Episode 2 - Dark Wings, Dark Words
11 April 2013
Synopsis: Sansa tells the truth about Joffrey to Margaery and her grandmother, Lady Olenna Tyrell. Joffrey then calls Margaery in to test her and she begins to seduce him. Shae warns Tyrion about Baelish. Robb turns his army toward Riverrun for Catelyn's father's funeral. Catelyn tells Talisa about her guilt over raising Jon Snow. Jon continues to win Mance's trust and meets a Warg who can communicate with animals. Bran learns that he is one and something more by new arrivals Jojen and Meera Read. Theon is tortured somewhere by someone for some purpose. Arya, Hot Pie and Gendry run into Thoros of Myr a member of the Brotherhood without Banners. He treats them honourably until the Hound arrives in captivity and recognises Arya. Jamie is recognised by a farmer who tips off some north men who close in on him and Brienne.
The Good: Across these first two episodes you can sense the struggles of Benioff and Weiss to wrestle the material down into a digestible format. Although they wisely spread out the stories of our main characters they still had to introduce a number of new characters with the result that few stories had the chance to breathe. It's a shame because those that did were very strong.
The unquestioned highlight of this was the electric scene between Margaery and Joffrey. The earlier scene with Joffrey and Cersei gave us a glimpse of his core. It's easy to think of him as the pantomime villain and ignore the reality under the surface. He looks every inch the coddled Royal prince who learnt at a young age to confront feelings of inadequacy by barking out orders instead of winning respect. His mother's questions, about Margaery, make him uncomfortable because he is probably equally scared and turned on by her. An impression that's confirmed when he calls her in for a private meeting. He's determined to regain the upper hand he has in any other interaction and so falls back on the same tactics he used to brow beat Sansa into submission. But Margaery is made of tougher stuff. The way she gave in at every turn, making all his accusations seem accurate while subtly shifting the conversation toward Renly's homosexuality was masterful. She then plays to his ego in convincing fashion before the coup de grace. The crossbow is a perfect symbol of Joffrey. While Arya and Brienne have mastered the weapon that is most valuable in this world, Joffrey relies on something far easier and safer to master. Margaery quickly assesses the emotions he has wrapped up in his weapon and seduces him with the thought that she might really worship him for the masterful qualities that he doesn't possess. I'm not sure there's been a better character scene on Game of Thrones, believable, engaging and brilliantly crafted.
It's not hard to see where Margaery gets it from after meeting her formidable Grandmother. The Tyrell family seem the perfect contrast to the Stark's as they become bedfellows with the Lannister's. Olenna is in no doubt how the game really works and is not phased to hear the truth about the King. Once more I found Sansa pretty moving as she let her guard drop to recall how she's been tormented. The brief Tyrion-Shae scene kept the Baelish story more present than I'd expected and their chemistry is always enjoyable to watch.
Equally moving was Catelyn's speech about how she blames herself for the calamities which have befallen her children. I knew instantly that the child she was remembering was Jon and that's a mark of how immersed in the story I've become. Her guilt helps us to understand her strange decision making over the last two seasons. She's clearly desperate to keep her children safe and increasingly it looks like she has lost them all except for Robb.
Even Commander Mormont's decision to keep Sam alive by entrusting him to Rast was emotive in the simple humanity of it.
The Bad: The blocking was poor as the Hound revealed Arya's identity. She went to such great lengths to avoid Baelish's gaze that to just shuffle past Sandor side on felt like a letdown.
The Unknown: Otherwise the scenes with the Brotherhood without Banners was fine. The fact that Thoros is a brigand but was perfectly honourable and knew both the Hound and Gendry's former master all seemed a bit convenient.
It would be nice at this point to have an update on the war. I can follow the basic maths. The Lannister's have most of the South at their disposal and so with Blackwater wiping out so many Baratheon men, the Northern army is now outnumbered and less optimistic. But what about the geography? Where are the Lannister armies? What does heading to Riverrun mean for the prospects of battle and what is Robb's plan to win the war? Lord Karstark's comment that the war was lost when Robb got married needs elaboration too. Does he mean Robb has been permanently distracted or is he referring to the deal with Walder Frey (109)?
I thought it was clever to introduce the concept of the Warg north of the wall where such things would seem normal before revealing that as part of the explanation for Bran's dreams. The introduction of Jojen and Meera was basic though. Again a geography or politics lesson might have been nice. Surely there are Stark bannermen north of Winterfell who would protect the King's brother?
Theon's torture was brutal and mysterious but we are as much in the dark as he is at this point.
Jamie is always fun to listen to and had some terrific jabs for Renly while admitting to his own unconventional love. However I'm not convinced that his scenes with Brienne have got us very far. I may be wrong but I don't see their partnership ending so soon and imagine that the "cliff hanger" will only lead to some dead banner men and the odd couple continuing south. If true then it was a weak ending moment.
Best Moment: Margaery mastering Joffrey.
Conclusion: We're into the Game of Thrones formula again as multiple stories inch forward while those given a few minutes to deliver usually do.
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