Game Of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 5
The Ghost of Harrenhal
Michael Richardson
Wow, there's a lot here to parse this week. I've gotten so used to the slow burn of the series that once a legitimately action-y episode is delivered it throws me for a loop.

We start off with a continuation of last week's shadow baby, delivered by Melisandre in front of a terrified Davos. Last week left us wondering what its purpose was, or at least the particulars. So here it is, materializing in Renly's tent the night before he's set to crush Stannis' armies, taking the vague shape of Stannis himself and then thrusting its dagger through the young king's chest in the presence of Catelyn and Brienne. The latter's wails are heartbreaking, but not as much as being immediately suspected by two guards who ender to investigate the commotion, and who she immediately has to kill to defend herself. As they always say, there's no better way to bond with someone than witnessing a murder and immediately becoming suspects, because it's not long until Catelyn and Brienne are riding through the woods towards Robb's army. Catelyn has lost a potential ally, although one who was not magnanimous enough to offer the North true independence. But she has gained a more faithful one. The actresses playing these two women do an incredible job with that scene, bringing the emotional weight of the not-so-distant tragedy and tempering it with their characters' hardness. In a show where everybody is in danger of being backstabbed (sometimes all too literally), these moments stand out.

With his "victory," Stannis arrives to rally his newly won army. After the death of Renly, the youngest brother's bannermen flock in droves to join Stannis, and he can now march on the capital in force. The few loyal allies of Renly that remain flee to their homes, Loras and Maegery among them. Loras mutters and paces in anger, but Maegery knows that the war is not over. She has seen her husband killed, though he was obviously less a beloved partner than the surest path to becoming queen of Westeros. Still, there are other options. She knows how to scheme, even if Stannis has won the day. Stannis himself has mixed feelings. Though pleased that he can concentrate on taking King's Landing, Davos is still there to question whether or not such a victory is worth it. Stannis isn't made of such flexible material - he knows what he did was wrong, regrets it's necessity and swears to leave Melisandre behind when he attacks the city. Davos' relationship with Stannis is in desperate need of fleshing out - I still don't have a sense of why he would be entrusted with such an important assignment, nor why Stannis would consider his counsel so definitively.

The real meat of the episode is Arya's storyline. As a handmaiden to Tywin Lannister, she finds herself in the proverbial lion's den of her brother's enemies. Outside, she re-meets Jaquen, the caged prisoner she rescues right before being captured. He offers his services - three deaths for saving his life. For you see, Jaquen is one badass assassin. Need proof? Take a good look at the Tickler, who "fell" at the end. His head is roughly 180 degrees from where it should be. "Anybody can be killed" Arya says to Tywin when recounting stories of her own brother while keeping her identity hidden. And now she has that power, and it is potent indeed. So who will be the last two? Arya is one of the most underrated characters on the show, but it's clear the creators know what they're doing with her. Watch how her unwillingness last season to study up on other houses bites her in the ass - a minor character detail that's perfectly observed. Here's hoping her story line will continue to earn so much screen time.

My goodness, I haven't even gotten to the demon monkey Tyrion or perpetually creepy Theon or Jon's adventures beyond the wall. As the series expands outwards, reviewing it all becomes difficult. These moments that don't add much in the short term will surely make much more sense in a future context. So relax, friends, if I can't address every story line in each review. As they wax and wane in importance, I'll consider them as a whole rather than a single part. So expect double the Jon and Theon next week, as there story lines seemingly begin to reach a feverish pace.

Grade: B+


Qhorin Halfhand, nominee for biggest badass in Westeros, makes his first appearance. Biggest complaint - don't get to see his half a hand.

This week's proposed spinoff: Littlefinger and Margaery, a combination so obvious that I'm sad I missed it. I'm thinking they could be like Nick and Nora Charles, but instead of solving mysteries they'll just fuck with other people.

I briefly touched on this a few weeks ago, but Game of Thrones has the best female characters on television right now, bar none. Tonight we get killer scenes from Margaery, Catelyn, Brienne and Arya, all of whom seem more unique and complex than the vast majority of the male characters. You can throw in Daenerys and Sansa and some upcoming characters to really round out the group. I can understand why some would accuse the show of misogyny with the constant nudity and sex, but I honestly can't see how those people miss everything just under the show's lurid veneer. Unless they were writing about it without having watched it, which is obviously not the case.

This week in "I sure hope somebody got fired for that blunder": This week, I actually have a legitimate complaint: killing the Tickler now means that we won't get one of the most brutal and legitimately cathartic scenes in the whole series, one that was practically made for television. In retaliation, I will hire a Faceless Man to take care of whoever on staff was responsible for this.

Tags: Game of Thrones
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