfully frustrated Jaqen H’ghar.
Yet no two betrayals were worse than that of Daenerys and Bran Stark. Daenerys is exhausting herself with the courtly deceptions of Qarth, of Xaro Xhoan Daxos’ repeated proposals, and her ultimately fruitless confrontation down the Thirteen who are affected by neither threats nor cajoling. Yet no moment was more desperately poignant than her horrified discovery of the slaughter of her people and theft of the dragons, another moment that is a radical departure from the novels that works incredibly well. In fact, I’ve grown to love these changes — they’re well-written enough that one cannot find them frustrating and it keeps the show’s progression fresh for even the most avid reader.
But for me, the most heartbreaking treason came with Bran’s yielding of Winterfell to Theon Greyjoy. Theon’s false bravado and desperate desire to appear strong and worthy of the title of Ironborn is burning through him, turning him inside out and making him into something that he isn’t quite sure he wants to be. At the same time, he’s been set on a path from which he cannot turn back, and his hand is forced to dire and terrible consequence. And as a result, the noble Ser Rodrik Cassel pays the iron price. If I had one criticism of the episode, it was Osha’s false treason and her efforts at to beguile Theon. While it appears to result in a daring rescue plan, her strange, awkward seduction felt tacked on and unnecessary. Ultimately, the taking of Winterfell ripples across Westeros, as shown when Robb Stark is taken away from his increasing interest in “Lady Talisa” to deal with these dire and awful events. Roose Bolton’s (Michael McElhatton) promises to retake Winterfell felt far more ominous than hopeful, and once again, the Stark family suffers.
“The Old Gods And The New” was another excellent episode of “Game Of Thrones,” one where we met some beautifully rendered new characters, and saw the regulars face yet more obstacles and challenges. These poisonous treasons serve to create new developments and possibilities, and the directions of the various stories are once again wide open and increasingly unpredictable, even for the most studied Song Of Ice And Fire reader. But the episode teaches us yet another hard truth about this fascinating new world. Last week, we learned that anyone can be killed. This week, we learn that no one is to be trusted.