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Game of Thrones – Review: I Now Pronounce You Drunk and Sansa

Review of Game of Thrones – Season 3 Episode 8 – Second Sons:

Game of Thrones is picking up the pace by adopting a more fleet approach to its storylines. In past weeks, we’ve gotten single check-ins with various storylines across Westeros, Beyond the Wall, and Across the Narrow Sea. Yet “Second Sons” gets a bit more in-depth, as we stop in for multiple scenes with Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), Sansa (Sophie Turner), Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), and even Melisandre (Carice Van Houten). Meanwhile, a significant chunk of this season’s narrative sits this one out (No Jon, Robb, Jaime, Brienne, Littlefinger, Varys, Theon or Bran this week). However, the narrative is improved by the omission, simply by virtue of the fact that the stories in question are allowed room to breathe. For instance, we really haven’t gotten much from Stannis (Stephen Dillane) this season, outside of a brief handful of scenes here and there in which we see how desperately he clings to Melisandre, despite the presence of a wife (Selyse) and daughter (Shireen) who carry a healthy respect and admiration for him (Selyse more than Shireen, it would seem). Here, we get to see the toll his defeat last season has taken, as he embraces Melisandre’s Lord of Light more fervently, resorting to magic to turn the tide of the war, even if the price of that magic is the blood of his own innocent kin. It’s powerful stuff, and is merely one facet of a larger narrative about the cost of power in war. By any measure, “Second Sons” is well-paced television that takes a broad story and boils it down to compelling specifics.

Credit: HBO

Credit: HBO

The North: After having been captured last week by The Hound (Rory McCann) while fleeing from the Brotherhood Without Banners, Arya (Maisie Williams) has naturally assumed that he’s taking her back to King’s Landing. To avoid this fate, she attempts to murder The Hound in his sleep with a rock the size of her own head. However, he awakes just before the potentially fatal blow. He invites her to take her best shot, but warns her that she’d better succeed in killing him, or he’ll cut off both her hands the moment he’s recovered. Arya opts not to take the risk, a choice that proves to be wise on her part, in the sense that The Hound actually wants to take her where she wants to go. He reveals to Arya that they’re headed for The Twins, stronghold of House Frey, where Robb (Richard Madden) and the rest of her family are gathered for the wedding of her uncle Edmure (Tobias Menzies) to one of the Frey girls. The Hound rationalizes that the Starks will pay a veritable king’s ransom for Arya, which is worth far more to him than the indignity of attempting to win back his old position under King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson). Arya is ambivalent about The Hound, recognizing that he’s a means to an end, but hating him nonetheless (though The Hound recalls having rescues Sansa from rape in King’s Landing last season, as a means of explaining that there are people far worse than himself in this world. Yet Arya remains disbelieving). And so the Travelogue of Thrones continues.

Credit: HBO

Credit: HBO

Meanwhile, Melisandre has brought Gendry (Joe Dempsie) back to Dragonstone to sacrifice him to the Lord of Light, so that Stannis might finally be rid of the usurpers to his rightful place on the throne. To this end, Melisandre decides to wine and dine Gendry, to let him get a taste of the kingly life. Her rationale is that fear “poisons the meat,” so to speak, and so she wants Gendry to feel comfortable, so that he doesn’t “see the knife coming.” Of course, Melisandre takes it a step further by actually seducing the guy, giving him a little thrill before tying him to the bedpost and subjecting him to leeches. The entire scene is among the best of the episode, for how it’s filmed and staged with a mounting sense of dread. Gendry isn’t given any particular reason to distrust Melisandre, yet his distrust remains. As the layers of Gendry’s skepticism are peeled away, the dread mounts to where the inevitable comes to pass.

For his part, Davos (Liam Cunningham) tries to talk Stannis out of sacrificing the boy, saying that, unlike Renly, Gendry has done him no harm — the same blood runs through their veins, and he doesn’t deserve to be offered to the Red God. Davos argues that, deep down, Stannis knows what he’s doing is wrong, and came to free Davos from the dungeons in order to be talked out of it. Yet Stannis insists that this isn’t the case. Quite the opposite actually, as he embraces R’hllor, saying that Melisandre’s god is the only god that’s tangibly real. And it’s this faith in R’hllor that carries Stannis through the king’s blood ceremony, as Melisandre painfully plucks the leeches from Gendry’s torso, and hands them to Stannis, who then casts each leech into the fire, one after the other: one for the usurper Robb Stark, one for the usurper Balon Greyjoy, and one for the usurper Joffrey Baratheon. The leeches pop and burst on the grill, and Stannis begins the waiting game to see if Melisandre’s voodoo-esque magic works on his enemies.

Credit: HBO

Credit: HBO

King’s Landing: I wouldn’t be surprised if viewers have been performing voodoo magic of their own against King Joffrey, as tonight’s episode pays service to what an absolute bastard he is. The wedding of Tyrion Lannister and Sansa Stark is an uncomfortable enough affair already, with Tyrion assuring Sansa that while neither of them want this marriage, he promises never to hurt her (a sentiment Sansa appreciates, though it does little to perk up her spirits about the upcoming nuptials). However, Joffrey makes the entire thing a tawdry spectacle, first taking away the step stool from the altar so that Sansa has to kneel for Tyrion to place the marriage cloak over Sansa’s shoulders (to the snickering of onlookers), and then later threatening to rape Sansa on her wedding night. Joffrey is that special, rare kind of jackass who waits until a woman is committed to someone else to decide he finally wants her, and to hell with whether she wants him or not. He teases that it doesn’t matter which Lannister puts a child in her, as long as she births a Lannister. When Joffrey realizes that this isn’t something she would want, he states that he’ll simply have his lackeys, Ser Meryn and Ser Boros, hold her down. He then takes it a step further by initiating the “bedding ceremony,” in which the males carry the bride up to her bed chambers and remove her clothes, while the females do the same to the groom. The party then waits outside the door and listens to the entire affair, as a sort of grim, salacious spectacle.

Credit: HBO

Credit: HBO

However, this is a bridge too far for Tyrion, who is spectacularly drunk throughout the entire evening. After having been lectured by his father, Tywin (Charles Dance), about executing his duties as a husband, Tyrion decides he’s going to do so by protecting his wife from the King’s advances. He declares that there will be no bedding ceremony, and that Sansa will not be touched. When Joffrey scoffs at his uncle’s command, Tyrion slams a knife down on the table and says that if he lays another finger on Sansa, he’ll be doing all his future “bedding” with a wooden prick. It’s one of the tensest moments of season three so far, which is a huge credit to Dinklage’s talents (and to the talents of Jack Gleeson, who really sells Joffrey’s rage and shock at his uncle’s insolence). Thankfully, Tywin is able to defuse the situation by saying that Tyrion was simply joking, adding that the groom has had far too much to drink. Tyrion goes along with the facade, laughing off the comment while taking Sansa away from the increasingly-hostile atmosphere of the wedding reception.

In their bed chambers, Sansa pours herself a cup of wine and prepares to do her duty, but Tyrion can’t bring himself to lay with a child (Sansa confirms to Tyrion that she’s 14). He proves himself a gentleman by saying that he’ll never share her bed unless she wants him to. “What if I never want you to?” Sansa replies, and Tyrion can do little else but pour himself some more wine and declare, “And now my watch begins.” The next morning, Shae (Sibel Kekilli) enters to serve breakfast and change the sheets. She’s relieved to find the sheets are clean, and Tyrion sleeping on the couch. For all his vices, Tyrion remains one of the few (if only) wholly good characters on the series. While others are colored in varying shades of grey, Tyrion remains someone whose morality remains consistent, as does his empathy for the plight of others. His having resisted his own natural urges to remain loyal to his vow to protect Sansa represents a real triumph for the character — morally, anyhow (the poor guy could really use a win soon though).

Credit: HBO

Credit: HBO

Cersei (Lena Headey) mirrors Joffrey’s childish attitude, in many respects. When Margaery (Natalie Dormer) attempts to bond with her future mother-in-law by likening themselves to “sisters,” Cersei responds by recounting to Margaery the story of the House Reyne of Castamere, once “the second wealthiest family” in the Seven Kingdoms (a title now held by Margaery’s family, the Tyrells). The Reynes once rose up in rebellion against the Lannisters and were quickly obliterated — every man, woman and child was put to the sword. House Reyne is no more, though the tale of their fall lives on in the Lannister anthem, “>”The Rains of Castamere.” However, Cersei can’t simply let the threat remain subtext, as she outright tells Margaery if she ever refers to her as “sister” again, she’ll have her killed in her sleep. Lena Headey continues to bring sincere, bitchy realness to the part, to the point that I can’t conceive of anyone else in the role. She also brings a hint of comedic timing to the proceedings, shutting down Loras (Finn Jones) when he tries to make small talk about their future marriage arrangement. It’s one of the comic highlights of the episode, along with Lady Olenna (Diana Rigg) attempting to make heads or tails of the complicated family tree these new marriage arrangements will create. The Queen of Thorns continues to deliver every single time she’s on-screen.

Credit: HBO

Credit: HBO

Yunkai: Daenerys meets with the Second Sons, a mercenary faction from the Free Cities, with the hopes of procuring their services. Their boorish leader, Mero (Mark Killeen), spends the entire meeting denigrating Dany, objectifying her and speaking to her as if she were some streetwalker whose body was for sale. He also harasses Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel), spanking her as he leaves the tent with his men. Dany tells Barristan (Ian McElhinney) that if it should come to war with the Second Sons, she wants Mero killed first. However, it won’t have to come to that, as one of Mero’s own men does the job for her. Daario Naharis (Ed Skrein), a handsome rogue working under Mero, beheads the leader of the Second Sons, along with his second-in-command. He does this in self-defense after he refuses to follow through on their order to assassinate Dany. Daario is one of the more fascinating figures to be introduced in a Dany story in sometime, as he infiltrates her tents and lays the heads of her enemies at her feet, before explaining his hedonistic mantra: he basically does what he wants, when he wants, however he wants.

Credit: HBO

Credit: HBO

Daario’s lack of any real complexity is exactly what makes him so fascinating, as he swears the Second Sons, along with his allegiance, his sword, and his heart to Dany, and we have no real way of knowing that he’s doing this for any other reason than to bed her. Yet there’s a hint of nobility behind his actions, the idea that he’s doing this for some greater, just cause. Skrein is a bit different from the Daario of the books (less bombastic and less overtly roguish), but he’s tremendously effective in the role, and Emilia Clarke was more than capable of matching him (it’s probably strange that, in a scene where Dany rises from the bathtub, completely nude, the real point of interest is her eyes — Clarke has such wonderfully steely intensity in her eyes when she’s portraying “Dany-as-authoritative ruler.” She’s not threatened by Daario, and she has no problem exposing herself to him, as if to say “This may be what you want, but your desires don’t matter.” It’s hard not to love her for her bravado). All of a sudden, Dany’s storyline has picked up considerably, as she not only has three dragons, but three counsellors at her side (well, four if you count Grey Worm, and how could you not?). Her storylines grow in interest as her force becomes more formidable, and I doubt this is unintentional.

Credit: HBO

Credit: HBO

Beyond the Wall: Lastly, we have Sam (John Bradley) and Gilly (Hannah Murray), who continue their desperate flight back to The Wall. Sam still can’t build a fire worth a damn, leaving Gilly to shoulder much of that burden. I continue to love the interplay between Bradley and Murray, as it’s an innocent chemistry that mirrors the similarly effective rapport that is established in the books. Sam wants nothing more than to protect Gilly, while Gilly continues to reel from her shifting perceptions of the world beyond her limited scope. It’s one of my favorite pairings in the series, and it delivers some of the best material of the episode, as Sam and Gilly try to think of a name for her son, prompting Sam to recount the cruelty of his father, Lord Randall Tarly, a name Gilly finds “handsome” (the way Sam pleads with Gilly not to name the boy “Randall” is one of the more heartbreaking line deliveries of the series, for my money). The conversation illustrates the deepening bond between the two, with Sam explaining first names and surnames as Gilly argues with him over whether the baby was winking at him or simply blinking. It’s unfailingly endearing, yet it gives way to the episode’s biggest moment.

The crows begin to stir outside the hut in which they’ve taken shelter, and Sam decides, against Gilly’s wishes, to check out the disturbance. And it’s there that Sam sees a figure straight out of his nightmares: the White Walker that confronted him in last season’s finale. Gilly is mortified, rationalizing that the creature has come to take her son. Sam makes his last stand, drawing his sword and preparing to die to keep Gilly safe. He swings against the White Walker, who catches the blade and shatters it in his frosty grip. The creature then tosses Sam aside like a sack of potatoes and approaches Gilly. And that’s when Sam gets real: he draws the dragonglass dagger from his coat and makes one last desperate charge against the otherworldly being…and he succeeds. The obsidian burns through the White Walker, bringing it to its knees. The creature then slowly dissolves like broken ice. And like that, Sam Tarly, the “craven,” has done what none of his other brothers in the Night’s Watch proved capable of doing: he’s killed an “Other.” He and Gilly flee the scene as the crows swarm around them, in a powerful image to close out the episode. It’s yet another moment from the books that the show perfectly captured (though it comes far later here than it did in the books — of course, this isn’t a complaint, given how well they executed the scene. This season has been a wonderful adaptation of a monster of a book. I don’t think I can say that enough).

Credit: HBO

Credit: HBO

“Second Sons” deepens the story of the show’s third season by providing each plot time to breathe and grow. In many ways, this episode represents what the show would be like if each episode found a way around stuffing so much pure plot into the hour. However, overstuffed episodes are usually unavoidable, given how much story a single season needs to cover. This is why episodes like “Second Sons” prove to be such a welcome rarity, as we get time to really luxuriate in this world, and dig into the elements of character study that make this one of the most fascinating genre shows in the history of television. It’s rare to get characters this well-rounded in a television show that’s this complicated. Hell, it’s exceedingly rare to get a television show this complicated, period. Game of Thrones has grown by leaps and bounds, in terms of plotting, pacing and character development, taking the specifics (as well as the broad strokes) of what’s in the pages of each novel, and finding unique ways to tell that story within the context of a serialized television drama. Season 3, in many respects, could prove to be the show’s crowning achievement before it’s all said and done.

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