Game of Thrones Season 2, episode 5, “The Ghost of Harrenhal”:
The episode opens in Renly’s encampment. Renly, guarded by Brienne, is having a parlay with Catelyn. He tells Catelyn that, so long as Robb swears fealty to him, Robb can call himself King in the North and be independent. It’s not as though Renly has any plans to visit the frozen wastelands. Catelyn is a little bit hesitant about the fealty thing until Renly reminds her that her husband Ned swore the same oath to his brother Robert. Renly promises that tomorrow, after he’s defeated Stannis, he’ll make common cause with Robb to bring down the Lannisters. Hey, things are looking up for the Starks! That won’t last long.
Catelyn makes one last futile plea for Renly and Stannis to make peace with each other, being brothers and all, but Renly is adamant that Westeros isn’t big enough for two Baratheon brothers. Stannis agrees, as we’ll find out in a few seconds.
An otherwordly wind blows through Renly’s tent, bringing with it the shadowy love-child of Melisandre and Stannis. Before Catelyn or Brienne can react, Shadow Baby skewers its Uncle Renly through the heart with a shadowy finger-dagger before dissipating. Shadow Baby needs a long time-out!
Poor Brienne catches Renly, sobbing as he bleeds out in her arms. A couple of other guardsmen run into Renly’s tent and assume that Brienne murdered Renly. They start to fight her, and Brienne shows her mettle, defeating and killing them both. Catelyn begs Brienne to flee because she doesn’t want Brienne to be hanged; also, as the only witness to what actually happened to Renly, Catelyn is not in the best position herself. Obviously, the alliance between Renly and Robb isn’t happening now and I don’t think Stannis is the type to give up an inch of anything he considers his or concede that anyone can be called “King” besides Stannis Baratheon.
Littlefinger watches Stannis’s ships approach Renly’s camp and slithers in the opposite direction from Renly’s fleeing soldiers. Littlefinger turns up at Renly’s tent, where Loras and Margaery are figuring out their next move. Or rather, Margaery is figuring out their next move while Loras swears vengeance on Stannis. Although Margaery tries to sell the “Brienne murdered Renly” theory, Loras isn’t buying it. The only person who benefited from Renly’s untimely demise was Stannis.
Loras is clearly heartbroken at the death of his lover, while Margaery suggests that it might be wise for the Tyrells to leave before Stannis arrives and kills them. Littlefinger promises Loras revenge for Renly while Margaery reminds Loras, much as Catelyn reminded Brienne, that dead people can’t take vegeance. She sends Loras out to find the horses, and Littlefinger asks her if she wants to be a Queen. “No,” Margaery replies. “I want to be the Queen.” I think she and Littlefinger understand each other.
Meanwhile, in King’s Landing, the Queen Regent Cersei and Tyrion are discussing the latest news. Cersei is happy that Renly’s dead, but Tyrion points out that this just means that Stannis is in an even better position to come to King’s Landing and kill them. Cersei’s gown in this scene is so gorgeous that I almost miss the rest of the discussion; I really like how she used to wear more muted reds when she was married to Robert and now that she’s his widow, she’s dressed in scarlet and crimson. Cersei tells Tyrion that Joffrey is handling the defense of the city himself. Obviously, this is a worrying thought for anyone who cares about King’s Landing, but Cersei resists Tyrion’s attempts to learn more about Joffrey’s plans.
Cersei’s reticence doesn’t matter, though, since Tyrion has a snake in Cersei’s grass, in the form of his cousin Lancel. He tells Tyrion that Cersei’s secret weapon is wildfire. At first Tyrion doesn’t believe Lancel, threatening the poor boy with Jaime’s vengeance when he finds out that Lancel and Cersei are sleeping together. But Lancel, who has long practice at groveling to Robert, now grovels to Tyrion until Tyrion is satisfied that he’s telling the truth. Tyrion makes sure Lancel stays on the straight and narrow path of loyalty to Tyrion by telling him that Bronn has orders to kill Lancel should anything happen to Tyrion. Bronn comments that it would be his pleasure and Lancel and I both believe him. Poor Lancel probably wishes he were just being drunkenly insulted by dead King Robert rather than signing over his soul to his cousin Tyrion.
At Renly’s encampment, Davos and Stannis are in Renly’s tent, where Davos is trying to discuss where shadowbabies come from, even though this birds and bees stuff makes Stannis uncomfortable. Davos won’t drop the subject of fratricide-by-sorcery, so Stannis accuses him of disloyalty “Loyal service means telling hard truths,” Davos reminds Stannis. He convinces Stannis to leave Melisandre behind when they attack King’s Landing because everyone thinks Stannis is dancing to Melisandre’s tune. Don’t they know lobsters don’t have rhythm? Apparently all of Renly’s bannermen, with the exception of the Tyrells, have joined Stannis now, but Stannis doesn’t trust them and gives command of the fleet that will attack King’s Landing to Davos. Somehow, despite my disapproval of Stannis’s methods, I find him strangely attractive in this scene. It must be the black armor. Or the way that he actually listens to Davos.
As Tyrion and Bronn stroll through a marketplace in King’s Landing, Tyrion enumerates all the ways in which Stannis is going to crush them. Bronn suggests asking Tywin for help, but Tyrion says Tywin is too busy being defeated by Robb Stark. Bronn points out that the Lannisters in King’s Landing have one huge advantage: Tyrion’s intelligence. (Now I’m imagining Bronn and Tyrion as Pinky and the Brain; they really could take over the world together). Tyrion and Bronn pause to watch a street preacher; unfortunately there are no political blogs in Westeros (yet) so the preacher is forced to rant on a street corner about the children of incest and how Joffrey is doing the bidding of a demon monkey. No one is more surprised than Tyrion to learn that this is how he’s viewed by the general population.
Speaking of demon monkeys, we return to Pyke, where the crew of Theon’s ship lives up to its name, the Sea-Bitch. They’re all super-bitchy to Theon because his CV of raping and reiving isn’t long enough (but his CV of being annoying is really long, I promise!) Yara shows up to rub a little more salt in the wounds to Theon’s psyche. Finally, when poor Theon is almost completely annihilated, his first mate Dagmer arrives to give him some fatherly advice about winning his men’s esteem. (Well, sort of! He tells Theon that even though Balon has assigned him the task of raiding fishing villages, Iron Islanders don’t do as they’re told.) Theon comes up with a plan on the fly to attack Torrhen’s Square, assuming that Winterfell will send soldiers there to defend their vassals. Uh oh!
Meanwhile in Harrenhal, Tywin Lannister, a far, far better strategist than Theon Greyjoy, is discussing the dispiriting news from the Stark camp with his underlings. One of the underlings is so bold as to mention that he’s tired and sleepy, and Tywin tells him to take a nap, warning him that the only reason he’ll wake up from his nap is because he’s Tywin’s cousin. Ouch! I think winter is already here because Tywin Lannister is COLD.
Arya, now Tywin’s cupbearer, listens in on all of this. Tywin questions her about her background, and ascertains that she’s a Northerner. He asks her what the Northerners say about Robb Stark, and she tells him the usual stuff, that Robb can turn into a direwolf and that he’s invincible (and there’s the cutest hint of pride in Arya’s face as she talks about her brother.) Tywin asks if she believes all the Robb hype and she tells him that anyone can be killed. Especially if you’re someone Arya doesn’t like.
Tywin sends Arya to fetch water (rather than wine) for his generals, and on her way to the water barrel, she runs into Jaquen H’ghar, last seen in the burning cage of miscreants begging Arya to let them go. Jaquen is now in spiffy Lannister armor, and he helps make up for the sad absence of Jaime Lannister from this and the three preceding episodes. Jaquen is grateful to Arya for saving his life, but “only death can pay for life.” (Those are exactly the same words Mirri Maaz Duur used with Dany before she turned Khal Drogo into a turnip. Look out, Arya!) Because Arya’s intervention saved Jaquen and two others from death by fire, Jaquen now owes her three lives in return. Arya’s bucket list comes in handy; without hesitation, she tells Jaquen that she wants “Tickler,” the man who was torturing people in the previous episode, to die.
And now it’s time to visit the land of ice and (Jon) Snow where a bunch of frozen Night’s Watchmen are approaching a rendezvous point called the Fist of the First Men. Here, they will meet the mysterious Qhorin Halfhand, who is some kind of Night’s Watch celebrity. It’s incredibly cold and bleak and beautiful and I really wish Jon, Sam, Dolorous Edd and Lord Mormont would put something on their heads. Apparently any Night’s Watch member with lines is contractually obligated to lose an ear to frostbite.
On the other side of the ice and fire equation, Tyrion, still accompanied by Bronn, and supervised by an elderly mad scientist type with absolutely no sense of humor, is examining the contents of a glass jar. The mad scientist tells Tyrion that he’s looking at wildfire, which burns stone, steel and, especially flesh. He’s a little too gleeful about the last part. Cersei’s secret weapon against Stannis: she intends to catapult wildfire into his ships in Blackwater Bay. Mad Scientist shows Tyrion the wildfire cellar, which has over 7,000 jars stored in it; it’s like a post-Soviet nuclear arsenal down there, only with better security. Bronn objects that catapulting wildfire into an enemy fleet may well end up with King’s Landing burned to the ground too, but Tyrion looks like he’s coming up with a plan and tells the Mad Scientist that he and his friends will now be working for Tyrion instead of Cersei. Maybe Tyrion can kill people with his brain!
Far, far away in the lush city of Qarth, Dany is trying to teach baby Drogon to respond to commands. The dragon is adorable, and also handy for cooking small batches of kebabs. Like Maester Illyrio in Pentos last season, Xaro Xhoan Daxos (XXD to his friends and recappers) has sent Dany a rich and beautiful gown to wear to his party, but unlike that day when she met Khal Drogo for the first time, Dany is no one’s chattel any more. Irri and Doreah bicker about Dany’s dress; I think Irri is feeling very out of place in Qarth.
Also out of place are Dany’s Dothraki bloodriders at XXD’s party where Dany forbids them to steal any of their host’s possessions. They’re getting a bit restive when the party is crashed by a creepy bald man with blue lips, who introduces himself as Pyat Pree, and offers Dany a pied-a-terre at his House of the Undying. Pyat Pree is some kind of sorcerer because he makes a double of himself while Dany is watching. (Why is it always the emaciated guys with blue lips who make clones of themselves? Why can’t we have multiple Jaquen H’ghars instead, hmmm?) XXD dismisses Pyat Pree as a showoff with one party trick and after the Mirri Maaz Duur incident, I hope Dany is a bit wary of places called “Undying.”
Meanwhile, another attendee at the Qarth party notices that Jorah Mormont isn’t too pleased by Dany’s new friendship with XXD. She’s wearing a mask with diamond cutouts over her face; maybe it’s flu season in Qarth. Mask Lady warns Jorah that everyone in Qarth is interested in Dany’s dragons and that he needs to keep an eye on Dany. I think Jorah probably could have figured that out on his own.
Back in Westeros, two other awesome ladies, Catelyn and Brienne, are still on the run. Brienne breaks my heart by telling Catelyn that the only time she got to hold Renly, the man she worshipped, was as he was dying. She insists—correctly—that Stannis was behind Renly’s death and she swears she’ll take vengeance for that. (So for the record, that’s two people who loved Renly who are out for Stannis’s blood: Loras and Brienne.)
Catelyn is concerned about Brienne’s future and offers her a place with Robb, but Brienne says she doesn’t know Robb. She does know Catelyn and she respects Catelyn’s courage, so she swears fealty to Catelyn instead. Catelyn promises not to stand in the way of Brienne’s vengeance when the time comes, and not to ask Brienne to do anything dishonorable. I truly love this moment in the books, and the show translated it perfectly to the screen. Brienne sees in Catelyn the mother she never knew, and I think Catelyn sees her missing daughter Arya in Brienne and it’s just perfect! So perfect I got a little verklempt.
In Winterfell, Cat’s son Bran is dutifully playing the part of Lord of Winterfell, while Rickon, the youngest and least visible Stark child, smashes nuts on the table. Bran wraps another deadly boring installment of “To the Manor Born” when Ser Rodrick “Whiskers” Cassel comes in with news of the attack on Torrhen’s Square. Bran, of course, doesn’t know that Theon is behind the attack, but he approves Ser Rodrick’s plan to take 200 men to deal with the invasion which they suspect is the work of the Lannisters.
As Bran is strapped into his special Tyrion Lannister-designed saddle, he asks Osha to tell him about the significance of his dreams, and somberly tells her that he dreamt Winterfell was overrun by the sea and by drowned men. Osha tries to reassure him, telling him that the sea is hundreds of miles away. Okay, people, you need to start listening to Bran’s dreams because the sea, in the person of Greyjoy rievers, is actually not that far away at all.
At the Fist of the First Men, Qhorin Halfhand finally arrives. I think he’s a Night’s Watch celebrity because he’s wearing a hat. With earflaps even! No wonder he’s able to survive north of the Wall! He tells Lord Mormont that they have to kill Mance Rayder in order to stop the Wildling army that’s on its way to the Wall. He wants a small elite group to go with him instead of Mormont’s army of four hundred. Qhorin picks two guys, and then Jon Snow volunteers for the third position. Hopefully this means Jon will get a hat with earflaps too.
In Qarth, XXD takes Dany to show her his etchings, which are hidden behind his impregnable Valyrian door. On the way, they talk about how much Dany wants to reclaim the Iron Throne. XXD asks Dany how long Jorah has been in love with her, which is news to Dany. XXD tells Dany about his rags-to-riches story and proposes to her; in return for half his wealth, which will buy her ships, horses and men to invade the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, his and Dany’s children will be Kings. Hey, I think Dany has a winner here: XXD is handsome, rich and has a really lovely voice that I could listen to all day long. (Dany will have to get him out of those Stargate costumes though.)
When Dany tells Jorah about XXD’s proposal, he rightly point out that Dany’s grip on a throne won by conquering Westeros with a mercenary army will be tenuous at best. She needs support within Westros. He tells Dany that she’s uniquely qualified to rule because she has a gentle heart (I really thought he was going to say “because you have dragons” because I feel like gentle hearts are optional for Iron Throne occupants. Renly had a gentle heart and look what happened to him!) Dany realizes that what XXD told her is true; Jorah is completely in love with her. She also realizes that Jorah is right: her support has to come from within Westeros, and not from a mercenary army. She says she needs one ship.
Meanwhile, in Harrenhal, shirtless Gendry is practicing sword-fighting while Arya gives him pointers. Let me repeat, shirtless Gendry. Alas, shirtless Gendry’s lesson with Arya is interrupted by a scream. Arya and shirtless Gendry run over to find the body of Tickler, who has apparently plummeted from one of Harrenhal’s many ruined towers. When Arya looks up, she sees Jaquen, who holds up one finger. Arya can request two more lives of him before his debt is paid.
I’m left with so many questions for next week. Whose death will Arya order next? Can Tyrion’s massive brain get King’s Landing out of the frying-pan (or into the wildfire?) Has Gendry lost his shirt for good?
Littlefinger to Margaery Tyrell: Do you want to be a Queen?
Margaery Tyrell to Littlefinger: No. I want to be the Queen.
Tyrion to Lancel: Even torturing you is boring.
Davos to Stannis: Loyal service means telling hard truths.
Arya to Tywin: Anyone can be killed
Regina Thorne is an avid reader of just about everything, an aspiring writer, a lover of old movies and current tv shows, and a hopeless romantic.