Game of Thrones S2E8: It's family stuff

Ravens are a big deal in the Game of Thrones universe. They’re used to transmit information from one place to another, and often seem to be portents of death. This week’s episode begins with a whole dead basket of ‘em, as Prince Theon, in his latest act of swaggering idiocy, has killed all of Winterfell’s birds so that no one can send word to Robb Stark.

Of course, sending notes tied to birds is generally a slow and imperfect form of info transit, especially in the world of this story, which is well-established as massive and hostile to easy passage. I’ve previously written that one of the reasons the series appeals in our current clime is its bold, dialog-provoking approach to patriarchy and sexuality – I wonder if its lavishing upon the preciousness of information and the incredible conveniences we now enjoy in the internet age is another?

This episode in particular illuminates the disadvantages of being unable to communicate well in wartime. Catelyn releases Jaime Lannister in the hopes of getting her daughters back fom King’s Landing – would she have done that if she’d been able to know that King’s Landing only has one of her daughters? People in Westeros are just now finding out that Daenerys is fast becoming a desert queen wreathed in dragons – no one knows, of course, that the Qartheen have stolen them from her. Arya's current ability to kill quickly with just a word, via her odd ally Jaqen H'ghar, is her biggest salvation right now.

We also see the extent to which the TV series is devoted to fleshing out relationships in ways the books don’t -- the books are written in a way that lets you infer sentiment from actions, but that doesn’t necessarily work on TV, where we’re analyzing the subtleties of behavior (and falling into Robb Stark’s eyes, like I was this episode).

 So we’ve been getting this extensive development of the probably-not-a-good-idea relationship between politically-betrothed Robb and Talisa. She’s a character that could turn out to be entirely an invention separate from the books, which see Robb’s duty in conflict with his feelings over Jeyne Westerling of The Crag, not a runaway lady incognito as a battlefield medic.

It’d take a bit of creative writing at this point to make Talisa turn out to be the same woman, but it doesn’t really matter – sorry, purists, but at least when it comes to TV, this is a much more dynamic and more interesting arc; the books see Jeyne as herself barely a footnote, the kind of girl you can’t really imagine anyone thinking of risking an army, a war and a kingdom to marry.

Of course, the idea that the woman actually wasn’t especially worth it would enforce Robb’s major weakness – that he’s not disciplined or experienced enough to manage this highly complicated martial situation on his own, might bungle into such an impulse conflict. But this Robb is too likeable to be quite that dumb, so he gets the kind of woman a guy with good values would admire.

I'm okay with it, especially as that love scene between Talisa and Robb was so incredibly naturalistic, simple and clumsy, relieved of the touch-of-porn grotesquerie that sex in this show usually gets. I always suspected it’d be kind of awkward having to deal with so many leather laces in one’s leather jerkin or doublet or whatever, and look! She laughed, and it felt so genuine.

Tyrion is also someone for whom romantic love can be a weakness, which is why the only thing that’s struck an odd note to me about the show so far is that Cersei seems to have figured out her brother may be falling in love with “his whore” (even though she identified the wrong woman to keep as a hostage)  before that’s even been clear to we the audience.

We know he confided in her and Bronn about his only traumatic experience with love as a young man under his dad’s thumb; we’ve seen him take pains to hide her in the castle – but also her stark refusal to surrender much of the material comfort she expects as the consort of a Lannister son. I guess we see it once Tyrion is out of Cersei’s sight, his panic when he runs to Shae, who is nonplussed, as dutiful about holding and kissing him as she is about brushing Sansa’s hair.

I suppose Tyrion is a person who’s learned well to veil his most vulnerable emotions -- which is why the scene of his pledge to protect her felt so vibrant, felt like it came from such a private, fragile place in him, even as the pair are positioned such that his physical smallness, face upturned, is emphasized relative to her.

We very much want, for his sake, to believe that she loves him, and not just the Lannister gold, but can you really tell?

The other whore, though, the one Cersei has kidnapped thinking it’ll force Tyrion to let her son Joff sit out the upcoming battle with Stannis – this one has seen some things. Remember her flashing her naughty bits farewell to Theon from the back of a horse-drawn cart, heading to the big city hoping to find better fortune?

She seems to have found her way into a leadership role at King’s Landing’s fanciest brothel, and now she’s in favor at the palace itself. Since then she’s been forced at crossbow-point to sexually abuse another girl in front of the young king and now she’s brought out before the queen with a badly-lashed back and a bloody face, accused of being the Hand’s woman.

I like this character; she’s sort of an avatar for the greatest disadvantages of Game of Thrones’ sexual patriarchy, and it feels like a more meaningful decision on the part of the show to represent prostitution and exploitation through a single character we can like and recognize, rather than portray a litany of nameless “whore” characters whenever the story required one, which it frequently does.

But despite the increased attention to romantic and sexual nuance, this episode thrives on its roots in family love. Since Theon seems stubbornly dedicated to his humiliating course, Yara shifts from shaming him in front of her men to talking to him in private about how her presence could soothe his screaming when he was a “terrible” baby. Catelyn has tried to give her son the space to win his war, but he can’t forgive the way her fear for his sisters broke her down and led her to interfere.  The wincing agony of Tyrion’s ongoing cat-and-mouse with his sister continues; like Yara and Theon they have a ruthless parentage in common, but cannot bond as adults.

It’s true that Cersei is motivated by bitterness about how being a woman means she’ll never get the power she wants, so putting her son on the throne is the next best thing. But she really does love her children, and like any mother is desperate to keep them safe. Just like another “mother”  -- Daenerys will risk her life to get her dragons back, because they are the only children she can ever have, now.

In all cases, major world events and the lives of smallfolk all around Westeros are being affected by subtle, complicated family attachments, whether that’s a mother’s love for her children or the burdens that adults have inherited from their parents. It’s that sort of detail that keeps Game of Thrones from being a simple war drama.

It’s not the fault of the show that Daenerys’ bit of the story has become the least interesting, after last season’s fascinating tale of a child-bride’s coming into her own in the arms of a brutal horselord – and losing a black-magic infused fight for his life, and hatching dragons in a fire.

I mean, you probably do have to go downhill from there. But watching her ineffectually crisscross foreign cities and lose some things and then get others isn’t very engaging – we want her to just reach the scene of all the action already, and it feels like it’s taking forever. Fortunately, these exotic cities she’s been in are breathtaking to look at, and so is actress Emilia Clarke’s expressive face.

Aren’t you glad that Bran Stark and his little brother Rickon are still alive after all? They're really the only full innocents in this thing, poor kiddoes. Wily Osha has hidden them away (along with Bran’s lumbering pal Hodor) in the crypts below Winterfell. Can’t wait to see what they’ll do now. This episode is called "The Prince of Winterfell" -- at the end we know that refers to the little boy that really holds that title, not the manchild that pretends at it.


  1. Thank you for putting this SPOILER RIDDEN post  in my news feed, without any warnings whatsoever (apart from the obvious title), not all of us have HBO you know?. This is the first and last time I see a post of this kind  in boing boing as I’m unsuscribing right now… have a good one guys…

      1. I hope so. Otherwise I’d think he’s killing his ravens right now.

        I assume any bitching about “spoilers” is ironic at this point. I don’t believe there exists someone deeply invested in this show who simultaneously has avoided the books and the infinite number of summarizing discussions, yet does not have the willpower to not read a blog post that doesn’t spoil anything until deep into it.

        Here, have another spoiler for GRR Martin’s work…

        In Tuf Voyaging…


        The cats are psychic and the melon-oysters are sentient.

        1. I was moderately annoyed by the one book spoiler, mentioning how the TV show differs from the book, because I wasn’t expecting it, but I’m sure that by the time I get around to reading the book, I’ll have completely forgotten this blog post, so no harm no foul really. 

        2. I’m with the guy.  Early release content like this should have a spoiler tag in the title, and avoid spoilers in the the extract.  That’s just manners – it’s not ‘bitchy’ to ask for as much. But I also agree that this is hardly a big offender, and I was able to avoid reading it until after I’d watched the episode. So I guess in this case I’d suggest we all just get along.

          But apparently everyone that watches game of thrones also reads the books.  I didn’t get that memo.

          1. While I understand the efforts to keep one’s mind unblemished, I do believe the original comment was a joke:

            apart from the obvious title

            Sorry if I wasn’t clear that I continued the joke.

            I believe what he meant was that a post which appears the day after a television episode airs, and which is titled specifically with the episode number, is usually a recap.

  2. those of us over here in Ireland only see game of thrones on Monday night 9 pm until 10 pm. this is 4 pm to 5 pm EST. could you refrain from posting before that time maybe? thanks

    1.  Well, you can always refrain from reading it or go on and download the episode before from the pirate bay the article is post…

      1. I do refrain but I would like to read it at some stage as I find the commentary interesting but if I leave it till later or next day I may not be able to find it. Its just a sugestion no big deal  and I certainly wont be ranting like Diego .

  3. The Ravens are decidedly NOT “slow and imperfect” like RL bird-messaging  is. Even GRRM can’t quite explain how all the Ravens know all the castles in Westeros and which of the several they are meant to go to. It’s practically a telephone, except one where you can shoot down the message en route.

    1. I would figure that ravens are hatched and reared at each castle, then distributed (carried) to the other castles in the network.  When they need to send a message, the raven flies home.  The capacity would be limited, and the birds would need to be returned by horseback. 

    2. Yep. The ravens are much smarter than pigeons it seems. They don’t just return to their roost, but will fly wherever they are told to. RL ravens are pretty damn smart, I don’t feel GRRM has taken too big a leap in making them a little smarter yet.

    3. Yes, in the books it’s mentioned that thousands of years ago people could simply tell the raven the message and tell it where to go, and it would recite it when it got to its destination. That ability has been lost over time though, and now you have to resort to tying a message to its leg.
      It’s another example of there not being as much magic in the world as there once was.

      1. Yeah, thanks a bunch for that SPOILER RIDDEN explanation. No need to read the fucking books now, is there?

        Edited to add: Er, chill guys, I was being sarcastic. This is clearly a parody of the top comment, made ridiculous by the fact that the raven thing is obviously a very minor plot detail.

        1. Oh, come on. That’s as much a spoiler as a movie trailer has spoilers and makes it pointless to see the movie. A tiny detail. Get your shit together.

          Unless you were taking the piss, in which case, bravo, I am genuinely embarrassed.

        2. It’s not exactly a major plot point I gave away, it was an aside spoken by one of the characters and then never mentioned again, just a little bit of detail about the world.
          In fact I wrote more about it in my comment than George did in the book; he wrote one line and I inferred the stuff about magic.

  4. Speaking of spoilers can someone give me a 1 paragraph or less plot summary of GoT?

    I know there’s a wall. There’s some swords. Is there an actual game like hunger games.

    Here’s what I mean in terms of Lord Of the Rings – There’s a ring created by the Super Bad Guy. A good guy finds it. A group of the good guys has to chuck the ring in a volcano lest SBG gets it and uses it to make things really bad for the good guys. So they go on a quest. There’s some battles and such thrown in.

          1. I only read them as they came out, but I thought there was a game as well, making the metaphor more blunt. Same as all the other chess references in fiction, not like Hunger Games. There are typical knightly tourneys in which death isn’t uncommon, but not what you meant.

            I suspect that a more obscure reference is probably to Hermann Hesse’s “Magister Ludi/The Glass Bead Game” though it’s been a few decades since I read that.

            I would LOVE to see a real version of the board from the titles constructed, cranking out all the intricate little models with countless gears.

        1. The ‘game’ of the title is used for the political machinations of deciding who will sit on the throne. To quote Cercei Lannister “in the game of thrones you win or you die”.
          That bit of the plot has its roots in the Wars of The Roses, where the great houses of York and Lancaster (sound like Stark and Lannister to anyone else?), who respectively controlled lands and people in the north and south of England, fought over who had the right to the English crown.

          1. (sound like Stark and Lannister to anyone else?)

            The inspiration seems to be a clever combination of British and Italian political history.  Middle eastern Horse warriors aren’t across a narrow sea if you live in England.  Either is the Morroco like city of the ’13’. 

          2. (It seems I can’t reply to RedShirt77’s post so I’ll put this here)

            “Italian political history.”
            I must admit I’m completely ignorant on that subject but now I want to know more. care to point me to some relevant wikipedia pages?

          3.  (It seems I can’t reply to RadioSilence’s post below so I’ll put this here)

            I base this assumption in some part on the geography, as I stated.  but to add.  Northern British Islands are not connected to the north, but North of Italy is connected to the Alps and Germanic areas, and “Across the narrow sea”  seems to be both the Mediterranean and the Channel.   And Kings landing seems to have a warm climate and Italian architecture. I believe the Lanisters have some resemblance to the Borgias- “They have been accused of many different crimes, including adultery, simony, theft, rape, bribery, incest, and murder (especially murder by arsenic poisoning[1])”. From the Wikipedia. 

            It also seems that the Targaryens resemble the Caesars.

            The horse tribes, a combination of the Middle easterners and the Mongols.

          4. Additionally I think you can read, old gods, new gods, light god. As a version of Greek gods, Roman gods, and Sun/Son of God, making Stannis a Constantine like character.

          5. “Northern British Islands are not connected to the north”

            But we do have a wall running across the north of the country to keep the barbarians out – look up Hadrian’s Wall – although people were let through, it was more for trade-control measure than purely being defensive.

            “It also seems that the Targaryens resemble the Caesars.”
            To build on that idea, the waves of invasion to Britain match those in Westeros too. The First Men are roughly equivalent to the Celts, the Andals and Rhoynar are similar to the Anglo-Saxons, and the Targaryens are a conflation of the Normans and the Romans.

        2.  The simple summary is that a dragon riding family created a small empire, went insane from inbreeding and then got killed.  20 years later the new king gets fat and stupid and killed by his brother fucking wife.  Then everyone in the kingdom decides they deserve the thrown and start assembling armies, and bringing magic back into the world, and fucking, and drinking.  Meanwhile an Ice age is coming, creating zombies and a Germanic tribe that both seem to want to flee south into the empire.

    1. I read about the HBO series on BB, downloaded it all figuring it would be crap and I’d just delete it all, was instantly hooked, and watched everything from S01E01 thru S02E06 in one marathon session.  I never heard of any of it (the books, the TV series, the game, any of it) before that.

      So I could write the summary you requested covering the HBO series from beginning to present but I’m not willing to be torn apart by all the fanbois who would post follow-ons describing how I don’t understand anything properly.  Besides, if I understand correctly, that summary would cover only about half of the first book in a seven-volume story.  It would be useless.  Instead, I just recommend you watch the first episode.  It won’t really be a waste of an hour and you’ll know immediately if it’s worth any more of your time.

      1. You’d also have to figure out how to summarize the conflicting information from unreliable narrators if you did the books.  Martin moves among many POV character, distinct to each chapter, and at key points of dialog it’s clear that some are lying, some are mistaken, some are exaggerating, etc.

        Since Martin doesn’t do a lot of dwelling on internal thoughts, but rather showing character through their actions, it gets pretty intricate.

        Best of all, more than just about anything else I’ve read, these characters are definitely changed by events as they unfold.

    2. In an elaborate fantasy world, we meet several thousand characters, most of whom are fucking their siblings. Almost everyone dies at least once.

  5. I like that character Jaqen H’Gar, the guy who gave Arya the 3+ deaths. I haven’t read the books, but I hope he’ll get more airtime in the series.

    1. I don’t want to spoil anything by saying if he does or doesn’t get more airtime this season, but sharp-eyed readers might have noticed him possibly showing up again in the books.

      1. I swear to god, that’s one of those little things I had totally missed until a friend drunkenly schooled me on it months after I’d read the book in which this happens. I LOVE that the books are filled with moments like that. *cough*BericDondarrion*cough*

          1. I totally missed it too until I was looking around the ASOIAF forums.
            I’m just getting to the end of book 5 now, so I’m going to re-read them looking out for this kinda stuff. 

  6. For me the show is starting to shows signs of what has become typical of the great shows on HBO.  Way way way too many plot lines that take way to long to develop and pace properly.  

    This week felt like they held back half the story lines in an attempt to let the slower ones catch up with the pack.

    Hopefully it won’t bury itself in go nowhere plotlines like True Blood did.  

    1. In the show’s defense, this is certainly one way in which the show and the books are absolutely identical

    2.  I’ve been told by some that have read the books that book 2 (this season) was a bit slow and ends up being more setup for the next two books which really get more exciting.  I’m still enjoying the episodes, but they’re not quite as epic as the previous season felt.

      1. That’s definitely true. Book 2 felt kind of draggy to me … and then EVERYTHING IN THE ENTIRE WORLD HAPPENED ALL AT ONCE in Book 3. Same pattern with Books 4 and 5. 

        1. I haven’t read the books but I think the fact that things are often a little slow-moving is essential to the story. 

          Lots of stuff happened all at once at the end of the first season and the beginning of the second, but it wouldn’t have been that exciting if not for every little thing that dragged on ahead of time. The amount of anticipation and suspense that builds up is immense.

          Now at this point in the second season we know there are huge battles ahead. That’ll be exciting. But we’ve known that this entire season – the anticipation is allowed to grow. And what will make the upcoming battles meaningful is that we know everything about all sides – everyone’s motivations, their strengths and weaknesses, etc. Without all these episodes of slow build-up, a lot would be lost.

    3. I don’t think this is a problem as such, it just means that 1 hour long episode is never enough.  Reminds of Lost, it’s like television crack.

  7. All in all Game of Thrones, is far from bad.  But I guess the expectations were a little too built up, and it’s hard to live up to that. 

    The pace is rather slow: after the initial promising scare, the suspense drops below freezing point and then stays there for at least 4 episodes.  

    The characters are somewhat one dimensional (in comparison to Sons of Anarchy, for example, where an older member of the biker club later reveals a rather unusual ambition, as Elvis impersonator, as well as an education and a professional occupation as accountant. Now that’s a worthy collection of layers.)   The only colorful character in GoT, is the ‘imp’. 

    The treacherous politics are mildly fascinating.  But the fantasy element, is almost inexistent.  Were it not for the dragon eggs and the medical malpractitioner that passes for a witch.   (And o yeah, the zombies.   The Imagination Store must have run out of mythical creatures.) 

    There’s also some anemia concerning the number of extra’s that are supposed to depict the vast armies required for battles of epic proportions: I estimate about 10 guys, that gather around to listen to the commander’s victorious speech on the battlefield.

    1. In the HBO series “The Pacific,” the closing credits showed the Japanese army had been portrayed by four guys.

    2. The distinct lack of the fantasy element is refreshing to me. I’m turned off by that kind of stuff – there’s just too much of it out there – and avoided Game of Thrones until I heard that the fantasy stuff is very subtle.

      I assume it’ll start creeping back into the story more and more, especially now that the dragons are out of the bag (or eggs). I’m OK with that because I know they’re not going to beat us over the head with it – especially considering how the battle scenes are treated, a point you also address. 

      I love a good epic medieval battle scene, but it isn’t really necessary in this show. I appreciate that rather than blowing their budget on epic battle scenes, they mostly just don’t show the battles at all. I do agree that the amount of soldiers in a couple of scenes looked odd. I do suspect though that we’ll see larger battles within a couple episodes since everyone’s gearing up for war and I don’t think they can get around showing a lot of fighting this time :)

      1. Personal tastes shouldn’t be debated, so I of course respect your choice.
        Fantasy isn’t an absolute necessity for me, it’s just one way to add something out of the ordinary to a story. 

        Skipping over the violent scenes is a technique that – I suppose – aims to draw more attention to the story.  ‘No country for old men’ is a good example, and that was a great movie. 

        But for me, there’s still something lacking in GoT.   And some more realism in the characters or the events couldn’t hurt.  (Either that or the complete opposite of realism: more far-fetched fiction.)

        But as said I still watch the series with enough pleasure to be looking forward to the second season.

  8. Aren’t you glad that Bran Stark and his little brother Rickon are still alive after all?

    Are there actually people who didn’t read the books that believed them to be dead? I’m not mocking or making a joke, I’m seriously asking. I thought it was fairly well telegraphed when they just happened to show up at the farm where Bran sent two Winterfell orphans. I knew from reading the book, but two of the people I watched with hadn’t read them, and neither was fooled.

    1. I assumed the only reason they would avoid showing a murder would be it didn’t really happen, but I was worried when theon didn’t tell his sister of the lie.  I couldn’t figure out why he didn’t reveal he wasn’t as he looked when she told him to give up and leave.

      1. I don’t think he wanted to admit that they actually got away, he doesn’t want to appear weak to his sister (though that’s a lost cause).

    2. My 50 yo husband kept asking,”are they dead?” “are they dead?”.  And when he sees them, “I knew they weren’t dead!”.

  9. Geez, you guys b****in’ about news feeds and spoilers: open the article in a browser tab, maybe even bookmark it, watch the episode, and THEN read it! OMG. Like, so easy.

  10. I found the “Tyrion falling in love with the whore” plot line pretty amply prepared to the point of being obvious, not sure why you thought otherwise, honestly. I agree that Daenerys has become tedious, but this is one of the many reasons why, having read the books, I am still a little surprised they are being made into a tv series. They are incredibly uneven in the sense that characters fall in and out of the plot line for lengthy amounts of time, and the focus seems to constantly slip. The books regularly change the cast of characters, dispensing with favorutes and adding in completely unrelated new ones. If the series lives long enough I suspect you will want to write a column bemoaning the fact that it has become the Daenerys show, and some of your favorite characters have become virtually invisible.  If it lasts longer still you will be right back here where you started, wondering why Daenerys (or any other favored character) hasn’t done anything interesting lately.

    1. I think its more that the story requires a lot of characters that in a normal film adaptation would have nothing more than a cameo.  But in the series format format get drug along for entire seasons of exposition.  For those of us that watch the show but haven’t read the book, it does not translate well to the screen.  I find myself checking my email while Stanus, and his army take five episodes to make a 4 day journey while everyone else gets 3 months of work done, and daenery seems to have ended her story arch in a season long role as a self absorbed lame complainer after rising from the ashes 3 or 4 times in season 1.

    1. Yeah, and her first appearance was banging Tyrion several episodes before the turnip cart ride.  I mean, If you aren’t tracking the whores, are you even watching?

      1. And she was the one Jon didn’t lose his virginity to.
        I have a feeling there’s only about three whores in the whole of Westeros, they just get around a lot :)

    1. Aaarghhh!!!!!  I flew up from the sofa in a rage when they found this and not someone or something else, to go make calming pieces of toast.  Again, straying from the book.  Man, I would make a real pain in the ass Christian.

      Does this bother anyone else?

  11. I have to say that I have a self-imposed embargo on Game of Thrones. This came about because I simply realized what an idiot the program producers take me for…

    Never mind that this story is so derivative (try reading a little English history and Bingo! THAT’S where he got that idea from, etc…) it’s the treatment of you and I as audience that is really insulting. Yes, wheel out some more boobs and that will keep me watching TV with my wife. Trouble is it works – and they know it works!

    Visit any office during coffee break and there will be a small group of males excitedly going over last nights GoT frolicking. But this formula of sex married with soap designed to capture the married couple into viewing just turns me right off…

    Much to my wife’s annoyance I refuse to sit and watch GoT with her now (I am being accused of spoiling ‘quality time’), but I feel I have to make a stand.

    Don’t get me wrong, I LIKE boobs! But GoT breaks one of my long held life rules (or truisms, whichever you want to call it) – it breaks the ‘Third Stripper Rule’.

    You see I find that the excitement of seeing bare female flesh diminished in direct proportion to the frequency with which you see it…At the third lap dancer it’s a case of ‘Meeeeehhhh, where’s my beer!’

    And the same is true of Game of Thrones.

    Additionally I don’t really like the way that TV producers think they have me so easily sussed as a audience. I mean it’s just lazy programming to think that if they stick enough sex in a TV series ‘they will come’ (no pun intended). So I retire to my games room (attic) whenever True Blood, or Boardwalk Empire or Game of Thrones is on – however much the wife pleads with me to sit and watch any of them with her.

    I’ve just tired of the whole transparent con. Give us some really meaningful TV please.

    1. Does it not peak your curiosity that your wife and numerous other women, and indeed some gay men enjoy the show? It would seem that boobies are not the sum total of the show’s appeal.

      So odd for a Puritan to have strip club rules. Also, you are doing it wrong if tits get old.

Comments are closed.