Oliver Davis reviews the sixth episode of Game of Thrones Season Two…
The Old Gods and the New.
Directed by David Nutter.
Written by Vanessa Taylor.
Last week’s episode felt flat. Neither the writing or direction excelled. Thankfully, The Old Gods and the New is arguably the best episode of Season 2 thus far. It boasts three sublime scenes – Theon’s opening, Princess Myrcella’s departure and Tywin and Arya’s chinwag. The episode could have done with a bit more Joffrey, but then again, so could everything.
|“Shut up, Sansa.”|
…last week saw the forces of the Iron Islands, ruled by Balon Greyjoy, depart for the west coast of Westeros. They intended to take the North town by town, but they weren’t counting on Theon Greyjoy’s (Alfie Allen) desperate need to prove himself. He led his gaggle of about fifty men to attack Winterfell, knowing it undefended, having been with its Lord, the King of the North, Robb Stark (Richard Madden) only a few weeks prior.
The episode opens harshly on a panicking Maester Luwin (Donald Sumpter) sending messages on ravens to surrounding towns. This is visibly the closing stages of an uneven battle. Most of the town were asleep, every man capable of fighting part of Robb’s host much further South. Bran’s (Issac Hempstead Wright) dream from the episode prior, of the sea flooding Winterfell and drowning its men, appears to have been a deft metaphor.
This opening scene is masterfully centred around Theon’s inner turmoil. Allen’s performance here is superb, juggling the sometimes cumbersome olde style dialogue with a fraught brow and ever descending scowl. The people of Winterfell are the people he grew up with, Maester Luwin taught him history, and how to read and write, Rodrik Cassel (Ron Donachie) trained him in bows and swords and shields; Bran might as well be his own brother. And now, to be the Prince he so desires, Theon must betray every single one.
But these are Northmen, and do not lie down so easily. “I serve the Starks,” shouts one loyal townsman in defiance, spitting at Theon’s feet. He gets beaten down for his words. Bran and Luwin keep calling him “Theon” rather than “Prince Theon” as he has commanded. The townsfolk boo, and Cassel spits in his face.
And then comes Theon’s fall. Till now, he’s played at games, taking a castle of women and children by night. His actions have been from some childish pride, wanting to be a Prince and impress his Lord father. Till now, he hasn’t killed anybody.
But with Cassel’s spit, the Iron men expect an execution, and echoing the first episode of the first season, when Eddard Stark delivered justice by himself, Theon lines his own sword against the old knight’s head. Bran screams and cries somewhere offscreen.
Theon’s first strike was not nearly enough, only partially separating Cassel’s head from his neck. The second fails also. So he hacks and hacks, his face twisted with rage, or maybe embarrassment, or maybe sorrow, until the head rolls along the yard.
…the television show’s faithfulness to the books is sporadic. Some scenes are almost shot by shot as they appeared in your head upon first reading. Others, mainly plot points or castings, have not worked so well. Arya (Maisie Williams) being made Tywin Lannister’s (Charles Dance) cupbearer, however, is inspired.
Tywin is a fascinating character, the Lord of Casterly Rock and master puppeteer behind King Joffrey, though he is a rare commodity in the books, the reader never privy to his inner thoughts like those of the ‘narrators’. Positioning Arya within Tywin’s counsel, albeit as a servant, lets you learn a little more about him.
In one scene between the two, Tywin talks of his father, of how he was a loving man and how he nearly ruined Casterly Rock. Dance’s delivery leaves you in no doubt that Tywin believes being a loving man is a significant character flaw. He also speaks of Jaime, and how difficult it was teaching him to read. He reversed letters in his mind, a common affliction, their maester said. It seems Tyrion is not the only disabled Lannister.
Tywin asks of Arya’s father, in a flicker of humanity, his interest then turning to the log fire. Arya lies that he was a stonemason, and that he taught her to read, but now he’s dead. “How did he die?” Tywin inquires. “Loyalty,” Arya replies after a pause, lying no longer. Williams is a fantastic actress.
…usually gets all the quips, but Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) is awarded line of the show here. His sister, Princess Myrcella (Aimee Richardson), is being shipped off from King’s Landing to Dorne, in a political attempt to align House Martell with the Lannisters in the war.
Their youngest brother, Tommen (Callum Wharry), is crying to see his sister leave. “Princes don’t cry,” Joffrey snidely remarks. “My little brother cried when I left Winterfell,” Sansa (Sophie Turner) replied.
Sansa: “It seems a normal thing”
Joff: “Is your little brother a Prince?”
Joff: “Not really relevant then, is it?”
Joffrey then walks off with a swagger that begs to be tripped over. He gets better every week, and in a way similar to Tywin, is a character the television show has built upon very well. He truly is a bastard.
The lords and ladies walks back to their Keep whilst the starving inhabitants of King’s Landing line the streets, calling out ironic “all hail’s”. The crowd are still, the thick tension in the air enhanced by frequent cuts to Tyrion’s (Peter Dinklage) concerned expression, him being the only one who can sense an impending riot. They just need a spark, and who better to give it than our boy King?
One of the peasants throws mud at King Joffrey, so he calls for his Kingsguard to murder them. Chaos ensues as the party runs back to the castle, while the townsfolk kill and are killed. Tyrion stands in the middle of it all, searching the crowds for Sansa. He sees knights stabbed by townsfolk, and townsfolk impaled by knights. The High Septon (David Verrey) who blessed Myrcella’s voyage, is pulled back into a swarm of people, their hands dragging his fat body under like the zombies in Dawn of the Dead. There is a struggle and a scream, and then one of the swarm lifts the Septon’s right arm above his head, it having been pulled from its socket.
“We’ve had idiot Kings and we’ve had vicious Kings!” screams Tyrion at Joffrey once they’ve reached safety, “but never have we had a vicious, idiot boy King!” Sansa is still lost, and Joffrey refuses to help her.
Instead the Hound, Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann), the opposite to what Sansa imagines a hero to be, with the left side of his face mutilated by a fire, saves Joffrey’s betrothed. A group of men were just about to rape her, but Clegane gave each one a different type of penetration.
And just as Theon beheading Cassel in the episode’s opening harkened back to Eddard doing the same in the show’s first ever episode, Clegane’s saving of Sansa is the fruition of all his sinister, yet protective stares at her. Television shows are at their best with such back-references and slow-burning character development. By their nature, they are much longer than films, making them perfectly suited to it. Gems like these reward those who treat the show like a ritual, returning week after week, obsessed, enthralled and dedicated to the Game of Thrones.
Very, very good.