Oh boy. Game of Thrones, what are you doing? Has no one told you there are only four episodes left (three not counting “A Man Without Honor”), and you have a quite a lot of story to cover? I’m fairly sure even the non-readers are feeling a bit of wheel-spinning, and wondering how many episodes Jon Snow is going to lead his little redhead around the glaciers.
I will give the episode props in that it was another one full of exposition and emotion, and managed to do so without once showing off any skin. Of course, the price for such maturity was to have Ygritte deliver Westeros’ version of “Closer.” We get it, Ygritte. You know nothing of overkill. (Game of Thrones has betrayed a real fetish for stereotype – have you noticed the most sexually charged characters have all been redheads? You can’t even say “What about Cersei?” because I get the feeling she and Jaime, despite the incest, are pretty darn vanilla.)
I suppose the salty dialogue was an attempt to make this turgid storyline interesting, but Jon has been trudging through the snow for the better part of a season, and until he stops, no amount of lusty conversation is going to save it. I’m fairly sure non-readers can’t remember why he’s out there, and if they have, they’re sure Mance Rayder just isn’t worth all this glowering and confusion. (I’ve read the books, and I’m struggling until someone says something about Mance, wildings, King-Beyond-the-Wall and then I say “Oh, yeah. Ok. I think I remember this.”) This season has done such a brilliant job of story compression and lean editing in almost every other storyline that it’s truly baffling why they’ve allowed Jon to wander, mumble, and complain so damn long.
The other storyline that hit the wall a bit was Daenerys. After last week’s heartbreaking conclusion, I was hoping for a bit more action from her. You can’t steal the Mother of all Dragons’ babies, and then expect her to just take it, can you? Apparently, you can. Poor Daenerys was just left staring forlornly for much of the episode, unable to do anything constructive except order Jorah Mormont to find them. Come on, Thrones. If you’re going to invent a storyline out of thin air, then I would think it would be to give your languishing little khaleesi some action, instead of just letting her shout, seethe, and well up with tears. She remains one of my favorites (Mother of all Dragons, painfully sympathetic, great Qarth wardrobe, etc.), but the show is definitely not handling her as well as it could be, and that goes for both seasons.
I’m also disappointed in how the show has handled the mystery of Qarth — or at least the masked lady. It’s amazing how a creepy, sinister, seemingly magical character can be found just by walking down the street. They’re just there in the open. Huh. I remember these masked assassins/magicians/
Really, everyone just kind of stayed stuck in place in “A Man Without Honor.” The King in the North got an incredibly dramatic and lush intro, only so we could learn Robb still really likes the healer lady! Neat. I’ll forgive it though, because Richard Madden is officially my show crush, particularly post-“Birdsong” and the discovery he’s from Elderslie, Scotland. That’s where William Wallace was born! Looking good in armor is just part of the heritage, apparently. So, Robb can stay looking dreamily at his blood-splattered Miss Right, and I won’t complain. (I will hope for a love scene, though. But since the show seems determined to keep male nudity that isn’t Theon Greyjoy’s off screen, I won’t expect it.)
Actually, everyone just kind of stayed stuck in place in ““A Man Without Honor,” but some storylines were just so rich in performances and chemistry that you could forgive them. This was a Lannister episode from beginning to end, and not one of them went unnoticed in this clannish sizzle reel. In my opinion, it did something even the books haven’t quite managed, and illustrated just how this family managed to get on top: They’re incredibly, beautifully, and ruthlessly charming.
First up, we had another installment of the Tywin and Arya hour. Tywin dropped the crustiness for half a second as he admitted he quite liked little Arya … but not enough to put up with too much lip. He’s still scary as hell, but he’s entrancingly so, particularly when he’s pouring a hungry kid a cup of wine and encouraging her to eat up. Dang it, Tywin! You have a heart.
I believe he can be nicer to her than his own kids (and grandkids) thanks to a degree of separation. He expects a lot from those carrying the Lannister name. Too much. But a little brainy scamp he plucked out of a prison cell? He can afford to show affection because she’s not his kin, and won’t be contributing to the glory of Casterly Rock. The tragedy of that family is spelled out in Tywin, really. And yes, I hate saying “tragedy” and “Lannisters” together, but this is a family that has everything, and could be the best of Westeros if they just could be good to one another. Their inability to do that much for their own blood corrupted them just as much as their overwhelming greed. (Then again, Tywin may care more deeply than he lets on. Love has obviously blinded him to Cersei, who is not an intelligent or spirited woman in the slightest. Perhaps as a girl she was more like Arya, but that’s hard to imagine. Surely she was more of a Sansa?)
It’s easy to see where Tyrion gets his brains – Tywin has deduced Arya’s true background from a handful of slips. He’s even happy to let her keep on lying just because it amuses him to watch her brain work. Of course, part of me was like “I’m pretty sure these kinds of stories are a sort of folk tale, and could be recited by a stonemason to his family regardless of literacy” but he’s just being snarky. It’s obvious she’s educated beyond a common stonemason’s daughter.
After Tywin, we saw some rare intimacy between Cersei and Tyrion, in which she admitted Joffrey was a lost cause. Shocking! I’m torn on how the show has chosen to portray Cersei. She was unabashedly and unrepentantly evil in the books, and seemed dismayed by Joffrey only because he pushed her aside. (I haven’t yet read A Feast For Crows which offers up her perspective on events, perhaps some of this is spelled out there?) From season one, Cersei has been portrayed as a woman of disappointments as well as cruelty. She wanted her own life. Failing that, she wanted Robert Baratheon to love her. She wants perfect children. She wants those children to lead their own lives, away from political maneuvering. Of course, she’s not always consistent in these wishes – How can you expect a marriage to work if you’re in love with your twin brother? How can your children be independent when you push them onto the throne? – but no one ever said hope was rational, especially not in Westeros, and not for a noblewoman there. Cersei is a bit like Betty Draper – I don’t think she knows what she wants, and any thoughts she might have are skewed by what a woman of her time and place is supposed to want or be.
And surprise upon surprise – Tyrion reached out to try and comfort her. The tension and shyness was pathetically palpable. Should he offer it? Would she take it? Should she? These two don’t know how to act toward one another, conditioned as they were (by Tywin, who is practically about to take Arya to Disneyland) to hate and distrust everyone.
Cersei also opened up to Sansa in an unexpected and touching way, mixing brutal honesty (Yep, it sucks to be a girl, now get over it) with bruised and battered emotions. Not only did Robert let Cersei down – and it seems there was some chance there, somewhere – but one gets the impression even Jaime hasn’t lived up to her needs. She loves him, and he’s certainly been there for her, but it’s also taken a toll we don’t quite know about.
Speaking of Sansa … that poor girl. (I take back what I said about her handling attempted rape cheerfully.) Even if you hate her (and so many do, and understandably so), you can’t have wished for that to happen. Not even having Shae in her corner helped – nice one, Shae! – because The Hound was apparently waiting in the closet next to the feminine hygiene products. Seriously, where did he pop out of? I know a hallway has two sides, and he probably heard a scuffle, but come on. (And just how gross is it to think of him trotting back to Cersei with the big news?)
But I digress. I was talking about the Lannisters, and probably should have started marveling about the man who seems to be their ultimate representative: Jaime. We may have been warmed by Tywin, Cersei and Tyrion (always) in their respective scenes, but the Kingslayer was utterly hypnotic. He’s your friend. He remembers you. He wants to talk about the good old days, when things were less complicated and a lot cleaner. Lean closer, so you can talk easier. Ignore the fangs inching closer to your throat. How did the Lannisters get where they are? This. And while I may opine over their wretchedness, I know Tywin and Cersei wouldn’t hesitate to do the same to the tender young things in their keeping. Tyrion? Probably, but we never quite know, which makes him even more dangerous than Jaime.
Of course, Tyrion could get himself out of a fix easier than Jaime, who found himself dragged back into it. Say, what are you going to do with that sword, Catelyn?
Actually, that’s a bit of a nitpick … but since that leads right into the horrors of Winterfell, I’ll run with that and dodge back into the fannish eye-rolling. Theon has proved to be a pretty nasty piece of work, unable to rule Winterfell with compassion or competence. (I guess I can appreciate the “thinks with his penis” angle they were using for two seasons, because ha ha, Osha used him. Still. That’s a lot of set up.) He’s lost Bran, Rickon, Osha and Hodor and everyone is sniggering at him. So what’s a Greyjoy to do but …. oh, you sick son of a squid.
All right, I’ll zoom back to the nitpick. In the books, Catelyn learned of this awful deed, and it – not some scuffling among Robb’s thanes – was why she marched into Jaime’s cell. I wish they had kept the order, as would give Catelyn something to do other than seethe into the camera. She didn’t have time to grieve for Ned, but I would like to have seen a distraught mama bear go after Jaime, not just a harried Queen Regent.
Now, back to what Theon has done. There’s nothing much to say, really, except that I’ve come to realize just how off-handedly this show presents its “gotcha!” deaths. Knowing what was in store for Ned last season, I was surprised to see how his execution was handled. .. just sort of there one minute, gone the next. Same with Khal Drogo, and Renly. There’s never a real clash of cymbals and soaring of music, it’s just wham, gone. The same can be said of the younger Starks, who were thrown at the audience so fast they barely had time to blink at the credits. (Right now, there’s a lot of “What just happened?!” scrolling across Twitter.) I have to admire that about Game of Thrones. That is how death is, after all. It’s not scripted. It just happens horribly, and then we have to race on.
Let’s hope we race on next week. I can’t take more of Jon Snow trudging through the mountains, now heckled by more than one wildling. Or Daenerys crying, for that matter. Give them some ass to kick, already.