This is the sixth post in a series I’m staring on this blog called Journey to the Throne, reviewing previous episodes of the show Game of Thrones before its eighth and final season. To view the previous post, click here: Medeival Darwinism and Chosen Ones; Journey to the Throne S1E9-10
Since the goal of Journey to the Throne is to consider the show as a whole leading up to its end, please be advised that this post will contain SPOILERS up to the end of Season 7.
Game of Thrones Season 2 Episode 1, “The North Remembers,”
Synopsis: In the Seven Kingdoms, the War of the Five Kings has erupted – despite only having four kings at the moment. Joffrey sits on the Iron Throne in King’s Landing, Robb Stark leads his rebellion as King in the North, Renly marshals his forces in the Stormlands, while Stannis – the most legitimate heir to the Iron Throne – struggles to gain support. Robb sends his mother Catelyn to treat with Renly and sends his lifelong friend Theon back to his birthplace in the Iron Islands to recruit Theon’s father and his navy. (Catelyn advises against this.) After having a prophecy read that claims he is the Lord of Light’s chosen warrior, Stannis sends letters to every lord in Westeros explaining that Joffrey was not Robert’s legitimate child. Tyrion arrives in King’s Landing to serve as Hand of the King, much to his sister’s irritation. At Joffrey’s command, the City Watch, led by their Lord Commander and general piece of shit Janos Slynt, violently executes all of King Robert’s bastards in the city, including an infant child. Bran Stark rules at Winterfell and has weird dreams. North of the Wall, the Night’s Watch takes refuge at Craster’s Keep, and they talk about how their host is sketchy. East, in the Red Waste, Daenerys and her Khalasar are starving. Above all our characters, a red comet appears, which many take to be an omen – good, bad, or bloody.
Bran: “Heard some of the men, talking about the comet. They say it’s an omen. They say it means that Robb will win a great victory in the south.”
Osha: “Did they? I heard some other fools saying it’s Lannister red. Means the Lannisters will rule all seven kingdoms before long. Heard a stableboy say it’s the color of blood to mark the death of your father. … The red commet means one thing, boy; dragons.”
In this episode, I really like the unifying concept of the comet, which appears above all the characters. Osha tells Bran about a few of the potential meanings of this, but it’s impossible to settle on one. It could signify the crowning of Stannis, or the hatching of Daenery’s dragons, or the death of Ned, or Jon going beyond the Wall, or Robb kidnapping Jaime. Hell, no one has said this, I don’t think, but could it be Lannister red for Tyrion starting as Hand of the King, the role he was meant to have? I don’t know, probably! The comet could be anything, and that’s what I love about it: no definitive answer.
And it also makes for some very cool scene transitions: Osha mentions that the red comet means dragons, and then, suddenly, we’re in the Red Waste with Dany and her dragons. As that scene ends, Dany looks to the sky, and then we get a shot of the comet in the sky; but then the shot pans out, and we realize that we’re seeing the comet above the icy tundras North of the Wall. It’s some beautiful filmmaking.
Suddenly, this season gives us Stannis’ camp. Stannis had been mentioned frequently in Season 1, but now he’s introduced with his followers, his knight Ser Davos, Davos’ son Mathos, and the Lady Melisandre, who comes across as a religious zealot, and perhaps a witch. Here’s a whole host of characters we hadn’t seen before. As Stannis writes his letter to the realm and talks strategy, we get to know him. Every beat in this scene helps show character. The way he bristles when the person writing his letter (Mathos, Davos’ son) refers to Robert as Stannis’ “Beloved” brother shows how prickly and particular he can be. And the way that he makes sure Jaime Lannister is referred to as “the Kingslayer” but also with the formal title of “Ser” shows both sides of his justice. It’s neat storytelling that says a lot in a short amount of time.
And it takes a while, and it certainly isn’t the case in this episode, but the one thing to keep in mind during the Stannis storyline is that Stannis isn’t the main character. Davos is. This is apparent in the books, where Davos is the POV character, but in the show he’s just the good-natured knight and advisor the king who just kind of gradually grows into a main character.
The more obvious spectacle here is Melisandre, who shows up shouting prophecy and burning statues of the Seven Gods in favor of her Lord of Light. She has a badass moment when Maester Cressen tries to poison her, and she makes him drink the poison wine first – after Cressen begins to fail and she can clearly tell the wine is poisoned, she finishes it and is entirely unhurt while Cressen dies.
This episode introduces Davos, who isn’t as immensely likable or memorable as he will be later on. But this is the best place to highlight my favorite Azor Ahai theory – while Melisandre suggests in this episode that Stannis the Prince who was Promised, I was particularly impressed by this theory that that hero is actually Davos Seaworth.
Favorite Scene: As I consider my favorite moments of this episode, I realize that it doesn’t have any real stand out moments, but instead is mostly strategy meetings. Strategy meetings are kind of this show’s meat and potatoes, and it’s interesting to see Robb, Stannis, and the King’s Landing Small Council moving the chess pieces on their board. I suppose that out of those three, Tyrion waltzing into the Small Council is the best.
Favorite Line: I like Stannis’ gruff statement of what his campaign: “I’ve always served thieves according to their just deserts, as you well know, Ser Davos. Joffrey, Renly, Robb Stark; they’re all thieves. They’ll bend the knee or I’ll destroy them.”
Season 2 Episode 2, “The Night Lands”
Synopsis: After what Janos Slynt did in the last episode (and his general un-trustworthiness), Tyrion removes him from his post and sends him to the Wall. Ser Davos recruits the pirate Salador Saan to Stannis’ Theon arrives in the Iron Islands and his father, Balon Greyjoy, thinks he is weak and rejects Robb Stark’s alliance proposal. Theon doesn’t recognize his sister which leads to a situation that is – awkward. As Arya, Gendry, and the others head North, the City Watch catches up and tries to capture Gendry but is sent away (and threatened) by Yoren. One of Daenerys’ blood riders has been killed after being sent to search the Red Waste. North of the Wall, the Watch is still at Craster’s. When one of Craster’s daughters worries about having a son, Jon gets curious. He sees that Craster has offered the baby to a shadowy figure with blue eyes.
Season 2 is what
we I call “the Season of Tyrion.” So many of Tyrion’s best scenes are found in these ten episodes. Early on, we see that what he says to Daenerys later is true; he is quite good at being Hand of the King, and given a better ruler, something good might have come out of it. Undoubtedly, getting rid of Janos Slynt who betrayed Ned and just last episode murdered an infant, is definitely a good first step.
I like the interactions among the group with Arya going to the Wall. It introduces the character who will eventually become Jaqen H’gar.
On the other end of the fan theory spectrum, it’s also a great place to highlight the theory that says that Varys is a merman. Varys is a Merman (Really) Unlike the theory about Davos, I think that there’s no way that it’s true; but it’s fun to think about.
Also, this episode introduces Craster’s relationship with the White Walkers; it seems semi-religious, which intrigues me. We know less about the Old Gods than we do about the Seven; but we do know that they seem vaguely pagan, worshipping nature and praying at trees – so it makes perfect sense that people who live beyond the wall come to group the White Walkers with the Old Gods; they’re this great and cataclysmic collective deity. This episode raises a lot of questions about the White Walkers – or, if you book-readers prefer, the Others – but the biggest question I have is largely hypothetical. Since Craster is dead and his keep is burned by the time the Walkers have made their way South of the Wall in the Season 7 finale, we’ll never know exactly what Craster’s sacrifice would have gotten him in the end, but if the White Walker Army had passed by Craster’s Keep on their way south during Season 7, would they have passed the Keep without hurting Craster? Well, I suppose we’ll never know.
Favorite Scene: Janos Slynt gets sent to the Wall; I cannot possibly convey just how much I hate this guy.
Favorite Line: An exchange between Tyrion and my favorite character.
Varys: “Ned Stark was a man of honor.”
Tyrion: “And I am not. Threaten me again and I will have you thrown into the sea.”
Varys: “You might be disappointed in the results. Storms come and go, the big fish eat the little fish, and I keep on paddling.”
Season 2, Episode 3, “What is Dead May Never Die”
Synopsis: In King’s Landing, Tyrion tells Littlefinger, Varys, and Grand Maester Pycelle three different people he plans to marry his niece Marcella to, in order to expose who is spying on him and reporting to the Queen. When the Queen objects that Tyrion can’t send Marcella to Dorne, Tyrion knows Pycelle has betrayed him. Pycelle is sent to the dungeons. Tyrion and Varys find Shae a position as Sansa’s handmaiden. North of the Wall, Jon tells Lord Commander Mormont that Craster is sacrificing his sons to the White Walkers, and Mormont already knows, and just says that that’s the way things go North of the Wall. In the Stormlands, Lady Catelyn appeals to King Renly to try to form an alliance, but insults him. Renly’s new wife – who knows that he is a homosexual and isn’t worried by that – warns him that they need to start having children to provide an heir. The audience is also introduced to Renly’s newest knight, Brienne of Tarth, who is a woman. As Arya’s crowd makes their way north, she hears Yoren’s story of revenge before Lannister soldiers arrive (searching for Gendry) killing many in their crowd, including Yoren and Lommy (he’s the one with the long hair). In the Iron Islands, Theon hears his father’s plan to attack the North, and he joins his father’s cause – effectively betraying Robb Stark and the Northern army.
This episode has one of my favorite Tyrion sequences in the show. When trying to find out which memeber of the Small Council is spying on him, he tells each of them that he plans to send his niece Marcella to three different families to be married.
It’s an amusing an interesting scene, but the fun is more in the payoff. The follow-up scenes where Littlefinger shares his outrage and Varys commends him for playing the Game of Thrones so shrewdly. (And, we begin to feel, hints of friendship between Varys and Tyrion, whereas last episode there was tension.) In between these two scenes comes Pyelle’s humiliation at the hands of Tyrion, Bronn, and Shagga. That scene has some hilarious beats; Tyrion demanding “cut off his manhood and feed it to the goats,” followed by the simple phrase “I don’t like his beard” which prompts Bronn to slice off all his chin hairs. But the last and perhaps funniest moment comes from Tyrion turning to the woman Pycelle was in bed with and giving her a coin – “for your trouble” – before looking at Pycelle and delicately giving her another. For whatever reason, that moment seemed much funnier this time around for me.
As I had alluded to for the previous episode, I do love all of the Yoren scenes we have here. His story about taking revenge on his brother’s killer makes for a compelling scene while also adding to the show’s larger statement about the nature of revenge.
For his minor role in the series, Yoren’s pretty important and exceedingly likable. In Season 1 he alerts Ned that his wife has kidnapped Tyrion, and he saves Arya from getting lost in the mob. In these first few episodes, he proves to be incredibly likable. The way he informs the men from the City Watch that he won’t turn over Gendry by threatening them is funny while also building tension. And his revenge story at the episode is so haunting; but since he’s a minor character, it gets swept up and forgotten mostly. This scene is the inspiration for Arya’s “prayer” but is far less remembered than the prayer itself.
And I know I’ve mentioned it before, but I do like Theon’s scenes this season in the Iron Islands. There’s a lot of Balon stating his personal philosophy (“Iron or gold?”) and it’s a moment that for Theon will essentially define his path through the rest of the series. As I’ve said before, the cinematography is great in this sequence, particularly in this shot:
Favorite Line: It’s a tie. Yoren’s last words -after he takes a crossbow bolt to the chest, “I always hated crossbows, they take too long to load!” Which he says before killing four opponents in what is at least a ten-on-one fight. My other favorite comes from Varys’ later conversation with Tyrion: “Power resides where men believe it resides. It’s a trick, a shadow on the wall. (And a very small man can cast a very long shadow.)”
Favorite Scene: Tyrion tricks his Small Council; Littlefinger fumes, Varys admires, and Pycelle is punished.