Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 6
The Old Gods and the New
Michael Richardson
So after the slow burn of the first half of the season (and yes, that this season is already halfway over also blows my mind, thank you for asking), we get a little bit of the old ultra-violence in order to kick off what looks to be a frantic back-half. Last season, "A Golden Crown" acted as the pivot, culminating in a gruesome scene where a main character could finally achieve great things beyond the people who were holding her back. Here, the violence is not so liberating.

So let's start at the beginning, a series of scenes that sets the mood for the whole episode. Theon Greyjoy, in a bit of off-screen trickery, has suddenly managed to take Winterfell for the Iron Men. In Bran's room, Theon tries to convince the young lord to capitulate, for the good of the people of his castle. Bran, straight faced with eerie calm, yields the castle, and fires his Parthian shot as his former brother walks through the door. "Did you always hate us?" It hangs there. It's clear to us that Theon didn't always hate them, that he was desperate to be molded into a better person. He legitimately went to Pyke to rally his father to fight the Lannisters, and is only the cajoled into attacking the Starks when surrounded by others who've wished to do so for decades. Their cruelty dissipates within him even as he enters Winterfell - he wishes to spare Ser Rodrick's life, even as he is convinced to behead him for insolence. He does the deed himself - as his adopted father taught - but his cuts are shallow, incompetent and driven by emotion. Even his Ironmen look on with shock. It's hard to see after that first swipe, but I think you can see a sadness that this is so much harder than he thought, physically and emotionally. Theon is undoubtedly a shitty human being, but the show walks a very fine line in enriching all of his worst moments with elements of sadness and empathy that is totally missing with, say, Joffrey.

Oh, should we talk about this now? I think its best. In the show's largest set piece, possibly to date, the rumblings that Tyrion heard last week among the smallfolk have turned into screams of rebellion. As the royal procession walks through the streets, they hear treasonous shouts and insults thrown at them. Then a pile of shit is flung at Joffrey's eye, and pandemonium ensues. The young king shouts for his men to butcher the protesters, but they can only keep them at bay while the royal family is moved to shelter. Tyrion, Joffrey and Cersei make it to the palace, but others are not so lucky - the priest they are with is literally torn to pieces, while guards are killed with makeshift weapons. Sansa is pursued by thugs down a dark alley, about to be raped when the hound skewers and disembowels her attackers. Back at the castle, Joffrey escaped the crowds but not the wrath of his uncle, who compares him to the worst of the past kings and find them all wanting in comparison to his nephew's incompetence. Then Tyrion slaps him, and if you didn't get a warm fuzzy feeling at that moment I don't ever want to meet you. He fires the second stinging parting shot of the night, reminding the king that if Sansa is not safe then neither is his uncle, whom he owes quite a bit to. Tyrion is warning Joffrey about what happens when the peasants are so divided from the nobility, but the seams forming in his own palace are even more threatening. Even though their lives are constantly at risk, siblings cannot speak to each other in confidence. Their enemies are outside the walls, inside the walls, inside their castles and their councils, inside the only people who could normally be trusted.

In the North, Jon Snow continues his mission with Qhorin Halfhand. Qhorin knocks down Jon's thoughts of heroism with a weary sigh - he knows there's no glory in death, even for the best of causes. Jon's probably the closest thing to a straight heroic archetype in the show, and his story this week does a good job of tempering any belief that such a thing can exist in this world. The crows slaughter the wildling's camp, with the exception of one attractive red-headed wildling named Ygritte. Qhorin asks the girl what the wildlings would do to him if he were caught, and because of his reputation she answers honestly - death. He dooms her to the same fate, and leaves Jon to make the swing. Of course he can't do it, because he's the hero - which gives the pragmatic Ygritte an opportunity to catch him off guard and run for safety. He pursues, until they both are far away from the encampment. But the time they return, the woman tied up, the other rangers are gone. They're left to spoon for warmth as night descends, in a scene that mines their desperate attitudes for a little humor. This is what heroism has earned poor Jon Snow - a bed of tundra and a hostile woman to warm it.

There's only four episodes left in the season and a lot of ground to cover. If they're all this fast paced, we might be in for one of the most memorable seasons of television in the last decade.

Grade: A


Because there's always so much story to parse each week, I feel bad for not talking about the directing and cinematography. Even if the riot is a bit confusing and awkwardly shot (then again, riots are purposefully confusing), there's still some striking images to be had here. Jon holds a sword at Ygritte's throat as an icy expanse unravels endlessly behind them. Osha rises from the bed next to Theon in a lupine pose, animalistic and half in shadows. The dynamism of any discussion between Arya and Tywin, whose pacing and elusive movements perfectly mimic the web of lies developing between the two of them.

Daenerys' scenes are getting a bit tiresome. "I AM THE MOTHER OF DRAGONS!" Listen, lady, that wasn't any more charming when your brother kept saying the same damn things last season, and we saw how that turned out. And now you lost those same dragons?! Oy vey.

Hey, it's the secretary from Downton Abbey! I guess her typewriter broke or something, and being forced to become a wildling raider is the next best thing.

This week's proposed spinoff is still Arya and Tywin, but now I think it should be a crossover series with Mad Men's Sally and Roger. Older dudes and their platonic young female friends, playing the ad game and straight up murdering people, depending on the pairing.

Tags: Game of Thrones
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