Game of Thrones: “The Prince of Winterfell” review

“What kind of king do you want to be?” – Lady Talisa

“I don’t know. The good kind?” – Robb Stark 

Robb Stark has long been one of my favorite characters and I haven’t always been entirely sure why. Sure, he is a likable individual and Richard Madden definitely brings something to the role but he’s not charming like Tyrion, nor does he shoulder an entire plotline like Jon or Daenerys. After “The Prince of Winterfell,” which may have been Robb’s finest yet, I think I finally understand why: his fear.

Robb is just now communicating the immense fear he feels under the many responsibilities he faces. He is 17 years old (aged up three years from the book series) and he’s fighting a war he’s unsure he can win. His father is dead, his mother essentially betrayed him, his sisters (as far as he knows) are held captive in King’s Landing and his brothers are held captive by a man he once considered a brother in Winterfell, his home. More so than any other character in Game of Thrones, Robb transfers the true burden of ruling and even existing in war-torn Westeros to the viewer.

I’m sure we’ve all felt that horrible lack of control in our own lives and our desperation in the face of unmeetable expectations and Robb Stark’s storyline conveys that in such a visceral manner. Of all the varied emotional ringers that Thrones puts its viewers through, the sense of fear in the face of responsibility is one of the strongest.

And this week seems to bring Robb to his breaking point. Again, in the sight of Lady Talisa, Robb is able to verbalize another one of his life’s true disappointments: the reality that he’s marrying a woman he’s never met for a damn bridge. There’s an element of dark humor to it and Talisa and Robb even share a laugh after she says “I’m sure you’ll both be happy.” But after conferring with Roose and remembering just how dire (real dire, not ‘dire wolf’) his situation is,

Robb and Talisa’s tryst on the floor of his tent (at least get her to a bed or a table or something, Robb) has been building for weeks and felt inevitable…but it didn’t feel unnecessary. It isn’t just a maudlin Medeival-age story of forbidden love, it’s the culmination of a 17-year-old boy realizing that despite a king, he can barely control what happens in his life and acting out on it. Robb knows that he doesn’t even have control over who he’ll share his bed with at night and he is terrified of it.

In one of Tywin Lannister’s few moments onscreen (R.I.P. Tywin and Arya scenes) he  says that Robb is young and unafraid to try anything in combat. But he’s wrong: Robb is afraid, he’s terrified, and maybe that’s why Tywin hasn’t beaten him in battle yet.

Back in Robb’s old home, Theon is coming to similar realizations. Theon scenes have bookmarked three episodes  in a row now and they’ve done an excellent job at framing each hour, even keeping the themes of power and family and how they interact in the forefront of each episode. Theon takes out some gold to pay off the farmer for murdering his sons (I can’t imagine many people were surprised that Bran and Rickon were, in fact, alive) only to find out that his men have already killed him. The machine he started when he invaded Winterfell is now spinning without him and when Yara arrives at Winterfell, she calmly tells him to step off of it. This marks the second week in a row where two siblings who will never truly be close, still find a way to share a tender moment. Theon is too much of a Stark at heart to realize that no Greyjoy can stay landlocked for so long and hope to hold a castle so his sister must remind him. “Come home with me, brother, don’t die here alone…don’t die so far from the sea,” Yara tells him.

The tender moment that the other brother-sister pair shared last week seems eons ago as Cersei now seems determined to crush her brother. Say what you will about Cersei, but she seems to have a pretty solid handle on the weakness of man, Tyrion in particular. As Cersei prophesied last week, love makes you weak, and love truly seems to be Tyrion’s greatest weakness. As he notes in a wonderful dialogue with Varys, he never anticipated just how much he’d love playing the game but with Stannis fast approaching, and his Cersei chipping him apart from within the walls, how much longer can he play it?

Speaking of Stannis, he is more likable every time he appears onscreen. I liked the decision to withhold him for a couple of episodes to make the prospect of his unseen 200 ships seem foreboding, but now that he’s back I can’t help but imagine that he wouldn’t be an awful king. He’d be way better than Joffrey at least. He seems to be one of the only people in the Seven Kingdom’s who values meritocracy. He doesn’t care that his Hand of the King is the son of a crabber because that son of a crabber has earned his trust.

For a season that has feature a lot of slowly developing plots, the scenes North of the Wall continue to develop at the slowest pace, but they still drip with atmosphere. Meeting the Rattleshirt, the Lord of Bones (the gentleman with all those human bones on his person, for all you non-book readers) was a delight and I’m glad we didn’t have to wait too long to get Qhorin back in the fold. But this plotline is going to need a big push forward in the last two episodes to feel worthwhile.

In general, all of the lingering plot lines are going to need  to be a big push forward in the last two episodes, but they still feel worthwhile as is. Episodes 1-8 of season one were a lot of maneuvering, episode nine was a big bang (Ned’s death) and the final episode was essentially a season two prologue. I suspect this season is following the same track and I don’t mind. The maneuvering can be the most enjoyable part of this “game of thrones,” as long as it doesn’t turn into meandering. “The Prince of Winterfell” seemed to meander more than any episode this season but that can be completely forgiven if episode nine’s “big bang” delivers like it should.


  • The David Benioff/D.B. Weiss/Alan Taylor dream team wrote and directed this episode. Strange that they chose the episode with the most exposition.
  • I think I undersold how happy I was to see Qhorin again and Rattleshirt for the first time.
  • Game of Thrones taketh away Arya and Tywin scenes and giveth us Brienne and Jaime. Game of Thrones is a kind, fair God.
  • Speaking of Jaime: who do you think are the three men he thinks could best him in combat? Barristan Selmy is definitely one. Some combination of the Clegane brothers and Loras Tyrell are probably the other two. Personally I think if he knew Bronn existed he’d be included on that list.
  • Dragonglass looks a lot like an arrowhead.
  • Lots to love from Harrenhal this week. Arya telling Jaqen “a man can kill himself,” combined with the strangely haunting shot of Arya, Gendry and Hot Pie walking through the dark and passed several hanged Lannister bannermen.
  • Poor Ros. Is she ever going to catch a break?
  • Game of Thrones may overuse the narrative device of “let me tell you about my haunted past as we sit around candles in a tent” but damn it, if I didn’t love Talisa’s story.
  • “I don’t want to marry the Frey girl.” “I don’t want you to marry her either.” How childlike Robb sounded broke my heart.
  • Of course Stannis doesn’t like cats.
  • Sounds like Joffrey wants to give Stannis a Jokeresque Glasgow smile.
  • Tyrion: a most highborn plumber.
  • Daenerys gets about three minutes near the end of the episode but it sets up what I’m hoping is an excellent adventure in the House of the Undying.

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