I’ve been bad with getting Game of Thrones reviews up lately (by which I mean I didn’t do them for the last two weeks), so I have decided to stay up as late as I must tonight to get this one done. If this review slowly slides into gibberish, just know I did it for you.
Something that has been on my mind the last few weeks, and that is applicable this week as well, is that the show is at its best when scenes get a chance to play out. As the cast gets bigger and the storylines more divergent, we’ve seen episodes with a breakneck pace, where scenes feel like they last all of a minute and a half. I shudder to think what’s going to happen in season five or something, where the cast is simply enormous and all over the goddamned planet.
In the meantime this latest episode, The Ghost of Harrenhal, definitely gives the scenes some time to breathe. Not every character gets serviced this week, and that’s okay, because the characters who do get serviced have the time to give us more than perfunctory exposition before we jump to the next location.
What’s been most interesting about season two has been seeing the show go so off-book. The George RR Martin novels have an interesting conceit, in that they’re told from the points of view of a handful of characters. What this means is that some characters flit in and out of the story, bringing little pieces of information about other characters or storylines. For instance the scene this episode where Littlefinger talks with Ser Loras and Margaery never appears in the novel, A Clash of Kings, but it offers lots of background and set-up for things that ARE in the novel. Most of all it works, and it helps establish characters who will become important later in the story. I love all of these off-book scenes, because they add richness and depth. I like Martin’s style, where we’re asked to fill in some gaps in the story, but it can get frustrating at times.
We’re at a pivotal turning point in the story. Martin’s writing style generally has about half the book being slower set-up and half the book being pay off; we’re in sight of the pay off. The show has been smart to focus more on Tyrion; his machinations in King’s Landing are both entertaining and important. I’m disappointed that the show hasn’t figured out how to give Daenerys more to do; the book doesn’t really have a lot for her, but I was hoping David Benioff and DB Weiss might invent a subplot to keep her more occupied. Emilia Clarke is a terrific actress, and it doesn’t hurt that she’s absolutely gorgeous as well.
Another great actress on the show: Maisie Williams, playing Arya. I won’t lie: Arya’s story in the books often left me cold. But on the show it works because of Williams and her chemistry with Joe Dempsie, playing Gendry. The scene where Arya tells Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) that anyone can be killed is great; another young actress might have oversold that line, but Williams does it perfectly.
While reading the books I had no time for Theon Greyjoy, but I love what Alfie Allen is doing with the character, and the way that Benioff and Weiss have trimmed down the Iron Isles stuff. In the book it felt endless, but on the show it moves at a clip. Allen makes Theon sympathetic, something he never was on the page, and he plays out the struggle the boy feels, torn between family and honor. The show has been very good at continuously slapping Theon down; at this point I’m almost rooting for the doofus.
Let’s talk a moment about the big event in the episode: the death of Renly. I have seen some amusing reactions online, people who are upset that a bit of magic made it into the show. I wonder if the shadow assassin had been a little less... dramatic looking they would have been okay with that bit. The inky blackness coming off the assassin is quite out there, and when reading the book I pictured something much more like a shadow that suddenly becomes three dimensional.
Whatever the case, there’s magic in Westeros people, so get used to it. We’ll see some real weird stuff by the end of the season, but the good news is that we don’t get into true ‘high fantasy’ until the fifth novel (and who knows what season that will be... if it happens at all). And even that’s fairly restrained. I would like the show to make it that long just to see how Benioff and Weiss handle it (and no, I won’t spoil it here so don’t worry).
The show will only get more expansive and complicated each hour that it airs. As that happens I hope Benioff and Weiss manage to continue balancing the storylines as well as they did this episode (ie, better than they did last episode). As a reader of the books - ie, someone who knows everything that’s going to happen - I’m more interested in the journey, and I like when the show takes a moment to let things play out.