Game of Thrones Season 2 Episode 5: “The Ghost Of Harrenhal”

Hello. Spoilers and hints of spoilers below. Watch the tv show, you’ll be okay. Even better if you’ve read up to book 3, A Storm Of Swords. Even though it’s so vaguely spoilery it’s probably okay, this can wait until you’re all caught up. ❤

Apologies for the lateness of this one. I’ve been ill. What better way to get back my health than to return to the sweetness and light of Westeros, eh? Even considering the big sudden death at the beginning and the sly demise at the end, this is a more humorous episode than usual, especially after last week, which is weird considering that first death especially. But hey, there are a ton of locations for this episode to rip through so if it feels a bit jumbled it’s understandable. I actually prefer this episode to last week’s purely because various characters improved and unfurled themselves in ways that interested me but overall, last week’s felt oddly stronger and more solid. This episode isn’t bad, it’s just spread very, very wide.

Wide, that is, but not wide enough for Jaime, Robb, Varys, Shae or Sansa to get a look-in this episode. We also get to skip Joffrey, though we get to see Rickon again, bashing nuts, because Rickon has so much anger in him and the nuts deserved it, okay!

– Episode starts off with Renly saying everything we want him to say about letting Robb rule the north as long as they take out the Lannisters which OBVIOUSLY means he’s not going to survive the scene, OBVIOUSLY, and may I say that Brienne’s roar of despair is the greatest thing? Oh Brienne, sweetheart, you need a massive hug. The shadow creature was brilliantly rendered and the scene was done so well, from a reader’s perspective; it’s more subtle in the book, but I preferred it this way.

– I like that they’ve given Loras at least a modicum of intelligence. “Brienne of Tarth murdered Renly.” “I don’t believe that, you don’t believe that!” Also: props to Littlefinger for his schemeface. He does good schemeface. You can see the cogs turning even as he speaks. “What do you desire most in this world?” “Revenge.” “I have always found that to be the purest of motivations.” Isn’t it confusing how honest he is, yet how sneaky at the same time? Clever boy. The viewers know what he means about “the purest of motivations” because it’s his. We’re not given much time to mourn the one popular man who could have been a half-decent monarch who was closest to the throne; instead we’re shown how others closest to him mourn. Loras looks like he’s throwing a massive strop, Littlefinger’s scheming, Margaery is scheming but also quite put out that her path to power’s been choked off, Brienne is devastated, his brother Stannis is mildly troubled but doesn’t want to think about it. And us, the audience? Shocked, but that’s just for the moment, because there’s plenty going on this episode and it’s weirdly almost forgotten about.

“Do you want to be a queen?” “No. I want to be the queen.” And there, right there, at that moment, I become a Margaery fangirl. And dare I say it, so does Littlefinger. I take it that’s our fill of Tyrells until season 3? Farewell guys, can’t wait until you come back into the game!

– For the first time in ages, King’s Landing looks beautiful. “Myrcella’s a sweet, innocent girl and I don’t blame her at all for you.” This show is giving me such a taste for stories about pretty places being nests of vipers. “It’s important,” Tyrion says, so carefully, asking Cersei to put her pride aside for the good of the city, “that we talk about this.” Cersei’s son is the king, what need have they of her scheming little brother? “It’s the king’s prerogative to withhold sensitive information from his councillors,” she says, smiling into her wine. God you guys need to have more scenes where you hate each other and only barely manage to be polite, it’s so juicy.

– Lancel and Tyrion crammed into a box talking more schemes is just the funniest thing. “You wouldn’t lie to me, would you cousin?” “No!” “That’s a lie right there.” Tyrion enjoys Lancel’s discomfort so much so that we the viewers do too. Tyrion is magic in every scene, he really is. “Even torturing you is boring!” And yay for wildfire, it’s half way through this series leading up to the wildfire-heavy climactic battle at the end of the series so I love the casual references they’re dropping along the way. Though I don’t remember this being a Cersei/Joffrey (eww) plan in the books, it gives Tyrion every excuse to be sneaky and snarky, and lord knows that’s one of this series’ strong points.

“I grieve for him too, for the boy he was, not the man he grew to be.” Family gone wrong, the Baratheons, even as much as the Lannisters are a family gone wrong in the other direction. Poor Davos. You can see the cogs turning in Littlefinger’s mind as things progress, but with Davos, you can see his loyalty warring with his belief in the rightness of things. Sublime acting. And again, foreboding mention of the taking of the Blackwater, leaving without the “foreigner” Melisandre, Davos knee deep in it all: shit’s a-stirring. “Hard truths cut both ways, Ser Davos.”

– DUDE that looks just like the man from The Crystal Maze! Oh my god he’s a crazy preacher being crazy about the truth! This is wicked. “It’s hard to argue with his assessment.” “Not after what he did to your birthday present.” “The king is a lost cause. It’s the rest of us I’m worried about now.” And Tyrion’s face at the demon monkey comment. Honest confusion from one of the few people in this show who are actually trying to be good. Poor Tyrion.

– Theon making an ass of himself again. You’d have thought after so long with Eddard and Robb he’d have worked out at least a part of this leadership issue, but no. And look, he’s making an ass of himself all over with his delusions of grandeur… the swell of music as he puts two and two together to come up with his plan, the self-satisfied smirk he shares with the man who’s planted the seed of the idea, oh it’s enough to make me hate him twice over. But then I know what’s coming. If he’d read up to A Dance With Dragons he’d probably decide against this course of action. Oh the benefit of hindsight.

– Arya serving table while great men discuss her families and plans and she’s being a mouse, can’t you just see it? A complete mouse. With fangs. “Girl! Where are you from?” and for a moment everyone goes “!!!”. For some reason Tywin likes this girl, even though she’s a Northerner who’s lied to him. He was so much less forgiving with his own cousin who just wanted to sleep. “Anyone can be killed,” she says in response to his questioning about Robb and his fame, which sends shivers down everyone’s backs. Tywin looks almost proud for a moment, Arya the closest to defiant she’s looked for quite a while, and they take a moment to try to get a measire of each other’s character. Ooooh shudder.

– JAQEN HELLO. “Friends may talk in secret, yes?” Yes, you scary rogue. “A man pays his debts. A man owes three.” A man needs to make being a mysterious scary rogue less sexy, y’hear?

– Hello Jon Snow and friends in the Beyond The Wall sitcom further north (and at this point the filming set in Iceland comes into its own because holy hell, that’s an amazing setting). Honestly had no idea which bit of the books we were up to with these guys until Sam stands up and shouts “THE FIST OF THE FIRST MEN” which was massively useful, thank you, Tarly. “Before I die, please, stop talking,” mumbles Dolorous Edd who is clearly allergic to exposition. Conversation turns to the First Men. “I think they came here to get away from something,” says Jon Snow who is the source of all joy, “but I don’t think it worked.”

– From ice to fire. Tyrion’s with a Pyromancer discussing the potency of wildfire. “Our order does not deal in pig shit!” Delightful work from an actor who’s both a friend of George RR Martin himself and the voice of the audiobooks. “You won’t be making wildfire for my sister any longer. You’ll be making it for me.” Love it when Tyrion asserts himself. I keep forgetting that he’s not the size of the other men in the show; you never forget it in the books, but he has such presence in the TV series it’s easy to forget.

– Daenerys is fed and rested and restored! And so are her dragons, apparently, though not her handmaidens. “She’s not a princess, she’s a Khaleesi!” And there’s so much about this scene in Qarth that makes me laugh I can’t possibly dissect it like they want to dissect that golden peacock. Although the minute the Warlock appears I’m all “HE’S JUST LIKE LOKI” which is troubling on so many levels. But what a creepy guy he is, it’s excellent. And the masked lady – ugh it’s all a bit much so soon but it’s lovely that Iain Glen and Emilia Clarke have proper acting to do now, it’s so much more satisfying. I like these scenes in Qarth. I wonder how much time Dany’s got to linger there.

– Oh Brienne, sweetheart ❤ I love this scene. Cat’s hardly one of my favourite characters but it’s so easy to feel for them both here, the acting is so reserved and realistic on both sides. “You serve nothing and no one by following him into the earth” is as much about Ned as it is about Renly. “You have courage. Not battle courage, perhaps, but I don’t know, a woman’s kind of courage.” This is about Cat and Sansa and Cersei as much as anyone. “Then I am yours, my lady.”

– Omfg it’s Bran sending orphan boys to look after a flock. I really hope that’s not what it echoes in the book. And Rickon’s back, aiming to misbehave, smashing nuts to smithereens because why not? He can. And Bran gets to behave like a proper leader (Rodrik Cassel’s little glimmer of a smile at Bran’s “If we can’t protect our own bannermen, why should they protect us?” just warms the cockles of my heart). And doom’s a-coming. *Sadface*

– So are we not getting Meera and Jojen? Come on, Bran needs the company.

“They say all sorts of crazy things north of the Wall,” says Osha, who is totally not telling Bran what he needs to know about the three-eyed crow, and then there we are north of the Wall, where Halfhand is doing anything but saying crazy things. What’s going to happen is this: Jon Snow’s off ranging with the kick-ass Halfhand. Nothing could POSSIBLY go wrong. Sam’s little half-smile-and-shrug when he offers to do Jon’s job while he’s out ranging is adorable. His PoV in the books never really interested me but the actor invests him with so much warmth he’s hard to dislike.

– Xaro is easily one of my favourite characters now. Easily. It’s not often that changing a character so drastically is an improvement but, here, it is. The actor is superb. All of these actors are superb. This is ridiculous. I’m running out of ways to say that these actors are impressing me!

– Jorah tells Dany to win Westeros on her own, without foreign involvement. He also tells her she’s wicked cool and fancies her. Well, almost.

– May have just made a strange noise when the camera panned up to show Gendry dipping his sword in the bucket of water, I cannot lie. MORE OF THAT, GAME OF THRONES PRODUCERS. Oh good lord I don’t think there’s been a single tit this entire episode. That’s amazing. I’m amazed. But back to Gendry. More of that, yes? Yes.

– Arya wins everything. “You’re practising for a fight. You should practise right.” And then her expression as she looks down at the man she killed with a word? Oh yes. Wins everything. Although the Ghost of Harrenhal of the episode’s title is arguably Jaqen, not Arya, though the ghosts might be the memories Tywin stirs up with his questioning? Goodness. I don’t even know.

Things of note:

– Fire is power. Dragons are fire made flesh. The Lannisters have filled King’s Landing with fire. No good can come of this, we all know, but what a nice way to draw strands together.

– For a PoV character, Sansa is getting overlooked. Her storyline is more subtle than, say, Arya’s, so in a way I understand, but it’s still frustrating.

– Gwendoline Christie as Brienne. Yessssss. Also: how amazing is it that a child Maisie Williams’ age can hold her own in a staring stand-off with Charles Dance? The casting is phenomenal and the acting is so good I want to hug everyone.

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3 thoughts on “Game of Thrones Season 2 Episode 5: “The Ghost Of Harrenhal”

  1. Mary @ Book Swarm

    While this episode was all over the place (I would have preferred a bit more focus at times–especially on Quarth, so much intrigue a-foot), I loved the humorous undercurrents. Tyrion is so awesome, I could write an entire treatise on that man. And I like Sam so much better on TV. In the books, he’s too much of a sad sack, without the delicious sweetness that comes through on screen. Love your recaps!

    Reply
    1. ewasr Post author

      I keep meaning to reply to your comments but I get sidetracked far too easily. I love your comments! I agree, they needed more focus. That’s the one real structural criticism I have about this second series – there’s less of a per-episode arc, possibly because they’re sacrificing such things for plot expediency. It doesn’t really matter, I love it anyway, but we get glimpses of such tantalizing things!

      Reply

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