Monday, April 08, 2013

Game of Thrones (S3E02): "Dark Wings, Dark Words"

Episode 2 of the third season of Game of Thrones aired last night at 9pm EDT on HBO. The episode is titled "Dark Wings, Dark Words" and was a decided improvement on the premiere episode, "Valar Dohaeris" (S3E01). This week's episode had appearances by the main characters missing from last week, most notably Brienne and Jamie "The Kingslayer" Lannister. It also introduced numerous characters who will become significant in the future arc of the story (or at least they are so in the books): Jojen and Meera ReedOlenna "Queen of Thorns" Tyrell and Thoros of Myr.

There are only 10 episodes per season of the television adaptation of Game of Thrones and with two gone so far, not much has really happened yet but things are being set up for a lot to happen later. One of the subtle features of the books is that the flow of information is very important. Finding out news about significant events can be very difficult for the characters to do and sometimes the information is incorrect and/or outdated. How information influences plot showed up in at least two ways in this episode, primarily involving the Stark children.

First, Robb Stark and Catelyn Stark finally get the information that Winterfell (their ancestral home and the most famous palace in The North) has been ransacked and burned. Since the two youngest Stark children, Brandon and Rickon, were supposed to be there at the time, their olders brother and mother fear the worst. Of course, we as the viewer know that Bran and Rickon are with Hodor (Hodor!) and Osha on the way to the Wall to try and rendezvous with  their half-brother Jon Snow.

The second example of information flow that involves the Stark children is knowledge about the location and appearance of Arya Stark. Arya has been impersonating a boy (seems like puberty may be kicking in for the actress playing her and she's looking less and less boyish) while she wanders around the North with the deliciously named Hot Pie and the somewhat studly Gendry (former King Robert Barratheon's only surviving bastard child). Through bad luck and fictional coincidence, Arya and her travel companions are in an inn having hot stew and brown bread with Thoros of Myr when the rest of his Brotherhood without Banners comes in, having captured Sandor Clegane, more commonly known as The Hound. The Hound knows what Arya looks like, and that half of King's Landing has been searching for her. "What are you doing with the Stark bitch?" he snarls. Arya's cover is blown and the audience has to worry about how this will impact her future.

Information about the existence of wargs (people who can place their consciousness into animals) is communicated to Jon Snow and also Bran, from people who not only know about this magical ability, but also value it. (Now we finally get an explanation for Bran's dreams!) Jojen Reed tells Bran that Bran is a warg, but also "much more." Far up North, beyond The Wall, Mance Rayder and the wildlings make use of a warg in an eagle's body for long-distance reconnaissance. Information about the identities  of two apparent strangers traveling off the Kingsroad who run into an innocent-looking old man eventually leads to the capture of Brienne and Jamie, because of the fame of the latter. Jamie had told Brienne to kill the man when they had seen him earlier, but she had refused, saying "He's just an innocent man." The point here is that even doing the right thing can get you into trouble, as is losing control of information about your whereabouts.

In fact, (secret, revealed) information is at the heart of the most important scene of the episode, the "tea" that Lady Sansa Stark has with Lady Margaery Tyrell and her grandmother, Olenna Tyrell (better known as the "Queen of Thorns" for her sharp tongue and wit(s)). The Tyrells have trothed Margaery (played by the scene-stealing Natalie Dormer) hand in marriage to the odious King Joffrey (played with evil relish by Jack Gleeson) and the Tyrells want to know what kind of husband he will be. So they ask his former fiancee, Sansa. Sansa (who basically starts the show in Season 1 as a silly girl who is waiting to meet her prince charming so she can become a queen and rapidly pop out princes and princesses) has been emotionally and physically (but, significantly, not sexually) tortured by Joffrey. Her big mouth has revealed information that obtained due to her family name providing her access to important events and prominent people has gotten people killed and impacted the plot before (see Season 1). However, after some prompting, she reveals the information about Joffrey that she knows (and that the Tyrells have suspected): "He's a monster!" The reaction from the Tyrells to this bit of information is priceless. "Oh dear, that's disappointing" says the Queen of Thorns. Margaery, on the other hand, just looks thoughtful. We see why immediately afterwards.

For an episode all about information it is disappointing that the key character whose very existence and source of power is rooted in his ability to obtain, hide and parse information still has not made an appearance in the season so far. Of course, I am talking about my personal favorite character, Lord Varys, the eunuch known as the Spider or Master of Whispers. I hope he shows up soon.

  • Sansa, Marge and Grandma Tyrell "having tea" and discussing King Joffrey's character faults
  • Margaery immediately using info garnered therein to ingratiate herself to Joffrey by appearing to welcome his proclivities
  • Jojen and Meera Reed and appearances by real-looking direwolves (Summer). Hodor!
  • The Hound's face when he recognizes Arya in the Inn
  • The verbal tussles between Jamie and Brienne
  • Seeing that Theon is being tortured by unknown individuals for information he does not know
  • The scene between Shae and Tyrion when she gets jealous that Tyrion called Sansa beautiful.
  • The scenes above the wall with Jon, Mance and Ygritte. Everyone is apparently trying to escape from the approaching horde of White Walkers, but they are doing it a glacial (sic) pace.
  • The scene between Catelyn and Talisa was a lowlight because it's still not clear to me what they are doing with this "Talisa" character. In the books, Robb's wife was named Jeyne, and she has almost no lines at all. The notion that Catelyn once made a bargain with The Seven Gods to save Jon's life and then reneged on her promise to ask her husband to claim him as a Stark when he recovered was interesting (and countertextual) but why would she be telling this tale to Robb's wife and not Robb?
  • Did we really need to see Joffrey's pale, skinny chest?
Grade: A-/B+.
This episode was (just barely) better than last week's  but since there are a LOT of pivotal events that happen in the book this season is based on hopefully these first two episodes were just setting up things and next week in (S3E03) "Walk of Punishment" we will begin to actually see depiction of events.

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