Game of Thrones “Second Sons” review

“I think mothers and fathers made up the gods so their children would sleep through the night,” Davos Seaworth.

Let’s talk about Tyrion Lannister for a moment.

After unceremoniously (where one could argue that it was very ceremonious in the context of the show, but you get the idea) beheading de facto protagonist Ned Stark in the first season, HBO very clearly had a bit of a small freakout. They were down with the idea of doing something so unexpected, so brutal and so HBO in the first season but then quickly realized that TV shows hire marketable stars to play lead roles because they are, you know, marketable. Undoubtedly a meeting was called, where HBO execs ran down their options. The blonde British chick? Great actress, great boobies, not really well known enough. Same goes for the Danish guy and the sad dude with the hair in the snow. But what about Peter Dinklage? Everyone loves the Dink! He was so memorable in the good Death at a Funeral, the bad Death at a Funeral and Elf…fucking ELF, son. So Dinklage’s name was moved to the front of the credits and his role was inflated for season two, culminating with the Halfman turning fools into half, quarter and eighth men on the battlefield in “Blackwater.”

But what HBO didn’t realize is that Game of Thrones doesn’t really need a main character. It’s an ensemble in the truest sense of the word. Ned’s brutal death in season one makes his scenes seem like a parody of the need for a strong lead character in hindsight. Protagonists who both stick to their principles and stick their neck out get that neck straight-up cut in half. Whether by design or by plot necessity, Tyrion’s role has been cut back a bit this season and the lack of no true protagonists have stepped into his place.

That has by and large been the right decision, but “Second Sons” is the first episode of season three that makes me slightly miss the Tyrion-centricity of season two. Appropriate, considering Tyrion is the ultimate “second son.” “Second Sons” is also the most tightly focused episode of the season thus far, paring down the storylines to only three for an hour: King’s Landing, Yunkai and Dragonstone. The goings-on at Yunkai and Dragonstone range from interesting to disappointing but King’s Landing is never anything short of excellent thanks to the blossoming of Dinklage into full-Drunklage.

“Second Sons” features Tyrion at his most hilarious* and his most heroic. If HBO were truly concerned about losing the honorable Ned Stark to a sea of amorality, they only needed to wait for Tyrion’s decision not to deflower the young Sansa Stark. Tyrion solemnly raising his glass and muttering, “And now my watch begins,” is the most heroic and selfless thing anyone has done on this show yet. Really. It may seem like not statutory raping a 14-year-old girl is a pretty low bar for heroism, but it’s unlikely  any other character on the show, except for maybe Loras, would have done the same thing. She’s post-pubescent, they’re married. The Gods say it’s ok. The government says it’s ok. The groom’s terrifying father says it’s mandatory. Shit, Ned might have actually pulled the trigger, provided the 14 year old in question wasn’t his daughter. But Tyrion knows from the fear in Sansa’s eyes that this is very much not ok.

*That moment where you blackout and threaten to castrate the king.

It’s interesting that while Sansa is essentially being sold as property to the Lannisters, Daenerys, who is not much older than Sansa and was also forced into marriage roughly a year ago, is yet again consolidating her forces. Why has Sansa been only a victim thus far while Daenerys has risen into something of a badass? It’s an interesting question and there are many different circusmtances that led to Daenerys’ ascension, but I imagine the main difference is that Daenerys was used to being treated so poorly for so long and was more prepared for her marriage to what turned out to be a solid dude (though our impression of Khal Drogo would likely be a little different if he had married poor, unprepared Sansa). Daenerys’ mere presence makes Sansa’s storylines slightly less hopeless.

Granted, Daenerys actually appears a little less than usual in any eastern continent storyline. Her screentime is instead taken up by the Three Stooges Second Sons and their hopeless attempts to murder her. The presence of the Second Sons provides writers D.B. Weiss and David Benioff the opportunity to try something rare for a Game of Thrones episode: to tell a (mostly) complete story. I don’t believe that the full story of the Second Sons is finished, considering that they have now been contracted to battle the Yunkai on the side of Daenerys but their story in their episode is very complete. We are introduced to three Second Sons, a problem is presented (should they betray the Yunkai?) and a problem is solved (Yep. with two severed-heads added in for good measure). It’s something that the show rarely gets to try out and something that I think we should all encourage to see more of. Sadly, however, I don’t really believe this time around worked and the problem is Daario Naharis. Some of his motivations are a bit unclear, which isn’t a problem but what is a problem is that the motivations that are clear (I did it for love, brah) are stupid. Plus, in Ed Skrein, Game of Thrones has finally found an actor who brings virtually nothing to the part.

Skrein’s shortcomings are only highlighted by the re-appearance of our beloved Onion Knight. After a lengthy absence, it’s quite nice to see Liam Cunningham back in the role of the lovable illiterate lug. It must be a tough sale convincing the audience that the humorless and lawbound Stannis would hold the folksy Davos in such high regard but Cunningham has a thinly veiled wisdom that just works. Davos and Stannis’ scene in the brig is another installment of one of season three’s most intriguing dichotomies: what is morally right, and what reality dictates are seldom the same. Melisandre and her new God represent a reality that Stannis, as a pragmatic man, cannot ignore. As outlandish as it may seem, there is real power in those flames as Stannis sees himself fighting an epic battle in the show and even Davos sees a shadow gruesomely birthed from her Melisandre’s room. It seems like there is enough real power in the red lady’s religion to believe in the power of Gendry’s blood. But Davos, while not denying their might be some truth to it, believes that what is right takes precedence over what is real. It’s an old, but interesting philosophical battle that Game of Thrones has smartly put one of its more interesting characters at the center of.


  • So Sam kills a White Walker. I remain impressed by the technical prowess to get a White Walker onscreen but I’m not really sure what the scene’s purpose is in this episode. Though we do learn that one should never leave their dragonglass at home when venturing North of the Wall.
  • I say this as a heterosexual male: Game of Thrones, show us another fucking wiener already. I think we all appreciate the female nudity but when you have a scene where Melisandre disrobes completely but the camera cuts away just before Gendry’s pants are taken all the way off, it starts to feel a bit misogynist. This show and the genre that it’s in has to fight an uphill battle against accusations that it’s designed exclusively for males (The New York Times still somehow thinks this is only a show watched by 27 year old D&D players living in their moms’ basements) and its only feeding the fires by assuming showing Chris from Skins‘ boner will somehow sink the show. Get it together, guys.
  • Obviously, Daenerys has to be positioned so that her tits are juuuuuuuust above the water. Obviously.
  • Tyrion vomited on a girl’s back once. In the middle of the act. He’s not proud of it.
  • It was some special effects guy’s job to make leeches that will blow up in fire.
  • I like that Daario can say “Valar Morghulis” and not define it immediately after because we know what it means at this point.
  • “Fuck Joffrey. Fuck the Queen.” The Hound is really running with that new motto of his.

(photo via News for Shoppers)

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