Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 8
The Prince of Winterfell
Michael Richardson
You know that old phrase: There's always an awkward, plodding calm before the storm. The kind of calm where character arcs point towards endings and obviously alive characters turn out to be obviously alive. I'm not surprised the show needed to catch its breath before its penultimate episode (the position where, in this series and most HBO series, everything comes to a crashing crescendo), but after the excitement of the last few episodes, this one's high points were comparably low.

Saying that, this episode reveals the strengths and weaknesses of the series very well. The best scenes of the show are not battles or violence, but conversation, particularly between interesting character pairings. Tyrion and Cersei, Arya and Tywin, Littlefinger and anyone who will listen - these characters earn Game of Thrones a position among the best shows in terms of the drama of dialogue. This episode leans heavily on that drama, but falls flat because of the characters involved. For example: the elder Starks. God they're fucking boring. In his two scenes of note, Robb listens to a couple of sad stories, has sex, and admonishes his mother. It's not surprising that the women opposite him do most of the heavy lifting in these situations. Catelyn Stark is able to convey her own hurt with just her eyes, but her son delivers his speech as if he's weary of it from the start. Similarly, though Jeyne of Volantis recites her backstory with a certain panache, it's entirely too obvious where this scene is going to actually add any suspense. Because one of these characters is such a dullard, both scenes get dragged down. His brother in the north, incidentally, suffers from the same flaw when failing to comprehend what the Halfhand might be suggesting, instead just staring vacantly as if trying his hardest to make the gears in his mind turn.

When the characters are strong enough, though, these scenes put other shows to shame. Just as the Stark sons can bring any scene not involving a plucky Wildling woman to a screeching halt, Tyrion and Varys can make the mundane fascinating. Their two scenes tonight are stellar as always, and with the addition of the always amusing Bronn, it becomes the highlight of the night. As Tyrion wracks his brain and references his books for the answer to the oncoming siege his two compatriots offer their conflicting advice. Bronn is practical about the chaos of combat, as he was a few weeks ago in the Alchemists' basement. Varys only knows subterfuge, and Bronn's ways are alien to him (except in a single moment of synchronicity, when Bronn suggests they hurl books at the enemy and Varys deadpans that there's not enough of them). And when Tyrion and Varys later speak of the former's dreams and ambitions and feelings, they cannot even agree to speak truthfully on the level with one another. It's a rare break in the façade, where the lies aren't even concealed. It doesn't change much.

The cliffhangers from the last few weeks unfortunately didn't leave too much to be revealed. If you didn't already know that the littlest Starks were alive and well, you need to go back and freshen up on your rules of genre fiction: nobody's dead until you see their (recognizable) corpse. So while this gave their Maester the chance to emote loudly, it also gave us the chance to see Theon's sister admonish him for being a fucking moron (and I cannot be the only one who thought they were going to make out. Sometimes I hate what Game of Thrones does to my brain). Down south, it turns out Catelyn did not have Jaime butchered. Who would have guessed, besides anyone who has watched the show and understands her character? The show doesn't need these little things to keep people interested. The show is so strong in other areas that cheap tricks only detract from its strengths as a whole.

Next week we seem to be getting a doozy of an episode, where the war in the south comes to its head. Am I excited? For an episode featuring all the best characters, excitement, fast paced action and a bottleneck where all the major stories come to a head. Yep, I'm pretty excited.

Grade: B


A note on Shae: I'm having trouble discerning the difference between "putting on a deliberately awkward fake accent" and "being played by a terrible actress" - maybe it's the former, but my cringes of embarrassment tell me it's the latter.

I've been holding off week after week to write about the Danaerys plotline, but there is literally almost nothing to it. They could have given Emilia Clarke the whole season off and it wouldn't have made much of a difference so far. Whether her plot kicks into motion the next episode or the last episode, we need some forward motion to bring us into the next season.

Arya's appropriation of Jaquen's speech was all kinds of awesome. Can we get her all of the awards, please?

A friend just forwarded this video to me, titled "Tywin Lannister Shakes Dat Ass." WARNING: CANNOT BE UNSEEN!

Tags: Game of Thrones
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