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Game of Thrones: The Prince of Winterfell (Bookreaders)

[“The Prince of Winterfell” is a difficult episode to review without mentioning book spoilers and various hypotheses about what is coming next. For that reason, I have written two reviews: one that is spoiler-free for readers who have not read the book, and this review, for readers who have read up to the end of Storm of Swords. There’s some repetition between the two, because I am a bear of very little brain.]

“I wish we could converse as two honest, intelligent men.”
“I wish we could, too.”

Episodes penned by showrunners Benioff and Weiss tend to contain vibrant demonstrations of the different ways of viewing power, and “The Prince of Winterfell” is no different. Robb explained Ned’s perspective on ruling: Ned saw those under his protection as his children, and he worried constantly that he could not provide the protective paternalism necessary to keep them safe. (If Ned is watching from above, he’s likely quite miserable right now.) Varys and Tyrion, on the other hand, still see power as a game, even on the eve of a siege. Dany sees it as her right, but struggles to know how to get it. And Joffrey doesn’t understand that it is a struggle: he genuinely believes he could give Stannis a “red smile.” Yara, Theon’s sister, seems to have the clearest understanding of what is at risk: she wants Theon to follow the iron law and then make a run for it. It isn’t cowardly, but it is safer. Wannabe-prince is a riskier job than harrier.

Theon has gotten himself into a fine bind. He has no ground to stand on for allegedly killing the littlest Starks, and rather unbelievably thought that he could pay the farmer for taking his children to kill instead of the Starks. I understand why Osha brought the boys back to Winterfell: there’s really nowhere else to go, and at least the crypts are relatively warm. Hopefully this means we might still see the Reeds: perhaps they will come in next season to guide Bran on his spirit quest?

There’s a great discussion going on here about Jon’s situation beyond the Wall and the changes made from the books. In the book, Jon’s arc was about making tough decisions and sacrificing the appearance of honor in order to protect the brothers, the Wall, and Westeros itself. (It is a theme straight out of The Departed.) Now, though, Jon’s arc seems to be switching from one of difficult success to tragic, almost traitorous failure. Like many of you, I am uncomfortable with this change, as it seems to be putting the writers into a position of future back-pedaling.

But I’m also starting to think there is a good reason for it, beyond just change for the sake of change. Both Jon and Arya are missing from a large later chunk of the series, which means their stories must be stretched out so we don’t lose them for an entire season of television. Perhaps Jon’s arc isn’t changing. Perhaps is it being extended.

As for Arya: She has obviously read her genie-in-a-bottle fairy tales and knows the third wish pays for all. While it’s a pity she couldn’t use her last death to kill Tywin, I’m glad she did get something out of it. I again agree with most of you that her not killing the guard is strange, as that death is perhaps even more important for her than Halfhand’s death is for Jon. But perhaps this is not the last time she will see Harranhal, or J’aquen. After all, she is still owed a coin, and “Valar Morghulis” is the title of the last episode this season.

The change I’m most confused by is Robb’s love interest. In the books, Jeyne Westerling is rather meek and dull—even Catelyn is bored by her and doesn’t understand why Robb is interested. It makes sense, though, that he would be drawn to a woman how has little patience for courtly life. Winterfell was hardly Camelot, and Catelyn certainly modeled strong womanhood to Robb. But has Jeyne, loyal to House Lannister, really has become a girl from Volantis? Or not?

No matter what, Robb has committed treason just as much as Catelyn did in releasing Jaime: Robb is sacrificing military tactics for love, just as Catelyn let a useful hostage go in order to rescue two rather useless (from a diplomatic point of view) girls. Ned and Catelyn would both be disappointed, but they would probably understand: Ned went to war with Robert Baratheon for love. And Catelyn understands that some things are more powerful than pragmatic negotiations.

Cersei seems to vacillate between maudlin and scheming, perhaps depending on how much she has had to drink. Her conviction that Tyrion is attempting to take her children away is truly strange, as she seems to be intentionally ignoring that people’s lives are constantly at risk in a war, and Tyrion is doing everything he can to protect his family. Ros, the northern prostitute we met last season, seemed to understand the complexity of the situation far better than Cersei ever would: Ros knows that protest does nothing for her, but hopes that Tyrion will get her out of this situation.

Grumpkins and Snarks:

• Tyrion and Bronn: do I sense a sitcom spin-off?

• Tyrion: “A History of The Great Sieges of Westeros, by Archmaester Shevealathin. Shevalatin.”
Bronn: “Shevaleteeth.”
Varys: “Ah, The Great Sieges of Westeros. Thrilling subject. Shame Archmaester Ch’vayalthan wasn’t a better writer.”

• Roose Bolton once again reminded Robb, and us, of his bastard son’s formidable skill.

• Fun synchronicity: Theon mentioned that he’d killed all the messenger ravens and all the horses, and Varys mentioned that he hadn’t heard from his northern spies.

• One thing in the books that always made me sad: Brienne never got a chance to meet the women of Bear Island, who fight with axes. She sure could use a strong female role model of her own now that she has Jamie Lannister to cart around.

• Why did Karstark refer to “The Father”? He’s a northerner and ought to worship the old gods.

This episode is hard to rate, because I’m horribly anxious for next week’s Battle of the Blackwater (written by GRRM himself!), and whatever sort of insanity will happen in the season finale. HBO isn’t even releasing screeners of those episodes, and the secrecy is just making the excitement worse. Nonetheless, this isn’t a bad episode, no matter how much I might wish it were immediately followed by the last two episodes of the season. So:

Three out of four highborn plumbers.

(Feel free to discussion bookish spoilers in the comments, according to the same rules we more or less follow in the Discussion Thread: nothing in Book Five and nothing important from Book Four.)

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


  1. I dont think that Jon's story has changed significantly now. Clearly Quorin was calling him a traitor as a result of an earlier conversation where he told him to 'do what he needed to do'. This seemed to be building to putting the TV show and the books back to the same event.

    Perhaps this girl from Volantis will now admit who she is and that she's been hiding her true name because she is a Lannister bannerman, this putting it back to the same as the books again in that respect.

    I'm not sure that Ned would be disappointed in Catelyn because as we found out the only thing that Ned holds higher than his honor is the safety of his family.

    ...Maybe Brienne will still meet them.

    Pumped for next week's episode.

  2. Since we can spoil up to book 3:

    I think they changed Jeyne to a free-city girl to make her more interesting and us more invested in their doomed romance. The music that was playing during their sex scene I interpreted as very sad. But maybe just because I know what'll happen.

    As for Jon, he still will kill Qhorin and join the Wildlings as a double agent from what we see there. Qhorin was just preparing ground for that in this episode.

    Daenerys is also going for the same thing: burning the House of the Undying and boarding a ship towards the slave bay. They just made Qarth more interesting.

    So those changes are more of style not substance. They also probably scrapped lord Boltons assault on Harrenhal aided by Arya for budget constraints. After all Blackwater should be spectacular. :)

  3. I get that they had to make Arya's storyline less complex, but I don't understand why they had to make Jon so...dumb.

    I mean I'm all for more Ygritte scenes but book Jon would have never been wandering around with a wildling like a moron for 2 days. :'(

  4. Anonymous, Jon is dumb in the first two books: Tyrion subtly points it out and it's the reason for Ygritte's famous refrain. His experiences with Ygritte and the Wildlings teach him and put him in a position to lead the Nights Watch. Whilst they've stretched it out some, I don't think it's fundamentally altered Jon's story. I hope not, Jon becomes one of my favourite characters in later books.

    Seeing Osha and the Starks back at Winterfell annoyed me a little bit as it made their escape seem a bit of a waste. It does open the door for the Reeds to come into it but I don't think they will as there's been no casting news for them. Again, it felt like they were padding the story. Although I'm finding her a little too dour (I've always imagined her being quite light and flippant), Asha/Yara's line about Theon dying too far from the sea was heartbreaking: the little boy is lost and locked in, the Bastard of Bolton will soon be at his gate.

    Dany's scene was perhaps the most egregious waste: there was no reason for that to be in the episode apart from to show us Dany and Jorah. Jorah's line was sweet though.

    I'm really surprised with how much I'm enjoying the scenes at Harrenhall - the books always bored me there - and adding Tywin there was a masterstroke by Benioff and Weiss. Even though I knew it was coming I was still delighted by Arya's third name and the little smile on her face. Arya isn't too clever for her own good, she's too clever for other peoples good.

    Finally I just loved the scenes with Tyrion and Varys. That was some proper long term setting up. Varys is an example of why you don't need to use someone every episode.

  5. IIRC while most Northerners worship the Old Gods, a few follow the Seven and vice versa in the south.

  6. I don't think "dumb" is really the right word to describe Jon at this point. He's not an idiot. He's just not very worldly. He was raised in Ned's world with Ned's code, where a man's honor is his most valuable asset. Like Sansa and Arya, he's slowly learning he's gonna need to shed or bend that code to function in the wider world, which is pretty much run by men without honor.

    As I noted on the other thread, I'm no longer overly concerned about his story and evolution after this episode. Qhorin was clearly setting him up to "turn his cloak" in order to become a mole. That's what he meant when he told him he needed to make those other deaths count for something. I thought the few words that passed between them might have been a little vague for people that don't know where its going (and even Jon), but I read some newbie reviewers that definitely picked up on where things were headed for Jon and Qhorin.

    I, too, am confused about Talisa. I keep waiting for her to turn out to be Jeyne, and so I don't entirely trust her motives. When she showed up in the tent, it struck me that she was there specifically to lead him astray, not because she's in love with him. My husband (a newbie) thinks she's a spy. So it isn't necessarily coming across as a doomed love story. More like Mata Hari with an evil vagenda (to borrow a phrase). I suspect they are going for the former, but it isn't quite working for me.

  7. Iago, it isn't a departure from the books that Osha and Bran and Rickon and Hodor would return to Winterfell to hide, we find out in the last chapter of Clash that that's what they've been doing.

    The Reeds don't seem to be planned to be included since that have made Osha sufficiently mystical to be able to offer interpretations on Bran's dreams, but it is possible that they could meet Meera and Jojen even after Winterfell burns.

    I am quite surprised that they've dropped Reek (the Bastard Ramsay in disguise) since in the books he is the one who persuaded Theon to kill the children, and who promised to bring men to defend Winterfell, and who then destroyed Ser Rodderick's host and burned the castle. Theon becoming Reek is going to have much less poetry and power now.

  8. I would be a little surprised about the Reek character as they need to try and deflect from the fact that the Boltons are a bunch of scumbags and by having his bastard play the Reek role the audience is going to be wondering whats up, which could diminish the effect of the Red Wedding.

    It kind of makes more sense to have Bolton's bastard just ride in and 'rescue' Winterfell from Theon and imprison Theon. That'll give the audience their payoff from Theon getting his comeuppance while also not giving the Bolton game away and ultimately Theon will still be the 'Reek' character later on and will draw sympathy from the way he is treated regardless of the context of 'Reek'.

  9. Looks like the Reeds will be showing up, albeit a little late:



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