“Garden of Bones”
Things just keep getting darker and darker, don’t they? That’s the impression I get when reading this portion of the second novel, and the TV series is doing an excellent job of sucking us into that morass. We’re also getting an avalanche of new characters and venues on top what were already impressively vast quantities of both, and I hope this isn't overwhelming the new viewer too much. Honestly, I think there was no choice in the matter for HBO – they've already made some cuts that hurt me to the core, and I don’t see how anything else could have been trimmed away.
I wouldn’t say this episode ranks as the equal of the excellent effort last week, but it manages to move the narrative along impressively without seeming too absurdly rushed. For the first time in a while we check in with Robb, who manages to score another impressive victory over Lannister forces with a sneak attack. It should be clear by now that the boy king is building quite a mystique around himself – he and Gray Wind, that is. The only off moment about this scene for me was an original and seemingly extraneous scene featuring a young woman who said she was from Volantis (there’s no reason that should mean anything to you if you haven’t read the books) lecturing Robb about the evils of war as she amputated the foot of a Lannister soldier. I can’t see what this scene adds and it comes off as rather pious given the events of this season, unless there’s some reason why we needed to meet this woman now that we aren’t aware of. If so, that could portend a major plot change as she doesn’t exist in the books. It's Robb's day to be lectured, as his powerful Bannerman Lord Roose Bolton gives her a stern one about the high road won't win him any wars, and how useful it'd be to flay a few Lannister soldiers.
Meanwhile, it’s not just wolves we meet again this week – Cat is very much involved, still in Renly’s camp trying to win him over to the idea of a brokered peace with The North. I thought the scene between Cat and Littlefinger was one of the best of the episode, and Michelle Fairley is really doing a great job expressing Cat’s frustrations at seeing what the men in her life are doing to the world and those she loves. Cat is, as Littlefinger manipulatively points out, a mother, and this impacts her viewpoint – yet she’s also smart and no stranger to war councils. When he tempts her with the notion of Sansa and Arya’s freedom in exchange for Jaimie’s it’s easy to see why she’d be tempted – despite knowing that from a military standpoint it’s a horrible idea.
The theme of really awful sibling relationships is strong this season, and this week we get our first glimpse of Renly and Stannis together. It’s obvious that these two could not be more different – Stannis pious and rigid, Renly expansive and charismatic. He sees the love of his people and the force of his banners as a valid claim to the Iron Throne, and Stannis cannot even consider the notion that anyone could question the validity of his claim – he holds the true claim, and Renly should simply bend the knee on the right of the matter. The disdain is thick in their conversation (though perhaps Renly’s impudence would have been better expresses if he’d been eating a peach, as he was in the book) and despite Cat’s efforts it’s clear that there can be no reconciliation. This is another frustrating case of male stubbornness as far as she’s concerned, and it galls her to see enemies of the Lannisters fight each other.
At least I feel that this week we got a good sense of the relationship between Stannis and Davos. I’m not sure if this has been made clear enough, but Stannis cut off four of Davos’ fingers for being a smuggler – and then knighted him for heroism, as it was his smuggling of food that allowed Stannis to survive a Targeryn siege at Dragonstone (this his mocking nickname “The Onion Knight”). Stannis tells Davos, “The good act does not cancel out the bad – or the bad the good.” That tells you so much about the sort of man Stannis is – and the fact that Davos carries the bones of those fingers in a bag around his neck tells you much about him. His loyalty to Stannis is total, but when he’s forced to consort with Mellisandre, he’s unable to hide his disgust at who she is – and how she chooses to wage her wars. The chilling scene below Storm's End was adapted about as well as it possibly could have been.
As for Arya, she, Gendry and Hot Pie are taken to Harrenhal, the so-called haunted fortress, as prisoners of The Mountain, Ser Gregor Clegane (who we met in S1) brother of The Hound. In Harrenhal – the largest castle in Westeros despite it’s current ruinous state – The Mountain chooses a prisoner a die to be tortured and killed by The Tickler (Anthony Morris) another name Arya adds to her list for her bedtime mantra (courtesy of Yoren in the TV version). It’s Gendry’s turn on the block when that magnificent bastard Tywin Lannister shows up for the first time this season and knocks a few heads together for the stupidity of killing useful bodies for sport. Ever since we met him while skinning a deer (a wonderful TV-original scene) it’s been clear just what sort of man Tywin is. He’s been missed, and you can look forward to plenty of gems from the Lead Lion this season.
In the Far East, things continue to look grim for Danerys until one of her Bloodriders returns from the fabled city of Qarth, at the edge of the sea and protected from the “Garden of Bones” by its massive city walls. Qarth is ruled by a council called “The Thirteen” and they seem torn between intense curiosity about her dragons and intense distrust of outsiders. It’s only when one of The Thirteen, Xaro Xhoan Daxos (Nanso Anozie), agrees to vouch for her that she’s allowed inside. This whole sequence was changed quite a bit from the book version, so I’ll be interested to see if that has repercussions for the events in Qarth.
Of course, no episode of GoT really feels complete without some Tyrion magnificence, and he doesn’t disappoint here. First he saves Sansa from being beaten bloody by Meryn Trant, the honor-free bully on Joffrey’s Kingsguard. Joffrey is really being played up as a psychopath even more in the TV than the books, and I never tire of seeing Tyrion make him quiver and tremble in helpless rage. Tyrion has that effect on his sister too, and he uses her demand to free Pycelle – as delivered by boy-toy cousin Lancel – to blackmail the poor lad into becoming his double agent. I don’t think we’ve ever seen a character quite like Tyrion on American TV – Peter Dinklage is doing some of the best work you’ll ever see here. It’s a remarkable actor playing a remarkable character, and he delivers more great moments per capita than anyone else in this amazing cast.