Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 4
Garden of Bones
Michael Richardson
Season 2
Episode 4
Garden of Bones

That was a brutal episode. I mean, the show occupies a brutal world, and the characters are largely brutes. But if you didn't understand that Westeros (and the surrounding lands) is not the land of damsels and shining knights before, it should be clearest now. The show, because of its visuals, makes the underlying cruelty of this whole system as plain as day, rather than alluded to as in the books. Instead of an ongoing chess match between scheming nobles, there are blood and torture and shadow monsters.

Robb Stark, our noble King in the North, walks among the wreckage of his latest victory. Roose Bolton, one of his lords, describes the battle in numbers even as they stroll around carcasses being stripped of possessions. Bolton mentions that he has several Lannister officers in custody, and that were he allowed to flay them by his family's custom, he could surely get information on Tywin's war plans. Robb puts an end to it: no torture, which would be barbaric. Then he gets on his knees to help a nurse hold down a wounded man while they cut off an infected foot with a hacksaw. Robb draws a moral line, and immediately sees it rubbed away in the man's panicked screams. What moral value does torture have in a world this uncivilized, this cruel, this brutal? The young king strikes up a conversation with the young nurse. "He was lucky you were here." "He was unlucky you were" she shoots back.

There are those who see torture as a little less "evil", like Gregor Clegane and his clan of miscreants. Arya spends most of the episode in a small pen under guard, crammed in with a bunch of other prisoners. Each day, one of them is taken and tortured to death by an interrogator, and they're chosen at random. Like that young soldier, these people are victims of circumstance, in a world where those who lead think little of the small folk who are ultimately crushed. For every deliberate choice the characters we've grown to love make, it can ultimately lead to the deaths of thousands. Arya and Gendry are saved by an act of pure luck - the early arrival of Tywin Lannister - not through intelligence or ability. On this side of the nobility, even a man with the wit of a Tyrion is ruled entirely by fate and circumstance.

In other parts of the world, alliances are made and broken and made anew. Danerys finds a new home in the city of Quarth, and forms a relationship with a local leader forged in blood. Littlefinger brings Catelyn the bones of her late husband to be buried at Winterfell, then makes a move to try to seduce her (I'm trying to think of a worse way to pick up chicks, but I'm having difficulty). The literal blood relationship between Stannis and Renly continues to fray. Their armies stand arrayed against one another. Renly has a steep numerical advantage, and Stannis only has his Red Priestess. But when Davos rows Melisandre to a location close to Renly's camp, we get a glimpse of how her power truly matches those numbers of soldiers. Melisandre is a menacing figure, played as an enigma to everyone else besides her king. Here she literally gives birth to shadows; a riddle begets an enigma. I was afraid of how the shadow baby would play on screen. Luckily, it plays fucking terrifying.

This was a pretty hopeless episode. I can't think of any show that can get away with being this relentlessly bleak week after week. Even a few of Tyrion's barbs and Bronn's particular wit isn't enough to slow down the pace and give the viewer a chance to breathe. As the stories continue to branch ever outwards, I worry about how these episodes are going to pace themselves. As much as I joke that nothing ever happens on this show, it's the most breakneck distillation of nothing I've ever seen. Like war, it is long stretches of contemplation punctured with terror and fury. The first book/season is a Disney fantasy compared to the darkness that spreads throughout the rest of the series. In that facet alone, tonight is a good look of what is to come.

Grade: B+


Readers of the book might be excited by our first glance at Roose Bolton. I think it's a pretty good casting choice - somewhat menacing and very cold.

Speaking of a menace, King Joffrey has become totally Flanderized. He went from "entitled little shit" to "history's greatest monster" pretty quickly, huh? But at least Ros got her Guild-mandated nude appearance.

Hearing Stannis correct Davos' grammar makes me think that he would make a great editor. He has everything you need: total devotion to the rules, absolute contempt for both his underlings and his superiors, and a permanent frown. Stain his hands with red ink and stick him in from of some copy.
Nothing from the Wall tonight. The cold weather must be bad for Jon's luscious locks.

"There's no cure for being a cunt." Perhaps in honor of tonight's premier of Veep, Bronn's life philosophy reminds of Tucker's Law, courtesy of The Thick of It:

This week in "I sure hope somebody got fired for that blunder": So many changes, I don't even know where to begin. Honestly, I think we should just fire everybody and start the slate clean.

Tags: Game of Thrones
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