SPOILER ALERT: Before you read this post, broil a chunk of raw meat and watch last night’s Game of Thrones.
“They say he can’t be killed.” “And do you believe them?” “No, my Lord. Anyone can be killed.”
Arya Stark is a freaking badass.
I think I’ve been giving Arya’s story a bit of short shrift in these reviews because the season has largely been about power and the powerful, and she’s been powerless–a fugitive and a captive. Except as we see in “The Ghost of Harrenhal,” she is not at all defeated.
It’s not just that she has the services of a murderer in her back pocket. Even before she cashes in the first of the three deaths Jaqen owes her, we see her strength and resolve in that fantastic stare-down with her new boss Tywin. The Lannister figured her for a girl when no one else did, and even now he sees that there’s more to her than she lets on, figuring out–at least–that she’s really a Northerner. But she doesn’t flinch, locking Tywin’s gaze during their last exchange, and what a chilling delivery from Maisie Williams on “Anyone can be killed.” She stuck him with the pointy end on that line.
And after the Tickler, she has two deaths yet to collect. Like several characters in Game of Thrones, she is discovering that power is not necessarily about having overwhelming force: sometimes it’s about having a little bit, and leveraging it. Stannis, for instance, is lord—sorry, king—on a small island, and his forces are outnumbered by his brother Renly’s. But he has Melisandre, and their spooky offspring, and that’s the end of Renly–whose troops, it seems, are now mostly Stannis’.
How does this affect the balance of power in the war? It’s testament to the complexity of Game of Thrones that it’s not really clear. On the run from the chaos in the Baratheon camp, a shocked Catelyn–who, for fleeting seconds, struck a deal ensuring Robb’s victory–and distraught Brienne forge a pact, on the grounds that “Renly’s enemies are Robb’s enemies as well.” But are they? Joffrey and Stannis both consider him a traitor, yet they could each do him a favor by weakening the other.
In Essos, meanwhile, Dany’s entire game involves leveraging her position. She has almost no army now, but plenty of potential; three dragons, beginning to learn to use their breath, and the claim to a throne, which entice her protector Xaro and–as the mysterious masked Quaithe warns–invite covetuousness and danger.
I’ve been waiting all season to see Qarth on the inside, and like the Dothraki camp, it can’t entirely avoid a feeling of kitschy exoticism; it looks a little like the inside of an Eastern-themed Vegas casino-resort. But it’s cool, enticing and menancing all the same: where the sense of threat on the Dothraki Sea was of violence coming from the wide open, here it’s treachery hidden under silky robes.
(SPECIAL: Summer 2012 Movie Preview)
This is first personified by Pyat Pree, who looks a little like Dean Pelton in Star Trek alien getup but is undeniably freaky, even before he manages his self-doubling trick. His tone, his insinuations, his appearance–lips stained blue with the warlocks’ favored psychotropic extract–all convey smooth menace and corruption. It’s a nicely staged scene–just freaky enough to leave doubt whether we’re seeing genuine magic or an illusion–but as Jorah suggests, the greater danger may be the more courtly Xaro, who may be trying to out-leverage Dany: “Rich men do not become rich by giving away more than they get.”
Back in Westeros, meanwhile, an already crowded war promises to become even more complicated, through the efforts of two men looking to do a lot with a little. On Pyke, Theon has only one ship and less respect–loved the emasculating glance Yara shoots at his groin as she brags that the harbor is “too narrow” for her fleet–but he has an idea that points him toward Stark territory.
And in King’s Landing, Tyrion may be acting Hand, but he still lacks stature, not just physically. He’s shut out of Cersei and Joffrey’s deliberations–which he fears are going down a very foolish path–yet, as he confronts the preacher railing against the Lannisters in the street, he realizes that his fate is very much tied to theirs anyway. (Between this scene and the grumbling around Melisandre, the political power of religion in Westeros is gradually creeping up on this season.) But he still has his brain, and his spies, both of which lead him to the pyromancers and their stockpile of wildfire, the dragonbreath-like napalm of the Targaryens–a dangerous plan, but one he decides he can do something with.
After all, as Quaithe tells us, “Dragons are fire made flesh. And fire is power.” Even if it starts with a little spark.
Sexposition Watch: None again this week, as the writers really seem to be cutting back. But we may have the promise of some to come, as Dany dispatches her ex-courtesan handmaiden to literally use sex to get information on Xaro–a sexposition mission? “Men like to talk about other men–when they’re happy,” she says. I’m not sure how true this is in real life, but we already know it’s quite true in Game of Thrones.
Critter Watch: See above, and I think the less-is-more approach is working with the dragons, brought out here when they’re especially significant to the themes and stakes, but not used so much they lose their effect. They’re so cute when they’re babies!
Other Storylines: A central challenge of Game of Thrones is that it presented most of its central cast together, then scattered them to (more or less, as of now) a half-dozen different locations. Generally the series has done a remarkable job, even as it rushes through a lot of story, of making their threads feel connected, even when they’re not in each other’s presence. Jon Snow and his men in black have felt like the most disconnected from the rest of the story this season: they’re playing the show’s long game, the existential threat of the White Walkers. This week, with word of Mance Rayder having united many–all?–of the Wildlings, they seem to be getting closer to finding that there’s one more king to contend with in this war. Still, as rich as their story is in mystery and mythology–this week we get some information about the “First Men” who colonized Westeros thousands of years ago–it can feel like watching a separate show within a show.
For Readers of the Books: Your impressions of Qarth? To start, Quaithe’s mask wasn’t quite what I pictured–it’s stranger, and creepier, like an exquisite prison for her face.
(Here’s my usual request for those who have read the books: you’re welcome to compare what’s happened already on the series, but no referencing plot points or upcoming events–nothing possibly spoilery for the book virgins out there. Thanks.)