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Game of Thrones – Flirting with Danger in ‘The Old Gods and the New’

Besides Theon Greyjoy who wreaked havoc on Winterfell, other major characters were either in danger or were flirting with it in "The Old Gods and the New." The episode was filled with danger, from the kind that makes you wonder who's next on the chopping block to the kind that makes you wonder whose heart will be caught next. Virtually no significant character was spared, including the dragons.


The episode starts with Theon Greyjoy of Pyke, now "Prince" Theon, capturing Winterfell after most of the Northern men have gone away to help House Stark's vassal at Torrhen's Square. The young man was shrewd in his plan and it paid off. The even younger master of Winterfell, Bran Stark, has no choice but to yield, but Theon quickly finds out picking a side also means having to deal with some unpleasant consequences: Surrounded by people who saw him grow up and that he is now threatening, he is forced to kill Ser Rodrik Cassel who taught him how to fight. The series is mercilessly continuing its work on Theon who clearly didn't realize at first what would be needed of him to win over the Ironmen's respect. We see a character whose determination to gain his father's consideration is pushing him further from the values the Stark children (and maybe himself) thought he had. Bran Stark's question summed it all: "Did you hate us the whole time?"

Robb Stark and Talisa Maegyr

Meanwhile, Robb Stark, King in the North, clearly feels he is in luck when he stumbles upon Lady Talisa Maegyr, the healer who caught his attention on the battlefield. The new king is not taken off guard this time and after a more dignified conversation, he is almost rewarded with an acceptance to an invitation when his mother's arrival stops the proceedings. Lady Stark is quick to understand what is going on and reminds the young man he his betrothed to another. Her intervention also has the subtle (very mother-hen) effect of questioning the origin of the young woman.

Beyond the wall, Robb's brother Jon Snow also makes an encounter, although in a more unlikely setting. On a scouting mission with Qhorin and his rangers, Jon stops short when he realizes he is about to kill a woman. Left behind to kill the watchwoman before catching up with the others, his hesitation leads to an escape and to an exciting chase in the threatening but beautiful Frostfangs. The young wildling woman is called Ygritte and as they find themselves alone for the night, she wriggles herself against him. She has understood he will not kill her and finds him brave, "You're brave. Stupid, but brave." Besides the highly cinematic chase, the scenes with Ygritte show a young man who has not yet given up on his ideas (unlike Qhorin), but someone who is still struggling to find a balance between duty and honor.

Much farther south, finding that balance seemed impossible for Arya Stark who was caught in a battle for her own survival. The episode included another scene expressly designed to help the young girl win some more points with the unsuspecting Tywin Lannister. The lord of Casterly Rock finds out his cupbearer (Arya) can read better than one of his commanders, but her smile quickly vanishes when Lord Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish stops by for a visit. In a scene that had Arya's heart (and ours) racing, the young girl had to serve wine what seemed an unreasonable amount of times, spilling some on Littlefinger — just to rally those who weren't worried yet — but ultimately wasn't recognized by the member of the king's small council. Later, unable to resist stealing a message about war plans, she has to urgently collect her second debt from Jaqen H'ghar who saves the day. The episode did a good job keeping us worried for Arya, and even managed to get Tywin to confide in her. The stern and hard Lannister is clearly having a soft spot for his cupbearer for the same reason the viewers can't help but worry for her.

Arya realizes Littlefinger is behind her

Things got even more grim at King's Landing both verbally and with the quickly contained and spontaneous uprising that followed Joffrey's stupid order. The queen's threats to her brother were as sinister as one would expect from her, but somehow rang as a prophecy. It wasn't very hard to imagine Cersei Lannister killing whoever Tyrion would fall in love with. While it's been established for a while now that Joffrey is a lost cause, Sansa Stark displayed only in this episode how clueless she is about what's happening in the kingdom. Her short scene with Tyrion's consort also showed how much Shae can teach her.

I find this episode (and those before it) could have done a better job of outlining the limits and the extent of the power of the hand of the king. The limits were too subtly presented with Ned Stark in season one and not at all with Tyrion. It might seem a bit odd that a man who is powerful enough to broker a deal forcing the queen regent to send her daughter away can't send some soldiers to help Sansa. On the chapter of odd things, the show was also a bit shy with the reasons why the wildling servant Osha had to sleep with Theon Greyjoy to help with the escape. If there was some other reason than showing full frontal nudity, the episode should have been more explicit. From where we stand, slitting a guard's throat should not have required sleeping with "Prince" Theon. It should be said that the same shyness was nowhere to be seen around the gruesome scenes.

There was more consistency at Qarth, both in the language and in the actions. Daenerys Targaryen couldn't just expect parading around in fancy princess dresses and obtain whatever she wanted without paying a price for it, and she didn't. The spice king (a personal favorite) used every weapon at his disposal, mostly grammar and his sharp tongue, to deny his help to the Khaleesi. She was as fiery as ever, and although Daxos (and us) were impressed by the fact that her "dreams come true," the spice king was unmoved. As I watched our favorite Targaryen cry for her missing dragons, I hoped she would take off those princess gowns and don her Dothraki clothes (figuratively) to look for her babies. Similar to what it has done with Theon Greyjoy, Game of Thrones is pushing Dany into a corner, forcing her to take the path not so pure and not so honorable to become what she thinks she can be, but unlike Theon, she actually has strong potential to be a good leader.
Rating
8.5

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