14
May
2012
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 7
A Man Without Honor
Michael Richardson
Let's talk about the Lannisters.

If this were a worse series, the Lannisters would be the evil foil to the Starks. The Starks are all honor and compassion and goodness. Their shit don't stink. Meanwhile, the Lannisters are malevolent, full of monsters both literal and figurative. Most fantasy writers would be fine with that dichotomy - the Starks will obviously win the game and we can wrap this up in three books, no problem. But as we go into the second half of the second season, these characters reveal themselves as full, real people with thoughtful motivations and logical goals.

Take Tywin Lannister. Charles Dance's first scene in the show, in which he field dresses a deer while giving a monologue about the future of his family, is one of the best in the whole first season. It encompasses everything about his character - brutal, unflinching, and dedicated to his legacy beyond all things. It's not a particularly ground breaking type of character; Charles Dance has played characters like him before, and would otherwise be played by an Alan Rickman or (ironically) a Sean Bean. But the more time we spend with Tywin, the more we learn about him - his history with his father, his former king, his ambitions and weaknesses. While sitting across from a young Stark he allows the façade he rigorously maintains slip a little bit. "You remind me of my daughter," he says to the young girl, unaware of her true identity. I don't think anyone knows if this is an insult or a complement, probably not even Tywin himself. He is both like and unlike Cersei and Joffrey - he believes brutality and cruelty are two very different things, and while one ensures compliance the other breeds enemies. He is single minded in his goals, but those goals aren't inherently unethical or even unreasonable. He's worlds more interesting than Ned Stark. Dance plays him as tight as a coiled spring, while young Maisie Williams falls somewhere between disaffected cool and dutifully terrified (and how bizarre is it that opposite a celebrated character actor is a 15-year-old actress who is somehow just as good). As a result, these exchanges are often more tense and electrifying than any scene of bloodshed in the whole show.

Jaime Lannister is probably the standout of the night, and it's telling that he can make himself missed even though he's only been in the show during three big events - trying to kill Bran, Ned and Robb. Again, it'd be easy to make him the ur-villain of the show, but it can't do so easily. Jaime sees himself as the hero of his story. You can see it when he tries to comfort his cousin with his own stories of youth, or when he defends his honor versus Ned's honor to Catelyn. Even his love for Cersei is respectable in his mind, for it is truer than most loves in a country full of arranged marriages. Killing that same cousin to get back to her is a heroic act to him, as is killing Lord Karstark's son. When he is recaptured, Karstark calls for his head, and Catelyn has to push back against a grieving father. Jaime doesn't make it easy for her, insulting Ned in front of her and threatening to escape again. But he knows if he died that night, it was trying to get to see his true love. The things he does for love, indeed.

But even those compelling bits were overshadowed by what is happening in King's Landing, particularly for Cersei and Tyrion. Cersei is not a likable character by any stretch of the imagination, but if you were ever going to sympathize with her, now is the time. In a scene with Sansa, who has just had her first period, she gives the advice that she has clearly relied on for more than a decade - you need not love your husband or anyone else, just your children. It comes from her own experience of her former husband and the knowledge of her son's unending cruelty. Just as Sandor Clegane offers to put himself and his sword in between Sansa and her soon-to-be husband, Cersei puts herself in between them through advice and support. She sees that the boy she raised will be a monster no matter what, and it will make Sansa envious of even the miserable life Cersei leads. Later, in a tender family moment with Tyrion, she reflects on whether raising him wrong was even the problem, revealing that fact that he is in fact Jaime's and whether the incestuous relations ruined him before he was even born. The Targaryen family intermingled with siblings, and it was a flip of a coin whether they were noble kings or mad tyrants. "You've beaten the odds," Tyrion says tenderly, pointing out that Myrcella and Tommen are model children. But they both know that those two aren't even worth considering. The mad one has power, and the only way it'll be given up is through bloodshed. You can see in this scene everything that is wrong with the family when Tyrion walks over to embrace his sister, but thinks better of it in the last moment. You can see how badly she needs some form of affection, but she can't stand to get it from the brother she has hated for so long.

Grade: A

Miscellaneous:

Once again, I apologize for not covering each story line tonight - I was particularly taken with the Lannisters and thought that they deserved some extra attention in a slow-paced episode. Dany's storyline got the short shrift in my review, because it is still kind of tepid up until the last moments. The sorcerer Pyatt Pree is totally awesome, and the overt magic of his coup is a nice reminder that this malevolent force is still present in the world. With a nod to the direction, I'll have to double check but it seems that the backgrounds were shifting when viewing the sorcerer, adding a Hitchcock-ian touch that made the scene all the more uncomfortable.

The older Stark boys are great at falling into the "Good is Dumb" trap far too easily. For Robb, it's bringing a hot nurse with him to accept a surrender, all the while making googly eyes - I'm sure nothing will go wrong here. For Jon, it's falling into Ygritte's ambush. Ygritte has made Jon Snow's parts in this episode immensely more compelling by bringing energy without tacking the word 'brooding' in front', and is also incredibly funny in a show desperate for a few laughs.

Gregor Clegane has an amazing voice - totally terrifying.

No Davos or Stannis tonight, but their presence hovers over King's Landing, where every decision is made with the knowledge that their ships will soon arrive

This week's spin-off: This is cheating, but Jaime seems to have a lot of barbs to throw at Brienne. If only they would go on some kind of adventure with each other...

Spoiler Alert, Spoiling Spoilers!

The chances that the sons of Winterfell are actually dead: slim to naught, and seem to be deliberately portrayed as such. Unrecognizable corpses and an off-screen death? I'm not exactly holding my breath in anticipation.


Tags: Game of Thrones
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