As we move into the final episodes of the second season, Game Of Thrones goes into ‘chatty cathy’ mode as characters discuss their plans, vent their frustrations and generally make demands or threats of one another. So it’s basically a regular episode, only with fewer action scenes.
Let’s bitch it out…At this point in the season, I’ll admit that I’ve grown a little tired of the listless episodes. Don’t get me wrong – an episode of Game Of Thrones is pretty much guaranteed to be the best written, acted and directed show that I watch in any given week. But if we compare the show against itself, as far as delivering everything we love, ‘The Prince Of Winterfell’ is just an okay episode. It’s very dialogue heavy, which isn’t always bad, but there’s a great number of scenes that feel designed to set up events for the final two episodes of the season. There’s a lot of discussion about who people are, and what will come to pass, but there isn’t a lot of actual ‘coming to pass’ occurring just yet.
Plot-wise there are a few significant events: Cersei (Lena Headley) trying to hurt Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) by threatening his whore, but accidentally grabbing the wrong one – Ros (Esme Bianco) instead of Shae (Sibel Kekilli). Arya (Maisie Williams) attempting – and failing – to use her third wish to kill Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance). And just in case anyone had any concerns about last week‘s cliffhanger involving the burnt Stark brothers, ‘Prince of Winterfell’s final reveal shows us the truth that they survived.
For me, however, the most interesting scenes all question what it means to be a ‘leader.’
Let’s discuss the two contrasting scenes between siblings. The opening scene finds Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan) arrive at Winterfell not to help her brother, Theon (Alfie Allen) to defend it, but rather to plead with him to return home with her. It’s an interesting confrontation because it starts off in one place and finishes in another. Yara initially seems the same way as she did when we saw her on Pyke: mocking and sneering and generally making Theon feel like a turd. After he refuses to relinquish Winterfell (his one achievement), the tone of her dialogue shifts. Her story of nearly killing him as a child seems both protective and yet another reminder of the tough life that the Ironborns lead.
Contrast this with Cersei’s scene with Tyrion. She’s still carrying a grudge against her younger brother for sending away Princess Myrcella, so she strikes back when she believes that Tyrion is trying to kill Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) in the upcoming battle against Stannis (Stephen Dillane). Her malice is on par with Yara, but there’s very little affection between these two siblings (though the threatening/compassion has been on display in other episodes). The show clearly wants us to reflect on the impact that power and responsibility has had on these distinct sets of siblings since we see the sister sitting at the head of the table in both conversations.
Arguably I think that there are gendered issues at play here, too. Not only are these women discussing matters relating to their ability to relate to their younger, male siblings; they are also addressing the the challenge of being taken seriously as a threat because they are women. I still think that the show is tackling some of the most interesting debates on the small screen when it comes to the differences between the sexes, but it’s a challenging discussion to have considering that I (and this is my own personal opinion) feel like we’re made to align with both Tyrion and Theon (however despicable you may find him) and not their sisters.
The issue of the responsibility of power is at the heart of other discussions as well: Tywin Lannister makes a hasty decision to move on Robb Stark (Richard Madden) because the Wolf Lord is without the kind of fear that older, more experienced strategists have. I really liked how this interpretation is contrasted in Robb’s scenes: he’s clearly a deliberate, thoughtful leader; not at all impulsive or foolish. Oh sure, it’d be great if he knew that he wanted to be more than simply a “good” leader (because, seriously, how about we bring in the headless corpse of Ned Stark to show what “good” gets you?).
I also really dug how Robb tore into his mom, Cat (Michelle Fairley) when he found out that she let Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) escape, and similarly when he explained his deceased father’s approach to being a lord. Robb’s approach to leadership is also contrasted by the approach that King’s Landing and Bronn (Jerome Flynn) have adopted. Tyrion isn’t very happy when he hears from Varys (Conleth Hill) that Bronn has rounded up the known thieves in anticipation of Stannis’ attack, but this is because – unlike Robb, who is thinking about the people he leads and lords over – the imp has demonstrated these last few episodes a surprising lack of understanding of what is occurring beyond the palace walls.
Tyrion may – as Varys suggests – be a great Hand because he enjoys playing the game, but he’s a Lannister just like the others: he cares only about keeping his position of power for another day. Now that he’s moved up from Master of Toilets to the second most powerful role in all of Westeros, it seems that Tyrion has lost sight of where the shit passes en route to the sea. Without Shae to keep him slightly honestly, he’d likely become just as bad as Cersei.
- Bonus points for the brief scene with Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) and Jamie. Although we still don’t know much about Jamie, he’s got the Lannister arrogance down and he’s not afraid to goad his opponents. It’s clear, however, that Brienne is far too clever for that – and him – and is therefore a perfect escort to accompany him back to King’s Landing
- After several weeks without Varys, the eunuch returns and proves a welcome sight. Tyrion is at his best with a worthy opponent and although his stinging barbs with his sister are always entertaining, she often resorts to emotional hits below the belt (amusingly enough these demonstrate why she ought not to be in power – because she allows her motherly emotions to rule her decisions). The suggestion that Varys and Tyrion might work together to ensure King’s Landing survives Stannis’ attack is promising, though I still don’t trust the eunuch as far as I could throw him
- When the option to kill Tywin Lannister expires, Arya leverages her final wish with Jaqen (Tom Wlaschiha) to get her, Gendry (Joe Dempsie) and Hot Pie (Ben Hawkey) out of Harrenhal. Leaving a trail of dead guards will likely come back to haunt them though since they’re likely going to take the blame
- Very little movement with Jon (Kit Harrington) and Dany (Emilia Clarke). Seriously there’s little to say, although clearly this is all build-up to more interesting things like the reveal of the House of the Undying and maybe a glimpse of Mance Ryder
- Finally, Robb and Nurse Boring, Talisa (Oona Chaplin), finally hook up after sexily pouting about his marriage of “bridge” convenience to the Frey. Yay for sexy time, but clearly this is going to eff everything up. Remember how Robb was acting like a leader? Strike that because this is full on stupid juvenile boy with hormones territory.
Reminder: No spoiler territory – if we’ve seen it on the show, it’s fair game, but please do not discuss future events from the books.
Game Of Thrones airs Sundays at 9pm EST on HBO