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Game of Thrones: The Ghost of Harrenhal

“Anybody can be killed.”

The Great Man theory of history argues that moments of great historical consequence are the result of individual agents of great power who shape their times—and our fates—to their will. Napoleon. Alexander the Great. Hitler. Charlemagne. Game of Thrones disagrees: the history of Westeros is shaped not by great men, but by petty tyrants who shouldn’t have power, and by the people who might not even make it into the histories that might be written later. Events of political consequence are orchestrated by bureaucrats, advisors, and coincidence.

The promotional materials for Season One emphasized Dany’s catchphrase: “I do not have a gentle heart.” But this week Ser Jorah told her she did have one. He may see her with the eyeballs of love, but I think he’s right. When we first met her, Dany was too damaged to have much character: remember the stiff, brittle way she held herself together in those opening scenes? Now, she has discovered strength in power and responsibility, but she is torn between what she wants and the price she must pay. Her nostalgia for a home she has never seen demands pragmatism, diplomacy, and love for her people (both the khal and those of Westeros) as well as cruelty and a willingness to light things on fire like the best of Targaryens.

In Qarth, there are three groups that want to influence her in order to (as Jorah says) get more than they give: the Warlocks, who are so very, very creepy but may possess great magic; the faceless people (I forget their names!); and Xaro, who has both the money to buy an army and a desire to become consort. And then there is Jorah himself, who is in love with both Dany and her power. She is the focus of his nostalgia, because only she can take him home. The question is: which part of her character will win out? The gentle heart that she’s developed now she has known love, or the pragmatic cruelty required of a conqueror? Which would-be advisors will she trust with her plans?

Arya, meanwhile, has become one of the unnoticed people with a tentative power that might change the course of Westerosi events. J’aqen Hagar is her advisor now, even if she does not realize it: he is pushing her towards a cruel vengeance, forming her character by giving her three genie-like temptations. Season One opened with a definition of what it meant to be a Stark: a willingness to do unpleasant deeds (like execution) oneself, rather than delegating them. But since that time, Arya has lost her direwolf and her father, and switched identities more than once. She has become so wrapped up in revenge that she does not see that letting J’aqen Hagar do her killing for her is the wrong decision. She has lost her Starkness, her moral code, and has become an agent of cruel vengeance, letting J’aqen do her killing for her.

On the other hand, she won a starting contest with Tywin Lannister! That’s one for the history books.

Stannis seems to be struggling with his own advisor’s actions. Melissandre’s smoke golem (“smoke baby,” the accepted term, just isn’t frightening enough for me) killed Renly. And now Stannis has to face a harsh fact: he killed his brother by stabbing him in the back by demonic proxy. Even his harsh pragmatism and conviction that anything done for what is “right” (his “right” being the right to inherit his brother’s throne) might not get him through the grief of knowing he has done wrong. Margaery and Loras certainly think so. And Littlefinger is urging them--advising them--to flee not and vindict later.

While Arya and Stannis are going for the quick kill-by-proxy, Arya’s mother is advocating a patient vengeance. Catelyn and Brienne are the only ones who saw Renly’s impossible, frightening, and extremely fast death. Now they’re bound to each other by circumstance and by the incredibly touching oaths they exchanged. People like Brienne, with her simple love and loyalty, can create the coincidences that bring even “kings” like Stannis down. I hope. And people like Catelyn can encourage it if given a chance. Arya needs her mother. And her father. And her wolf.

Theon needs a little less family, though. His advisor (his first mate) told him what he had to do to gain the respect of his tiny crew: defy his father and take something—anything—by paying the iron price. The plan is sneaky: [The rest of this paragraph is in white, because I might see more implication in what he's planning than someone who hasn't read the books. Highlight to read.]: raid a small castle loyal to Winterfell, pull Winterfell’s men away from their own castle, then swoop in to take over Winterfell itself while Robb Stark is busy fighting the Lannisters. Hopefully, Bran’s dream that the “drowned men” (the name of those who follow the Drowned God of the Iron Islands) will fill the courtyard of Winterfell will not be true.

Tyrion is both one of those advisors and one of the advised: a stand-in for his father, the real King’s Hand. He can make the city safer, the people better-fed, and kingdom more stable—if given the chance. Joffrey’s cruelty and Cersei’s incipient craziness, however, push him. And the people of the city hate him, because they see him as the “monkey” that pulls Joffrey’s strings. (We should be so lucky.) Now he has been tempted just like Arya, Dany, Stannis, and Theon. Throughout the conversation with the creepy pyromancer, Tyrion looked like he was horribly disgusted by the possibility of burning people alive. But that wildfire is the only hope that King’s Landing and the Lannister claim to the throne have.

Grumpkins and Snarks:

• Renly: “Together, we could end this war in a forthnight.” Rest in peace, Renly.

• Margaery: “I want to be the queen.”

• Cersei: “Aren’t you clever, with your schemes and your plots?”
Tyrion: “Schemes and plots are the same thing.”

Tyrion: “May I ask specifically what the king has in mind?”
Cersei: “You may ask specifically or you may ask vaguely. The answer will be the same.”

• Sam: “Beautiful, isn’t it? Gilly would love it here!”

• Creepy Pyromancer: “Our order does not deal in pig sh*t!”

• Cersei seems to enjoying the drink.

• J’aqen Hagar is sexy. Is that a bad thought?

• I loved the Dothrakis planning how to best pillage their host’s stuff.

• I simply can’t make Jon’s story fit into the theme of advisors and temptations, so I’ll just say this here: just when I was admiring the fellowship of the Black Brothers, Jon goes off to try his hand at being a ranger. Good luck, Jon!

• This week’s Best Dressed Award goes to Dany in the blue empire-waist dress, with an honorary mention for the Black Brothers, who all seemed to be wearing about 40 pounds of clothing.

Three out of four wildfires.

Reminder: Discussion about the books (and the changes) takes place here.

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)


  1. As someone who was wary of the casting of Joe Dempsie as Gendry (he'll always be Chris from Skins to me) that my opinion has now done a complete 180. I don't know how many suggestive gifs I've seen on Tumblr with that particular scene.

    And even though she only had about five lines, I'm so completely in love with Natalie Dormer as Margaery, that I hope she gets more screen time.

    And someone pointed out that Theon looks slightly like a chihuahua and now that's all I can see. I'm indifferent to Theon usually, but I love how Alfie Allen portrays him.

  2. I´m glad HBO submitted Masie Williams for an Emmy. For a girl that age she is incredibly good. I hope Arya doesn´t forget her roots.

    I like how Bran handels Winterfell. But I hope that Catelyn is soon back home. Her boys (especially Rickon) seem to need her badly. I´m eager to see how her "bromance" with Brienne developes.

    I don´t like Theons plan at all and I somehow doubt that it will bring him the respect he wants.

    The dragon roasting the meat was too cute :)

    Wow, Renley´s death was quick. Hadn´t expected it so soon.

  3. The parallel between Natalie Dormer´s characters in GoT and the Tudors is quite funny. In both roles she wants to be THE queen. It will be intersting to see if Margaery achieves it like Anne Boleyn did.

  4. Anon, shouldn't a bromance have a feminine equivalent, a "romansis" or something?
    I don't have much to say (the review was very thorough), just that I'm enjoying this season more and more every episode.

  5. I enjoyed this one a good bit. Perhaps because this is the first week where I really felt like I was watching the show and wondering how events would unfold, instead of constantly comparing to the book in my mind. Some combination of (1) my poor memory of specific events at this point in the story and (2) enough deviations from the story and new material that I find myself just getting caught up in what's on the screen. Yea!

    Arya is becoming ever more hard and frightening week by week. I couldn't believe her stare down with Tywin! And then the way she smiled ever so slightly at the end, when she realized she had wrought the Tickler's death ... wow. Maisie Williams is awesome.

  6. Maisie Williams, a few days past her 15th birthday, held her own in a scene with Charles Dance, a stage and screen veteran. That's just incredible: she's such a talent. Her scene with Gendry, teaching him how to sword-fight was lovely (and not just because of Joe Dempsey's torso - wow). This man is loving Jaqen Haqar too: perfectly transferred from book to screen. Great combination of menace and mystique. Josie I love your observation that Arya is losing her Stark-ness: I hadn't realised it myself but you're absolutely right.

    The Qartheen were great: Pyat Pyee was suitably creepy and Qaithe was better than I'd imagined. Nice touch with the hexagons on her mask matching Melisandre's ruby, subtly linking the two (they're both from Asshai).

    This was an enjoyable episode but it was very set-uppy for the final run. I can't wait!

  7. I thought I had enjoyed this episode till I have read your review, Josie, and people's comments. Wow, now I'm pretty sure I loved it.
    It's very true what you remarked about Arya losing her starkness. By changing her names, and embracing the prayer-like revenge, she is much different now from that brave Stark girl. But how would it be different?
    Also, fantastic comment Iago, on the Qartheen (for me all the names of people who aren't from Westeros are so hard to remember) and the parallel to Melisandre's hexagonal ruby.
    I'll definetly have to rewatch this episode, even if it is to marvel at Gendry's torso and laugh at Theon's chihuahua looks. And of course, the fantastic word battle between Arya and Twynn. Not a hard task at all!

  8. I simply love the women in this world. While each of them is flawed, each has her own strengths that make each episode a joy.

    By far, my favourite is Arya. Great point in your review, Josie, about how she has lost her Starkness. Yet, there is something about her that fascinates me. I love watching any and all scenes that she is in.

    The other one I am really enjoying watching is Margaery. Clear-eyed, smart, but still able to put so much emotion into one sentence. Brilliant!

    And, finally, the Brienne/Catelyn partnership, which I find touching. The oaths they swore were lovely and there is something so much more real about their partnership than so many we are watching among the men. I am looking forward to seeing how this develops.

  9. This has been my favorite episode of the season so far. First of all, Margaery Tyrell is the second coming of Anne Boleyn and I love it. Secondly, omg the dragon was so cute! I had a hard time imagining cute dragons while reading the book, but awwww! Look at the teeny tiny reptile.

    Loving show Dany, which is weird because I was kind of indifferent to book Dany. Emilia Clarke is doing a great job of mixing strength with softness. And wow is she pretty!

    The scene between her and Ser Jorah was fabulous. He's so clearly in love with her and she so desperately doesn't want him to be. It was great.

    Your point about Arya losing her Starkness is smart. It never really dawned on me in the books, but she's moved pretty far away from what her father taught her. Still, it seems pretty harsh to hold a frightened, vulnerable young girl to the standard of a war-hardened, grown-up Lord. (Not that you were doing that)

    Cersei and Tyrion's verbal sparring is always a highlight.

    Show Jon is boring me just as much as book Jon. Thank the seven for Dolorous Edd.

    Oh and randomly, why do rangers wear black? That seems like a pretty dumb decision when you're constantly surrounded by white. Great camouflage, guys, really.


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