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Game of Thrones – Season 2, Episode 4: “The Garden of Bones”
To borrow a line from our red-haired freaktress, this episode was dark and full of terrors. (How many recaps will open with that? A ton of them . Also, how many ladies will be cosplaying as Melisandre at Comic-Con this year? A ton of them.)
If anyone out there was saying “Hey, the intrigue and T&A is great and all, but I need some horror in my Thrones or I’ll quit watching,” they were well served by this episode. Suddenly, all the violent talk turned to vicious action, and one was hard pressed to decide what was worse – the stuff we saw, or the stuff we didn’t see, but experienced only through the wide-eyed terror of the characters.
It was gore from the first minute, wasn’t it? We finally got to see what exactly a direwolf does to a human body. I’m sure you weren’t in any doubt of that, but hey, here’s some entrails to prove it Fittingly, they belonged to the “What would win in a fight?” guy. One doesn’t see much evidence of godly power or karmic retribution in Game of Thrones (well, save Melisandre, but we’ll get to her), but I’ll bet this guy kicked off the night with “Ay! What would win, a direwolf or a man? Me money is on the man!” This is probably why Westeros is so messed up. The gods are punishing men and women over campfire games, and leaving Cersei and Joffrey alone.
I mentioned a recap or two ago that you can really tell Game of Thrones has a bigger budget this season. I’d like to repeat that. The battles have carnage now! Neat! And the show has the budget (or perhaps the confidence?) to explore and employ more visual artistry. Last week ,we got that beautiful shot of Robb writing in a pool of darkness; this episode featured a great split-screen/fade-out/boy I do not know the technical term between Robb and Grey Wind. One thing Game of Thrones fumbled last season was drawing the mystical connections the Stark children seem to have with their wolves, but thankfully this season is remembering that was a thing. The wolves are still terribly downplayed (I’m ok with not seeing them, but we should feel their presence more) but at least they’re being worked in.
Robb –Who is quickly becoming a bit of a heartthrob for me. That jaw! – also encountered what I didn’t realize, until now, was a really annoying genre cliché: The determined and cool chick who is a worldly pacifist, and causes the warrior to question his values. As she began soapboxing about innocents and the futility of war, I realized I had seen her in a million stories, and she was usually healing someone there too. Yawn. I’m sure we’ll see this character again, and Robb will get tangled up in a sexy way with her. (Emphasis on the sexy. Grand “War is the tool of the bourgeoisie” speeches will sound even better with a girl’s breasts displayed.) I’ll bet she’ll also be super feminist and sexually free, wanting nothing of Robb but a human connection, because our lives are short, etc. I’m already dreading this. Game of Thrones doesn’t lack for tough women, especially this season, and inventing one so Robb has a cool girlfriend is the kind of source departure I’m always annoyed by.
In all other respects, Game of Thrones freewheeling with the book delighted me greatly. Margaery Tyrell has an expanded part (she was just “the pretty brunette queen” for a book and a half) and while they’ve lifted a bit of characterization from Natalie Dormer’s cool Anne Boleyn, I am ok with that. Dormer does it beautifully, and it fits perfectly with what George R.R. Martin spun. I loved the way she calmly put Littlefinger in a place with a bit of cool dismissal that would make her a brilliant PR specialist in the 21st century. Cersei could learn a thing or two from Margaery, couldn’t she? To quote our friend from the beginning, if Cersei and Margaery were to play Game of Thrones, one on one, who would win? My bet would be Margaery, who knows the rules, and has a better poker face. She doesn’t have the wardrobe, though. (That outfit seems borrowed from the odd garb sported by the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I’m not a fan of chicken wire collars.)
Sansa is also learning, bit by bit, how to maintain a stiff upper lip. I realize now why last episode had that baffling “Sansa fumbles dinner” scene, because now we got the “Sansa has figured out what to say and do” moment . They still have the tendency to make her too one-note, but the character is slowly developing out the way she’s supposed to, and the way viewers expect. (I say that because I just had a funny conversation with a non-reader, who immediately brought up that dinner scene, and said “Why hasn’t she learned to fake it better? Cersei is nuts, she HAS to, or she’ll end up dead!” Well, there you are.)
Not to get nitpicky about book versus show (though I have to sometimes), but clearly The Hound is going to be “that dude from the books who we include here and there to keep fans happy.” Tyrion was no slouch for scooping in and saving Sansa, but I’m disappointed we have yet to see the Hound badgering her into awareness.
Even if you loathe Sansa, you have to feel for her being engaged to Little Caligula. Shudder. But to be snarky, is that redhead the only prostitute in all of Westeros? Or just the only one willing to do girl-on-girl? She’s had more screen time this season than Daenerys, and that’s not right.
Speaking of the Mother of Dragons, I’m glad we finally saw Daenerys in a new locale, but am disappointed that’s all we got. I laugh every time I see the “Dragon Team” credits after each episode. It takes a lot of people to move those silent crates! This scene felt both underdone and overdone. I understand Daenerys was trying to prove she was a worthy personage without resorting to tricks (and, I suspect, not wanting to betray how small and weak they are) but I really wish she’d summoned them to her shoulder to blow some sparks after all was shouted, postured, and done. They could be a bit bigger and meaner. Time has passed! Here’s a way to show it.
Catelyn’s stand and deliver moment was much more satisfying, and I feel proud saying that since I’m not much of a Cat fan. After delivering the third smackdown Littlefinger had received in the last hour (ha ha), she – the woman who has gone so unexpectedly far from home – was finally reunited with one member of her family. I was crushed they didn’t do this as beautifully as the book (they might still, I suppose) but it was still painful. Ned Stark has certainly (and unwittingly) left his mark on Westeros and it was sad to see him reduced to one small container.
But I’m delaying the inevitable. We have to talk about Harrenhal, and then try not to shudder as we do so. t is probably one of the few locations Game of Thrones has sported that truly matched the book, but even if it hadn’t, the script did horrific justice to the stifling and omnipresent slaughter of the place. Once again, the Game of Thrones team proved they could compress a lot of material for a stronger impact (The Mountain has a traveling torture show that Arya was privy to for weeks, making Harrenhal an ugly haven in comparison), and juggle characters effectively. (Why they haven’t managed this with the Craster/Jon Snow stuff, I have no idea.) I noticed on Twitter that a lot of people were upset that Harrenhal’s creepy lord, Roose Bolton, was swapped out for Tywin. But it works, darn it. Tywin is one of the Big Villains and it makes sense to keep him as such, and not confuse viewers by throwing every slimeball Martin created at the screen. Season 1 did that, and people went out of their minds. As long as the tension is there, who cares who hires Arya as a cupbearer?
And speaking of tension, I suspect a ton of viewers scooted to the edge of their seat and covered their eyes when Gendry was picked for the Torture Chair. I will also bet a lot of stomachs and viewing parties were put in a lot of upheaval as to exactly went on in the Torture Chair. Clearly, Game of Thrones writers have studied their medieval torture. (“Rat panic” was a real one, and reportedly quite popular, though usually victims had to be lying down. I’m not sure how they kept that bucket horizontal. I don’t WANT to know.)
It makes me a little worried as to what we’ll see next. The Head Crusher? Knee Splitter? Saw Torture? I don’t know how many of you saw Tom Hooper’s Elizabeth I miniseries that played on HBO a few years back, but he managed to get an authentic “drawing and quartering” on air (something not even Mel Gibson managed with Braveheart), so all bets are off as long as the budget is there. Game of Thrones is certainly the place to try the souls of viewers, and the nightmares of the medieval nerds who avidly studied this sort of thing.
Then again, The Mountain was probably already garroting or head crushing people when Arya first arrived at Harranhal. Surely, what we saw through her eyes was worse than what we were allowed to see? It certainly sounded worse, if the crunching sound effect was any indication. And Game of Thrones seems to only shy away if it is really, really, really bad.
If you doubt that, just think (and I know you don’t want to) to the closing shot of “Th Garden Bones.” There were a thousand ways they could have been relatively discreet and creepy with Melisandre’s shadow birth, but oh no. They went all the way. (When they casted Carice van Houten, I suspected as much. She’s an actress with few boundaries. And I mean that in a shock-and-awe way. Rent “Black Book” sometime, if you haven’t.) And if there was a way to make a direwolf mauling seem unremarkable, “The Garden of Bones” found it, and gave the room something to fall silent about. Where is that thing headed, you wonder?
Season 2 of Game of Thrones has grown stronger with every episode, and nothing says “We’ve stepped it up” like a Cronenberg demon birth. I’d say I was afraid of what we’ll see next, but given this is only the fourth episode, I’m eager to see exactly how far they will go. They can’t have used up all the nasty tricks this early on, can they? No. This the stuff the show has been straining to get at. I think we’ve just experienced that moment in “The Shining” when the elevator doors open … and from here on, it’s just going to be blood. And probably boobs. It is HBO, after all.