“The more people you love, the weaker you are,” Cersei Lannister
The citizens of Westeros and Qarth talk a lot about themselves in “A Man without Honor.” The wildling Ygritte talks to Jon Snow about her people and how they are truly “free” rather than him and his silly black wardrobe and rules. Tywin looks over the charred ruins of Harrenhal and tells his Northern cupbearer that at this point in his life, his legacy is all that matters to him. Jaime talks to his ill-fated cousin Alton about a day that they both shared; a day that was most important day in one of their lives and just a blip on the radar for the other. Guess which one is which (“I went to Willem Frey’s wedding?”).
Instinctively, it seems like “A Man Without Honor’s” verbosity would be a problem. After all, it’s always better to show than to tell…especially if that telling involves characters attempting to explain their own personalities and neuroses in an almost contrived way. Seriously: who takes a moment to stare out of a high tower all mysterious-like then talk to a strange little girl about the concept of legacy? But the confidence that writers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have in their dialogue, the excellence of the actors delivering that dialogue and the richly drawn world that contextualizes it is just downright infectious. Who broods in front of a window then talks to a girl about legacy? Tywin Effing Lannister, that’s who.
Speaking of Tywin Lannister…how much would you pay if HBO just released a DVD of Arya and Tywin’s interactions from season two? It would be about 20 minutes of material and it would be criminal to charge less than $10.00 for it. All proceeds will go to the Maisie Williams fund to help support her if she can’t get a role post-Game of Thrones due to typecasting. It is getting a little bit ridiculous at this point that Tywin isn’t more suspicious of her though. Arya Stark, a dark-haired, high-born Northern girl has gone missing and who should Tywin find but a dark-haired, high-born Northern girl who lied about being a Northerner, high-born and a girl. Seriously, dude, ask Cersei to hire a sketch artist to create a mock-up of Arya so you can just make sure. Still, it’s forgivable due to the fact that I don’t want their scenes to end. Arya and/or Tywin must presumably part ways soon (because as we’ve learned this season: no one other than Cersei and Joffrey stay in one place for long on Game of Thrones) but it will be a dark day for acting nerds when they do.
Sansa begins to mirror her sister’s storyline a bit when yet another Lannister offers unsolicited advice to a Stark daughter. There were many quotes in contention for the top spot this week but Cersei’s “the more people you love, the weaker you are” had to win out. It’s a dark sentiment but may upsettingly be true. Before Ned lost his head, Varys presented Ned with an option: he could refuse acknowledging Joffrey’s right to the Throne and die with his honor, or hecould acknowledge Joffrey’s claim and live without his honor…but live with his loves instead (his wife and children). Ultimately love wins out for Ned and he loses his head (how cruel was it to give Eddard a nickname that rhymes with “head,” by the way?). Cersei is right. For all of the Seven Kingdoms’s pomp and circumstance: the castles, the dresses, the tournaments, the chivalry, the wine, it is little more than a jungle, where only the detached and level-headed can hope to survive. The dichotomy between the pretty surface of Westeros and the ugly reality is demonstrated perfectly in the same storyline where something as innocuous as Sansa’s first period turns into a moment of abject horror for her.
Where Sansa and Arya’s storylines have become increasingly cerebral, Bran and Rickon’s have become more visceral. Bran and Rickon are little more than rabbits for Theon to hunt in this episode. This is rather welcome as Bran and Rickon are firmly established as archetypical good kids (ok, moreso Bran. Rickon isn’t established as anything other than a kid who really, really loves walnuts) and Theon clearly has more falling into depravity to do. The show has handled Theon’s descent about as well as it’s ever juggled any plot. His reasons for betraying the Starks are well-defined, if still tragic, and the pacing of it has been terrific. It’s like there is one visible seam tearing in Theon’s psyche every week.
I also choose to believe that Theon’s story isn’t just representing his downward fall, but a broader story of how Lords and Kings and rules in Westeros first gain their power. It reminds me of season three of The Wire (most things do). The ruling kingpins in the Wire, Avon Barksdale and Stinger Bell, enter the show as fully-fleshed entities, already firmly in control of the drugs trade in West Baltimore. Then in season three, Marlo Stanfield, a young upstart and potential usurper emerges and we follow his ascent to power from the beginning. It quickly becomes apparent that Marlo’s story isn’t just about Marlo but about Avon and Stringer and every other person who has achieved power on the streets as well.
I feel the same way about Theon. How do rulers in Westeros maintain their power? Well, they’re born into the right family for one thing. But that’s going to be enough. At some point, peasants and bannermen need a reason to follow a Lord. “It’s better to be cruel, than weak,” Theon says. And he’s probably right. Fear is one way to send the message that “I’m in charge here, damn it.” That certainly seems to be Tywin’s strategy. It’s not that Theon is doing the wrong things to establish power over conquered territory, it’s just that his uneasy cadence and pained expressions betray that his heart isn’t truly in it. Theon’s story gives new perspective to characters like Robert Baratheon. Theon is trying to convince the sparsely populated Winterfell that he is their new Lord. Robert Baratheon had to convince an entire continent that he was their new king. How sure are we that blood wasn’t spilled in the interest of sheer intimidation?
Holy Digression, Batman! That may have been long-winded but to me is just an example of such a dialogue and backstory-heavy episode. This is a world that keeps on growing geographically before the viewer’s very eyes but it’s just as important that it grows historically as well, to maintain the sense of weight and importance for each new location.
“A Man Without Honor” is such a strong and compelling hour of television with so little action that I have become even more perplexed by the common internet mantra “ZOMG! WHEN IS HBO GOING TO PAY FOR BIG BATTLE SCENES?!?” that has followed the series around since it’s inception. Some point to scenes like Tyrion conveniently being knocked out right before a major battle as an example of an HBO cop out. But is it really? In a series that is increasingly pressed for time as is, would you rather have a twenty minute battle scene in which mostly anonymous men in medeival garb swing swords at each other or five more scenes of Jaime demonstrating how much of a cold bastard he is or Theon digging a much deeper hole for himself in Winterfell?
I guess we’ll find out at some point this season, when Stannis’ forces crash the Lannister party in King’s Landing and we get an hour full of clashing swords and carnage that HBO has promised. I just hope there is time for human moments like there are in “A Man Without Honor.” Otherwise my review may just be 200 words of “Oh my God, you guys! Did you see when that dude got stabbed in the head!”
BULLET POINTS FROM HERE ON OUT:
- I hate to relegate Dany and Jon to bullet points but their stories really are just kind of bullet points right now anyway. North of the Wall has been beautiful visually and this Ygritte is surely quite the firecracker but Jon’s story has been lagging behind the Westerosi pack lately. Having said that, I like that even Ygritte and Jon partook in the chattiness of this episode. Debating the nature of freedom was nice, but Ygritte giving us the wildling equivalent of “is that a roll of quarters in your pocket…” was just dynamite.
- Qarth has become the equivalent of the farm on this past season of The Walking Dead. I’m assuming it’s suppose to instill in the viewer that there is truly no place that Dany can settle and be safe as long as she has her dragons and her Targaryen blood but it’s still a bit of a drag plot-wise. More on this in the “spoilers section.”
- “Do you think I’d be in my position if I’d ever lost a war?” All in all, Tywin might be the most impressive human being in the Seven Kingdoms.
- Having said that, how do you get schooled by a little girl in Westerosi History? Not remembering the names of Aegon’s sisters is just bush league, Tywin, bush league.
- “A man is what others say he is and no more,” Xaro Xhoan Daxos.
- Too many prisoners to house, not enough medical supplies, bannermen clamoring to execute Jaime: this whole “having honor and fairness” thing is becoming a real pain in the ass for Robb.
- With Sansa’s frightening dream, it looks like someone in Westeros FINALLY has PTSD. It’s abut damn time for all the horrors they witness.
- “He was a painter…a painter who only used red.” Barristan Selmy is still out there somewhere guys. Get pumped.
- Speaking of reminders: “Will you betray her again, Jorah the Andal?” Raise your hand if you remembered that Jorah initially worked for Varys to get Daenerys killed.
- Brienne dismissively calling the douche who entered the tent “man” after he called her “woman” killed me…just absolutely killed me.
- #That awkward moment where Tyrion tries to comfort his sister and gets shut down.
- “It’s hard to put a leash on a dog, once you put a crown on its head.” Well said, Halfman.
- I bet Jaime wakes up every morning and feels like everyone else is taking crazy pills. “That king you all still demonize me for killing? He was called the MAD KING, remember? How am I the only one who remembers this?”
- Theon is clearly composer Ramin Djawadi’s favorite character. That piece at the end was just fantastic.
- When there are no identifiable bodies in fiction, don’t believe a character is dead. That’s my policy.
MINOR BOOK SPOILERS
Nothing too major here. Just a brief discussion of changes from the books and why I think they made them. Still read on at your own risk, spoilerphobes.
- Ok, more about Qarth. Xaro Xhoan Daxos and Pyat Pree’s coup? Never happens in the book. But I respect the decision to do absolutely anything to make Qarth more interesting. It really is a dead-end. Even/especially in the book. Having said that: really, we’re surprised that the creepy guy is the one who took the dragons?
- We finally get the full name of the “Brotherhood without Banners” in this episode. I really hope they get their due at some point in the series.
- The difference in pronouncing “my lord” and “m’lord” reveals Arya as highborn in this episode. This happens to someone in the books but it’s not Arya and it’s not until book five, which only just came out this past summer. Interesting decision.
- “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” Ygritte said it! She finally said it. Now she only has three more episodes this season to say that 428 more times.
- Both of Lord Karstark’s sons die in the books and it’s during the initial battle to kidnap Jaime, not during Jaime’s escape attempt. What I’m trying to say is that Karstark’s saltiness got to brew a lot longer on the page.