Game of Thrones is many things, least among them is subtle about its weekly themes. It’s part of the experience, as we’ve seen it develop over the years, to watch D.B. Weiss, David Benioff and the rest of the writing team parse together stories from all over the world of Ice and Fire in a way that makes them fit together despite great geographical, philosophical and tonal differences. This week’s episode, “Second Sons,” is no different. It’s the kind of slower, more meticulous episode that digs a little deeper into the greater notions of faith and honor, love and duty. It’s also filled with moments both sweet and sour for characters we like, those we don’t and those whose true nature is yet to be revealed to us. It is on this note that we begin our weekly Blog of Thrones discussion of episode eight, a sweet and sour appetizer to whatever darkness lays ahead.
From here, there will be advanced talking points from this week’s episode, “Second Sons.” Read on at your own peril.
“That’s it?” The overwhelming sentiment from last night’s Game of Thrones watch party at Reject HQ seemed to be centered upon a lack of the whirling events and breakneck pace to which we’ve become accustomed. It is more likely that “Second Sons,” brought to life from a script by the show’s two chiefs and the directorial work of Breaking Bad vet Michelle MacLaren (back for her second consecutive episode) is just more focused than we’ve seen from recent frames. In its effort to show us what’s happening with some characters we’ve missed and probably check in one last time on a few characters we won’t see much of in the final two episodes, “Second Sons” finds a little time to linger — a rarity in the world of Westeros. That said, there’s still plenty of connective tissue. Much of which plays around the titular theme of second born or discarded sons. Bastards, rejects and drunken little brothers.
One thing that contributes a great deal of balance to the entire episode is MacLaren’s commitment to giving us equal doses of sweet and sour moments. We see this very early on with the dichotomy between the situations of Arya and Gendry. Traveling unwillingly with The Hound, the little wolf girl (I love the way Rory McCann says that with such disdain) at first wants to smash his ugly face in with a rock, believing that he means to bring her back to Cersei and Joffrey and meet some sort of terrible fate at King’s Landing. Lucky for her, she doesn’t take his dare and later finds out that he’s taking her to Robb and her mother at The Twins. It’s part of the sweet. Everything might just work out for Arya after all, dear friends. On the other side of that coin is Gendry, whose fate is told to us a bit differently. We get to know, thanks in part to Carice Van Houten’s purring about slaughtering lambs, that his situation is going to end poorly. He doesn’t get to know this though, and for a while there he really seems to think he’s going to get to put his power into the red woman. Poor guy. All that foreplay just to get some leeches on his nether regions. The past two episodes have not been kind to the manly bits of Westeros, that’s for sure.
A momentary tangent, if I may. I enjoyed the scene in which Stannis visits Ser Davos in the dungeons of Dragonstone and eventually frees him and heeds his council not to have Gendry killed. It shows one of the essential things about Stannis that the show has been trying to tell us for a while now: he’s not a cruel man. He’s a just man, a fact that is so often seen through the eyes of Davos. It also seems important to note that Stannis sees some sort of great battle in the snow. I feel like that’s something we’ll need to remember for later.
Which brings me to the next striking thing about this week’s episode, and one of the more striking elements of the show overall. There is a lot to remember. Not just from week to week, but year to year. At least it feels like a year since we saw Sam and friends dig up the dragonglass weapons at the Fist of the First Men. Despite the show’s “Previously on…” montage reminding us for a third week in a row, it seemed like an easy thing to forget. Right up to the moment when Sam the Coward, fresh from talking about his own discarded son status with Gilly, slays a White Walker with his dragonglass knife. A great moment that could potentially be confusing after Walker: Baby Ranger made such quick and emphatic work of Sam’s sword. That dragonglass is powerful stuff, as is the image of Sam and Gilly running through the forest ahead of an unkindness of ravens (that’s what they’re called, look it up).
We also spend a great deal of time with the literal manifestation of the Second Sons, who are meeting Dany and her wise old guy protectors. Yet another fine example of the sweet and sour is the disposition of the young queen. In a matter of a few moments she goes from “I am but a young girl, unwise in the ways of war” to “Kill that one first.” If there’s anyone who defines the balance between the beauty and brutality that exist in the world of Ice and Fire, it’s the mother of dragons. Yet this little vignette outside the walls of Yunkai isn’t really about Dany, even if we do finally get a little more of that long-awaited Emilia Clarke flesh (you know that’s true). The time we spend with Dany is all about introducing us to our new favorite second son, the sellsword Daario Naharis, played by newcomer Ed Skrein. Fun fact from the books that was left out of the show: Daario should have had a three-pronged purple beard. Alas, he’s still a real charmer. “I’m the simplest man you’ll ever meet” seems to have gotten the attention of the Khaleesi.
And then there’s our favorite second son, Tyrion of House Lannister. Plenty of time is spent in King’s Landing this week thanks to the rushed wedding of Tyrion and Sansa Stark. There’s so much delightful nuance in these scenes, including those that present Tyrion with the awkward Sansa/Shae dilemma. As he’s wont to do, Peter Dinklage absolutely obliterates these scenes. From the drunken foolery of wipping his mouth with the table cloth to a bit of banter with Head Motherf*&ker in Charge Lord Tywin, he seems to be enjoying himself. Never one for a lack of balance, he also delivers the season’s tensest moment thus far when Tyrion threatens something fierce toward Joffrey’s royal member. That moment, staggering as though it may be, is really the turning point for us as an audience. Up to that point, the Lannisters were in fine form. Cersei was in super-bitch mode in her conversation with Margaery. Joffrey was in full-on Joffrey The Child mode with his gag at the wedding ceremony (and even more darkly with his “I’m going to rape you tonight” speech to Sansa later). From the moment that Tyrion stabs the table, he begins to unwind all of that and reveal his true self. Because like his brother Jaime last week, we find that Tyrion is an honorable man despite the lion on his clothes. He’s even more honorable when faces with tough situations and an unlikely companion. He defends the honor of his new bride, treats her respectfully and then drunkenly passes out. This is why he’s our hero, folks. Because even though he’s a second son, a title that is proven without a doubt to yield a much tougher road, he is at the very least an honorable man.
Final Note: Lady Olenna, once again delivered with such good nature by Diana Rigg, breaking down the newly formed familial relations between the Tyrell children and their new Lannister spouses is great fun.
Next Week: “Behind the Candelabra!” Wait, that doesn’t seem right. Game of Thrones is taking next week off to make way for Steven Soderbergh’s Liberace movie. The following week, June 2, we will get episode 9, “The Rains of Castamere.” Here’s the promo for what is sure to be a huge episode: