Does this week’s episode of ‘Game of Thrones’ dwell too much on violence and torture and misery and suffering and murder? Is such a thing even possible for this show? I’m not sure, but one thing is certain, this episode is DARK.
Take, for example, the opening scene, which features two Lannister soldiers bantering about the best warriors in the kingdoms. (One gets in a hilarious dig about Ser Loras, Knight of the Flowers: “How good could he be? He’s been stabbing Renly for years, and he ain’t dead.”) A few seconds later, one of them’s having his face eaten off by Robb Stark’s direwolf. Although we don’t get to see the battle (budgetary reasons, probably), we linger in the grisly aftermath the next morning, where the battlefield is left strewn with dismembered corpses and a nurse saws off a screaming soldier’s foot in the middle of a mud puddle.
Next, we cut to King’s Landing, where a petulant Joffrey, upset at his latest defeat, orders his guards to strip and torture Sansa in his throne room, as punishment for being related to his enemy. Fortunately, Tyrion intervenes and, as he’s so good at doing, puts the bratty king in his place. Tyrion’s retainer Bronn suggests that perhaps the kid just needs to get laid to release some of his pent-up aggression. Couldn’t hurt, right? So Tyrion arranges for a couple of prostitutes to be sent to Joffrey as a gift, but the sadistic Joffrey has no interest in sex. He gets off on watching the girls hurting each other instead. (Sometimes I feel like Joffrey is too broadly drawn a villain, but then I remember that he’s an inbred bastard, and his behavior makes more sense.)
Things are also pretty bleak in the prison camp where Arya and Gendry are being held captive. The brutish knight known as “The Mountain” selects a random prisoner every day to torture to death in an unimaginably horrible way involving a rat and a metal bucket. One day, he picks Gendry. As with Sansa, fate is on the boy’s side. Tywin Lannister arrives in camp, disgusted at the inhumane (and, more importantly, impractical) treatment of the prisoners. Why waste so much time and energy killing these pathetic wretches, who could make a perfectly serviceable slave labor force instead? Tywin also instantly recognizes Arya as a girl, but does not know her identity yet. He orders that she be made his cup-bearer.
Even with all this, the strangest, most twisted plot turn is saved for the end. Stannis Baratheon orders Ser Davos, the Onion Knight, to sneak the priestess Melisandre to the site of an upcoming battle in the middle of the night, whereupon she disrobes and reveals that she’s at full-term pregnancy. (No, I don’t get the sense that much time has elapsed since she had sex with Stannis.) She squats down on the ground and births a terrifying shadow monster. This is some dark, dark magic that frightens even the grizzled Davos.
Not to frame this in simplistic terms of stereotypical gender roles, but after the episode ended, Mrs. Z said to me, “I think that was too much.” To which I replied, “Was it too much AWESOME?”
Personally, I thought that ‘Garden of Bones’ is a great episode that does a skillful job of balancing multiple storylines. Even though we jump around among several groups of characters, it feels like we spend a decent amount of time with each, and none is given short-shrift. For me, that’s a notable improvement over the rest of the season to date.
- Baelish visits Catelyn in Renly’s camp. She is not pleased to see him. He pitches her Tyrion’s offer to trade her daughters (he lies and tells her that Arya has been found and is safe) for Jaime. He knows that Robb would never accept this offer, and tells her directly that he’s appealing to her motherly instinct. As a sign of good faith, he brings her Ned’s bones for proper burial.
- Stannis has a parlay with Renly, in which he offers Renly a position in his court in exchange for Renly giving up his own bid for the crown. Renly bemusedly refuses, certain that his larger army will ensure his victory. Stannis leaves him with an ultimatum that they will battle the next morning. This is what Melisandre prepares for at the end.
- Tryion blackmails Cersei’s aide (and lover) into spying on Cersei for him. He also agrees to Cersei’s demand to release Pycelle, on the condition that the old man be banned from the Small Council.
- Finally, Daenerys is given a fair amount of screen time. Her second Bloodrider returns with good news that the city of Qarth has agreed to offer their ragged band sanctuary. However, Jorah is uneasy about this development, due to Qarth’s reputation as a treacherous place where few who enter survive. They arrive in front of the walled city, where they’re greeted by a council known as The Thirteen, who demand to see Daenerys’ dragons before they will allow entry. Suspicious, Dany refuses. After some arguing among the council members, they open the gates anyway, revealing a Babylonian paradise of fabulous riches.
[Note: I have to do some traveling this coming weekend, so my recap of the next episode of ‘Game of Thrones’ may be delayed a bit next week.]