This review contains spoilers.
2.3 What is Dead May Never Die
The wonderful thing about Game of Thrones is that it is easily consumed. In hour-long chunks, it’s just enough episode to keep you interested; every individual episode contains something worth talking about, be it the awesome action sequences, the brilliant writing, or the incredible acting. To prepare for this season, I watched the entirety of the first season in two days. I got the DVD on Friday night and by Sunday I was caught up. Burning through the season wholesale makes it a bit easier to follow along with, but getting it in smaller doses gives viewers more time to ponder what happened and to digest events.
Perhaps most importantly, Game of Thrones has become event television (and not just because I’m reviewing it). I look forward to watching it every week, and I look forward to talking about it, even if I try not to spit out too many spoilers. There’s always something to discuss, and the plots always seem to be moving forward while continually adding new characters into the mix to replace other characters who exit. Westeros giveth (in the form of 6’3 Gwendoline Christie who plays Brienne of Tarth, new protector of King Renley Baratheon) and Westeros taketh away. It doesn’t take a lot to make an impact when a new character bests the Knight of Flowers and looks like a giant version of Tilda Swinton.
As new kings spring forth from every corner of the seven kingdoms, the game is afoot in King’s Landing, and Tyrion Lannister has shown more ability to play the game than well-meaning, loyal Ned Stark ever could. In a brilliant series of triple match-cuts, Tyrion feeds information to the members of the small council in an attempt to root out any potential traitors in the midst. Wisely, Tyrion chooses not to trust the eunuch who alluded to blackmailing him, the man who betrayed the last hand of the king, and the man who may or may not have allowed the hand of the king before the last hand of the king to die a poisony death. In this case, a mole is rooted out and the small council gets even smaller, as Varys puts it so succinctly. Plus, there’s the whole thing about the king being an emotionally-unbalanced tween with a lust for murdering people for poorly-thought-out reasons thing to deal with.
Speaking of murder, Arya Stark, Gendry, and their pals are all still headed towards The Wall, and those Gold Cloaks aren’t exactly going to let them go quietly. They said they’d be back, and they returned (after a wonderful scene between Maisie Williams and Francis Magee) to claim what is theirs. Fortunately for Gendry, they’re pretty stupid. Unfortunately for Gendry and Arya, they didn’t take Yoren’s advice about heading north when trouble started brewing. The scene was a pleasant reminder of Syrio Forel’s stand-off in season one, except with a distinct resolution.
The show does a wonderful job of focusing in this week, and credit to Bryan Cogman for keeping the field of players narrowed this week. Rather than having a ton of different story lines all going at once, they focus down on Arya, Tyrion, and Renly, with a brief stop in Winterfell for Bran’s Dream Theater. After last week, that was a necessary decision. There’s a war on, so let’s see how Renley, who was neglected last week, gets on about it. What we see is a nice man with a huge army of loyal soldiers, but does he have the vicious streak to be a king? I’m not so sure, but perhaps his new wife Margaery (Natalie Dormer) has the viper-like poison needed to claim the Iron Throne. It also explains just why Renly has a massive army while Robb, king of the entire North, is an even match for the Lannisters. He married well, and not just because she’s willing to turn a blind eye to her king’s lust for her brother.
What Is Dead May Never Die was brilliantly edited, even for a show with brilliant technical prowess behind it. There were multiple transitions this week that were impressive, either due to their wit or due to the way they were executed. Director Alik Sakharov brought his cinematographer sensibilities, and his ability to wrap a scene around the camera added an extra layer of subtle, impressive artistry to the show’s usual glorious parade of nudity and bloodshed. I’m thinking of Bran Stark’s close encounter with his pet direwolf, but that’s only one of multiple moments of beauty this week—Sakharov was the cinematographer for the opening and closing of the first season, so he’s no stranger to grandeur.
Obviously, we’re building to open warfare in Westeros. Between the horsemen across the Narrow Sea, the Iron Islands resuming their raids on the North, and the Stark/Lannister/Baratheon/Baratheon clashes in the South, there’s going to be something big before this season is over. Perhaps HBO has saved enough money to show us the war, rather than simply discussing it in passing. If so, I imagine the level of televiolence will be unsurpassed (until Season 3).