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This week’s Game of Thrones episode, “Second Sons,” the eighth episode of the season, deals a great deal with sons - both second and otherwise - as Tyrion marries Sansa, Gendry discovers what being the bastard son of King Robert really means, the Hound tries to convince Arya that she isn't in danger, and Daenerys acquires additional troops and a potential love interest, as the show takes one positive step closer toward its finale.
After weeks spent bouncing around Westeros (and across the sea with Dany) each episode, it's nice to have a bit of a break from the constant movement, with “Second Sons” dealing almost exclusively with three individual storylines - the wedding, Gendry, and Dany (granted, we do have two additional stops, with the opening scene catching us up with Arya - although the topic of conversation largely regards Sansa - and the final scene stopping in on Sam - more on both later). A common complaint of the show is that there are so many characters that it is nearly impossible to spend meaningful time with them each week. While that is certainly true, there are occasional episodes throughout the three seasons that take time to focus on only a few storylines, and, like “Second Sons,” serve to make the world of Game of Thrones all the richer.
Our first set of sons is known as the Second Sons, a group of sellswords hired by Yunkai to take on Dany’s army of 8,000 unsullied. Despite Dany having four times as many soldiers at the Second Sons, both Jorah and Ser Barristan express worry over the coming battle - so much so that Dany agrees to meet with the Sons' captains to discuss hiring them on to fight alongside her in the coming battle. While her offer is met with a less than enthusiastic response from two of the three envoys, Dany does manage to sway the dashing Daario Naharis, who oozes charm and will likely rouse the ire of Jorah sooner rather than later.
While Dany’s storyline was not nearly as loaded with emotional turmoil as the episode’s other stories, it allowed us to once again see why Dany has become so powerful in such a short period of time. Unlike the series’ other kings, who spend much of their time focused on what they deserve rather than on what their people need (with the occasional exception found in Robb Stark - although even he spends a great deal of time focused on himself), Dany has made it her mission to liberate the enslaved, allowing her to amass a larger army. Granted, having dragons has helped, but Dany has created trust between her and the people around her, making her the best choice for ruler in the Game of Thrones universe. It’s a shame she’s still stuck on the other side of the sea - the way things are going in the Seven Kingdoms, there might not be much left for her to rule if she ever makes it over.
Our next second son is Tyrion, who marries Sansa in a rather non-lavish ceremony. Having spent his entire life playing second fiddle to Jaime (and being blamed, unfairly, for his mother’s death in childbirth), Tyrion possesses more anger toward his father than most, and he finds a way to continue to spite Tywin by refusing to bed Sansa until she tells him she wished for it (at least he claimed it was to spite Tywin, but I suspect Tyrion was simply being the stand-up guy he so often is - underneath his jovial “drinking and whoring” exterior - and protecting Sansa, another person who has had no say in who she has become). Tyrion’s gallantry extends beyond Sansa, as he plays the drunken fool at his wedding feast, particularly after threatening to castrate Joffrey thereby allowing the king to save face in front of his court (not that Joffrey will see it that way, so I would watch out if I were Tyrion).
Continuing with our sons theme is Gendry, who may very well be Robert’s second son, although we’ll never know, but who is certainly the bastard of the late king. As was foreshadowed over the last few weeks, Melisandre was up to no good in her desire for the blood of a king. After telling Stannis that she had=s to pamper Gendry to get what she needs from him (like a lamb being prepared for the slaughter), the Red Priestess seduces Gendry then leeches some of his blood from him. Like with Tyrion, the circumstances of Gendry’s birth have forced him into the situation in which he currently finds himself and, like so many others in the series, he is powerless to save himself.
It appears that Gendry’s only hope lies with Davos, who is now free from his prison cell and about to witness the power of the Lord of Light through a fire ceremony. (A brief aside: Wonderful work, yet again, from Liam Cunningham, throughout the episode. Davos remains one of the few likeable characters on the show, due in no small part to Cunningham’s portrayal.) Based on Davos’s character up to this point, I doubt a little smoke and magic will serve to convince Davos to change sides (particularly since it seems Davos doesn’t really ascribe to any religion, save for his own luck). Judging from his impassioned plea to Stannis to spare Gendry, I wouldn’t be surprised if Davos attempted to free Gendry - and for Gendry’s sake I hope I’m right.
Our final two sons bookend the episode. First, the Hound, now in possession of Arya, tries to convince her that he isn't truly as bad as she believes him to be (especially when compared to his older brother the Mountain). His first attempt, telling Arya that he saved Sansa’s life during the riot last season in King’s Landing, is met with skepticism. However, when he reveals that he is bringing Arya to Catelyn and Robb, we are treated to Arya’s first smile in what seems like years (I’m just guessing, but I don’t think she’s smiled since she started her fencing lessons back in season one). I’m warming up to the Hound, although I’m still wary of him. The Hound is the perfect example of a secondary (or even third string) character who has received more and more backstory and resonance as the series has moved forward. Knowing of the abuse he once suffered as a boy at the hands of the Mountain has made him more sympathetic, and I am looking forward to getting to know him a bit more as he takes Arya to The Twins.
Finally, the episode’s final scene takes us beyond the wall to Sam and Gilly, who are discussing possible baby names for Gilly’s son. While explaining the difference between a first and last name, Gilly says that Randyll, Sam’s father’s name, would be a good possibility. The anguish and pain on Sam’s face (a superb turn of acting by John Bradley, who is often called upon to be the comical foil to Jon, but in this storyline has been allowed to tap into the pain that lives within Sam) as he tells Gilly to please not name her son Randyll is heartbreaking to watch. Knowing what we know about Sam’s backstory - that his father sent him to the Wall because he was a coward, while his younger brother took his place as the first born - it is all the more thrilling to see Sam finally become the hero and kill the White Walker with his dragonstone dagger. In an episode that sees very little in the way of triumph by second sons, having that small victory is wonderful to behold.
-- Poor Loras. First he has to listen to Olenna list off the ridiculous ways he will be related to the Lannisters after his marriage, but then he tries to speak to his future bride and is all but told to shut up. Looks like the firstborn sons are having a rough go of it as well.
-- Just when I think Joffrey cannot get any worse, his threatening to rape Sansa makes him just a bit more odious. I’m crossing my fingers that he will not be long for this world - for Sansa’s sake, if not for Margaery’s as well.
-- While I try not to compare the series to the novels, I have to say I am a bit disappointed that Daario doesn't have the bright purple hair he sports in the books. It seems to make him all the more cavalier and charming, and I’m hoping he’ll find some dye along the way.
-- Shae certainly seems angry when she comes to dress Sansa the morning after the wedding, but changed her tune pretty quickly upon realizing there has been no consummation. I particularly like Tyrion’s smirk upon seeing her realization. Perhaps Tyrion was looking out for himself and Shae a bit as well when he decided not to sleep with Sansa.
-- Cersei and Margaery finally have a chance to talk, although it doesn't go the way Margaery hoped it would. It appears that, having lost control of her son and control of her own life, Cersei has decided to lay her cards on the table, threatening Margaery’s life (and more or less telling her that the Lannisters were plotting to take down the Tyrells should they move against the crown). I’m betting this won’t sit well with Lady Olenna when she hears, and I fully believe that she can be just as devious and violent as Cersei.
-- Finally, for the second week in a row, we are presented with what appears to be a typical Game of Thrones sex scene that turned into a case of torture. While I would rather not see poor innocent Gendry leeched, I have to applaud the show for continuing to turn audience expectations on their ear.