Game of Thrones S2E7: You Sad Little Kids

When I wrote about Game of Thrones last week, I talked about how I – someone generally averse to swords-and-dragons culture – found myself fascinated with the way this particular fantasy universe and its translation to high-concept television drama had some things to say about our modern environment. You know, the whole “questioning traditional social roles,” “finding value in diverse identities” “challenging the gender binary” thing. With that in mind, I’m quite excited that this most recent episode gives me so much to work with. Allow me to recap for you?

We open our episode with the fascinating condition of Theon Greyjoy. After having reunited with his family, he’s got something to prove to his father Balon, who has precious little pity for his son’s long lifetime away from home as a ward of the Starks of Winterfell.

His sister Yara (Asha in the books; the show’s creators feared audiences might get confused with the wildling Osha)  recently took the time to mock her long lost brother’s sexuality before revealing she’s been proving her worth as a conqueror in her own right. As retaliation, Theon has somewhat clumsily taken the Stark’s homestead of Winterfell from its prior lord – little Bran Stark, paralyzed from the waist down. Good victory, bro.

It’s not a good day for Theon; his most recent act was to messily hack off the head of the man who first taught him how to use a sword, in a misguided attempt to gain Winterfell’s obedience. And now Osha, herself a Stark prisoner who became sympathetic to the family, has seduced Theon so she could sneak herself, Bran, his littlest brother Rickon and the slow-witted Hodor (who carries Bran in a basket on his back, thereby acting as Bran’s legs) – out of the occupied Winterfell. Mission accomplished.

Before you feel too sorry for Theon, keep in mind he's betrayed the family that raised him over a handful of childish daddy issues and the fantasy of being a prince with an armload of "salt wives" . But he's been thwarted at every attempt to prove his manhood: He’s let a “half-wit,” a “cripple”, a “whore” and a little boy out of his sight, and he must recapture Bran and Rickon if he’s to keep everyone believing that his ownership of Winterfell is really a “thing.”

The books portray Theon as a sad and disgusting creature who smiles too much and bullies too many women for his own good, but in Alfie Allen’s portrayal of the character we see some nuance – here’s a kid subjugated to his dad’s ideas about manhood, struggling to get right with himself. It’s surprisingly sad. One of the great things about this television adaptation is that we can see the flicker and flux of emotion of individuals forced into highly literal, pragmatic circumstances.


Meanwhile, the late Ned Stark’s bastard Jon Snow, a “crow” of the Night Watch, has gotten in over his head, too. While investigating the wild lands beyond the wall that separates Westeros from madness, he’s ended up alone with a captive, the fiery-haired Ygritte – and who knows who’s actually the prisoner between the two of them?

 In the face of his chaste watchmen’s vows, the woman teases him relentlessly about the hard-on he got while they were forced to snuggle through the night for crucial warmth in the brutal cold. He has her bound on a rope lead, but he’s lost in the snowy lands while she needles him about his blue balls. “You know nothing, Jon Snow,” she tells him.

The core of the tension between Ygritte and Jon is sexual, yes – but she takes it further than that. His vows have prohibited him from flesh acts, but have also separated him from her people’s world of lawlessness and freedom. Her mockery of him as regards abstinence becomes a treatise on political liberty– who made any of these laws, anyway? Who has the right to claim governance of any place?


One of the more interesting liberties taken by the show is to shed some light on an inevitably complex relationship. There's Lord Tywin Lannister – architect of the war against the late Ned Stark's vengeful son Robb, and father of the incestuous twins that’ve secretly birthed Westeros’ current brutal brat-king Joffrey – and Arya Stark, the incognito daughter of our dear Ned. Arya’s stayed alive by posing as a boy, until Tywin’s keen eye found her for a girl and plucked her from Harrenhal’s torture pits for his cupbearer. You get the sense that he knows there’s more to her than she lets on, especially when he learns she can read – but this little short-haired tomboy keeps a straight face and a level head in the face of the lord whose family killed her dad and wants to kill her brother next. His underestimation of Arya is almost cute, and her resilience is incredible.

Last week, her mother’s friend Peytr Baelish almost spotted her, and Tywin’s knight Amory Lorch almost caught her stealing a message about her brother – good thing her unlikely pal Jaqen H’ghar assassinated Lorch on her behalf (that’s two out of three deaths H’ghar owes her for saving him from a fire). This week, little Arya’s wit keeps her one step ahead of Lord Lannister, universally adored and despised in kind by everyone from his subjects to his own golden-haired children. In the world of Westeros, dirty-faced girls always seem to be a little more powerful than the men with swords at their disposal. In an impromptu conversation about history, Arya reminds Tywin that two out of three of the prior age’s conquerors (who burned the very place they stand, even) were female dragonriders, where "a million men would have been repelled."

Back at King’s Landing, Arya’s elder sister Sansa continues to endure some brutal penalties for her girlish fantasies about noble princes and royal ladies. Virtually imprisoned at court as the vicious young king Joffrey’s fiancée, she barely escaped rape at the hands of an angry citizens' mob in our last episode – Sandor “The Hound” Clegane, the brutal knight with the burned face that Joff calls “dog”, was the one to save her.


Lots of people “ship” Sansa and The Hound, and the show seems to be capitalizing on this; he makes sure she knows that his particular brand of brutality is no less than what’s required to serve the royalty she so fantasized about as an innocent girl. The grotesque Hound is the perfect reality check for her naive dreams. We see Sansa's panic as she gets her very first period, a nightmare given that it means she must tell the nasty queen she's ready to bear kids for awful Joff. The first day a girl sees blood is scary enough without those implications -- even her biology is her enemy within her poignant captivity.

We see Joff’s mom Cersei Lannister, the duplicitous queen regent, shed some tears in front of her “half-man” brother, the uncommonly witty Tyrion Lannister. She says her kids are the most important thing to her, even as brutal and uncontrollable as her wicked boy Joffrey is – and no matter how heavy the mad spectre of the prior Targaryen dynasty’s incestuous heritage hangs. Meanwhile, her number one love – her twin brother – remains a prisoner in the Stark camp.

Jaime Lannister is a fascinating character. He and his siblings have all felt the burn of having Tywin for a father, but he’s always lived by his own code – even though he’s known for killing Westeros’ previous Mad King, you can tell he did it for probably a good reason. And even though he’s had three kids with his own twin sister, he purports to have never been with anyone but her (even though Cersei’s been hooking up with cousin Lancel in his absence!)

 Yet when a previous squire gets thrown in prison alongside him – and confides that his day serving Jaime in a jousting competition was the best time of his life – Jaime has no reservations about strangling the poor lad in order to cause a ruckus that gets him out into the stockade. Although a much-honored knight, honor hasn't done too much for Jaime.

Robb Stark is beholden to a very important political marriage, but it can’t stop him – a little bit too righteous, too loving, too young to win this war, we can tell – from continuing a flirtation with a battlefield medic, the enigmatic Talisa. Meanwhile in his camp, the fervor for Jaime Lannister’s head grows. Only Robb's mom, Catelyn, can intervene on behalf of Jaime, the most valuable bargaining chip in her dreams of having her daughters returned. She’s going to let him go, isn’t she.


An ocean away, throne hopeful and Mad King descendent Daenerys Targaryen has lost her dragons to her manipulative Qartheen hosts. Her knight (and would-be suitor) Jorah Mormont investigates on her behalf, only to be witness to a creepy insurrection by the blue-lipped, magical Undying. Ygritte taunts Jon Snow to his limits and manages to escape, leading him into a wildling ambush.  And at the episode’s close, Theon Greyjoy displays two tarred little bodies that he purports to belong to the unfortunate Winterfell children, much to everyone’s horror.

There were no boobs in this episode, actually. It was entirely a narrative about what insecure people do when their assumptions about power and privilege are challenged and threatened – there’s king Robb Stark’s inadvisable romance, Lord Tywin’s strange dialogue with his underestimated cup-girl, Jon Snow’s total failure to manage his fire-haired captive, Theon’s desperate actions at Winterfell.

This is a world where a sadistic child king is enabled to run rampant over his people, shattering noble ideals left and right as his prisoner-cum-child-bride still mourns her father, and where disempowered folk must grasp desperately for every advantage, for good or for ill, they can get. There are a lot of people with swords, but those with wits and wiles seem luckier still, no matter how fragile or how small.

 The title of the episode is "Men Without Honor." Yes, all these mighty men have been disempowered -- but, okay, you've gotta feel for them a little too, seeing how little honor buys you around these parts.


  1. More of this please. Combining Boing Boing and Game of Thrones (two of my favorite things) makes for some interesting reading.

  2. Magnificent review. I really think the show is improving on the source material about as much as its forced to take liberties with it.

    And really. I crowed when Ygritte finally said “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”

  3. Excellent analysis.  There was also relatively little violence beyond some distant hangings, two murders by Jamie and two murders by Theon’s men.

  4. Cool, thanks to boingboing now I know what to watch on tv! Seriously though, its a shark jumper post (grumble-grumble)

  5. I’ll be interested when you can start one of these posts without apologizing for your interest in such normally-unworthy culture.

  6. I read the books very carefully on the rules for the Black Watch and it never says they can’t have sex, only that they can’t marry.  And yet they keep it secret when they consort with prostitutes in town and Jon Snow is all in a panic about Ygritte. Are we supposed to assume that pre-marital sex is banned as well?

    1. I gathered from my readings that premarital sex was banned because it generally meant having to desert (to a certain degree) to get some.

    2. Mormont says if he beheaded every man that snuck out at night to town to get some “women of the night”.  He’d have no wall.  It’s expected this is to happen. You’re not supposed to, but they are realistic in temporary needs.  You just can’t have a wife who you’d be attached to and not obey orders.

  7. One of my favourite themes of this series is the whole “sins of the fathers” aspect; you really feel sympathy for the next generation, who are locked into a spiral of tragedy because of the actions of their parents’ generation, who were themselves affected by the preceding generation.

  8. Somebody please tell me  that those two tarred little bodies are NOT Bran  and his littlest brother Rickon?

      1. I’ll guess no since that was the farm where they sent the orphans and further that the smirky first mate of Theon’s ship (which we never see) is somehow setting him up at the behest of Theon’s sister.

        1. Hey, I never thought of that. Everybody is assuming Dagmer (that’s smirk guy) is taking the place of Reek, acting as the devil on Theon’s shoulder, but I’ll admit that’s an interesting idea, having him be one of Asha’s/Yara’s men.

    1.  As if they would die off screen.
      I’ve always thought that Sandor “The Hound” Clegane was the most honourable of all the knights.

      1. Was it his killing of Micah, the (ETA: unarmed and fleeing) butcher’s boy, which sealed it for you?

      1. I thought the bodies were meant to be burned, but I think those who have burned to death are usually found in what is called the “pugilistic stance” – more or less fetal position, with hands by the face, as if boxing…

    2. I haven’t read the second book, but I’m guessing the reason those charred bodies had been burnt was to cover their identities. That Theon Greyjoy couldn’t find them but wanted to scare the people of Winterfell, so that they didn’t start felling hopeful. 

  9. I liked what Jaime said to Catelyn Stark after he was recaptured on honor and a knight’s vows. ‘What if your father despises the king? What if the king slays the innocent?’

    1. Suffice it to say that we eventually discover that Jaime isn’t speaking of hypotheticals, here.

    2. Jamie’s bit there is probably my favorite moment of the series. All through the show we see the high cost of loyalty, and the consequences of betrayal, and this is the best challenge to feudalism I’ve heard yet.
      Loyalty is a virtue, sure. But loyalty to a person is dangerous in a different way from loyalty to an ideal. Mafiosi and war criminals are full of loyalty to their peeps, it’s the higher ideal that’s harder to swear to.

      I love that this show is pulling out the harder truths.

      1.  Well said. Catelyn Stark thinks that honor and loyalty are the highest ideals, but they can lead you to do very bad things. And one man’s loyal act is another man’s crime.

  10. And just when the critics got all in a huff about gratuitous nudity (nudity is never gratuitous) all the nudity went away. 

    1. Except that last night’s episode was probably filmed and edited months ago.

      There really weren’t any scenes with which to sneak in some nudity anyways, unless you count the first few seconds of the episode.

      1. I’m guessing everyone knew that and they wanted to hype the show as having lots of nudity before the sudden boob drought. 

    2. There was no nudity, but there was magic.  I think they have to keep a consistent 50:1 ratio of nudity to magic.

  11. Less an analysis than a précis of the episode. I’d rather read some more thinking on all the Oedipal drama. How does Daenerys fit into all that?

  12. I find it interesting how each passing episode diverts and twists further from the original source material and manages to do so without making a complete mess of it.

  13. Intro promises some sort of conclusion that was never made regarding the relevance of these themes today. At least that’s how it read to me…

    Also, what the hell does this mean?

    Lots of people “ship” Sansa and The Hound

    1. ‘Ship’ is a slang-term for ‘relationship’…specifically in context used to mean ‘wishing that the writer/story would put these characters in a relationship’.  In most fan circles (comics, SF/Fantasy, anime, etc.) to ‘ship’ a couple is to recognize their chemistry and wish to see them develop or portrayed as a couple.

      Sometimes, this is reasonable.  In the books, Sansa and the Hound have a complex relationship.  Sandor is, in many ways, a victim.  He relates with Sansa because he understands what it is to be powerless…but he’s also a brutal killer; his way to survive was to become the same as what hurt him.  It’s clear at one point that he is at the very least sweet on Sansa and she is grateful for any kindness, regardless of how gruff the exterior.

      Sometimes, this can be simple wish fulfillment that is never going to happen, such as when fans hope for pairings that clearly aren’t what the authors/creators intended (example: Robin and Superboy).

  14. Think “relationship”. Heck, ASAOIAF fanfic even has a cutesy name for the pairing: SanSan.

    edit – oops, meant as a reply to Kimmo.

  15. I grew up reading every swords and dragon book I could get my hands on. I was wondering why the “outside” world was suddenly so enamored of this series of books. I started reading the first book but for some reason it didn’t hold me. But I have tons of friends and coworkers who are really into it, and I like to remind them that any show with that many characters and plot lines is really just a soap opera. ;-p

        1. Good answer!

          Due to the BoingBoing posts about Game of Thrones, and because I have lots of free time, I watched the whole series to date over the past couple days. Not sure if I’ll try the books or not, but I’ll definitely be following the series.

          Unlike you, I was never really into sword and dragon books. While I didn’t actively avoid this series, I just wasn’t interested. After the previous BoingBoing post I decided to give it a try.

          I’m still not that interested in the swords and dragons bit (though I appreciate that it’s very different in tone to stereotypical high fantasy, and that using that as a setting is important to the story working the way it does, and the girl with the dragons is really hot). What’s interesting is the character and plot dynamics.

          There are no one-dimensional fantasy (or soap opera for that matter) characters. You’re never sure what a character’s role is going to be until they play their cards, and even then they can (and usually do) still change.

          Soap opera is correct, broadly, but it’s no longer the right term for this kind of show. Mad Men is this kind of show too. The plots are (relatively) very slow moving, because it’s 75%+ character study. And the TV format allows for all of the side plots that would be brushed over in e.g. the Lord of the Rings films to be explored fully, which allows for a much greater sense that everything is building – ever so slowly – to something big, though I’m not sure what.

          Both of these shows are fascinating and complex in every way a stereotypical soap opera is shallow and inane.

          I don’t like all shows that aspire to be like this. In fact, most I don’t like – the point being that if it isn’t for you, nobody can fault you for that. But to dismiss it merely because it’s superficially a soap opera isn’t really valid :)

  16. Watching this show, I have to reconsider the  relative advantages of a monarchy over a democracy: Kings can be killed, which means that in some way they can be held accountable for their actions. In a (theoretical) democracy, the actual reins of power can be hidden so deep that no one is held accountable. It’s a lot harder to get worked up about the sins and crimes of a faceless corporate entity than it is to get worked up over the actions of a King.

  17. Watching this show, I have to reconsider the  relative advantages of a monarchy over a democracy: Kings can be killed, which means that in some way they can be held accountable for their actions. In a (theoretical) democracy, the actual reins of power can be hidden so deep that no one is held accountable. It’s a lot harder to get worked up about the sins and crimes of a faceless corporate entity than it is to get worked up over the actions of a King.

  18. “Jaime has no reservations about strangling the poor lad in order to cause a ruckus that gets him out into the stockade.” He actually beat his face in. He strangled the guard.

    I wish there was less narrative re-cap, and more analysis. I guess it’s nice for the people who don’t watch it, but it smacks of paid-by-the word rather than paid for actual original content.

  19. “Jaime has no reservations about strangling the poor lad in order to cause a ruckus that gets him out into the stockade.” He actually beat his face in. He strangled the guard.

    I wish there was less narrative re-cap, and more analysis. I guess it’s nice for the people who don’t watch it, but it smacks of paid-by-the word rather than paid for actual original content.

  20. I’m sure it’s just an oversight, but the new lord of Harrenhall is the grandfather of the incestuous king and the dwarf is their uncle.  Seems to say “father” when “grandfather” was meant.

    Love the Boing Boing is covering smart tv.  Nerds discussed the big issues undercover.  I’m rather enchanted that my mother is now the one telling me about fantasy philosophy after years of telling me to “set down that book and go outside.”  When are Pern and Ender’s Game arriving?? 

  21. More Game of Thrones please but don’t just recap the plot let’s hear some critique, rumours, analysis. You know you want to, and we’re all going to watch the bloody thing anyways.

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