Game Of Thrones recap – 2×05: ‘The Ghost Of Harrenhal’

Courtesy of HBO

Now that Game Of Thrones has introduced magic into the mix, we get more of it as we cross the halfway mark of the second season.

Let’s bitch it out…‘The Ghost of Harrenhal’ is a very busy episode. Unlike some of the other episodes we’ve seen this season where we zero in on just a few characters, such as ‘What Is Dead May Never Die’, this episode divides its attentions between Jon (Kit Harrington), Dany (Emilia Clarke), Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), Catelyn (Michelle Fairley), Arya (Maisie Williams) and a brief scene or two with Theon (Alfie Allen), Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) and Stannis (Stephen Dillane). As a result the episode feels as though it’s covering more ground, but in less depth.

Why do we need to cover so much ground? One likely reason is because the season is half over and we need to stay on top of a variety of storylines. Another reason: in the opening scene poor Renly (Gethin Anthony) is murdered. Alas the popular wannabe king never really had a chance did he?

After he’s killed by Melisandre’s shadow baby (you don’t get to write that every day), Renly’s death initiates a series of responses. First, a variety of people who were shielded by his power or implicated in his death are sent running. This includes Cat and Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) who swear oaths to help the other out. The other pair on the lam are the Tyrell siblings: Margaery (Natalie Dormer) and Loras (Finn Jones). The siblings heed Baelish’s (Aiden Gillen) advice to run before Renly’s bannerman sell them to Stannis, but not before Margaery announces her grand ambition to become the queen. This is definitely not the last that we’ve seen of this power hungry girl.

Renly’s death also provides leverage for Davos (Liam Cunningham) to ask Stannis to send Melisandre back to Dragonstone instead of including her in the upcoming battle for King’s Landing. After watching the red witch birth such a horrible creature, it’s no surprise that Davos wants her as far away from him as possible. It’s pretty smart for the Onion Knight to play on Stannis’ fears that if he uses Melisandre in the battle he will not be perceived as the one in charge. Of course, I’m fairly certain that Davos didn’t intend for Stannis to charge him with manning the fleet in the attack on King’s Landing as a result. That should rile some feathers with the more high born lords.

The final character Renly’s death affects is Tyrion, who tries to convince Cerisei (Lena Headley) to work with him to prepare for the Barantheon attack. Unfortunately she’s not in the forgiving mood after her imp brother sold-off daughter Marcella to Dorne, so he’s forced to use his cousin Lancel Lannister (Eugene Simon) to find out what she and Joffrey have planned. It seems that they’ve commissioned a wealth of wildfire – a magical concoction like gunpowder that, once lit, will burn through anything…including human flesh (yum). And it turns out that the monks have been busy as they have 7811 jars of wildfire ready to go!

I did like that Bronn (Jerome Flynn) addresses how “magical” wildfire seems. First he questions its authenticity, and then reminds Tyrion and the monk that wars are won by men, “not magic tricks.” In a sense wildfire does seem like a perfectly convenient weapon since we know that Renly’s death has swelled Stannis’ armies to the point that King’s Landing would easily be defeated in a head-on battle. But as we learned last week from Margaery and Baelish’s conversation, sheer numbers do not guarantee victory – war is much more complicated than that. And honestly, judging from what we know of these characters, can we really expect any of them to play fair when it comes time to unleash hell on their opponents? Methinks not.

Courtesy of HBO

Which brings us to our five (!) other stories:

  • Thanks to the generosity of Xaro (Nonso Anozie), we – and Dany – go inside of Qarth this week. There’s a lack of perspective since we only see three locations, but I was particularly impressed by the opulence of the garden scenes and how different it is from the other sets. A lot happens in just a few scenes as we learn that Xaro can offer Dany wealth enough to buy her way to Westeros, but it comes with the price of marriage. Interestingly, Xaro suggests that their children will be princes and princesses – a loaded statement since she is no queen (her handmaid helpfully reminds us she is a khalessi first and foremost). And finally, a scene that stands out the most to me is the magical demonstration by the warlock who invites Dany to visit the House of The Undying by doubling himself. Xaro may dismiss it as a parlour trick (echoing Bronn’s renunciation of wildfire), but there’s clearly more to Qarth than meets the eye.
  • We only get a few quick scenes with Theon and Bran. Theon decides to disobey his father and sack a larger town instead of pillaging minor fishing villages. Bran meanwhile, is having green dreams that the sea comes crashing down on Winterfell. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that these two storylines will converge in the near future. Now that Bran has given away the majority of his fighting men, I fear for the crippled boy. Also, Theon is quickly rising to the level of villain on the show: even as we’re made to pity him because of his inadequacies, he’s clearly an desperately power hungry idiot. I understand the motivations and even the reasons of the other “villains” in Game Of Thrones (ie: Cersei and Joffrey), but Theon is such a loose canon that there’s no telling what he may do. That’s worrying.
  • There’s not much more time spent with Jon this week as the Nights Watch makes their way to the Fist of the First Men and Jon volunteers to be part of an advanced scout team that will kill a small group of wildlings watching over the pass. We get a better sense of the dangers of Mance Ryder and what he will do with his army of Wildlings, but this storyline still feels removed from the rest of the drama on the show
  • Finally we spend some quality time with Arya in her role as serving girl to Tywin Lannister (the glorious Charles Dance). Her scene with him when he questions her about her birthplace is downright intense (kudos to Williams for holding her own against Dance – she is a fantastic actress!). The other piece that people are likely discussing around the watercooler is Arya’s conversation with Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha). Jaqen has a very specific speech pattern, speaking about people – including himself – in the third person, which automatically makes him memorable. Plotwise his offer to kill three people she names as penance for saving his life back at the wagon is intriguing. As a result the episode is thematically bookended with magical murders as ‘The Ghost of Harrenhal’ ends with the Tickler’s gruesome death.

Other Observations:

  • Unlike Slant’s take on the episode, I didn’t have difficulties with the parallels between fire and water and their relationship to power. It seems to me that the show is using everything in its arsenal to continue to analyze the distribution of power amongst these characters and if elemental metaphors are another route to demonstrate that Brann and Cat currently have less power, then that works for me (even if it is perceived as ‘simple’). Considering how well the show is clicking this season, I’m not prepared to say that ‘The Ghost of Harrenhal’ is anything less than great TV.

As always, please remember our spoiler policy: if it’s happened on the show, you can discuss it. Anything future oriented, or from the books that has not yet happened is strictly off-limits.

Game Of Thrones airs Sundays at 9pm EST on HBO

About cinephilactic

cinephilactic is a university contract instructor in Film Studies. He is an avid TV watcher, particularly science-fiction, fantasy and drama series. His favourite shows currently airing on TV include The Good Wife, Breaking Bad, Justified, Hannibal, Game Of Thrones and a smattering of shows on The CW. He has a tendency to "hate-watch" particular shows and likes to think that his sarcastic voice comes through in his reviews, though sometimes he's just being bitchy

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