Oliver Davis reviews the fifth episode of Game of Thrones Season Two…
The Ghost of Harrenhal.
Directed by David Petrarca.
Written by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.
This week was a mixed bag. We were spoilt with Joffrey’s douchebagery last week, but here he’s not present at all. Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) and Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham), arguably the two most engaging characters besides Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), only graced a single scene. And whereas the previous episode had ended with Davos aghast at a strange, shadowy presence that emerged from between Melisandre’s (Carice van Houten) legs, this week’s ended comparatively weakly, with Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha) eating an apple.
…turns out that Melisandre’s hellish offspring was a shadow assassin sent to murder Renly (Gethin Anthony). Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) and Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) were the only ones present at the time, so, naturally, everyone assumes they killed
one of the their King.
Unfortunately, Renly’s death doesn’t appear all that impressive. It looked, well, low budget – something that Game of Thrones mostly avoids. Too much was shown of the CGI shadow, when a few quick cuts would do. There’s an out of place edit to Brienne’s shocked expression too, which feels unfinished. Renly’s death is a bigger event than this – one that deserves to conclude an episode, yet it’s The Ghost of Harrenhal’s opener.
Or maybe it’s Catelyn and Brienne. The two have displayed little chemistry thus far, and their scenes together drag. Fairley doesn’t play Catelyn strong enough. She’s sitting down too much, or doting over her children. Thoughts like that should be internalised somehow. It’ll make her appear stronger to those around, whilst keeping her maternal character.
With Renly’s death, Margery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) is a widow, though her brother, Ser Loras (Finn Jones), has enough grief for them both. Petyr Baelish (Aidan Gillen) is still skulking Renly’s camp, and he asks Margery if she wants to be a Queen. “Not a Queen,” she replies, “I want to be the Queen.” With three men claiming the throne, the odds are good.
…wonders the streets of King’s Landing, scheming and plotting (which “are the same thing,” he informs Cersei in one of his better lines) of how to win the war. In so doing, he comes across a crazed man preaching to a crowd. The King, a product of incest, is killing us all, and is controlled by a demon monkey, the man screams. Ha, a demon monkey – what an imagination! – observes Tyrion. He’s talking about you, m’Lord, points out Bronn.
So the people of King’s Landing hate him. They believe him a grotesque puppet master, pulling the stings of innocent Joff. The scenes are played light-heartedly, which is how to use Tyrion best.
There’s also our first taste of wildfire, an incredibly flammable liquid that burns with a green flame. It found fame with the Targarynes as their dragons became weaker and died. “A man once told me, that if you piss on wildfire, your cock burns off,” recalls Tyrion. He orders the pyromancers to make as many as they can for him. The gears of war are turning in his head. Without the strength and swordsmanship of his brother, the Imp must rely on his mind.
…and the Night’s Watch have left Craster’s, trekking further north to find where all the wildlings have fled. In the middle of a snowy plain, they come to an enormous mountain-like rock. It’s hard to tell if the boulder is natural or CGI, but it looks fantastic.
They call it the Fist of the First Men. It looks it, the rock clenches as though it has knuckles. Sam (John Bradley) is overly excited by being there, much more than the other men. He provides a brief history lesson, of how the first men of the lands once made camp there.
Soon after, Qorin Halfhand (Simon Armstrong), a senior member of the Night’s Watch, joins them. He’s located the wildlings, thousands of them, amassing up past them hills. Mance Ryder, an ex-man of the Night’s Watch, a deserter who became a free man, is gathering them. This is a job for four rather than 400 men, one of infiltration. And Jon (Kit Harrington) finally gets to be a ranger.
…for an episode entitled The Ghost of Harrenhal, you thought it might contain a bit more Harrenhal. They aren’t frequent enough to maintain effective tension, which hints the series might be struggling under so many plot lines and characters.
Arya’s (Maisie Williams, who gets better with every episode) narrative, however, remains interesting. She provides a portal into events that aren’t described first hand in the book. She was never Tywin Lannister’s (Charles Dance) squire in A Clash of Kings, and we were never privy to his backstage war games with Robb Stark. Though a significant deviation from the book, this is handled masterfully.
Tywin and his advisers are gathered around a table in a darkened room, all clothed in black like Death Eaters. Arya is called before them, as they know she is from the North. She describes this ‘Robb Stark’, how the folk tell tales, how he can turn into a direwolf, that he cannot be killed.
“And what do you believe?” asks Tywin.
They’re not true, she replies, staring a hole in the old lion. Because anyone can be killed.