Things finally get deathly serious in the battle for the Iron Throne during “The Ghost Of Harrenhall“, the fifth episode in the second season of the HBO’s Game of Thrones.
After yet another example of why giving birth in the Seven Kingdoms tends to be bad for your health and the health of those around you, the demon spawn progeny of Melisandre and Stannis proves to be a natural assassin by stealthily infiltrating Renly Baratheons’ camp and knifing him in the back, killing the King of the Stormlands. This bold move by Stannis is witnessed by Catelyn Stark and Brienne of Tarth, who is consequently accused of the assassination. After dispatching of her accusers in expected fashion, the lady knight and Cat flee the camp and head north for refuge in Winterfell.
Immediately following this preemptive strike by the elder Baratheon, we see Littlefinger attempting to take advantage of the situation, as he observes just how ambitious the fleeing Tyrell’s truly are. Although Loras is broken up by the event, not wanting to leave Renly to retreat back to Highgarden, an ambitious Margery, with the nudging of Littlefinger, continues her attempted ascension to the Iron Throne by telling Lord Baelish that she does not want to be “a Queen” but rather “the Queen.” This powerful family’s refusal to join Stannis after losing their leader gives Littlefinger and his “interests” a bit of a boost because, if we know anything about Petyr, it’s that he knows how to take advantage of any situation.
Meanwhile, in King’s Landing, Tyrion again meets with Cersei about the governance of the city and their defense plans regarding the interesting turn of events in the Stormlands. After hearing that Joffrey is leading the defense preparations by mysterious means, he attempts to get this information out of his sister. But, we again see that one of Cersei’s goals is to obstruct the progresss of Tyrion because she knows that he is slowly strengthening his grip. Even so, Tyrion ends up finding out that an old technology known as Wildfire is being produced by the Alchemists Guild on the orders of Joffrey. This intrigues Tyrion and leads him to seek out more information.
When he and his new Commander of the City Watch (Bronn) take a leisurely stroll through the streets of King’s Landing, they see that there is widespread protest and insurrection about the current administration in the capital city. He is surprised at first to hear of the public blaming him (the demon monkey) for its ills, but this quickly fades as he comes to the realization that these accusations are to be expected and that he should try and spin this to his advantage.
Realizing that bolder steps need to be taken to keep this city in Lannister hands, Tyrion makes his way to the vast stockrooms beneath King’s Landing where he finally sees the immense power and potential that the Wildfire can have in the defense of the city from the inevitable siege forthcoming.
We then move to Dragonstone, where we see an officially freaked-out Davos speaking with Stannis about how shady the Red Witch truly is. Stannis acknowledges this, but quickly moves to focus on their impending attack of King’s Landing. When Davos mentions to him that the men believe Melisandre is the one giving orders, Stannis makes the decision to leave Melisandra out of the attack as a way to quell this suspicious talk.
In the Northwest Theon is still having growing pains on the Iron Islands, where it seems as though he will never get the respect he deserves from his stonewashed crew on the aptly named “Sea Bitch.”
Slowly being re-introduced to this rough and independent culture, Theon realizes that men on the Iron Islands will either choose to follow their leader, or simply do what they want. Respect is earned, and Theon desperately need this, not only from his crew, but from his father Balon. Speaking with his first mate about the relative unimportance of their mission, he begins to speculate on possible alternate plans when Torrhen Square comes up.
Although a seemingly irrelevant target, Theon quickly comes to the conclusion that Winterfell would respond to this aggressive action by coming to Torrhen’s aid. In doing so, they will leave Winterfell open for the taking, which is seemingly a perfect opportunity for Theon to prove his worth to his demanding father.
Fresh from narrowly avoiding one of the most creative uses of a mouse as a torture device, Arya is now in Harrenhall, the haunted castle located in the riverlands near The Trident. In one of the larger story departures from the novels, we now see Arya working for directly for Tywin Lannister who has taken up residence in this geographically strategic crumbling castle.
When pressed on the location of her home town and the rumors she has heard about the King of the North, Robb Stark, Arya handles herself with the composure and killer instinct that we have come to expect from the water dancer-in training. When asked if the “Young Wolf” can be killed, Arya, with her decidedly fatalistic outlook (and deservedly so), says that “anyone can be killed.” There has yet to be a more profound line about what to expect in Game of Thrones than this.
After her encounter with Tywin, Arya is reintroduced to Jaqen H’Ghar, the mysterious foreigner from Lorath, who tells Arya that he owes her the debt of three lives after saving him and the two other prisoners during the raid that left Yoren dead. Surprised and intrigued by this interesting turn of events, Arya decides that the first target will be the one who killed so many by means of mouse torture, The Tickler. Needless to say, it should be expected that he will follow through on this simple request.
North of The Wall, the Night’s Watch is making its way towards where they believe Mance Rayder and his army of Wildlings are. With the help of the savvy veteran bad-ass Ranger, Qhoran Halfhand, the Watch realize that they are in a world of trouble. It seems that Mance is heading south and is willing to take out any opposition on the way. Because of this aggressive movement, Qhoran and some of the stealthier Night’s Watch members, including Jon Snow, make their way towards the Wildling camp with the intention of killing Mance before he can make it to the wall.
All the way across the ocean in Qarth, Daenerys is safe and comfortable, caring for her dragons and strategizing about what their next move should be. While at a Qarth garden party, Dany has the pleasure of meeting the blue lipped Pyat Pree, a warlock who has the distinction of being the creepiest member of The Thirteen. After showing off his power in the form of a nifty magic trick, he invites her to the House of the Undying for some more trippy experiences, which she cautiously agrees to.
On a side note, I love all the similarities Qarth has to Frank Herbert’s Dune. The spice, the sand, the blue lips. When reading the books, I always noticed the connection and I love that (at least from my perspective) Martin is partially paying homage to another classic house vs. house fantasy magnum opus.
After this offer, comes another, in the form of a marriage proposal by Xaro Xhoan Daxos. Seemingly always attracting the big and burly types, Dany has to consider this carefully because if anyone has the resources to take over the Seven Kingdoms, it is the spice trader Xaro. Even with this tempting offer, Jorah, being the voice of reason, says that she only needs one boat and that those who can truly help them are already in Westeros. He goes on to say, partly due to his obsession with her, that she is an ideal ruler that should not be swayed by outside forces like Xaro. Good advice from a good advisor.
Far away in Winterfell, Bran is making sure his commoners are well taken care of. During his duties, he hears the distressing news that Torrhen Square has been attacked. He immediately sends Ser Rodrick and 200 men to defend the city from the raid. This development is particularly disturbing since he recently had a dream that the sea made its way to Winterfell and many people drowned, including Ser Rodrick himself. Osha, being the dream translator, does not miss the relevance of this admonition and knows that something big is going to take place.
The episode ends in a similar fashion as it started, with an assassination. Proving that he will be an extremely important ally to Arya, Jaqen H’ghar begins to pay down his debt by snapping the neck of The Tickler.
“The Ghost Of Harrenhall” was the first episodes in which major moves were made to take control of the Iron Throne. Renly is dead, Stannis is preparing to lay siege to King’s Landing, Tyrion is developing his Wildfire defense, Tywin is strategizing at Harrenhall, Theon is preparing to take Winterfell and Mance Rayder is about to move south, overwhelming the Night’s Watch in the process.
So, we got a great deal of material and only one hour to squeeze it all into. This is where the show will have to prove its meddle by taking the massive storylines and condensing them into an easily watchable and coherent narrative. This has proven difficult before and we do see the problem pop up again in this episode. Keen readers will realize that the show dismissed of one of the most interesting characters in the book, the Frog Eaters. Otherwise known as the Crannogmen, they are a reclusive people who live in the swamps of the Neck.
The books features a great character, Jojen Reed. Jojen is a soothsayer of sorts, along with being a profoundly perceptive child, and is the one who tells Bran what his dreams actually mean. It’s unfortunate that this integral character was not included, but someone has to go for the story to work on television. Even with this exclusion (or maybe due to it), they have been able to hold the story together quite well up to this point. That being said, things are only going to get more complicated so it will be interesting to see if they can keep everything together.
Let us know what you thought of this episode, or where you would like the show to go moving forward.
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