Wednesday, April 22, 2015

RECAP: Game of Thrones 5x02 - Return of the Murder Child

It's episode two and Arya's back! She's not my hands down favorite character (that would be a tie between Osha and Podrick), but Arya always brings a sense of finality with her in the story. Like when she's not there it has the chance to get fanciful and overblown and sometimes the story expands more than it really should, but the instant we have Arya on our screens again, we know that crap is going to get real. I like that about her. 

This episode caught us up on most of the characters we didn't get to see last week, and otherwise just kept the storylines humming along. We didn't see anything of Margaery and Loras or Melisandre or Theon/Reek or Bran* or Osha and Rickon this week, but we did get to keep up the major basic storylines. So we got some forward momentum in a lot of areas, and then some other stories just kind of treaded water. Let's talk about the stories that moved forward first.

Our three main hubs of activity right now are King's Landing, The Wall, and Meereen. Over in King's Landing, Cersei continues to freak the crap out over the tenuous nature of her power. With her father dead, her husband dead, her eldest son dead, her younger brother a traitor and missing, her master of whispers fled, and a younger, prettier queen snapping at her heels, it's clear Cersei is feeling the heat. Heck, she even changed her hairstyle so it looks like Margaery's signature look. So Cersei falls back on she does what she does best: ruling with an iron fist.

First that means appointing people to the Small Council. Generally, she's appointing cronies to the council, because Tommen is really too young to be doing this and she needs yes men who won't argue too much with her. Cersei has the capacity to be a good ruler, but as a woman, no one is immediately inclined to listen to what she says. So she's stacking the deck and going for a shock and awe campaign before anyone realizes what she's done. She's going to rule this country if it kills her, which it very probably will.

The one hitch in her Small Council plans is her uncle. He came into town for her father's funeral and is annoyed that Tommen hasn't properly greeted him since he's been there. Cersei wants the man to be the "master of war" or something, but he's not so inclined. He heads back to Casterly Rock, and Cersei is left to deal with the issue of having to corral nobles who genuinely hate her. Fun times.

But the real issue this episode is much closer to Cersei's withered heart: her daughter, Myrcella. See, Myrcella has been in Dorne for a few seasons now, betrothed to the prince there. And, as Oberyn assured her last season, Myrcella is happy and safe. But now that seems to be threatened. Oberyn is dead and the Martells blame her for that. They blame her for everything really, and it's clear that some factions in Dorne would be happy to take their anger out on Myrcella. 

So Cersei plays the only card she really can play and gets Jaime involved. He might be only have one hand now, but he's still a damn good swordsman. More importantly, he's Myrcella's father (and uncle). He won't let the people of Dorne kill his daughter, so he's going to go off and rescue her. Kidnap her, if he has to.

It's a really interesting scene, actually, because it's the first time Cersei and Jaime have openly acknowledged that the children belong to both of them. Cersei's clearly still dealing with her anger that Jaime let Tyrion escape, but she also points out that it doesn't really matter now if anyone knows their children's true lineage. Who is left to care? Their father is dead, the Tyrells already suspect the truth, and most of the "pretenders to the throne" are dead. What does it matter?

I mean, it's interesting, but still kind of weird. Anyway.

Jaime is realistic enough to know that he can't go storming Dorne on his own with only one hand, so he goes off in search of help. That help? Bronn, who has tried settling into the quiet domestic life of a lesser noble but isn't really succeeding. To his credit, he seems to genuinely quite like his betrothed, a younger sister and perpetual victim sort of woman named Lollys. For all that Bronn is clearly more used to whores and women with a bit more backbone, I think he really does like her. When Lollys complains about her older sister and how mean she is, he assures her that mean people always get what's coming, no matter how long it takes. And, given all he's seen, I'm inclined to think he means it.

At any rate, Lollys and Bronn are planning their wedding, but they're interrupted by Jaime who has come to take Bronn with him to Dorne. At first Bronn resists, because he's still leery of getting involved with Lannisters after the mess with Tyrion, but he's won over. Jaime promises him that if they succeed he'll reward Bronn with a "much better bride", but what's nice is that Bronn doesn't seem all that keen to take him up on the offer. And it makes me deeply sad that a man not immediately ditching his fiancee is what passes for "nice" on this show.

Over in Dorne, of course, the matter of the day is what to do with Myrcella. Obviously political relations between the Martells and the Lannisters has soured even more than it had when the marriage was arranged, but there's not much to do about that now. Ellaria Sand, who we met last season as Oberyn's lover, is in deep, rageful mourning for her love. She demands Myrcella's head on a pike. But Doran, Oberyn's older brother and the actual ruler of Dorne, demurs. He refuses to let Dorne be a place where they kill little girls.

It's worth noting here that Dorne seems to be the place thus far introduced with the most gender equality. Though Ellaria is a bastard of no noble birth, she is allowed to address the ruler of Dorne openly. Myrcella is cared for and there is no agreement to gendered violence. Also, Ellaria mentions the Sand Snakes, who we will meet very soon, and those are a group of vicious women (Oberyn's daughters), who aren't just deadly, they're also very popular in Dorne. The only other place this woman friendly so far has been North of the Wall. And that has other problems.

Speaking of North of the Wall, the Wildlings are still settling into their lives at the Wall. More importantly, though, the Night's Watch is still settling into the idea that the Wildlings aren't the enemies. The enemy is the Walkers, which everyone now knows are coming. Everyone except Stannis, it seems, because he is planning to continue his ridiculous quest to be king by conquering the North.

He wants Jon Snow's help with this, of course. The Wildlings refuse to follow him and the North will not rally to him. As Jon points out, both groups refuse to follow one who is not their own. But Stannis doesn't like that (because Stannis doesn't like anything), and he wants a quick easy solution. 

If Jon deserts the Night's Watch and bows to Stannis, Stannis will make him Lord Jon Stark of Winterfell. It's all Jon has ever really wanted, to have a name of his own, and it's a really tempting offer. Making him Lord Stark would appease those Northern Lords who still refuse to follow anyone but the Starks, and it would also give the Wildlings somewhere to settle. Done, right?

Well, no. Jon refuses because as he points out, if he were to go back on his vow to the Night's Watch, what kind of Lord would he be? Not a very good one. So Jon is sacrificial and noble but still cannier than Ned ever was, and we get to see Samwell Tarly's mancrush on him go into overdrive.

Speaking of Sam, he's sort of floundering now. The whole castle is preparing for war, which isn't really one of Sam's strong suits. Meanwhile, his relationship with Gilly is kind of contentious, mostly because she's a Wildling who the other men hate, and because he can't give her what she really wants (marriage and security) because he's keeping his vows. No one is happy.

On the plus side, Gilly is learning to read from Shireen, Stannis' daughter. You might remember that she had some weird stuff on her face that made her mother ashamed? Yeah, well, apparently it's the remnants of a horrible disease that was cured but left horrible scars. What's interesting here is that Shireen is the only case anyone has heard of where the sickness was cured. Curious.

Okay, anyway, Sam's crush on Jon explodes when it comes time to elect a new Lord Commander of the Night's Watch. The two options available are kind of meh. There's Thorne, the training commander who haaaaaates Jon with a passion, and then some other guy who we don't know all that well but who is old and probably not going to win. So Sam goes out on a limb and proposes Jon for the job. He makes it clear that Jon is a true leader, that Commander Mormount really wanted Jon for the job all along (which is true) and that they would all be lucky to follow him into battle.

Unshockingly, the vote comes down really evenly between Thorne and Jon. Thorne has the respect of the older men, while Jon has the devotion of the young recruits. The tie is only broken when Maester Aemon, who hadn't yet voted, casts his vote for Jon. And so we have a new leader in Castle Black: Lord Commander Snow. Awesome.

It's also nice that Jon's nobility and honorableness has finally gotten past the whining stage. He's much less annoying than he used to be - one might almost think he's grown up.

And then, on the other side of the world, we've got Daenerys and her mounting problems in Meereen. This week the problems come to a head when they finally capture a member of the "Sons of the Harpy". Dany and her council try to figure out how to deal with the guy, but while they deliberate, one of her advisors, a former slave, goes to the man's cell and kills him. Dany is outraged and also heartbroken, because the man swears he did it because she couldn't. She can't outright kill a man, not if she wants to call herself a true ruler. She must abide by the laws. 

Unfortunately, those laws also mean that she cannot ignore the murder of a prisoner awaiting trial. So Daenerys makes an incredibly hard choice. She has the former slave executed, even though she knows that doing so will enrage the former slaves of Meereen. And it does. Their cries of "Mhysa!" (mother) turn to literal hissing. A riot breaks out. And Daenerys is heartbroken. 

Then, that night, something surprising happens. Drogon reappears! Drogon, as in the third dragon, has been missing since the middle of last season or so, and he comes back, perches on Dany's roof and almost lets her pet him. Almost, but not quite. She's still too unsure of herself. She's lost the confidence she had as a conqueror. She needs to figure out how to find it as a ruler.

She'd better find it soon, too, because Tyrion and Varys are on their way to her, to vet her for being the future ruler of Westeros. But first they're making a quick stop somewhere else. That's all we know - they just got a quick check-in this week.

Finally, the last two storylines were about the Stark girls. As we recall, Brienne and Podrick had a near run-in with Sansa Stark last week. Well, this week that turns into an actual run-in, where Brienne and Podrick spot Sansa and Littlefinger eating at the same tavern they've stopped at. Brienne, being noble to a fault, goes right up to them and tells Sansa that she is hers to command. Littlefinger, however, pushes her past back in her face. She couldn't protect Renly or Catelyn, how will she protect Sansa?

More importantly, the last time Sansa saw Brienne was at Joffrey's wedding, and she feels the need to point out that at that time she was sworn to the Lannisters. Brienne accepts the point. So Sansa refuses her help, just like Arya did, and Littlefinger has Brienne forcibly evicted from the pub.

What's interesting here, though, is that it seems Brienne planned for this. She assumed her help would not be wanted, because she had Podrick ready and waiting with horses. They lead Littlefinger's horsemen on a merry chase before looping back around and catching Sansa's trail. Podrick tries to convince Brienne not to follow, but as Brienne points out, do they really think Sansa is safe? Nope. She's not, and Brienne has an oath to uphold, no matter what.

Meanwhile, Arya has finally reached her destination: Braavos. She's awed by the city (which looks a bit like Venice) and has the captain drop her off at the "House of White and Black". But when she knocks on the door and shows her token, she's turned away. It seems that here, as in Westeros, there is no place for a girl who's good with a sword. So Arya spends the night on the steps of the House and then in the morning goes into the city for food.

In the city, though, she is almost immediately targeted by a gang. Before she can kick all their butts (let's be real, she can totally do that by now), the man who turned her away at the House appears. She follows him back only to discover that he's not just some random guy, he's Jaquen Hagar, the man she met who first told her of Braavos and gave her that coin!

He tricked her because he can change his face, and it's heavily implied that Arya is about to learn that skill. Either way, her story ends with her being taken inside the heavy black and white doors, presumably to learn the high art of murder. Fun times.

So this week's episode was, like last week, a little slow and mostly setup. Which is fine. The seasons usually come to a crescendo later on, and I can deal with a little pacing and slow storytelling to start. But this episode was very much about people owning their identities and learning what that really means. Arya is finally getting the chance to learn murder, which she's wanted for years now. Daenerys is learning that a good ruler will never be universally beloved. 

Brienne is owning her nobility and getting considerably cannier with time, and Sansa has become quite observant and clever. Jon Snow is stepping into the role we've all known he was born for, while Cersei clings desperately to a role she fears won't be hers for much longer. And in Dorne, Doran and Ellaria are trying to figure out who they are now that they don't have Oberyn to define them.

It was a good week. Let's see what next week holds. 

Raise your hand if you have headcanons about all the badass ladies of this show creating a better kingdom together.
*Bran won't be in this season, apparently. Sad.


  1. Cersei wants the man to be the "master of war" or something, but he's not so inclined. He heads back to Casterly Rock, and Cersei is left to deal with the issue of having to corral nobles who genuinely hate her.

    That's a guy who thinks the Lannisters are not long for King's Landing. And/or a guy who forsees the different branches of the family fighting over which one gets to be the new top branch.

    Everyone except Stannis, it seems, because he is planning to continue his ridiculous quest to be king by conquering the North.

    He does have some level of point that the war is killing more people than the Walkers at the moment (and that a unified Westeros has a better chance of surviving when the Walkers get there). Of course his point is undercut by prolonging the war and trying to conquer the people he should be standing with.

    What's interesting here is that Shireen is the only case anyone has heard of where the sickness was cured. Curious.

    Do those scars look a bit like scales to you?

    Unshockingly, the vote comes down really evenly between Thorne and Jon. Thorne has the respect of the older men, while Jon has the devotion of the young recruits.

    Unshocking indeed. But it makes sense. The older men know Thorne from his time as a field leader, which he was really good at; while the younger ones know him as an instructor of recruits, which he's completely useless at.

    1. I really like that there are non-main characters who can see the way the wind is blowing.

      Stannis is really frustrating as a character. Because on the one hand, I get his motivations. But on the other hand, dude. Tunnel vision much?

      They do look like scales. Are you thinking what I'm thinking? People turning into dragons? Gilly said her sisters got super vicious...

      And yeah, I actually like that Jon recognizes Thorne's abilities. He might be a jerk, but he is competent.

    2. I hadn't thought all that far ahead, aside from everyone and their dog being rumoured to be a secret Targaryen, and Shireen would be a more interesting choice than the usual suspects.

      Turning into a dragon, or a draconic-analogue of the Walkers would be interesting too, though!

    3. I would love Shireen the dragon. I'm not sure about Shireen the secret Targaryen, though. Hmm. Hadn't thought of that. I'm mostly really interested in the connection between Melisandre and Shireen's healing. I feel like we don't have the full story there yet.

      And why is the Red God so emphatically okay with scars like hers? Because he causes them? Hmmm?