This past week’s episode of Game of Thrones is brought to you by:
torture implements, feminism and revelations.
We got to catch up with (almost) everyone that we didn’t see in the premiere episode. Bran Stark is heading north, in hiding from pretty much everyone. Arya Stark is realizing that her bravery won’t do much good on its own in the hostile river-lands Brienne of Tarth is dragging an insult-spewing, manacled Jaime Stark south on a hostage-exchange mission. And, Theon Greyjoy – oh dear god, Theon –is hanging on a torture rack being waterboarded, screws are driven through his feet, possibly flayed, and needles are jabbed into his fingers. Without specific spoilers, if the remainder of his upcoming storyline sticks to the books even partially, it’s about to get a lot worse for him and may stretch the limits of what even HBO can show.
Yet as shocking as that suffering was, it was nothing compared to the ways in which the show’s many prominent women surprised us with revelations of emotions and strengths that previously seemed either out of character or unlikely. Take Catelyn Stark, who’s seemed almost obliviously proud, stubborn and slavishly devoted to her own worldview. She’s now showed off a deep, deep well of self-hatred in a monologue about a death-wish she’d once had for Jon Snow, one that almost came true.
There’s also Margaery Tyrell, who’s playing the game more adeptly than anyone else so far by playing into Joffrey’s psychopathy (fetishizing the king’s crossbow, fantasizing about killing), and Sansa Stark’s need for friendship (allowing the girl to be honest about Joffrey).
Then, there’s Arya, who showed vulnerability for the first time in a long time, when her identity is revealed. She’s reduced to a mere hostage, unable to make it on her bravado alone. Brienne, living up to her utmost desire, is seen as a true warrior when she beat Jaime in an episode-climaxing swordfight, making it clear that she’s not trafficking in manufactured bravery.
Lovers of the books also got more than a few treats this week. Arya, Gendry and the unfortunately named, Hot Pie, ran into the Brotherhood Without Banners, a vigilante group. One of its colorful leaders, Thoros of Myr. We also met Margaery’s grandmother Olenna, the “Queen of Thorns,” who’s almost as good with quips as Tyrion Lannister. Finally, Bran and company encountered the Reed twins, Meera and Jojen, the latter of whom shares Bran’s gift of “greensight” (visions of the future and past).
Nearly every character deals with the consequences of having the truth either revealed to or hidden from them in one way or another. As just two examples, Robb Stark finally begins to see the cracks in the relationship between him and his soldiers – they are considerably less confident in his leadership after learning of Winterfell’s destruction. Theon, conversely, is kept in the dark regarding who’s torturing him, although he certainly knows why – as punishment for sacking Winterfell.
Sansa, meanwhile, falls somewhere in between the two extremes. She’s beginning to partially understand the realities of the world she lives in, as evidenced in one of her first lines this season, “The truth is either horrible or boring.” But, she’s also unaware that none of the people claiming to come to her aid, including Littlefinger and the Tyrells, have any best interests in mind but their own. When her handmaiden Shae (genuinely) offers protection from Littlefinger’s potential sexual advances, she dismisses the possibility. She’s learned her fair share of hard lessons, and something tells me that she’s destined for more, as is the inevitable way of life in Westeros.
Like last week’s premiere, the episode spent much of its time with further world-building. Although plotlines are moving forward, as Jaime and Brienne were caught by men claiming to be loyal to Robb, Arya is in the hands of the Brotherhood and Bran has a clearer sense of direction under the Reeds’ guidance.
No Daenerys or Stannis/Melisandre/Davos storylines this time around, but they were a necessary sacrifice given the amount of ground covered on every other corner of the show’s universe. Next week looks like it’ll be stuffed with madness, as some stories/characters move closer together and others grow further apart.
Liam Green can be reached at email@example.com.