Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 6. The Old Gods and the New
Game of Thrones is based on A Song of Ice and Fire by George R R Martin. The content of Season 2 in this television adaptation by HBO is drawn from A Clash of Kings. As before, the production is helmed by David Benioff and D B Weis. Here is the link to my retrospective overview of Game of Thrones Season 1. This is a spoiler-rich discussion of what happens in each episode, so do not read this if you want to watch without prior knowledge.
What makes The Old Gods and the New interesting is that it signals an increasing willingness on the part of the production team to move away from the book. It’s always appropriate when adapting a novel for a visual medium to change things around. But the continuity between this episode and the last is challenging. We leave it with Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) being rowed out to his single ship and return with him actually taking Winterfell. I’ve no particular axe to grind but there’s a lot missing with him landing, laying siege to Torrhen’s Square with a token force and then capturing Ser Rodrik (Ron Donachie) as our doughty defender marches to drive off the attackers. I suppose the important question is whether the increasingly selective way in which scenes are being chosen and fitted together actually works. In the main, what we see in this episode is reasonably easy to follow and not unenjoyable despite the slow-moving sequences north of the Wall. I’ll come back to all the changes to the main story at the end of the reviews of the individual episodes.
Personally, Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) is helpless but also mindful of the fate of the people in Winterfell so, with Theon and his crew of cut-throats threatening the few staff in residence, he mouths the words of surrender. This should have kept everyone safe except the weak-minded Theon listens to the wrong advice and decides to behead Ser Rodrik. Botching this simple task signals the end of respect for the man. Because this is an HBO show, Osha (Natalia Tena), the Wildling girl, sleeps with Theon, steals a knife while he’s in post-coital slumber, kills a guard and then leads Bram away from his home on the back of Hodor (Kristian Nairn) with his younger brother Rickon (Art Parkinson). In any other show, Osha would have picked up one of the hundreds of knives lying around Winterfell, quietly killed a guard and escaped. Beyond the Wall, Jon Snow (Kit Harington), shadowed by his direwolf, Ghost, goes off with Qhorin Halfhand (Simon Armstrong) and three other rangers on a commando raid to kill Mance Rayder. Among the first group of Wildlings they fight is a girl called Ygritte (Rose Leslie). Jon Snow now demonstrates why he’s also an ineffective person. In this type of raid behind enemy lines, there’s no place for sentimentality. Not understanding the extent of the boy’s weakness, Halfhand leaves him behind with instructions to kill her. Except he can’t bring himself to do it. She runs off and there’s then a tediously long chase. He catches her but he’s stubborn enough to lie out in the open with her. Good job he’s taken the vow of chastity. This saves HBO from having to show another sex scene — danger money would have been required for lying down and baring tender bits. Who knows what might get stuck to the ice.
To help us understand why Robb Stark (Richard Madden) is on a winning campaign, Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) is shown having trouble with his senior officers, all of whom are as thick as two short planks. This is cartoonish. If Tywin Lannister is really so competent, he would have ignored all these lightweights and brought in military professionals to get the job done. Petyr Baelish aka Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) comes to report Renly’s death. He correctly identifies the Tyrrels as the unknowns since they have not yet declared what is to happen to their troops. He also reports on Tyrion’s plan to trade the Stark girls for Jaime. Lurking in the background as the cup bearer, Arya (Maisie Williams) listens carefully. Then, somewhat improbably when they are alone, Tywin tells Arya about teaching Jaime to read and talks candidly of his own father who was weak and almost lost the House. Although it’s interesting to consider what Tywin’s attitude to Arya might have been, seeing Tywin as less than ruthless in his dealings with her does rather blunt his reputation. But Arya’s impetuosity puts her in danger and she takes a second life from Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha) to protect herself. She’s leading in the ruthlessness stakes.
Back at King’s Landing, Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) finally gets his way and sends Myrcella Baratheon (Aimee Richardson) out of the city. Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) vows she will take revenge by killing anyone he loves. The presence of the great Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) in the city streets sparks a riot. Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann) as The Hound literally carries Joffrey out of danger, but Tyrion worries where Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) is. She’s caught and men are about to rape her when The Hound finally does the right thing and rescues her — plenty of feeling on his part when slaughtering the wannabe rapists. No-one’s going to touch his Sansa. Tyrion has the satisfaction of slapping Joffrey. Fortunately, no-one kills Tyrion for his lèse majesté. After her rescue, Sansa and Shae (Sibel Kikilli) exchange notes on who to trust. There’s no explanation of how The Hound could find Sansa, but perhaps we’re supposed to infer an ability to track her scent through city streets and slum tenements from his name as The Hound.
In Qarth, Pyat Pree (Ian Hanmore) makes his first appearance as the warlock, while Quaithe (Laura Pradelska) offers a warning to Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen). Despite her pleading, the Spice King (Nicholas Blane) refuses to give any of his ships to Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke). She has no army. She has no allies and cannot explain why the people will rise for her as the rightful Queen. He offers the wisdom of the ages. That wishes and dreams are not enough. She protests she is not an ordinary woman. She dreamed of dragons and her dreams came true. But the Spice King is all business where logic conquers passion. When she returns to the home she has been given in Qarth, she finds many of her supporters dead and the dragons missing. In a moment of peace, Robb Stark meets up with Talisa Maegyr (Oona Chaplin) again. This time, she not amputating limbs after a battle and they manage to talk more romantically to each other before being interrupted by the return of Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) with bad news about Renly. Great timing as a crow also comes in from Winterfell.
On balance, The Old Gods and the New is one of the weaker episodes. Although we appreciate that the landscape north of the Wall is full of ice and snow, it’s not necessary to show us quite so much of it for so long. I also appreciate the difficulty in training animals, but the failure of the direwolf Ghost to put in anything other than a token appearance is a bit worrying. A little foreshaddowing of future events would be more useful than extended chases. In the Westeros, the characterisation of Tywin Lannister feels wrong. He’s far too likeable. Although Arya is the third most intelligent person in Harrenhal (after Tywin and Jaqen H’ghar), that’s no reason for Tywin to treat her like his own daughter. Yes, he’s probably a lonely old killer, but that doesn’t mean he would open up to a girl he’s only just met. So this is all disappointing.
For reviews of Season 2, see:
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 1. The North Remembers
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 2. The Night Lands
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 3. What Is Dead May Never Die
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 4. Garden of Bones
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 5. The Ghost of Harrenhal
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 7. A Man Without Honor
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 8. The Prince of Winterfell
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 9. Blackwater
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 10. Valar Morghulis
Game of Thrones: Season 2 — the HBO series considered