The end of season two is upon us, but instead of a one-two punch of explosive goodness, we got a bit of a letdown followed by an episode that didn't quite reach the highs of "Baelor" before it, but did an excellent job nonetheless. As Theon continued to be a dipshit over in Winterfell, and Cat betrayed her own son (who was blinded by horniness), Tyrion and company prepared for Stannis' inevitable attack. And boy what an attack it was. Barely fended off by Tyrion and his cunning use of wildfire, Stannis nonetheless struck some major blows, including the potentially fatal injuring of Tyrion himself and the complete and utter collapse of morale in King's Landing before the timely intervention of Tywin.
Paul Brian McCoy's Brew of Choice for the Evening:
This week we choose to celebrate something positive and pay tribute to the first pirate to be offered a sweet post as The Hand of the King, even though it ends tragically. Davos Seaworth! In recognition for your good work in the service of good (would-be) king Stannis Baratheon I give you Piraat Ale from Brouwerij Van Steenberge. This 10.5% ABV is a powerful and authentic Belgian brew, pouring a hazy golden with airs of fruit, malt, and hops. It's a beer to break a siege with as verified by its Gold Medal at the 2012 Brewers Association World Beer Cup. This one goes out to the memory of the Onion Knight. Here's to you, Davos, you old sea dog. You will be missed.
Game of Thrones Episode 2.08- "The Prince of Winterfell"
Nick Hanover: Since not much happened in episode eight– and since I was off at Sasquatch, which takes place in Washington state's own version of "beyond the wall,"– Dylan and I have decided to combine the last two episodes in one super review.
Dylan Garsee: It's terrible that we missed the review of the most boring episode of Game of Thrones I've seen in a long time.
Nick: Episode eight was dominated by Theon, who declared himself "Prince of Winterfell" and doesn't understand why his sister isn't enjoying his barbeque in Stark HQ as much he seems to be.
Dylan: Even though she's only been on the show a total of 12 minutes, every time Yara is on the screen I just giggle uncontrollably. Especially when she rightfully calls Theon a "cunt."
Nick: Whereas before Yara seemed to entirely loathe Theon, it became clear in this episode that she sympathizes with him and feels the need to protect him, even if she has to cover that up in front of their wretched father. The pivotal scene between the two in this episode was the first time in quite a while that I've been able to tolerate Theon and it really added to their relationship and the development of both characters. Theon thinks everyone's just out to get him, and Yara knows most of his issues stem from that, so it was unfortunate to see him brush off her help rather than embrace it.
Dylan: Spending half of your life as a quasi-prisoner and having Lord Balon Greyjoy as your father would mess anyone up. I still don't feel sorry for him because he just doesn't know how to control himself.
Nick: I don't feel sorry for him on the whole, but this episode– boring as it was– at least enabled me to have a better understanding of his motivations and position. And of course that was juxtaposed with the completely bewildering behavior on the part of Cat, who has arguably completely fucked up a good portion of her son Robb's plans.
Dylan: I still don't think Robb knows what he's doing; he just keeps getting lucky. Not only does the Jaime/Brienne/Cat situation fuck a lot of his plans up, him falling for the medic girl throws a much bigger wrench in the machine.
Nick: Robb's problem is that he's still too trusting of those around him. He's incredibly young, so of course he's still prone to acting on instinct and impulse rather than thinking things through, but his hard decision to imprison his own mother shows that he's intent on not winding up like his father and understands that sometimes he's going to have to make unpopular decisions that aren't so nice.
Dylan: Even though Robb his busy fucking himself over, I'm excited to see the beginning of Jaime and Brienne's magical journey.
Nick: As long as that storyline doesn't end with a threesome between Brienne, Cersei and Jaime, I'll be happy.
Dylan: Cersei and Jaimie catch Brienne and Ser Sandor Clegane. It gets weird in the third book…
Speaking of Cersei, the highlight of this episode for me was the incredibly tense confrontation between her and Tyrion, where she had Tyrion believing that she had found out about Shae, only for poor Ros to be brought out as a prisoner instead.
Dylan: First of all, in the book Ros's name is Alayaya and I really wish they kept her name, just so I could hear them pronounce it.
Secondly, that whole scene between Cersei and Tyrion was lifted directly from the book, and was just as terrifying on screen as it was on the page.
Nick: That scene was like a masterclass in acting, since it lived and died by the abilities of those involved. Peter Dinklage of course is always an MVP, but Lena Headey continues to surprise me week in, week out. That role easily could have been a disaster for whoever was cast, but
she's managed to make the character immensely detestable and innately likeable at once. Watching her smug expression as she thought she had the drop on her brother was incredibly entertaining, especially paired with Dinklage's very real terror.
Dylan: The Battle for the Emmy for Best Supporting Actress this year is going to be a doozie, because it's almost guaranteed to be between Jessica Lange (American Horror Story) and Lena Headey, and I have no idea who will win. Cersei has shown the most emotional growth as a character this season, and almost all of that is due to the insane acting ability of Headey.
Nick: Without her and Dinklage, much of what's going on with King's Landing would be boring as shit, but they've made the tension and frustration palpable, as they all deal with the pending siege in different ways. Likewise, Conleth Hill as Varys has had excellent chemistry with Dinklage, and seeing that awkward pairing between Varys and Tyrion, who both respect each other's abilities and talents but are unsure whether they can trust one another, has been another highlight for me.
Varys was difficult to pin last season and I feel that this season he has really blossomed. It's becoming clearer that his ultimate loyalty is to the concept of stability in an unstable kingdom.
Dylan: King's Landing has the shittiest people, but the best actors.
Nick: Well, let's not forget Harrenhal, where Arya and Tywin are currently in the middle of a crazy cat and mouse game.
Dylan: The game which Arya has lost.
And now we don't have the weekly Arya/Tywin therapy sessions.
Nick: True, but now we do have more time with Jaqen, who was presented quite the epic dilemma by Arya after she gave him his own name as a last assignment.
Dylan: As all of our readers know, every week I bitch about how much this season has deviated from the book. But I swear to God if they fuck up Jaquen H'ghar…
Nick: I have no idea what they might fuck up, but I'm loving that character and sincerely hope he sticks around for a while. Even though I'm pretty sure he's doomed by the very nature of his enterprise.
Dylan: Oh, there's one thing they can fuck up, don't worry.
Nick: I know you were already voicing concerns about one of the episode's other subplots, which is Daeny's forever going journey to the House of the Undying, and even though I don't know how that goes down in the books, I've become extremely impatient with it and feel like we're getting doled out slivers of crumbs for no real reason at this point. It's especially annoying when set against the Jon Snow storyline, which has vastly improved with the introduction of Ygritte and Snow's pending immersion in the world of the wildlings, but it's still one of the least interesting storylines of the season.
Dylan: I'd much rather Daeny not even be in this episode than the 4 seconds of "I NEED MY DRAGONS, SER JORAH"
Nick: Exactly. We don't need microstory injections, especially when it cuts out time from other storylines. I know there's been more information to get across this season, but I really wish Game of Thrones would learn that lesson sooner rather than later.
So, with that in mind, I'm going for this episode. It wasn't terrible, but it kind of brought things to an awkward dramatic pause before the real action kicks in.
Dylan: I'm going with a , just because I forgot so much about this episode, save the Jaime/Brienne intro.
Alright, let's go to the Blackwater Bay battle…
Game of Thrones Episode 2.09- "Blackwater"
Dylan: That was the best episode ever, , review done. Now put some funny words on some pictures and call it a day.
Fine. Let's talk about it.
Nick: I'm not sure if you read the AV Club review of the episode, but it was an interesting example of completely missing the point of what the series does and nitpicking over things that don't even make sense. The gist of it was that the reviewer didn't like how confusing the battle was and both wanted more and less time to be spent with other characters. Personally, I thought the confusion of the battle fit the intention perfectly, especially since the show dealt with the budget problems a giant battle creates in a creative way, by focusing on the smaller areas of the attempted "liberation" of King's Landing, presenting what I'd argue is an accurate exploration of the way each corner of a battle becomes its own little microcosm.
Dylan: The Battle in the book is incredibly long, so dedicating a full episode exclusively to it was ballsy on the producers part, but thankfully incredibly faithful.
It was perfectly paced, perfectly acted, chaotic like a war should be, magical, and, strangely, was probably the closest to a bottle episode this show will ever come to. So the character studies each actor did with their respective roles created probably some of the best performances of the series.
Nick: Thinking of it as a bottle episode is a good idea, I'd say. The way information was only handed out to the viewer in small doses made it even more tense
than it otherwise would have been and I was glad that the show didn't attempt to go big, because that could have been a disaster. Instead, we got intimate moments with all of the major relevant players, with Tyrion appearing truly nervous and anxious for once, while still executing his plan masterfully, while the rest of the Lannister clan succumbed to cowardice and infighting, except Lancel, who grew a backbone somewhere along the line.
Dylan: Lancel is still a poon.
Nick: True, but now he's a slightly more honorable poon. He stood up to Cersei when she demanded that her beloved little shit Joffrey be returned to the safety of the keep, even though it meant sabotaging Tyrion's plans and placing the entire city in danger.
Dylan: I'm surprised he stood up to drunk aunt Cersei, and once again, Lena Headey brought her A+ game.
Nick: The acting in this episode is what allowed it to succeed, especially in the interior scenes, where Cersei and Sansa's sort-of showdown was as tense and exciting as much of what was happening out on the battlefield.
Dylan: Sophie Turner, who plays Sansa, finally portrayed her in the same light that she is portrayed in the book: sympathetic. Sansa throughout the second season has felt incredibly one dimensional, almost robotic. While that may just be the interpretation of the writers and Turner, in the book, and especially in Clash of Kings and Storm of Swords, she's sarcastic, scared and spends most of her time trying to figure out ways of escaping King's Landing.
Nick: She still had her chilly moments, particularly when she ran into Tyrion and she offered to lump pray for his safe return when she did the same for her "beloved" Joffrey. But I found the scene between her and the Hound to be the best example of Turner's capabilities. Her fright felt authentic, the moment when you could see her weighing the pros and cons of running off with the Hound was excellently conveyed.
Dylan: I love Sansa in the books, and now I'm starting to love her in the show.
Nick: All that said, the battle was of course the focus of the episode and considering the writers had to contend with the high standards set by last season's episode nine and the fact that the entire season has arguably been building to this point, I felt they did a great job.
Dylan: I've seen the episode nine comparison a lot, and while they both are similar (ninth episode, something crazy happens) "Blackwater" reminded me more of the final shot of season one of Game of Thrones, when Daenerys' dragons hatch.
We were given hints the entire season about the eggs leading up to the end, and that shot with the three dragons was probably my favorite shot of the whole season. It perfectly captured the feeling of the show at that moment. Something so small and presumed to be dead is actually leaps and bounds more powerful than put on. Daeny went from more or less a transaction to the leader of a whole group of people. Arya became a badass vigilante. Robb, king of the north. Joffrey, King of the seven kingdoms. That singular scene cemented that this show was much more than the audience expected, and this episode solidified that even more.
Nick: The episode also left us with a lot of loose ends that certainly won't be covered before the end of the final episode. Tyrion has been dealt a potentially fatal blow. Stannis's troops have been driven back by the last minute appearance of Tywin and his troops, despite his assertion to Arya last episode that he was heading for Robb, which now seems like it was some kind of test. And of course Davos and his crew are potentially dead.
Tyrion and Stannis are the biggest pieces and it seems like they're also the storylines that are most likely to get addressed in some fashion. Whether Stannis made it out or not is uncertain, and the full extent of Tyrion's injury will certainly come up next episode if the focus is on Tywin finally taking on the role of the Hand.
Dylan: I don't know how big of a role Tywin will play in the next episode, because if I remember correctly, it's the last big event in Clash of Kings, and there's not much left in the book to explore that. But considering that the Jaime and Brienne plot and Robb and his lover's plot from the third book have already begun, I don't know if they'll start it or not.
Nick: I'm basing that off of the preview they showed at the end, which had Tywin walking into the throne room, announced as the Hand of the King. That preview also indicated that, like last season, the season finale would step back from the epicness of the penultimate episode. I'm sure Brienne and Jaime's journey will be highly entertaining, but I'm also worried things like Tyrion's condition and how the Battle of Blackwater will affect Robb will get short thrift.
Dylan: All I'm concerned about is if they don't show the goddamned House of the Undying on Sunday, I will stop watching this show.
Nick: I'm pretty positive they will get to that since it was in the preview too, and since the show has a tendency to end seasons with big developments for Daeny. Which makes me think that ultimately this story is about her.
Dylan: That, and one of the books is literally called A Dance with Dragons.
Nick: It'd be interesting if ultimately everything else is just backdrop for Daeny perpetuating the cycle of the Targaryens' as the conquering unifiers of Westeros, like if King Arthur had a dynasty instead of an epically tragic reign.
I think that about covers everything. Let's rate this. I'm saying , not the best episode of Game of Thrones, but damn was it exciting and well-executed.
Dylan: I'm going to go with a full on , because it was both epic and subdued, quiet and explosive, and showed real character development using a gruesome and violent backdrop. The closest to a true character study this show will probably ever achieve.
Dylan Garsee is a freelance writer/bingo enthusiast currently living in Austin, TX. He is studying sociology, and when he's not winning trivia nights at pork-themed restaurants, writing a collection of essays on the gay perspective in geek culture. An avid record collector, Dylan can mostly be seen at Waterloo Records, holding that one God Speed You! Black Emperor record he can't afford and crying. You can follow him on twitter @garseed.
When he's not writing about the cape and spandex set and functioning as the Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin, Nick Hanover is a book, film and music critic for Spectrum Culture and has contributed to No Tofu Magazine, Performer Magazine, Port City Lights and various other international publications. By which he means Canadian rags you have no reason to know anything about. He also translates for "Partytime" Lukash's Panel Panopticon and you can follow him on twitter @Nick_Hanover