A Name Is All It Takes
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
The second season of Game of Thrones continues with its focus on the scores of small folk who are being torn asunder by the war of the aristocracy, a buildup to one of the best scenes in the entire series arriving next week. Not that the episode is all about the simmering tension amongst the poor of King’s Landing. A massive jolt rocks the War of the Five Kings at the beginning of the episode, allowing for the rest of the episode to sort of unspool as its aftermath. The Dornish storyline gets its beginning with Tyrion arranging a marriage between Myrcella and the Dornish prince Trystane Martell (a family that won’t be onscreen until Season 4). Theon gets a dangerous idea in his mind that will prove his karmic undoing to salvage some semblance of pride from the people he belongs to but never has been with. The Ghosts of Harrenhal is largely a placeholder episode, but one brimming with enough propulsion and tension that when the final cut to black arrives, you’re entire body is tickling with delight, pun intended.
The massive event of the episode happens within the first five minutes and that is the end of the Baratheon rivalry. Melisandre’s shadow baby murders Renly, which truly sucks for multiple reasons. One, I enjoyed Renly as a character even though he was obviously the first one who was going to get killed in the war. Two, that kills the peace process that would have given us an autonomous North and Renly on the Iron Throne (his reign wouldn’t have lasted long probably, but anyhow). Three, it’s just harsh considering Renly was going to attack Stannis the next morning. Although, to be perfectly fair, that signals why Renly wasn’t long for this world anyhow. Someone determined to win the Iron Thron would have attacked Stannis’s forces in the night with surprise as an additional positive element. Numbers don’t always win wars, the numbers actually have to do something first. And it also sucks because the scene was just poorly shot. Game of Thrones has an astounding roster of directors, including Tim Van Patten and Alan Taylor. David Petrarca has done incredible work on the series, but what should have been one of the key events of the first half of this season feels muted. The camera angles shake slightly as they capture a muted portion of Renly’s tent. There’s no buildup of suspense and the camera just shoots to the mirror as we Renly dying. The stabbing is captivating but the buildup to the stabbing is not.
Brienne is charged with the murder and she escapes the tent with Catelyn’s help. “You can’t avenge him if you’re dead,” Catelyn sternly advises Brienne, a wise sentiment echoed by Margaery to Loras. In a touching scene, Brienne pledges her loyalty and Catelyn agrees not to hold her back when she has the opportunity to kill Stannis in revenge. Loras is a bit less pragmatic about the entire affair, stoic and refusing to leave Renly’s side. Margaery is noticeably irritated, more worried about her brother’s suicidal pronouncement and the lack of queenship than she is about Renly’s death. You can’t really blame here, I guess. “Do you want to be a queen?” Littlefinger asks with that trademark smirk that really should just function as warning bells from this point forward. “No,” Margaery replies quietly. “I want to be the queen.” BAMF.
Cersei is delighted at Renly’s murder, ignoring the more nuanced point that if Renly and Stannis were at each other’s throats, it would’ve provided the Lannisters with a nice cover militarily. And she’s operating under the delusion that money will save them from Stannis’s forces. Tyrion sees that point, discovering that Cersei has plans for the inevitable siege of King’s Landing that Stannis Baratheon was preparing. Lancel reveals under duress that Cersei has been preparing wildfire for quite some time now, so nice job on that front, Cersei. Tyrion waltzes through the marketplace, noting the profound anger the commoners have against the royal family, which is pretty warranted. The incest rumor has been generally accepted as truth and Tyrion, much to his displeasure, is described as a “demon monkey”.
Bran is quite nicely coming into his own as the Lord of Winterfell. Unknown to the Starks, the Greyjoys are the ones attacking mere forty leagues away, not mercenaries allied with the Lannisters. Ser Rodrik asks for two hundred men, a number Maester Luwin chafes at. But Bran makes a good point: “If we can’t protect our bannermen, why should they protect us?” Ser Rodrik smiles with pride at Bran. The young Stark boy’s second scene is considerably more morbid. He describes a dream to Osha in which water is flowing is over the walls of Winterfell and drowned men are fighting in the castle with Ser Rodrik amongst them. Osha is naturally troubled but she doesn’t say much, her eyes expressing a deep disturbance.
Chekhov’s Rule comes back in the form of a mysterious circular key that Xaro reveals to Daenerys. It is the key to a vault with many treasures inside, belonging to a man who came from nothing and rose to become the wealthiest man in the wealthiest city on the continent of Essos. Xaro offers Daenerys marriage and in turn half of the vault’s treasure, which would be far more than enough for a plethora of ships and warriors to invade Westeros with. After all, Xaro reveals, the Usurper Robert Baratheon is dead and the continent is at war. Perfect timing, eh? But Jorah advises her against it, nearly revealing his love for her in the process. If Daenerys took Xaro’s offer, then she would owe her potential victory to him. She would become beholden to Xaro’s personal interests at the expense of her own independence. If she made her way to Westeros independently, she would have the only legitimate claim and the only people she would be beholden would be herself and the people of Westeros (sounds a lot like modern-day politics, right?). Daenerys agrees.
Harrenhal continues to be a major location for the season. Whoever thought of pairing Tywin and Arya together is a genius. Maisie Williams and Charles Dance are electric in their scenes together. Tywin, now bitterly noting that he has to take Robb seriously because he’s actually quite good on the battlefield, is furious at his lackadaisical commanding officers. Deducing that Arya is from the North, Tywin asks what the Northerners think of Robb. She notes that they call him the young wolf and believe that he can’t be killed. “Do you believe that?” Tywin notes dryly. “No,” Arya replies and the camera quickly cuts to Tywin’s slight smile. “Anyone can be killed,” Arya concludes quietly, her visage enveloped in any icy stare that immediately wipes off Tywin’s smile. It’s a chilling scene and a quiet meta statement about the series itself. Anyone can truly be killed, evidenced at the beginning of the episode alone. Jaqen H’gar finds her graces once again, noting that she saved him and now he owed her a debt. She could name any three names and they would all be sacrificed to the Red God. Arya, believably suspicious, names the Tickler, the man who tortured everyone in Harrenhal. Jaqen obliges and in the final scene of the episode, he nods towards Arya as a crowd gathers around the Tickler’s fresh corpse.
Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+My God, Iceland is absolutely gorgeous.
+Jon is now going off with Qhorin and the rangers. That’s going to end well.
+Tywin noting that the Starks know how to survive the winter better than anyone else
+Bran’s future as a Greenseer blossoming in this foreshadowing: His dream is about to become very, very real in the next episode.
Title: The Ghost of Harrenhal
Written By: David Benioff and D. B. Weiss
Director: David Petrarca
Image Courtesy: B**** Stole My Remote