Last week I used up a lot of breath and internet ink talking about how Game of Thrones' second season, particularly last week's episode "What Is Dead May Never Die," had strayed from its source material in ways I thought unnecessary, lingering on non-vital scenes and moving with all the urgency of a Lannister looking to get laid somewhere that wasn't a family reunion. My biggest concern was how much time remained in the season, as I was concerned with how all of the book's stories would be told. That's not exactly a fun way to watch a show.
Well, thankfully for both you and me, I can shut up now. It's clear that Season 2 will depart from the books a lot more than Season 1 did, which is inevitable if it's going to be confined to 10 hours. Because Season 1 did such a great job of transforming the first book into a visual Cliff's Notes, the deviations we've seen so far in Season 2 have seemed extra pronounced, which caused people like me to squirm upon realizing that Ser Meryn's armor wasn't exactly how it was described in print. But now it's time to look at Game of Thrones as a TV show instead of book adaptation. Maybe I'm late to the party, probably I'm stubborn, but definitely it just took this week's incredible episode to make me almost forget the book existed at all.
"Garden of Bones" was amazing, period. The hour was filled with fantastic shots and settings, outstanding character moments, and delightfully uncomfortable scenes. It was Game of Thrones at its best, and proof for HBO that the series is worth signing such big checks. Plus, it was capped off by what I think were the best minutes of the series thus far. Of all the television scenes in history featuring hot, naked, MILF-y redheads birthing demonic shadow monsters from their nether regions, that one was definitely the best. #Firecrotch better trend tonight.
"Garden of Bones" was the opposite of last week's "What Is Dead May Never Die," and took advantage of its place in the storytelling process. "What Is Dead..." was still setting things up and took its time, causing some worry about the pacing of the season as a whole. But tonight the show grabbed us by the nape and carried us headfirst through multiple chapters like a battering ram, the tops of our heads still reeling from the previous scene as we broke through the next. If the rest of the season moves half as fast as "Garden of Bones" did, Game of Thrones will have no problems doing "A Clash of Kings" justice and I'll be able to look back on last week's worries as nothing more than knee-jerk overreactions.
Now let's talk about what happened in "Garden of Bones," the fourth episode of the second season of Game of Thrones: The TV Show.
"You're fighting to overthrow a king and yet you have no plans for what comes after?"
Yet another reason why Game of Thrones treats the fantasy genre right. Rather than settle on faceless Lannister soldiers getting ambushed, the episode opened with Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum having a debate that any two guys, regardless of genre or time period, might have: Who is the biggest ass-kicker in the world? We have Chuck Norris, Kimbo Slice, and Superman. They have Gregor "The Mountain" Clegane, Jaime Lannister, and Ser Loras "The Knight of Flowers" Tyrell. Umm guys, Brienne "The Beauty (tongue in cheek)" of Tarth just whooped Loras's ass; you'd better get her on that list somewhere.
But these guys weren't just making Top 10 lists during guy chat, they were prankin' each other, laughing like Ricky Gervais, and letting loose some massive farts. I'd say let's see a spin-off starring these two clowns if Greywind, Robb Stark's direwolf, hadn't ripped their faces off. Loved that "King of the North!" battle cry that followed! I'm going to scream that every morning before I brush my teeth to start the day off right.
Thus began another of Robb's victories, as the young wolf continues to be a pain in the neck for Lannister forces. Five Lannisters dead for every one supporter of Robb's? This wasn't just a fight, it was the Harlem Globetrotters versus the Washington Generals. And how great did the battlefield look? Bodies everywhere, loads of extras wandering the grounds...we didn't need to see the actual battle because we could imagine it from the wreckage. Game of Thrones avoided the costly battle scene because it knows to put its money where it counts.
Trying to convince Robb to torture the surviving Lannisters for info was Roose Bolton, one of Robb's bannermen who's sworn loyalty to Winterfell. Robb isn't like that, and with his sisters in the clutches of Joffrey (he thinks), he'd rather round up bargaining chips to get Arya and Sansa back.
In addition the smell of blood, gangrene, and horseshit in the air, did we get a waft of romance too? There she was... what a vision! A filthy woman sawing the foot off a captured enemy! Hubba hubba! I think she said her name was Telissa (not sure on spelling) from Volantis. She's feisty, underneath all that caked on blood and grime she's hot, and she questions everything that Robb is doing. Of course Robb is going to drool over her. You would too. Too bad Robb is already claimed. If you'll recall, towards the end of Season 1, Catelyn promised Robb would marry one of Walder Frey's fugly daughters in exchange for his help. I'm sure this will all go over very smoothly and everyone will be happy. (Book people: Is Telissa replacing Jeyne?)
"The King can do as he likes."
If you ever take one of those "Which Game of Thrones character are you?" quizzes and your results say "Joffrey," go put your head in an oven (I got Eddard Stark). And the next two scenes were perfect examples of why. Looking for a way to vent his frustration over Robb's crushing defeat of his forces, the boy-king had Sansa beaten and embarrassed before his court. Not gonna lie, that was a pretty uncomfortable scene. Joffrey couldn't even do his own wife-beating, he had his sniveling right-hand-man-of-backhands Ser Meryn do it.
I have such a hate/not-so-hate relationship with Sansa. On her own she's a spoiled brat who once lied to protect Joffrey, which got Arya in trouble and resulted in Sansa's direwolf being killed. But Sansa does not deserve the torture of being betrothed to Joffrey. So I'm constantly going back and forth between, "Awww poor Sansa!" and "Ugh, shut up, Sansa." She's the Paris Hilton of Westeros if Paris Hilton was ever engaged to Chris Brown. But in this episode, she was definitely deserving of pity.
Good old Tyrion saved Sansa from further humiliation, but he knew he couldn't be around to keep his eye on Joffrey all the time. Dr. Bronn's diagnosis, in his professional opinion: "The little king's backed up. Clogged from balls to brain." Translation: It's time to get the kid laid.
Tyrion ordered a few working women to milk Joffrey like a cow, but the little lad was having none of it. And that's when we realized that this kid is REALLY messed up. A teen with two willing women in his bed and he'd rather watch one beat the other? Joffrey's goal was to show Tyrion that he can't be controlled, but surely he could have taken a little slice for himself before he packed off the disfigured whore to his uncle. This kid is sick, I tell you. Apparently he carries all the recessive Lannister genes. And let's recognize Jack Gleeson for his great performance as Joffrey. The kid has truly embodied a character who is universally despised, and done it very well. I feel sorry for Gleeson trying to land his next role, he'll need a week's worth of steel-wool scrubbing to get the stink of Joffrey off of him. I don't think we'll see him playing a romantic lead opposite Miley Cyrus anytime soon.
Later, Tyrion continued to turn King's Landing into Tyrion's Landing, blackmailing pretty boy Lancel Lannister with his knowledge that Lancel was lancing Cersei. You know Cersei is twisted when having sex with her cousin is the least sexually deviant thing she's doing. Gross! If you're keeping score of Tyrion's actions at home, that's one ousted head of the City Guard in Janos Slynt, one fired Grand Maester and undug mole for Cersei in Pycelle, and one man on the inside in Lancel. Tyrion 3, everyone else 0.
"When my dragons are grown we will take back what was stolen from me."
Hey look! It's Dany! She's back after taking last week off, and four episodes into Season 2 she's still wandering the desert with a band of disheveled hobos—hardly a crew appropriate for a princess. At least put a few sequins on those burlap sacks, people! Dany's desperate for supplies, so when a rider returned with news that Qarth (there's no "u," Dany) was a mere three days' ride away and would have an all-you-can-eat buffet waiting for her, she made a beeline for it.
The press screener for this episode was full of temporary visual effects, so I don't really know what Qarth looks like yet, but from the outside it resembles a giant sand castle in a sea of dirt. Once you get inside the gates, however, it's an oasis run by The Thirteen, a group of merchants with funny names that double as Tic Tac Toe games. Xaro Xhoan Daxos said he'd vouch for Dany after one of his prickly fellows demanded to see her dragons first, and Dany and her barely-a-horde entered Qarth. Let's now recap what Dany's done so far this season: She's been really thirsty and found a sand castle. I guess this isn't really her year. At least she has dragons!
"Does anyone live?"
At least Dany's biggest problem is finding a glass of water. Arya, who as the youngest girl in this story and arguably the most frail, is having the worst couple of weeks. Dad? Dead. Yoren? Dead. Direwolf? Ran away. Now she's been taken prisoner by some mercenaries to some sort of haunted castle. It's unclear why these Lannister men have captured all these people, other than torturing them for info on some hidden treasure or the location of the Brotherhood. Don't know who the Brotherhood is? Don't worry, neither do Arya and her pals (unless they read the books). (Semi-spoiler: But if you must know, I believe he's referring to the Brotherhood Without Banners, a group of rebels who fight under Robert Baratheon's name and generally cause trouble. We'll probably meet them later.)
Now Arya spends her nights sleeping in mud and muttering the same thing over and over: "Joffrey. Cersei. Ilyn Payne. The Hound." That's not her Christmas list, that's her sh*tlist, just like Yoren taught her. SHE WILL KILL THEM ALL AND WE WILL ENJOY IT!
How about that interrogation technique? Every day, the jerks grabbed one prisoner, strapped him to a rack, and asked them questions he didn't know the answers to. But before he could be ripped in two, one of the torturers would put a rat in a bucket and press it up against the victim's bare flesh. Then they'd use a torch to cook one end of the bucket, and I'm guessing that sent the rat scrambling to the other side, where it would claw at the flesh of the victim until it found a place that was a bit more comfortable, like a spleen. It was a convoluted method of torture, but it at least made use of all the rats.
Gendry got chosen for the rack and was about to have his insides explored by rodents when the early arrival of Tywin Lannister saved his hide. Tywin whipped Harrenhal into shape and told his men to put the captives to work instead of killing them, because Harrenhal was looking like a total dump. But Arya would probably have preferred death to her new job: She's been named cup-bearer to Tywin, to make sure no one tries to poison him. Nothing sucks more than accidentally saving the life of someone you want dead by killing yourself.
"Well, if it isn't my favorite whore-monger."
At Camp Renly, Westeros's number-one destination for fantasy war re-enacters, Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish showed up to negotiate Jaime's release with Catelyn and wasn't exactly warmly received by anyone. But because he's a lecherous, two-faced, self-interested rat, Littlefinger's used to that sort of thing. Remember that riddle Varys told about power, the one with the rich man, the priest, and the king with the army all having equal shares of power? He forgot one: the scheming worm who'll do an about-face faster than Cee Lo. That's Littlefinger. He told Renly that if Renly would hear him out, Littlefinger might leave the gates open for him. Littlefinger only pledges allegiance to one man: whoever can benefit him the most. I love this little weasel.
Littlefinger later ran into Margaery, and basically confirmed that he knew her little secret about Renly and Loras—but she was all whatevs, tell me something I don't know. Then Littlefinger visited Catelyn in her tent and said, "OMG, sorry I betrayed your husband and he's dead but that means we can be together now!" Cat responded with a knife. Littlefinger also lied about the Lannisters having Arya, but in the end he did have one thing Catelyn wanted: Ned's bones, to be laid to rest at Winterfell where they belong. It was a touching scene, but when you get down to it, Ned's still dead. We can't exactly say everything is all right. If you ate my Snickers and I got mad so you gave me the wrapper, I'm still out a Snickers.
Meanwhile, Renly and Stannis saw each other for the first time in years. Meeting your brother's girlfriend for the first time is always awkward, especially when she's a crystal-wearing hippies and he's already married. But then again, meeting your brother's boyfriend when he's supposedly already married to a woman is a bit odd, too. And things tend to be even more complicated when both are ready to kill each other over a chair made out of swords. Stannis offered Renly one last chance to take his side, Renly pointed to his massive army, Melisandre babbled on about her terrors and the dark and the night, and no one could agree on anything. So I guess it's war, then?
And that was it for the episode. Oh, except for...
THE COOLEST THING EVER
Stannis and Davos were chatting on the deck of a ship, talking about how the ends of Davos's fingers were in a pouch around his neck instead of, you know, on the ends of his fingers. In case you missed it, when Stannis caught Davos, he punished him for being a smuggler by chopping off the last digits of the fingers on one hand. Then Stannis made Davos his right-hand (except for parts of his fingers) man. Talk about mixed messages! Anyhoo, Stannis asked Davos to be a smuggler again and sneak Melisandre to shore for some sneaking about.
And what happened next was the most awesome thing that has ever happened in the history of things happening.
Words cannot...I don't even...AHHHHHHH! Our Red Priestess stripped naked, showed off her baby bump, did some Lamaze breathing, sat on the ground, and squeezed out a monster. Holy shit. You can keep your dragons and direwolves, I'm all about shadow babies.
I love the way magic is being introduced into this story. And no, I don't mean via vagina—I mean slowly and surprisingly. This world becomes much more interesting when even the people who populate it are all, "Holy Harrenhal! That woman just queefed out a demon baby!" Ditto for dragons and the White Walkers. Westeros was at a point in time when it was just medieval and not fantastical, but now something is happening to the world where things of legend—magic, dragons, unknown entities from the North—are coming back, and the citizens are just as shocked as we are. Contrast that with most fantasy worlds where the magic stuff already exists, and it's much more powerful this way. In Game of Thrones, the main character is the world, and we're witnessing a critical time in its history.
I'll be ordering the 10 episodes of Game of Thrones' second season from first to worst in terms of quality. But remember, these rankings are just, like, my opinion, man.
This Week: The table's been set, and now it's time to feast. "Garden of Bones" was an exhilarating episode of Game of Thrones, and one of the series' best in terms of pure happenings. Jon was the odd man out this week, but we were welcomed to two new places (Harrenhal and Qarth), saw Joffrey at his worst/best, and witnessed Melisandre casting some magic with her coochie.
1. "Garden of Bones" (Episode 4)
Joffrey entertains a few ladies by having them beat each other; Melisandre gives birth to the Smoke Monster from Lost; Dany meets a bunch of salesmen from Qarth.
2. "The North Remembers" (Episode 1)
Annnnd we're back! Joffrey orders death for Robert's bastards; Melisandre, Davos, and Stannis make their grand entrance; Robb sends an
all tomato ultimatum to the Lannisters.
3. "The Night Lands" (Episode 2)
The Goldcloaks set out to find Gendry (and Arya); Theon gropes his sister and disappoints his dad; Jon sees something strange in the forest.
4. "What Is Dead May Never Die" (Episode 3)
Theon suits up for Team Greyjoy; Tyrion gives Pycelle the boot; Cat arrives to see Renly assembling a circus; Arya and Gendry get captured.