This review contains spoilers.
2.4 Garden of Bones
The major point of pride for Game of Thrones is their ability to capture entire cultures and condense them to particular areas or bits of architecture. This week’s episode adds not one, but two major points to the clockwork animated map in the credits. They are very different, and unlike anything seen on the show thus far. One of these, the walled oasis of Qarth, is merely hinted at. The other, Harrenhaal, is shown in great detail. Both are quite unlike anything we’ve seen so far.
That is the brilliance of this show and its production crew. From the fire cultists to the Iron Islands, every place we’ve stopped at on our tour of Westeros and on the other side of the Narrow Seas has been completely self-contained. The fruit bazaar where Danerys is almost poisoned in the first season is completely different from Qarth, which feels like some kind of Egypto-Indian caliphate. The scene in which the Thirteen – the various rulers of Qarth – square off with Danerys and her ragged Khal was beautifully shot, and the brief glimpse into the oasis on the other side of the Garden of Bones was enough to really make me want to explore it in greater detail.
Kudos to director David Petrarca (dozens of TV shows) for his ability to paint beautiful scenes with his camera. There’s a brief scene where Cersei is sitting at a table with a bowl of fruit on it that looked so appetizing that I had to get myself a banana after the episode. Pretty impressive for a television show! The show usually looks gorgeous, and even the most repulsive locations (Harrenhaal) look amazing in HD.
As for Harrenhaal, that’s the sort of place that I’d love to avoid. From the melted (!) stone walls to the stockade/pig sty for the prisoners, it’s a terrifying place that left my television with a palpable coating of stink. In short, it’s a wonderful prison camp, and the torture method chosen by the Lannister men there is simply brutal while also being great television. Their torture reason is a little vague, but that doesn’t seem to matter as they’ve got plenty of people to murder and plenty of pikes to impale heads upon. Amazingly, the torture and mutilation at Harrenhaal and the outing of Arya Stark as a girl, if not a Stark, is not the most horrifying thing this week.
As usual, Joffrey Baratheon finds a new level of disturbing evil to sink to. Given the scarcity of Joffrey last week, you forget just what a smarmy little slime ball he is. However, this week he was just completely over-the-top, and boy was Jack Gleeson good as a gleeful little sociopath. Every time I see that kid, I want to Tyrion-slap him. Of course, that would probably be a bad idea, as even a great birthday present from Uncle Tyrion ends up being, ahem… used to send a message. See also poor Sansa, who Joffrey seems to love humiliating in public pretty often for someone who is supposed to be his future queen. Fortunately, Tyrion is there to step in, and good old Bronn is there to serve as the muscles of the Hand of the King.
Tyrion, more than anyone else on the small council, knows how to play the game. He could certainly give lessons to his dear sister, and I’m sure even Littlefinger could take some pimping lessons from the imp (since Littlefinger picks the worst times to hit on Cat Stark). I love the way he Sherlock Holmes out the relationship between Cersei and the former cup bearer turned knight/Lannister cousin whose name escapes me. It’s clear that the imp’s powers of observation and manipulation give him an advantage over the less height-challenged members of his family. He may be the son most like Tywin Lannister after all.
Speaking of Tywin Lannister, Charles Dance really is brilliant in his performance. His stag-gutting monologue in season 1 was brilliant, and his brief appearances this year have also been brilliant. I like that not every character can see through Arya’s disguise, only those on the ball (Gendry, Tywin).
This is going to get very interesting. A Stark serving a Lannister? A Stark marrying a Lannister? The inevitable Baratheon vs. Baratheon warfare? Robb Stark getting into a full-on battle and HBO possibly spending the money to show it? To their credit, they’re doing a great job of implying massive battles AND doing a great job of creatively shooting around the battles, as in this week’s wolf attack smash cut with post-battle trauma. That said, eventually, we’re going to have to get some full-on combat. Given how well the show implies fighting, and how well the individual combat scenes are choreographed, I’m really looking forward to the titular clash of kings.