It’s another busy episode of Game Of Thrones, but unlike last week’s premiere, this episode feels less introductory due to a better flow, primarily because of very strongly staged transitions between scenes. Also: it’s ladies night as the female actresses put on one hell of a show.
Let’s bitch it out…
One of my favourite aspects of Game Of Thrones is the depth of its female characters. With the return of Arya (Maisie Williams) this week, as well as meaty performances by Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer), Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Shae (Sibel Kekilli) episode two is heavily skewed towards females. It’s essentially Westeros women doing it for themselves, especially in King’s Landing as a powerful new player, Lady Olenna (Diana Rigg) shows up looking for answers about her granddaughter’s fiancé, King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson).
It’s a great role for the actress, who makes a strong impression as the outspoken and controlling matriarch of the Tyrell family. Once again poor Sansa seems stuck in political intrigue for which she is unfavourably outmatched. As Lady Olenna and Margaery verbally corner her, I love how the camera pushes in on Sansa’s alarmed face. The framing of the scene exemplifies both her panic and her smallness as she is literally dwarfed by the table before her and the archway behind. With a mixture of fear and release, there’s a strange mixture of emotions as Sansa throws caution to the wind and confesses how terrible Joffrey has treated her. It’s a great moment: she’s terrified of what she’s done, and yet she can’t help but let it out. The whole scene is a stand-out for Turner, who has really blossomed into her role last season and so far this season, and it also serves as a great introduction to Lady Olenna, in that we have a strong sense of her character, even though we have no understanding of her intentions or her allegiances. And that’s dangerous.
The relationship between mothers and their offspring is particularly strong in this episode. While we may not know whether Lady Olenna is being truthful, she claims that her interest in Joffrey pertains to his nuptials with Margaery. It’s a similar argument to the one that Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) makes in her conversation with Talissa (Oona Chaplin). I think it’s interesting that Catelyn blames herself and her inability to love Jon Snow (Kit Harington) for the downfall of her family. It’s far more superstitious than we’ve been lead to believe she is, but in many ways it helps to illuminate just how important all of her children – even the bastard – is to her family line. Her conversation may be more revealing than normal because it comes at a time when she learns that her father and possibly her two youngest children are dead. This is Catelyn, the wounded and grieving woman, not the strong and proud mother of the proclaimed King of the North.
Catelyn’s approach to motherhood stands in stark (ha ha) contrast to the time we spend with Cersei (Lena Headey) who once again raises the issue of Margaery’s intentions with Joffrey. Amusingly, while we can see through Cersei’s fear of losing control of her son to a younger, politically motivated woman, all he can do is focus on his (non-floral) new outfits. Ever the pompous brat – and yet his scene with Margaery later proves that his mother has reason to fear. Look at how deftly Margaery manages to turn around his inquisition of her time with Renly (RIP) into a bonding moment about killing things with crossbows? She understands how intertwined sex and death are to this monster and she’s not afraid to demonstrate it, as aptly demonstrated by her completely grotty sexual stroking of the weapon. It’s proof that she paid attention to Sansa’s description of Joffrey’s actions concerning poor Ned Stark over lemon cakes and cheese earlier in the day. Dormer is striking the perfect balance between the sexual creature she played as Anne Boelyn in The Tudors and the innocent waif who wants to help the poor. Only limited screen time is preventing her from becoming one of the series’ most intriguing performers.
There’s nothing sexual about the relationship between Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) and Jamie Lanniester (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) – unless you count the battle of the sexes as a mating dance. No, Brienne is much more interested in being honourable than getting laid. The scenes between her and Jamie are a welcome return to both characters after they sat off last week. I’d forgotten how amusingly antagonistic Jamie can be, as well as how well Christie embodies Brienne – a stoic, devil be damned giant of a woman who has only ever wanted to be seen as an equal. The armed conflict on the bridge is far too brief to be truly satisfying (I can already imagine that fans of the Kingslayer will argue that Jamie is too exhausted / underfed etc to be a contender in their battle), but there’s a fairly ominous suggestion that they’re now in a pretty dire situation as they’re surrounded by a band of men flying the sigil of the flayed man at the end of the hour. Of all the sigils, that one is the grossest sounding.
Also hanging out in bad company is Arya Stark, whose tough girl act is no longer fooling anyone. Something’s a little off about Arya now – it’s as though knowing you’re responsible for the deaths of several men inhibits your quippy glibness. Alas Arya doesn’t end up as a member of the episode’s “strong girls” theme – her storyline is an extended version of Brienne and Jamie’s final scene as she, Hot Pie and Gendry are set upon by Thoros and his group of rogues. There’s always been a sinister vibe on the series when it comes to women’s interactions with strange men, so it’s no big surprise when the spidey sense begins tingling when the men show up in the forest. We’ll never get to know whether Thoros would have kept his word and let them go, however, because a captured Hound (Rory McCann) spills the beans before they can escape. You can bet that the youngest Stark daughter won’t be going anywhere in the near future now!
- Although he’s never been my favourite character, the return of Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) is spiced up thanks to the introduction of Jojen (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and his sister, Meera. Purists of the books will likely lament that the brother-sister pair are coming in so late, but the timing works well as we get the simultaneous introduction of wargs in Jon’s storyline north of the wall
- With both Cersei and Lady Olenna doing the Westeros equivalent of a background check on their children’s fiancé, this episode really speaks volumes about politically motivated marriages. Oh yeah, this marriage is going to be crazy successful with this much trust
- What makes all of these disparate scenes work (we cut across at least eight storylines) is the way that they are tied together. Whether it is directly verbal (Wilding Orell’s proclamation of seeing dead crows that segues directly into a scene of Sam nearly surrendering to death) or a visual cue, there’s a deliberate attempt to link scenes so that they feel complimentary, even as we jump all over Westeros and rarely spend more than 4-5 minutes with a group of characters
- I see last week’s nipple slicing and raise you this week’s fingernail tearing off. I’d say poor Theon (Alfie Allen), but this guy has kinda got it coming to him after what he did last season, no? I’m unsure if the show feels the same way considering the crucifixion imagery embodied in the way he’s strung up
- Jamie (asking Brienne how long she’s been in Catelyn’s service): “Because I visited Winterfell. I would have noticed your dull head smashing into the archways.”
- Joffrey (when Cersei inquires about Margaery): “That’s what intelligent women do: what they’re told”
- Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion (to Shae): “Is there an idiot in any village that believes Baelish?”
Your turn: do you think that Theon’s rescuer really working for his sister? Is Sansa everyone’s puppet at this point? Do you think Shae is less interested in protecting Sansa now that she knows Tyrion finds her attractive? Can Lady Olenna be trusted? And what will become of Brienne and Arya now that they’ve fallen into the hands of bands of rogues? Hit the comments below with your thoughts
Game Of Thrones airs Sundays at 9pm EST on HBO