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Game of Thrones – Season 2 – Episode 3: “What Is Dead May Never Die” Review
My, my. Look at you, Game of Thrones. You’re practically all grown up, and you’re not that far into season two yet.
Yes, of course I’m going to clarify that statement. One of my biggest complaints about the show’s inaugural season was the pacing, particularly in the first half. It was a breathless and exhausting dash through the “greatest moments” of the book, and a lot of interplay (which is dangerous in a story that is all about what people aren’t saying or doing) got lost in between the race to show you the big set pieces or cooler character moments. Its frantic storytelling hooked people, but also terrified those who hadn’t read the book and felt they weren’t getting what they should be.
Season 2 is, I think, quickly establishing itself as a vast improvement. It has the advantage of having a set stage, of course, but I can’t get over how tightly, efficiently, and intelligently the episodes have been plotted so far. It’s much more confident to stray from the book, and create scenes that work better to convey great swaths of information in one or two killer moments. Yes,
Season 1 did this too, but often its inventions fell flat in comparison to what George R.R. Martin did with a scene or two, or were just an excuse for skin, blood, or a hasty bit of exposition.
I’m probably being a bit ridiculous in my praise, particularly since I was so hard on the show last year, but if you compare episode 3 of Season 1 (“Lord Snow”) versus “What Is Dead May Never Die,” it’s a perfect example of what I mean. “Lord Snow” was too much story for one episode. “What Is Dead May Never Die” was just the right amount. It did tread water a little bit, particularly in two plot points, but it stuck to its theme (and I’ll get to my theory on that in a moment) and was the better for it.
Let’s get an admission of a blunder on my part first, though I’ve gone two episodes without mentioning Bran and his dreams! Again, I’m lacking the book, so I can’t remember how cryptic Bran’s dreams remained at this point. I seem to recall they were pretty clear to the reader, but Bran (or perhaps Martin) was still playing dumb/coy with them. Regardless, I appreciated that
“The North Remembers” didn’t bandy around the imagery, as they had in Season 1, and just gave us a beautiful wolf’s eye view of what Bran was seeing. Bran is also much more confident and adamant about what he’s experiencing, which is a nice change from the blank slate he was in Season 1. I don’t know how many three-eyed crow visions we got, but it felt like too many. Time will tell if Season 2 does that with his direwolf dream – it did stretch out a dreadfully long time in the books – but so far it’s progressing briskly. Bran believes he has a gift, Maester Luwin, ever the killjoy, insists he doesn’t … but at least he was nice about it. He also gave a speech that’s familiar even to those who steer clear of most fantasy – Westeros is a world that magic has left behind, and it’s the sadder (and uglier) for it. If there was some kind of greater and more mysterious power in this place – be it dragons, shapeshifters or wizards – would Westeros be faced with so many Cerseis and Littlefingers?
Bran’s dreams were a small point that hasn’t (yet) overstayed its welcome, unlike the Jon-at-Craster’s, which has been stuck in the snow and remained incredibly uninteresting. Last week’s cliffhanger promised a good scare, but all we got was yet another shot of Jon wrapped in a fur, sulking (this time with a bruised jaw) and being lectured by Mormont. Yes, we got a tidbit of confirmation as to what we had seen, but I would rather have just seen it instead of spent another 10 minutes under the same old evergreen tree. (Does Jon ever stand? Or walk and talk?) I’m even tired of Sam and Gilly. Get them moving through that forest already, Game of Thrones, no one is getting anything out of this.
But that’s the only major criticism I had of this episode, which generally moved things along pretty well. We caught up with Catelyn, who walked in on a scene that might as well have been at King’s Landing, except that Renly doesn’t go all Caligula during his tournaments. He is also running a far more egalitarian court, as our newest character Brienne of Tarth proved. The Iron Islands aren’t the only place to have a sword-wielding woman this season.
There’s not much to say about Brienne at this point except that Gwendoline Christie has continued the show’s tradition of terrifyingly good casting. When I initially saw Christie’s photo, I scoffed and scolded HBO for casting pretty. I don’t know what gauntlet Christie ran to ruin her looks, but wow. She’s Brienne, the giantess who is skilled in battle, awkward at walking, and bitterly aware that she’s no lady. I can’t wait to see more of her.
Speaking of seeing more, did anyone catch that we were this close to seeing naked men (and non-hetero at that) but then Game of Thrones remembered it doesn’t do that – unless it’s Theon Greyjoy – and quickly showed some boobs? That was hilarious, especially coming after SNL’s takedown of the T&A. Sad, too. This is HBO, after all, and they’ve been the one place that never shied away from male nudity and gay romance. But quick! Show us boobs instead! We didn’t catch that Renly was 100% gay, so we need to see he doesn’t react to breasts the way the rest of the Westeros men do.
But Margaery unblinking acceptance of who Renly is, and what he likes brings me to this week’s tenuous theme: Loyalty. In a story that’s all about being out for number one, it was interesting to see so many characters proudly declaring their attachment. Whether it was Margaery’s cool assessment of what builds a court, Tyrion admitting a weakness to (and for) Shae, Littlefinger’s unwavering devotion to Catelyn, or Cersei’s wailing about her daughter, everyone was all about being loyal to who you love (or at least who you’re with, if you’re Margaery and Renly).
Of course, nowhere was this more explicit than with Theon, who attempted to do right by his adopted family and his blood, but was forced to choose a single allegiance. (How beautiful was that shot of him burning the letter to Robb, his “brother,” as he was swallowed by Pike darkness?) Not surprisingly, he chose his true family, as almost all in Westeros do. No one goes against their blood, even if everything in their being cries out against it. They stick to their kin.
Tyrion and Theon have that in common, sadly. (In a different story, they could bond over this, then drink and go to a whorehouse together.) Tyrion knows the Lannisters are a reprehensible lot – he’s even openly said so – but he’ll do everything he can to keep the clan of Casterly Rock propped up. He’s out to survive, but he’ll still follow Lannister orders. This week, though, he was all about himself. What fun to watch him weave his delightful little plot, trap the man who had killed a few Hands (now there was a come-uppance to enjoy! Bye, Pycelle!) and gain one on Cersei!
I’m always surprised to see Cersei become emotional over her children. One would think she would see them as an annoying byproduct and mere pawns to be used, but she genuinely loves them. She wants them to stay home, forever. It’s kind of sweet, except that it’s Cersei, so you almost relish anything that causes her pain.
I can’t help but enjoy the contrast between her, Brienne, and Yara. Cersei has more wealth and power than the other two, and yet is remarkably powerless. She has to abide by what her son and father (and by extension, Tyrion) dictate, and what convention expects of a noblewoman. She’s an ornament and a pawn – and happily uses Sansa as such — and now she must watch as her daughter is used the same way. She rages against the rules even as she follows them, and I’ve always suspected that, deep down, she wishes she had a sword and a good set of armor. I think she might like to be Yara or Brienne for a day, albeit with her own looks and wardrobe budget, where she would promptly prove she could rule the world. (Or not. Cersei isn’t the brightest.)
And that brings me to our little warrior in training, Arya. Here’s a plot point that, unlike Jon’s sulkfest, manages to move, and have time for revealing dialogue and character shading. Arya has prided herself on her toughness, and we love her for her guts. But she reminded us that she’s still a young girl, and one sensitive enough to be haunted by her crumbling and increasingly violent world. Of all the sad things that occur on any given episode, her “How do you sleep?” line may be one of the most tragic. In all the cheering we do for Tyrion, Robb, Catelyn and Daenerys, and fretting as to which king will come out on top, it’s easy to forget what actually gets lost. The Starks didn’t just lose Ned. They lost their stability, their security, their happiness and their innocence. Arya may be heading North, but she’ll never truly be able to go home again.
But she – like Theon, Margarey, Brienne, and even Cersei and Tyrion – proved her loyalty this week, albeit to her surrogate family, which is now in dire straits. And thanks to Yoren, she’s got a way to survive and sleep She’s got a cause now … and it’s not just getting home, but avenging her family. Did you see the gleam in her eye? Sword-fighting isn’t a game any longer. She’s the newest warrior woman … and the way she mentioned her sister suggests she might happily buck the Westeros trend, and forswear at least one member of her family.
And that’s too bad, since we know poor Sansa hasn’t really sworn off the Starks at all, but sits tearfully hoping she doesn’t see them all on pikes. I’d love to rag on her for being a spoiled brat to Shae, but when you’re as trapped and terrified as she is, you’ll wield a bit of authority where you can. Ugly, but true. She, Theon, and Tyrion could all bond over that too, couldn’t they?
Check out the promo for the next episode of Game of Thrones, Garden of Bones.