'Game of Thrones' Recap: The Night Is Dark And Full Of Terrors

In this episode, both Arya and Daenerys are literally starving and out of options. Yet both remain defiant; neither accepts that their desperate situation is all there is.
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Do not read on if you have not seen Season 2, Episode 4 of "Game of Thrones," entitled "Garden of Bones."

We keep hearing that winter is coming on this show, and it certainly would be wise for characters to put aside extra provisions.

But these are characters who, for the most part, don't have the luxury of going to Westeros' equivalent of Costco and loading up the family cart with attractively priced provisions. Most of them don't have the money, and, in any case, they're usually occupied with a different kind of preparation. There's no time to focus on when snow will start falling -- they're storing up (or beginning to deploy) what they'll need to survive the insanity that is gripping the kingdom right now.

Ayra -- who got a lesson in unshowy heroism from the late, lamented Yoren -- isn't in much of a position to show the "wild" qualities that lying liar Littlefinger referred to in conversation with Catelyn. In the unspeakably grim confines of Harrenhal, Arya has to keep her head down and silently watch the abuse that's being handed out, but she's still doing something for herself. She's followed Yoren's advice and she has begun to use her rage to keep her alive. She chants a growing list of names to herself, the names of all those who will pay for what they've done to her and her family. Looking at that grim, grimy little face, there's no doubt in my mind that she would happily kill all of the people on that list. Even in silence, we can see her determination grow. We haven't seen a lot of Arya so far this season, but Maisie Williams has made every second count.

I think this struck me when I was reading the books, but it struck me even more forcefully while watching this episode: Arya and Daenerys are on very similar journeys. As I said in my review of last week's episode, one of the "GoT" themes that interests me most is the ways in which women (who have greater limitations placed on them in this world) and the society's marginal characters (imp, bastard, eunuch, young girl, etc.) find ways to expand their roles and take control of their fates. But the parallels between Arya and Dany are especially apparent this season.

In this episode, they're both literally starving and out of options. Yet both remain defiant; neither accepts that their desperate situation is all there is. As Dany stood before the gates of Qarth, I absolutely believed that this young woman -- the head of a ragged, starving, powerless tribe -- would find a way to rain down hell on this city. What I loved in that confrontation scene was the way Emilia Clarke gave you both sides of Dany -- the defiant child-woman who's terribly afraid and angry, and the royal queen who does not put up with insulting behavior. There's a vulnerability to Dany, and yet you can see that she, too, is storing up very powerful grudges.

Tyrion, in a lighter scene, is storing up intelligence; having found Cerseis' mole on the Small Council, he's now planted a spy in her bedchamber in the form of the hapless Lancel. Tyrion certainly isn't the comic-relief character (that would be a highly questionable move for many reasons, and it wouldn't do justice to the many layers of the man), but he is usually able to find the sardonic humor in any situation. And there's something about Lancel that is just a little goofy; he doesn't seem like a real knight and his endless ability to both take offense and seem clueless makes him a great foil for the confident Tyrion.

So Tyrion's got an ally (or source) in Lancel, but elsewhere, potential alliances are hard to come by. We see why Littlefinger hasn't risen any further than he has; he's smart enough to play the palace games well enough, but he just doesn't have the social skills to broker a deal with Catelyn. (Note to Littlefinger: When a grieving widow is looking at the rotted remains of her husband's head, it might be wisest to shut the hell up). But he was just one of many characters figuring out where various relationships stood. We saw that Renly wasn't about to pick up his ball and go home, not even when Stannis asked (not very nicely, of course); we saw the whipsmart Margaery stand by her man, despite Littlefinger's pointed questions about the state of her marriage; and we saw Melisandre unleash an extremely freaky weapon from her distended belly. The time for peace talks are definitely over.

Elsewhere, we saw two different sides of two very different kings. Robb has proven that he's very good at making war, and that's a great skill set to have, but what's next? Speaking of things that the characters are storing up -- what post-war plan does Robb have in his back pocket? Thanks to a very well-written and well-acted scene set on a post-mayhem battlefield, we see that Robb thinks he can whip the Lannisters and then, when all is said and done, pick up his ball and go back to Winterfell. As the mysterious "Talitha" told him, that's not really much of a plan. If he's going to put these young farmers and fishermen in such terrible danger, he should know what he's going to do with the kingdom they live in (and of course, he may have some ideas about that, but he clearly hasn't though them through thoroughly).

As for Joffrey, we already knew he was a sick sadist, but the scene with the prostitutes gave us yet another reason to store up our own hatred for this murderous brat. "Game of Thrones" has gotten a lot of crap for its "sexposition" and its affinity for boobs, but I'd like to point out that this scene was not exploitative of the female characters in the least. In fact, it did what some other scenes in the show haven't done: It took us inside the experience the women were having, and it made us feel their emotions and reactions. The women weren't mere objects in the scene, they were human beings for whom I felt sympathy and pity. This scene wasn't about sex or nudity (and there was very little of either); this was about Joffrey's despicable need to exercise the very worst kind of power over others, and one can only begin, like other characters in this tale, to pray for the day that his head is separated from his body.

Joffrey isn't thinking about the repercussions of his actions and how the future will play out; he hasn't had to. As far as he's concerned, he has power, and that's that. But black-and-white, non-adaptive thinkers don't tend to do very well in this world. Think about stubborn Stannis and arrogant Renly, neither of whom will yield; think about Robb, who is a good man, but thinks winning wars is all a king needs to concern himself with; think about Tywin Lannister, who assumes his wealth and power should cement his family's grip on power forever. Don't get me wrong, they all (aside from Joffrey) have their good qualities, but they're not really paying full attention to the entire game board.

Arya's adapted and learned the most, because she's had to. And now she'll be serving a Lannister his wine. Hmmm....

A few final notes:

  • Michelle Fairley's line reading of "Get out" in the Catelyn-Littlefinger scene made the hairs on the back of my neck rise. Perfect.

  • Best line of the night: "Is he a ham?"
  • I don't mind that the show dodged another battle here, because showing the aftermath and Robb's reactions to it was more important.
  • Second best line: "That was a threat. See the difference?" Man, Joffrey really needs to be imp-slapped again.
  • Without going into spoilery territory (let's only talk about events that have happened so far), can my fellow fans tell me something: Why haven't the Starks explored a possible alliance with Stannis? He's the man Ned Stark backed before he died, and clearly, Robb doesn't want the Iron Throne. Why not endeavor to put Stannis on it? If Robb doesn't want to rule the South, why not give it to someone who does (and someone whose claim is more legitimate)? I understand that Robb (through Catelyn) was seeking a potential allied strategy with Renly, and that makes sense, given how large his army is, but it just struck me that the family might have continued to back Stannis, per Ned's wishes. But perhaps ultimately, it's wiser to let the brothers kick the crap out of each other and see where the dust settles.
  • "The night is dark and full of terrors." That it is, Melisandre. That it is.
  • Speaking of Melisandre's offspring, as critic Alan Sepinwall said in conversation last week, it's something of a "Lost" crossover episode, with the Smoke Monster finally arriving in Westeros...
  • As I've written in other reviews, some of the women in this world often have to be tougher and craftier than the men, given that they usually start out with lower status and fewer options. Generally speaking, they can't afford to be sentimental. And the one character who'd had a lot of illusions about palace life and courtly love was Sansa, who has been completely disillusioned by now, and has begun playing the game so well that even Tyrion is impressed. No doubt she's storing up her own list of names.
  • I participated in a really enjoyable "Game of Thrones" roundtable at Coming Attraction with several prominent "GoT" bloggers and podcasters. I highly recommend checking out the well-reasoned thoughts of my fellow roundtablers, and at the end of that post, I offer some overall assessments on HBO's adaptation in the piece as well.
  • In case you missed it, here's my three-part interview with executive producer D.B. Weiss: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. Check back soon for an interview with Emilia Clarke, which will be posted here later this week.
  • A couple of final notes: On our podcast, Ryan McGee and I discussed "Game of Thrones" this week with Alyssa Rosenberg of ThinkProgress and The Atlantic. Check out the Talking TV with Ryan and Ryan podcast for other "Thrones" podcasts. Also, Alyssa interviewed "Thrones" writer Bryan Cogman here.
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