GAME OF THRONES 2.05 ‘The Ghost of Harrenhal’

The Baratheon rivalry comes to a bloody end as Catelyn and Arya make unexpected allies.

Blair Marnellby Blair Marnell

Episode Title: "The Ghost of Harrenhal"

Writers: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss

Director: David Petrarca

Previously on "Game of Thrones":

Episode 2.04: "Garden of Bones"

Story:

In the Stormlands, King Renly Baratheon (Gethin Anthony) holds a late night meeting with Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) as the loyal Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) watches over them. Renly is pleased that Catelyn's son, Robb Stark (Richard Madden) has no desire to hold the Iron Throne and he offers to form an alliance with him if Robb takes the same oath of fealty that Ned Stark swore to the late king, Robert Baratheaon. Moments later, the shadow creature from the womb of Melisandre (Carice van Houten) appears and murders Renly before their eyes. After the creature disappears, Renly's guards assume that a distraught Brienne murdered their king.

Even in the grip of despair, Brienne still cuts down her attackers with ease before Catelyn convinces her to flee with her. The next morning, Renly's camp is in chaos as the fleet of King Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) gets closer to shore. Lord Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish.(Adian Gillen) meets with Renly's widow, Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) and Renly's lover, Loras Tyrell (Finn Jones) as he offers condolences and advises them to leave before Stannis arrives. Littlefinger also seems pleased to hear that Margaery is still set on being "The Queen." In King's Landing, Queen Regent Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) is delighted to hear about Renly's death.

However, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) points out that most of Renly's troops defected to Stannis, giving him a much larger army and fleet than the Lannisters control at King's Landing. To complicate matters, Cersei shuts Tyrion out when he tries to learn what arrangements his nephew, King Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson) has made to defend the city. So, Tyrion turns to his hapless pawn, Lancel Lannister (Eugene Simon) and learns that Cersei has been amassing a stockpile of wildfire to launch at Stannis' fleet and army. Back in the Stormlands, Davos (Liam Cunningham) desperately tries to tell Stannis what he saw Melisandre give birth to in the cave.

Unfortunately, Stannis has no interest in knowing how his brother's death was achieved, so Davos points out that Melisandre is using Stannis as a way to spread her religion across Westros and that if he takes King's Landing with her by his side, than the victory will be Melisandre's. Stannis agrees to leave her behind for now, but he puts Davos in charge of the invasion fleet. In King's Landing, Tyrion walks the streets with Bronn (Jerome Flynn) and they are amused that some brave soul is giving an anti-Joffrey speech… until Bronn makes Tyrion realize that the public thinks that he's pulling Joffrey's strings.

At Pyke, Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) is mocked by the crew of his ship and by his own sister, Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan). Theon's first mate, Dagmer "Cleftjaw" (Ralph Ineson) is more sympathetic to his new captain and together they seem to have an epiphany when they realize that the Stark's territory in the North is vulnerable, especially Stony Shore and Winterfell. At Harrenhal, Arya (Maisie Williams) tries not to stand out while waiting on Lord Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) and his generals as they attempt to formulate a plan to defeat her brother, Robb. Tywin correctly guesses that Arya is from the North and tells her to repeat the tales told about Robb.

Arya does as she is bidden and she dismisses the myth of Robb's immortality by saying "anyone can be killed." But she holds Tywin's gaze many seconds too long before he dismisses her. Soon, Arya encounters Jaqen H'ghar (Tom Wlaschiha), one of the three men she saved from being burned alive on the night that she was captured. To pay his debt, Jaqen offers to kill three people for Arya and the first person she names is the Tickler (Anthony Morris); a feared torturer in the service of Tywin. Beyond the Wall, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and the Night's Watch arrive at an ancient fort called the Fist of the First Men as they await the legendary ranger, Qorin Halfhand (Simon Armstrong).

Back in King's Landing, Tyrion and Bronn meet with the royal pyromancer, Wisdom Hallyne (Roy Dotrice), who shows them the vast storehouse of wildfire made at Cersei's command. Despite Bronn's words of caution, Tyrion informs the pyromancer that all future orders of wildfire will be made for him, not Cersei. Far across the narrow sea in the grand city of Qarth, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) urges her handmaidens to learn more about their host, Xaro Xhoan Daxos (Nonso Anozie). Later at a garden party held in her honor, Daenerys is celebrated by the citizens of Qarth, but a masked woman warns Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) of dangers facing the mother of dragons.

Somewhere on the road, Brienne obsesses over Renly's death and insists that the shadow took the form of Stannis, therefore Stannis is responsible. Without a purpose in her life, Brienne offers  to serve Catelyn in exchange for a promise that she won't stand in the way of her vengeance against Stannis when the time comes. At Winterfell, Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) appears to be getting the hang of his duties when word comes of a town under attack a mere 40 miles away. Bran instantly sends Ser Rodrik Cassel (Ron Donachie) and 200 men to save their allies. Later, Bran tells Osha (Natalia Tena) about an ominous dream he had in which Winterfell was flooded by the sea and Ser Rodrik was among the dead.

However, Osha is reluctant to share her interpretation of the dream, even at Bran's insistence. At the Fist of the First Men, Jon is impressed by Halfhand and he volunteers to accompany him on an attack of a nearby Wilding encampment. In Qarth, Xaro asks Daenerys how long Jorah has been in love with her, but she laughs it off. Xaro then demonstrates his great wealth and asks to marry her in exchange for the money and power needed to retake the Iron Throne for her family. In private, Jorah makes an impassioned plea that the allies that Daenerys needs to make are in Westros not in Qarth.

Jorah promises to get Daenerys a single ship to take her to Westros and she eventually agrees to let him find a captain that they can trust. Back at Harrenhal, Arya spots Gendry (Joe Dempsie) and offers him some swordsmanship tips when they hear a blood curdling scream. As they and several others rush over, they see the Tickler's mangled body. Arya looks up and sees a smug looking Jaqen, who signals that one third of his debt has been paid.

Breakdown:

In the week between this episode and the previous installment of "Game of Thrones," Melisandre's shadow creature offspring kept raising questions in my mind. Was it the result of her sexual tryst with Stannis? Is it somehow a manifestation of Stannis' darker side? And more importantly, will it return now that Renly is dead at its hands?

Once the shadow creature appeared last week, it was fairly obvious that Renly's days were numbered. Still, for those of us who haven't read the novels, it seems like Renly made a pretty quick exit from the story… and just when he was getting really interesting. But there are a few reasons that made Renly's departure a necessary thing: Renly seemed to be poised for military success with the largest army at his command. Renly was popular with the people and he probably would have made a fine king. And most of all, Renly was reasonable enough to consider an alliance with Robb Stark against their common enemies.

However, it seems like the narrative has no use for reasonable men, otherwise Ned Stark would still be around. That kind of makes me worry about Robb. As for the other Kings in this war, Balon Greyjoy might be a little crazy and Joffrey is definitely insane. I think that their shared character deficiencies will make them into the cockroaches of this war and less likely to die when the audience wants them to. Meanwhile, Stannis is neither crazy nor reasonable. But Stannis is willfully ignorant of the threat that Melisandre represents and of the dark creature that may be his son. He simply doesn't care as long as his campaign ends with the Iron Throne in his grasp.

It's hard to blame Stannis for his ambition, but it's getting harder to see the man that inspired such loyalty from Davos. But that's probably where Davos is meant to be as well: serving a would be king that scarcely resembles the man that Davos has come to admire. It's not clear if Stannis put Davos in charge of the invasion fleet as an honor or a punishment, but it does seem to put Davos on the frontlines of a wildfire bombardment from King's Landing. That probably won't end well…

It was striking to see just how deeply Brienne cared for Renly. From the way she went on about only holding Renly as he lay dying, it definitely implied that she had an unrequited love for him. I don't know how long Brienne was supposed to have known Renly on the show, but it felt like she had barely been introduced to him prior to beating Loras in the tournament. That's probably a consequence of condensing the second novel into a single season. Regardless, this was the first time I felt invested in Brienne's character and I'd like to see her get her revenge on Stannis. The scene in which she and Catelyn swore oaths to each other was also oddly moving.

Staying with the theme of unrequited love, it's been obvious for a long time that Ser Jorah loves Daenerys. And if she still doesn't see that after his impassioned speech to her than Daenerys is just lying to herself. From the perspective of the audience, we know that Jorah could have accepted his pardon and returned to Westros instead of stopping the assassination attempt on  Daenerys last season. Likewise, Jorah seemed to openly despair when Daenerys walked into Drogo's funeral pyre because he didn't know that she would survive the experience.

It's little wonder that Jorah almost regards Daenerys as an otherworldly being. But here's the thing: Jorah's advice to Daenerys was spot on. If she came across the sea with a Dothraki horde or a foreign army, Daenerys would just be considered an invader. But if Daenerys makes it to Westros, she seems better suited to gather allies and rule than Joffrey, Stannis or Balon. I know that this is probably not in the cards, but how crazy would it be if the couple that brought peace to Westros was Robb Stark and Daenerys Targaryen?

Among the younger performers on this show, Maisie Williams tends to be the standout as Arya. And Williams delivered one of her best performances this week opposite the great Charles Dance as Tywin. I loved that moment when Arya was practically staring down Tywin the way a cat would stare down its owner. However, that could also prove to be a mistake on Arya's part, as any moments of defiance are likely to draw unwanted scrutiny from Tywin. Then again, I doubt that Tywin has even asked Arya what her name is; since he still refers to her as "girl."

Tom Wlaschiha's Jaqen has quickly grown on me as one of my new favorite characters. There's something inherently hilarious about both his third person delivery and the nonchalant way he signaled Arya while everyone else was freaked out by the Tickler's death. I'm curious to see if Arya would add the Mountain and Tywin to her death list or if she will reserve a slot for Joffrey in the hopes of avenging her father.

All in all, this was another really great episode. "Game of Thrones" is such a consistently well made show that it's going to take something truly exceptional to give it an even higher grade. And at the half way mark of the second season, "Game of Thrones" still doesn't seem to be capable of producing a bad episode.