Holy merciful goodness. This episode brought back all of the cruelty and violence of Westeros with an almighty crash. If “What is Dead May Never Die” established the importance the various factions place on loyalty and how power accumulates, “Garden of Bones” was the unspeakable unleashing of that power.
That said, the show could well be criticised for laying it on a bit thick. We’ll talk about that later. First off, the bones of the show, if you’ll forgive the turn of phrase, and needless to say there are spoilers ahead. In the opener we get a good long look at Robb and the kind of King he’ll become should his plans come to fruition. Judging by the heroic poses he cracks while launching a night attack on Lannister forces, he is a skilled tactician on the battlefield; judging by his rather unconvincing explanation of his motivations to field doctor Talisa, he has the political dexterity of his late father. Bee tee dubs, sports fans, the Robb/Talisa cutemeet happens over the amputation of a young man’s leg. Love in Westeros. At the very least we know he, like Ned, is not afraid to do his own dirty work. Unlike…
Pretty much everyone else. In the court of the Increasingly Mad/Dickish King, Joffrey is relating stories of torture and cannibalism after his forces’ latest defeat, and has his knight beat Sansa for her brother’s treachery. Tyrion eventually stops him, serves up a hot plate of Remember That One Time I Slapped Your Face, backed up by Bronn, who continues to be the merriest hired sword in the Seven Kingdoms. He’s having a whale of a time. He also suggests sending prostitutes to Joffrey’s room to calm him down a little. For some reason Tyrion agrees, though I kind of presume that’s just because it’s the solution to most problems in Westeros.
Anyhoo, it leads to the most horrific scene in the series thus far, as the recently traumatised Ros is forced at crossbow-point to abuse her friend and colleague. This is one point where I’d like to step out of the recap and look at this seriously. What was this scene for? Ros is a peripheral character, and we aren’t given any fresh insight into Joffrey’s psychology – it seems like it was done primarily for shock value, secondarily to advance the plot. Maybe we now think Joffrey is capable of playing political games or rebutting Tyrion, but that was already well-established. Game of Thrones has never exactly been coy about violence or even sexual violence, but it usually falls well within the needs of the plot. When that isn’t the case, it feels like the show is enjoying the spectacle almost as much as Joffrey is. Troublesome.
Elsewhere, Littlefinger is on a jaunt to Renly’s camp, ostensibly to broker a treaty, but actually to see Catelyn Stark. Both Aiden Gillen and Michelle Fairley do some incredible work conveying some intense feelings in a tight, compact burst of hecka acting. You really get the sense that Littlefinger is deeply moved to see his childhood crush, even as he tries to manipulate her into freeing Jaime Lannister in exchange for her daughters, one of whom is not actually under his protection. And it took some delivery to make me even consider that Baelish might genuinely want to return Ned’s bones to his family. In the same part of the world, Stannis and Renly have a brotherly spat over who has the right to be King, and who has the capacity for it. It ends with Stannis giving his little brother an ultimatum: declare his allegiance or go to war.
Out in the desert, Daenerys looks for refuge in the fabled city of Qarth, and is greeted by the thirteen hipsters who govern it. They are ready to send her on her way because she doesn’t want to show off her dragons or pay for the CGI, when Xaro Xhoan Daxos, the show’s second black character and the first to talk for more than thirty seconds without disclosing his preference for white women, claims responsibility for them under a kind of Qarthian blood pact. The doors open and so does a new chapter in the Dothraki storyline. Qarth looks pretty awesome, tbh.
Arya, Gendry and Hot Pies are not enjoying their stay at Centre Parks Harrenhal, where a pretty grim form of torture is going on courtesy of the Mountain and his lackeys involving a bucket, a rat, some fire and a little bit of special stardust I mean horrific death. Gendry is saved at the last minute by Tywin Lannister, who rides in, calls out everyone on their crap, makes Gendry a smith and hires Arya (who he instantly recognises as a girl, because he has, you know, eyes) as his cupbearer. Developments! Also, Ayra has already missed part of the point of Yoren’s charming tale of misery by picking up his murder-prayer meditation technique.
Finally, Stannis’ right hand man (ho ho) Davos Seaworth is sent on a mission to help Melisandre deliver her monstrous shadow-baby. I did not see any of this coming and it was startling – the birth itself is creepy as heck and fairly graphic, and Carice van Houten’s performance deeply unsettling. As for the scene itself, Davos is one of the most grounded characters in the show – one imagines he and Bronn would get along famously – and for him to be witness to another physical proof of supernatural power in the world is a bold statement. Things are going to get awfully weird in Westeros.
So a pretty brutal episode from top to bottom, without Jon/Sam, Arya/Gendry, Bran/Luwin/Hodor/Osha or even much Tyrion to lighten the mood. That said, while there is still a lot of manoeuvring and hot air around the battle for the Iron Throne, we seem to be gradually getting to the pointy end.
Wow, long post. What’s your take on happenings at the heart of the Seven Kingdoms? Let us know in the comments, or check out The Mary Sue for more insights.