I’ve mentioned a few times how challenging Game Of Thrones can be to recap. There’s often an urge to try and find an overarching theme that unifies the episode and inevitably everyone seems to identify a different one. There’s also the frequent danger of lapsing into a basic point by point breakdown of the episode, which can make for some pretty dry reading. With that in mind, let’s tackle this week’s episode.
Let’s bitch it out…
Despite the best attempts by writers (and showrunners) Benisoff and Weiss and genre director David Nutter, ‘A Man Without Honor’ feels like a bloated collection of vignettes. For the first time this season, I truly felt the weight of having so many characters and so many balls in the air as the show desperately tries to shoe-horn everything together in preparation for the final episodes.
Now this doesn’t mean that the episode itself isn’t good. But the show is certainly straining to give equal weight to all of the different stories, and some of them are clearly less interesting than others. Amidst the clutter, however, ‘A Man Without Honor’ has a few gangbuster scenes that more than justify the episode.
Initially I thought that the big take-away from the episode is an exploration of the different kinds of “love”. Dany (Emilia Clarke) is struggling with a love that borders on worship, but she doesn’t want Jorah Mormont’s affections (Iain Glen). She wants her dragons and he can prove himself to her by recovering them. Dany refuses to be “weak” by giving herself to a man – or even to a people (be they Targarayens, Dothraki or the people of Westeros). But as Jorah reminds her, she needs people to survive; she can’t do this alone. Dany is trying to embody the approach to power that Cersei (Lena Headley) advocates to Sophie Turner’s Sansa (more on that below), but Jorah knows that to rule doesn’t mean to isolate yourself.
A very different kind of power/sex relationship – ‘physical’ love – is on display in the scenes featuring Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Ygritte (Rose Leslie). There’s a crudeness in the wildlings’ approach to sexuality as Ygritte mocks Jon for getting turned on in the night and teases him about being a virgin. It’s easy to argue that it’s all just another variation of a power play as all the ribbing eventually allows her to escape and lead Jon into a trap, but there’s no doubt in my mind that her temptations of the flesh are sincere. While I haven’t been a huge fan of these scenes, the suggestion that Jon has abandoned the possibility of love, a family, and free-will in exchange for vows isn’t that far off the mark. As Jamie Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) later reveals, a life led in the pursuit of conflicting vows is very confusing indeed.
And then there’s the great scene between Queen Cersei and Sansa, who flowers for the first time. The graphic imagery of the attempted rape from the last episode in conjunction with the blood on the sheets is a not-so subtle association between sex and death. Initially Sansa merely seems upset, and then Shae (Sibel Kekilli) – and by proxy, the audience – realize that it means that the eldest Stark daughter can now bear children by cruel Joffrey (an unseen Jack Gleeson). If that’s not shudder worthy, I don’t know what is. Despite attempts to hide the evidence, The Hound (Rory McCann) tells the queen, leading to a quiet scene in which Cersei confides in Sansa that the greatest gift for a queen is bearing children. Although Sansa may never love Joffrey, she will always love her children. At the same time, Cersei’s lines that the more people you love, the weaker you are, is very telling in the show – and many other texts that are concerned with power and responsibility. Consider how frequently the hero is compromised because a loved one is kidnapped and held random (ie: every superhero film).
These lines, and many of those from a later conversation with Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), are very revealing. Cersei’s lines have a confessional tone and it’s fascinating to peel back the hard exterior to discover why the Queen is such a cold, cruel woman. If nothing else, ‘A Man Without Honor’ reveals a depth in Cersei that we’ve not seen before; she more than the shrieking, power- hungry harpy. Oh sure, she’s still all of those things, but there’s more to her (and even more self-awareness) than we knew.
- The other best scene of the week: obviously Tywin (Charles Dance) and Arya (Maisie Williams). Their every scene together simply works. I feel like I’m running out of accolades for how well these two complement each other. What I really appreciate is how much these scenes tell us about Tywin and the kind of leader he is: much like Robb (Richard Madden) - and Renly before him – you can clearly see why these men are capable of leading scores of men to their deaths on the battlefield. Tywin and Arya’s discussion about the Targaryens and the history of Harrenhal castle is full of interesting exposition and history, all wrapped in a master class of acting. I seriously want a spin-off with these two playing cards and having adventures together. Where they go now that Tywin has called Arya out as a noble girl puts this pairing in question, however.
- We finally see Jamie Lannister again and his time in chains at Robb’s camp has not been easy. There’s still a confident swagger about him, but the conversation with a former squire and distant cousin is tinged with melancholy tones as Jamie reflects that his only true calling is the ability to kill (which he promptly demonstrates by killing the poor boy). It’s a powerful scene and one that I almost would have preferred seeing in isolation rather than witness a repeat of the season one finale sparring match between Jamie and Cat Stark (Michelle Fairley). In one of two cliffhangers, it appears that Cat may kill the kingslayer with Brienne’s (Gwendoline Christie) sword. But that hardly seems epic enough, right? I’m sure Jamie will live to quip another day.
- Much like last week, I didn’t care much for Jon’s storyline, nor the brief scene of Robb and Talisa (Oona Chaplin)- who one site has taken to calling ‘Nurse Pointless’. Both of these storylines are very straightforward and moving far too slowly – at this point in the series, there are simply other stories I’d rather spend time with.
- Theon (Alfie Allen) continues his descent into hell – and notoriety – as he chases after Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) and Rickon (Art Parkinson). Although the final scene of the two burnt bodies of the boys is clearly meant to strike us with outrage and horror, I can’t help but feel a twinge of disbelief in whether those are really the Stark boys. Although walnuts were found on the scene, Bran specifically said earlier that they wouldn’t go to the farm because Theon would torture the family. At this point I’m uncertain what to believe we actually saw in this final scene.
And so, with this episode, we inch ever closer to the finale. We’ve gone without Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) for several weeks now, although Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) does provide an update: his fleet of 200 ships are 4-5 days away from King’s Landing. Do you think the battle will occupy the season finale, or will it arrive before then? What do you think Cat will do with Jamie? Are you worried for Jon now that he’s been captured by the wildlings, or are you excited that his story is picking up again? And what did you make of the Warlock attack on the 13 in Qarth and the invitation to visit the House of the Undying?
Spoiler Reminder: We’re discussing the show and only the show. If you’ve seen it, it’s fair game, but please refrain from discussing future events from the books.
Game Of Thrones airs Sundays at 9pm EST on HBO