“Gods help you, Theon Greyjoy. Now you are truly lost.” Rodrik Cassel
One thing I didn’t really pick up about this season of Game of Thrones until I looked at it with a more critical eye, is just how fragmented it is. I suppose fragmented isn’t the correct word as it has a negative connotation, but episodic, rather. Season one had roughly four locations (give or taken an Eyrie or a random Lannister military camp): Winterfell, the Wall, King’s Landing and the Dothraki Sea. And almost all those locations had one of our old trusted Stark friends keeping the focus comfortably limited to one family. Now, with the Starks scattered across the map and the cast of characters growing larger every episode, the central focus of the Starks and Ned’s research into Jon Arryn’s death seems to have fallen in favor of a series of vignettes about life all over Westeros during this increasingly violent war.
This can be difficult to follow but we’re finding how enjoyable this episodic style can be when executed flawlessly, as it is in “The Old Gods and the New.”
We begin in Winterfell with Theon Greyjoy’s hasty and perhaps ill-conceived conquering of the Stark stronghold. There is almost an element of dark humor to the proceedings (how many invasions conclude with the conquerer sitting on a ten-year-old paraplegic’s bed and informing him that his castle is now gone?), which makes Theon seem like a child playing at war. But just as Renly found out too late last week, there is only so long one can go through the strutting and preening of war before actual blood is spilt. Unfortunately, that blood belongs to the fantastically-bearded Rodrik Cassel.
After all the complaining I did last week about how the plot was not served well by offing a major character within the first five minutes, the show does almost the exact thing this week and somehow turns it into the best scene of the episode. Rodrik certainly wasn’t as big a character as Renly but he was a constant presence for our beloved Starks (am I correct in assuming we all love the Starks?) Rodrik’s messy beheading is visceral, ugly and heartbreaking. The difficulty Theon has getting his sword through cartilage is almost symbolic how poorly prepared he was for this life of a conquerer. Yes, Ned taught him that the man to pass the sentence should be the one to swing the sword, but that doesn’t mean he knows how to do it properly. Alfie Allen has long been one of the weaker actors on Thrones but the work he does here makes HBO’s decision to submit him for best supporting actor Emmy consideration make more sense. It’s also the liveliest work yet from composer Ramin Djwadi, who aside from the excellent opening credit theme, hasn’t really turned in a signature composition.
It was also wise for the show to not waste any time in getting Theon to Winterfell. It may have been a stretch, geographically, but dramatically it is greatly appreciated for a show that only has ten episodes to work with. The rest of Theon’s storyline can’t quite match up to excitement of the first five minutes but with four episodes left, there is plenty left to probe for the “Prince of Winterfell.”
Elsewhere, we have the continuation of Arya and Tywin’s chemistry factory-slash-acting clinic. The Littlefinger scene, despite being directly rather creatively, failed to create much tension for me, but this could very well be because I’m one of those annoying people who has read the books. Much more effective, albeit a bit slapstick was Arya’s rush to Jaqen H’ghar for a drive-thru version of an assassination. Jaqen’s near-noticeable eyeroll at Arya’s urgency was another comic highpoint for an unusually funny episode.
Both Jon and Dany’s storylines have moved forward by leaps and bounds since stagnating a bit earlier in the season. Jon’s storyline, in particular, finally found perfect use for Iceland’s stunning landscape. It must have cost HBO an arm and a leg to be able to insure its actors to run around perilous terrain in subzero temperature but it’s worth it just for the scene of Jon chasing Ygritte. It’s unlikely that someone as smart as Qhorin Halfhand would trust a very green ranger (who just took a vow of lifelong celibacy like three months ago) to execute a female prisoner on his own but Jon and we viewers thank him. Of all the scenes of wanton sexuality on display in Thrones, the simple shot of Jon and Ygritte snuggling up for some frigid spooning was somehow one of the most sensual yet.
But the other scene in contention with Theon’s douchery for best of the episode has to be the King’s Landing riot. It has just the perfect sense for escalation as King’s Landing peasants’ anger bubbles over gradually and organically until they are throwing cowpies at King Joffrey and grabbing pieces off of the High Septon as though he were a turkey. If the scene had aired during the first season, I’m sure there would be at least one essay entitled “Occupy King’s Landing” from an internet blowhard like myself comparing it to the movement, but of course with less dismemberment. On the macro level, it’s the best example of civil unrest we’ve seen thus far in Westeros and it also leads to some truly level character moments. Tyrion, of course, makes the internet’s wishes come true yet again with a particularly vigorous Joffslap but also has one of his best lines of the season, that would certainly engender significant change in any monarch who actually had a conscience.
“We’ve had vicious kings and we’ve had idiot kings but I don’t know if we’ve ever been cursed with a vicious idiot king.” “And now I’ve struck a king, did my hand fall off my wrist?”
The Hound also makes his feelings toward Sansa less than subtle with his violent heroics. The Hound shows a flash of humanity and Sansa sees yet another example of how the heroes in the stories she used to love sometimes look like the Hound, and not the Knight of Flowers and often involve a would-be-rapist’s intestines on the floor.
BULLET POINTS FROM HERE ON OUT
- “You all know me!” Theon says to Winterfell. Jaws reference?
- Another nice touch from Alfie Allen is Theon’s voice cracking when he sentences Rodrik to death.
- Just as I loved Tom Wlaschiha’s work with his accents last week, I love Rose Leslie’s work with Ygritte’s accent this week. Leslie is a bit clean and attractive to be a Wildling but something about her inflection helps the believability.
- Myrcella leaving to go get betrothed/taken as a hostage is essentially the equivalent of summer camp for noble Westerosi girls.
- I know it’s just all make-pretend but watching Sophie Turner fend of rapists and have her clothes ripped is still quite icky. She was born in 1996, by the way.
- “I didn’t come here to argue grammar,” Dany tells the spice king. What is it with this show and proper grammar?
- Sounds like Jaime Lannister has dyslexia. Interesting.
- “What killed him?” “Loyalty.” Arya just couldn’t be cooler.
- Catelyn Stark: cockblock extraordinaire.
- “Bet we’ll stay warmer if we stay close.” That classic Wildling pick-up line.
- It was hard to pick a quote this week, there were a lot of good ones.
- This is the second episode this year, after “The Night Lands” where I have no idea why it was titled so. I know what the Old and New Gods are but have no idea how they pertained to this episode. Any ideas?
MINOR BOOK SPOILERS
This episode deviated from the book more than any timeseries thus far, I’d like to discuss how and where with absolutely no spoilers beyond this point in the book/show, but do not read on if you are extremely spoilerphobic.
- Dany’s dragons are never stolen in the book. I get why they’d want to spice up the Qarth storyline (pardon the pun), and I’m curious to see how it will play out. I have a feeling I know where it will end up though.
- Both Irri and Rakharo are not killed in A Clash of Kings, the book that the second season is loosely based on. I like that they are willing to deviate from the books so extremely but both times they’ve done it at the expense of non-Anglo actors. That probably isn’t helping the early-season “Game of Thrones is racist” internet chatter.
- The Stark boys are whisked away from Winterfell a lot earlier in the show than they are in the books. I hope it precludes what I thought was one of George R.R. Martin’s most suspect decisions in the book.
- Rodrik Cassel does not die until the very end of Clash of Kings but moving his death forward for the show accomplishes a hell of a lot for Theon’s move to the dark side.
- If you’ve not read the books, you probably didn’t even notice this but when Roose Bolton, Robb Stark’s advisor, says he will send his bastard to take care of Theon at Winterfell an entire fanbase collectively gasped and clutched their chests.