I recognize that the following critique may seem hypocritical, considering I gave such high praise to last week’s “downtime.” But as much as the cunning and contemplation continues to enchant me, a consecutive week of the proverbial “calm before the storm” antics just didn’t cut it. The writers are stalling. Granted, it’s some of the most charismatic and enthralling diversion you will find on TV today, but when epic battles lurk in the shadows, my lust for blood grows.
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Stannis is on the high seas about to thrash King’s Landing. Tywin hurries out of Winterfell’s gates to ride for Robb Stark’s camp. And Roose Bolton’s bastard Ramsay Snow, boldly approaches the Theon-occupied Winterfell. Last week had me licking my chops, awaiting the fall of these dominos. This week, I moaned and groaned as Daenerys dawdled outside the House of the Undying. Huge, seismic shifts in power and influence are dangling in front of us, it’s hard not to get stir crazy. To the show’s credit, “Prince of Winterfell” wasn’t just a cheap opening act, a place-filler. While some plots advanced at a snail’s pace (I’m looking at you Jon Snow and Daenerys), some story lines had startling shakeups—Cersei’s cruelty toward Tyrion and Robb’s romantic dalliance among them.
Part of my impatience might also come from the tonal shift. Ominous warnings of an otherworldly dark force descending upon Westeros to unleash chaos never came to fruition. My intuition insists it will, but when one’s hopes are launched into the sky, it’s hard to fall softly down to earth for an relaxed endeavor into stories and c-words. And that’s really what this episode came down to. Chiefly our new arrivals, sat back and told us their sob stories, and some familiar faces dropped c-bombs in frustration concerning the deception and ruthlessness that surrounds them. I’m not one to be squeamish about vulgarities, but it was odd to hear three different characters curse their loved ones and the gods above for being stupid and vicious Cs.
At any rate, while any time spent in this world with these tragic pawns on the “Game of Thrones” chessboard is splendid, I felt the foot easing off the gas when last week suggested that steel and sorcery alike would strike down the weak-hearted and the feeble-minded. There’s still that gloomy fog threatening, but the quiet hum of the thick air almost lulled me into a peaceful slumber before the booming drums of war.
C-word #1 is Theon Greyjoy, a dumb C according to his sister, Yara. She arrives at the Northern capital he conquered and berates him for his slew of decisions. First, Winterfell is too far from the sea. They are an island people, what purpose would land 100 miles in have for them? Also, now that she presumes he’s charred up the princes of Winterfell, he’s the most wanted man in the North. She mocks him and calls him out as a petulant child, branding him as weak and stupid. When he tries to “warn her,” she doesn’t flinch. She has many brutish Iron Islanders who would gladly dispense of the twerp if need be.
Yara takes some pity on him though when she dismisses her soldiers and speaks freely, not putting on assertive airs for the troops. She implores Theon to come home or he will die alone when the Northern bannermen come for vengeance. But stubborn and prideful as he is, he wants to stay and stake his claim as the new lord of Winterfell. He did a sloppy job acquiring the land, clinging to excess and showmanship instead of taking what he needed and commanding respect. His sister leaves him with a touching anecdote about how he was a terrible baby, bawling all the time. But one night when his screams made her want to strangle him, she stood over his crib and he looked up, and stopped. The metaphor is a delicate one, and I believe received it. When you were small, you respected me and knew I was looking out for you. You didn’t make a fuss, you listened. Do the same now. Know that I want you safe, that’s the only reason I’m standing over you. This is an instance where the sharing of stories between characters illuminated the situation. We learn more about the dynamic of the Greyjoy family, and his internal conflict is further elucidated.
Just as this location kicks off the proceedings, it wraps them. As Maester Luwin wanders the grounds, overhearing Theon and his first mate discuss paying the farmer for his “troubles,” he witnesses Osha smuggling food. He follows her into the underground crypts. They discuss never telling Bran about how Theon killed the farmer’s two boys to make the townspeople believe he’d been brutally murdered. Cut to an awake Bran absorbing the whole conversation, likely torn up about how his royalty has endangered others. This is supposed to be a big reveal no doubt, one the episode hinges on, BUT I was sure those were the farmer’s kids from the jump. Therefore while it’s a somber scene, it’s not one that made my heart leap to see Bran alive. Truthfully, Bran’s survival solves nothing. Youthful lives were still erased in the name of intimidation. Theon is still a sociopath who willingly had children burned alive to send a message. He’s a miserable leader, but he’s succeeded in proving he’s not beyond atrocity. And while I’m thrilled as a viewer to see Bran safe, I can’t help but mourn for the less fortunate, the non-Princes who were deemed a necessary expense for the security of the noble born. Doesn’t seem fair.
Beyond the Wall
One of the stagnancy victims this week is Jon Snow and his Night’s Watch brothers. As we know, he’s captured. Ygritte throws him before the feet of the Lord of Bones, who looked like the lovechild of an eskimo and a Juggalo. He wants to “chop his balls off,” since he already has a “crow” prisoner—I guess “crow” is a derogatory term for men of the Black? Ygritte has his life spared though by revealing that he is the son of Ned Stark and that Mance Rayder, King beyond the Wall, might be interested in speaking with him. Even in death, Ned Stark’s name has meaning.
Jon Snow is guilt-ridden to learn that the other men on their expedition were killed all because of his carelessness in not decapitating the gorgeous Ygritte. Halfhand tries to dispel that fault, but he does acknowledge he has a debt to pay, and that if he were to infiltrate the wildlings, that would be worth it. So as they trek along a mountain ledge he fakes an argument and pushes him off. The rest walk ahead and Ygritte falls behind to assist him. Is Halfhand suggesting that by getting in the girl’s pants he can attain vital intelligence? That sort of espionage doesn’t seem like Jon Snow’s forte, but I’m also shaky on what Halfhand’s plan after so little time beyond the wall.
We do get a brief scene, however, back at the main camp where Sam Tarly is digging a latrine pit. While shoveling, his pal (I believe named Grenn?) stumbles upon some markings that Sam suspects were made by The First Men. Underneath the markings, an assortment of ancient obsidian daggers is stowed away. Sam refers to as “dragonglass.” Intriguing, but I’m clueless since that’s the extent of our drop-in. It seems that because the writers wish to spread out all developments until the finale, so we only get this teaser. I’d rather do as they did earlier in the season, neglect a few locations an episode, and then come back there in a week or two. I won’t forget Jon Snow exists for a week, I swear.
Robb Stark’s camp
While not much happens in this episode, progress is made on a couple of loose ends. As Robb and Talisa stroll to whatever or wherever The Crag is, Robb mythologizes his father with a couple exceptional quotes: “He said being a Lord is like being a father, except you have thousands of children to worry about” and “He woke up with fear in the morning and fell asleep with fear in the night. I asked him, ‘How can a man be brave if he’s afraid?’ That is the only time a man can be brave, he told me.” Ah, Ned. You were an extraordinary human being. Too good for this here game.
Suddenly, a messenger gallops toward them with the news that Jamie Lannister has escaped again. But this time, he was let out. It’s a heartbreaking scene when Robb learns it was his mother, Catelyn Stark who released him. She sent him off with Brienne to trade for her daughters’ lives. Robb knows this is foolish to expect a fair trade, and that with Jamie in custody they had the upper hand. He has her locked up so that there isn’t more dissension among his bannermen who wanted Jamie executed for his crimes.
Then we get a cut to possibly the greatest idea for a GoT spinoff besides the Arya Stark and Tywin Lannister talk show. Brienne and Jamie, on the road to King’s Landing. The comedy gods have smiled upon us. Brienne, is stoic and loyal and steadfast. Jamie is manipulative, selfish, and loudmouthed. But both are respected warriors. Jamie tries to goad Brienne with taunts that she is as boring as she is ugly, and he questions whether she could hold her own if she undid his chains. While Brienne is fierce, as a swordsman Jamie is among the best in Westeros. Brienne is not stupid. She tunes him out, throws him in a canoe and paddles out. This duo could provide multiple possibilities for tension in the remaining two episodes.
Another instance of stories as distractions from the impending war is provided courtesy of by the bombshell nurse, Talisa. But with her ethical fortitude and killer bod, she may have endangered the North. She tells Robb the story of how her brother drowned on her watch, on a hot day in Volantis. She had thought he was gone when a slave with a fish tattoo on his face (to distinguish him as a lower class member) pushed her aside—a crime worthy of death since she is a highborn girl—and performed CPR, reviving the young boy. This event made her realize two things. One, she wouldn’t waste her life planning masquerades like a typical lady. Two, she wouldn’t live in a slave city ever again. As mentioned this exhibited why Robb has been so drawn to her.
Her conceptions of justice and righteousness may sometimes rival his own, but her convictions are strong. And that turns him on. He blurts out that his doesn’t want to marry the Frey girl, the one he is betrothed to. Robb then rips her clothes off and they to the floor with her aggressively mounting him, geared up for a rigorous love-making session. This is a complication to say the least. A commander with his mind on a woman, one whom he cannot marry, is asking for trouble. Maybe the idea that much of this episode felt like a distraction from doom ahead is actually a commentary on the characters themselves. Robb doesn’t want to face battle anymore. He confides in Talisa that he wants to go home. Maybe, the writers aren’t wading in the shallow end, maybe it’s the warriors of Westeros who aren’t ready to take the plunge into bloodshed yet.
Since Cersei and certainly Joffrey seem inept, the preparations for Stannis’ siege are left to Tyrion, Bronn and Varys. Bronn has rounded up all the known thieves, which appalls Tyrion, but Bronn cleverly persuades him that they are the greatest enemies in times of siege, where those who aren’t fighting are starving as thieves scrounge up all the food for themselves so they come out rich when the warring’s over. Tyrion the searches his books some more for a solution to their lack of strategy.
Then we get our obligatory face-off at the dinner table between Cersei and Tyrion. She corners Tyrion about Joffrey’s insistence that he will suit up, and Tyrion says he approves. Men will fight valiantly with their king beside them. But Cersei’s aware that Tyrion would love for the runt to be killed as a result. She insults him saying, “You know why Varys is so dangerous? Because he doesn’t have a cock. That little worm between your legs does half your thinking.” When Tyrion makes the smart remark that it’s not that little, Cersei smiles deviously (and man does Lena Headey do that so well). She proclaims that she has his whore. He tries to act unaffected, joking that he thought she preferred blondes (only in the family) and that whores are just for rent, but Cersei knows that he cares for this whore, maybe even loves her. She threatens that if Joffrey is hurt, she will suffer every wound he does. “And if he dies, there isn’t a man alive who can devise a more painful death for your little…” and there goes C-word #2!
Tyrion asks to see her, and thankfully it is Ros that is whisked out, not Shae. Tyrion doesn’t allow much relief on his face, and he even promises to free Ros. Then he turns to his sister and declares his own war. “I will hurt you for this. The day will come when you think you are happy, and your joy turns to ash in your mouth.” If this episode has one saving grace, it’s that the dialogue kicked serious ass. Tyrion then runs to his quarters to make sure Shae’s still there. When he sees her at the balcony his “You’re beautiful,” is genuine. He vows he would kill for her and has her promise she is his. She consents and we see that Tyrion, who we thought was the baddest mofo in Westeros, is just as vulnerable as Robb. As Arya would say, any man can be killed. And love will likely be his assassin.
Tyrion and Varys then spend another calm reflection scene looking out over the city. Joffrey appears to arrogantly dismiss Stannis by implying he’ll give the unsmiling man a red smile, slicing him from ear to ear. Tyrion is not impressed. Varys then compliments Tyrion by saying that he is a great Hand to the King. He adds that while Jon Arryn and Ned Stark despised the game, Tyrion enjoys it. Tyrion wholeheartedly agrees, and he wants to keep playing. This open talk among the characters about their lives being a game with rules fixed to struggle and ambition reminds me a lot of “The Wire.” Then he jokes that all they gods are “vicious…” c-word #3! He asks, where’s the god of tits and wine? Varys informs him that the Summer Isles worships a fertility god and Tyrions playfully commands they sail there immediately. Tyrion just wants to enjoy life, and live it to the fullest. But to love women and sip sweet nectars you must pay a hefty toll.
Tywin looks to catch Robb off guard and marches for his last known settlement. Arya wants to kill Tywin to save her brother and searches for Jaqen, who owes her one more death. Unable to find him before Tywin rides off, she asks him hours later if he can still kill him. He says he cannot, and asks for another name. She goes cutthroat rogue (the Arya I love) and says his own name. He begs her to say another and she says she will if he helps her, Gendry, and some fat kid named Hot Pie (no joke) escape. He abides, by telling them to simply walk through the gates at a certain time and the path will be clear. Lo and behold, the guards are all brutally slain and Arya and the gang just mosey on through.
On the High Seas
In this inexact location we visit Stannis as he nears King’s Landing. He shoots the breeze with Davos who explains that he’s not ashamed of his history of an onion trader and a crabber’s son. Then Stannis describes how they met, a gruesome situation where his brother Robert had him hold Storm’s End, and he and his men nearly starved before Davos’ ship snuck through with sustenance that Stannis then promptly pilfered. He’s still disgruntled over Robert giving Storm’s End to a young Renly and feels his services were taken for granted. But this is his time. He’s got a hell of a fleet, the Lord of the Light in his corner, and a tattered opposition. He assures Davos the position of Hand to the King is his once he seizes the throne, which seems all but a formality at this point.
Nothing really happens here. Honestly. Jorah says it is too dangerous to stay and rescue Daenery’s dragons when he has a ship now that can take them across the Narrow Sea. But she resists, saying they are her children, and she strokes Jorah’s cheek retelling the tale of the night she walked out of the fire. The lovestruck man submits and says he would die for her. Could you imagine if she spread her legs for him? He’s be a mess! So, there you have it. After a pointless argument, Daenerys has Jorah’s support to enter the House of the Undying, but we don’t see it nor venture in there yet.
This feeling of disappointment was palpable for the first time this season. The ending revelation was not one for most, and several strands were left undone, leaving room for an epic penultimate next week. And while looking forward and creating anticipation is admirable, any sign of a letdown does not result in a net gain. While I still fully support a show with characters this vibrant, and with dialogue this electric, swapping stories is not the substance this show is built on. This show is about living legends, about unraveling myths firsthand. I’m ready for a clash of kings to occur soon, as much as I revel in a war of words. A lower grade for “The Prince of Winterfell” does not mean marked decline (like the one Bronn incited in crime at the capital). It means we’re a wandering horde of warriors, awaiting our fate on the battlefield, and instead we watched our fearless leader drag his feet and say, “Did I ever tell you about the time…?”
Remember, don’t discuss elements of the books that haven’t aired yet. Don’t spoil it for everyone else in the comments section!
David Benioff and D. B. Weiss have done a great job producing the show but in Season 2 the best episodes have gone to the guest writers like Vanessa Taylor.
The last two episodes could have been much stronger than this one. Both Robb’s affair and the release of Jaime are supposed to occur after Catelyn and Robb discover the new of the execution of Bran and Rickon. Each in their grief the each commit wreckless acts.
Why nix such a great opportunity for drama?
Don’t get it..