Game of Thrones S02E08: The Prince of Winterfell

Okay, alright, next week is when Stannis finally gets his boats to the back door of King’s Landing. I thought that Tyrion’s pronouncement that the ships would be there in four days was a meta signal to tune in next time because that makes as much chronological sense as anything else in GoT. This week is a little more scene-setting and pawn moving, which was just as fascinating to watch because this is still the best-cast show in the history of ever, but it’s difficult to recall the most salient developments. What did stand out was once again how much time and effort we’re giving over to the women in the show, and how GoT has assembled a cast of differentiable women characters to rival anything I can think of. The way they all fit into the plot without making a song and dance about how rare a thing this is in television is one of season two’s finest qualities. Again, there’s a lot of racing around the world, and this week certain storylines (Daenerys, Jon, Bran) seemed a little squeezed in alongside the bigger developments. So first things first.

Arya: still the best. Tywin has finally run out of options and sets off to attack Robb in the night. By the time she finds her super murder friend Jaqen (also the best), it’s too late to stop him. It’s not too late, however, to be a stupendous badass and coerce an extremely skilful assassin into letting her, Gendry and Hot Pies walk out of Harrenhal. The moment when Jaqen says ‘A girl lacks honour’ and Arya shrugs her shoulders is why she is the only one fit to sit on the Iron Throne. Seriously. So, come nightfall, another Scooby gang heads out the gates past a bunch of pretty expertly murderised armed guards. Who the heck is Jaqen anyway? What is his deal? More importantly, now their bargain is over and half his squad are neatly arranged across the battlements, whose side is he on?

The problem of pitting one loyalty over another is something Robb is learning exceedingly quickly. Overnight, Cat has released the Kingslayer in hopes he will release her daughters from King’s Landing. And this brings up a question about how information travels in Westeros: neither Cat nor Robb know that Arya was and now is no longer in Harrenhal, that Bran and Rickon are semi-captive within Winterfell, Tywin doesn’t know that Jamie is on his way to KL, no one knows about what’s going on beyond the wall, etc etc. How much of this war is being fought on false premises?

Whatever the case, this episode is all about where we came from, where we are now, and which of us are really free. So a pretty small theme all round. But it is noticeable how many captives are freed or free themselves, how much time is spent talking about childhood, and how many conversations are mirrored other places in the show. Sorry if this is all getting a bit undergraduate, but it’s bloody rare to get a bit of television with so much to sink your critical teeth into.

Let’s start with Theon. Poor Theon. On the other hand, you’re a dick Theon. Yara has come up north with her men and got plenty comfortable. When she quite reasonably picks apart the plan that has in every way been dreamt up by Dagmer Cleftjaw in about five seconds (“which of them put up the better fight, the cripple or the six-year-old?”), she knows her role and responsibilities well enough not to show her compassionate side in front of the men she has to lead. The story about Yara not strangling baby Theon is a little apropos of nothing, but cements their relationship as experienced older sister and needy little brother. She implores him to come home, where he was baptised, where he has allies, and where he is close to the sea, and by extension the seat of the Greyjoys’ power.

Meanwhile, Robb Stark is trying his best to be the King he wants to be, a good one, whatever that means in Westeros. His relationship with Talisa is about the healthiest in the entire show, and the episode’s longest scene is their exchange of childhood stories, and basically the exposition of their personal motivations within the Game. Talisa, like Yara, has managed to free herself from a life of enforced marriage and noble motherhood by her own skill: Talisa by her medical knowledge and Yara by her quality as a military leader. But Talisa seems to have done so at the expense of her ties to her family, and definitely to her slave-owning home, by caring so much about the fate of others. While it’s clear that Yara still has a protective streak about her brother, it’s unlikely it extends to her declared enemies as Talisa and Robb do. Their strategy will be increasingly difficult to maintain in the long run, as will a relationship that has distinct echoes of that of Robb’s parents, with the looming strategic marriage to a nameless Frey. Bee tee dubs, “I hope it is a beautiful bridge” – best sex prompt line in GoT.

While we’re on it, Robb and Talisa’s strip-down scene is also one of the few that happens between a man and someone who isn’t under some kind of duress or a political motivation (or a blood relative). There’s a hint of there being an equal footing between them that is almost unheard of in the show. Compare (again, sorry, you can take the TV recapper out of the BA etc) that to Tyrion and Shae, the only other vaguely romantic relationship depicted. When Tyrion says “I would kill for you […] I’ll probably have to before this is over” there’s no reason not to believe him; when Shae says “I can take care of myself […] I’ll slice off their faces”, somewhat less so. We only have to remember Ros from the previous scene – hey GoT, maybe give Ros a break! – love, everyone – to know that without real power you can suffer immensely.

Of course the question of true power brings me to the shows OTP Tyrion/Varys. When he shows up during Tyrion and Bronn’s powwow about thieves and sieges (“now we only have to worry about the unknown thieves” is almost Marx brothers quality), I knew it was going to be a great episode. “What do you want?” “If you want to play, you’ll have to start.” Noticeably, Varys never answers this, but Tyrion, like Robb, insists that he never wanted or sought the power he now enjoys. Yet both of them are not only adept wielders of power, but also honourable and worthy ones. Varys also brings word of Daenerys and her dragons, and how when they are fully grown (only a few years), there will be nowhere to hide. “One game at a time, my friend.”

In brief:

  • Jon Snow still knows nothing, Grenn and Sam have found some dragonglass, things are a bit ominous, shrug.
  • Cersei is losing her edge in a big way, which is kind of awful to watch. How will she react if/when Jamie returns?
  • This just in, Joffrey still a moron.
  • Bronn and Davos Seaworth have also escaped their destinies by aptitude, and neither will forget who they are; Bronn refuses the gold cloak and Davos refuses a noble sigil.
  • Daenerys wants her dragons back at all costs, Jorah looks like Paul Hogan. Daenerys finally addresses the fact that she is also made of magic.
  • Osha is hiding Bran, Rickon and Hodor in the crypt of Winterfell because of reasons.
  • Brienne and Jamie are going on a noticeably similar journey to Jon and Ygritte, with pretty similar roles. One imagines Brienne will fare rather better.
  • Stannis hates cats, delivers lines about eating them with panache.

In the final analysis I can’t imagine many folk will remember this episode as a game-changer, but plenty of little things can change the shape of the game. Next week is the Battle of Blackwater. If the rest of the series is anything to go by, it’ll be a cracker.

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