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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Review: Game of Thrones, Second Sons

Season 3, Episode 8 

Grade: B+
Verdict: This episode was a bit lighter than the last, presumably setting us up to plunge into chaos for the season's penultimate episode (historically, this is where the most dramatic plot points occur) and finale. "Second Sons" still feels like a pause before the serious action, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. There are several choices made in this episode, small and large, that help key characters march towards redemption, or at the very least, make some of the darker characters on this show a little more gray. 

Every time I finish an episode of Game of Thrones, I'm left looking for the invisible thread that connects a smattering of seemingly unrelated plots. Sometimes there isn't one - this is adapted from a medium that needn't worry about such things - but sometimes there are many. This episode initially struck me as a "daddy issues" centric one, with the clash between Tyrion and his father over Tyrion's manhood, the conversation between Gilly and Sam about their respectively abusive fathers, etc. There's also a lot to be said about what it is to "be a man" going on here.

But beneath all of that, if we plunge the depths, I think the most interesting theme we see in this episode is the surprising development of trust for and between characters from whom we may not have expected it. Let's break it down:

  • Danaerys tries to win over the Second Sons, a group of sellswords who have decided they'll assassinate Dany to weaken her cause. The least-offensive of the group, Daario, is randomly selected to carry out the task. We expect him to attempt it when he catches Dany naked and undefended, but he instead declares his allegiance to her, explaining the plot to kill her and revealing the severed heads of his comrades. A sellsword is probably one of the last places Dany expected to find allegiance or devotion, but she appears to have it from Daario for the moment. 
  • Arya's been abducted by The Hound and tries to kill him in his sleep. He's too alert to let it happen, but as he and Arya ride, he explains to her that he's not taking her back to King's Landing. Instead he's taking her to her mother and brother at the Frey's. Sure, he's doing it for the chance of reward money, but it's still a much nicer turn than she's expecting. It's a stretch to say there's actual trust between these two, but they're a lot better off than where they started. 
  • Stannis checks in on Davos under the pretense of letting him go, but immediately starts venting about the Melisandre's desire to sacrifice Gendry. Deep down Stannis trusts Davos, probably more than he trusts Melisandre, in spite of what he considers his treason. When Davos urges Stannis not to kill an innocent boy, Stannis listens. 
  • In what appears to be the first in a succession of impending weddings, Tyrion and Sansa get married at King's Landing. Tyrion's father harasses him about bedding Sansa as quickly as possible so that he has an heir, but Tyrion can't go through with it. He promises to keep Sansa safe, gets drunk at the wedding, and passes out on a chair in her bedroom, leaving her untouched. In doing so, he earns a bit of trust and relief from both Sansa and Shae. I wouldn't characterize this development as unexpected for the audience - Tyrion's one of the closest characters we have to a "good" guy, vices aside - but it comes as a surprise to both of the women in his life.
Lastly, this episode contains more humor and a bit less despair than we saw last week. Between her conversation with Margaery and her conversation with Renly, Cersei was killing it. And I was happy to have a break from the Theon plot this episode. After his castration last week, I didn't know how much more torture I could handle. In the way of complaints, a) just not enough plot movement here for this to be an A-level episode in my eyes, and b) the constant barrage of naked ladies, but rarely men, irks me and c) the Sam/Gilly scenes weren't doing it for me. I like Sam, but I liked him more in the books. I also didn't find the white walker scene very scary. I think the involvement of the baby is the reason; you know that would be pretty cold, even for this show, so the stakes feel a bit lower with baby on board. 

Overall this was a solid episode that contained a lot of subtle, interesting character developments hinging on unexpected trust. Game of Thrones is so steady-handed that, fortunately, almost all of that trust felt completely earned. 

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