Game of Thrones: “What Is Dead May Never Die” Review

Game Of Thrones What Is Dead May Never Die Season 2 Episode 3 (5)
“What Is Dead May Never Die,” written by Bryan Cogman and directed by Alik Sakharov, was easily the best Game of Thrones episode thus far in season 2. The reason is simple: excellent writing, excellent direction, slavish devotion to the source material, and enough revelatory “new” scenes to make even the purists sit up and reassess how they view this brilliant series. I want the purists to slap themselves. That’s what I want.

We opened as Jon Snow (Kit Harington) was dragged back to consciousness, bloody and beaten and looking worse than Benjamin Linus ever looked on Lost. Snow’s realization that Lord Commander Mormont (James Cosmo) had known about Craster sacrificing his sons was another step taken as Jon haphazardly staggers toward leadership… though clearly this was a step he didn’t see coming, and one he really didn’t want to take.

Sam (John Bradley) approached Gilly (Hannah Murray) and gave her a token of his affection while she was busy… sorting sticks… I guess…? (Craster is cruel. I sort of imagine he was like, “Go sort sticks, daughter-wife! It’s either that, or yer servicing me in other sundry ways tonight…!”)

(I guess I’d choose to go sort sticks as well.)

We were reintroduced to Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) at Winterfell—through the eyes of his direwolf Summer. Bran confesses his “wolf dreams” to Maester Luwin (Donald Sumpter), who yet again crushed a little boy’s dreams. I love that they added the “Valyrian steel link in the maester’s chain” story, as it not only gives another wonderful nod to the books, but also gives the audience an inkling that Valyrian steel swords may turn out to be more than just cool things to hang on mantles!

And the scenes just kept getting better. We were taken to the eastern shore where King Renly (Gethin Anthony) was attended at a royal melee by his new wife Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer), the younger sister of Renly’s lover Ser Loras Tyrell (Finn Jones). Complicated? Not in Westeros! A brother-sister-king threesome feels almost wholesome compared to some of the other stuff we’ve seen.

And from this we got the introduction of Brienne of Tarth, played by Gwendoline Christie—a woman who is basically a once-in-a-generation goldmine of perfect casting. Seriously, how many other 6’4″ blond-haired British women do you know that can act their asses off? Brienne even strolled like a man. This isn’t an easy role; you have to walk the thin line of shy-but-not-meek, uncomfortable-but-confident. And well done thus far! Last season’s production crowed about finding the perfect kids for Sansa, Arya, and Bran. This season they’ve been grinning ear-to-ear about Brienne. And it’s easy to see why now.

I loved the “Knights of Summer” line from Catelyn (Michelle Fairley), because it was one of my favorite quotes from the book, and Michelle Fairley played the scene with perfect weary gravitas.

Later, we got a nice scene between Loras and Renly. Finn Jones (possibly straight) and Gethin Anthony (definitely straight) have fantastic chemistry, and both throw themselves into their respective roles with convincing relish.

“You won’t win my father’s support or his army on charm alone,” Loras quipped. Though I wouldn’t be so sure about that; Anthony’s Renly is ten times as charming as he was last season. Not only the actor, but the character seems to have grown into the role quite suitably. He’s easy to root for.

Ah, Renly and Loras. I pray King Renly delivers a beatdown to Stannis-the-lobster and cements his claim in the south before charging north and sticking Loras’s longsword where Joffrey’s sun don’t shine. In the most painful manner possible. It could happen!

“And Margaery’s a virgin.”

“Officially. Shall I bring her to you?”

And Loras did! Oh yes, Margaery, I personally prefer your gown piled on the floor, even though this scene will likely spawn another 200 “Natalie Dormer is so hot…” memes. Purists will decry this changed Margaery, but her being older necessitates this—not to mention the book Margaery (crafty as she may be) would have given an actress virtually nothing to work with. Put it this way: you want polite silence? Use a featured extra. Want a crafty young queen who knows what she wants and takes steps to get it? Natalie Dormer is the answer.

Gethin Anthony played this episode to the hilt, wearing numerous mantles and playing different roles depending upon whom Renly was dealing with at the time. Kissing Finn Jones—pretty as he may be—would be a task, but not half as much as retching whilst kissing Dormer. I loved the Renly / Loras / Margaery stuff.

“Last time I saw you, you looked like a fat little boy,” said Theon (Alfie Allen) to his sister, Yara (Gemma Whelan), still brooding over last episode’s reveal at Pyke. Yara retorted, “You were a fat little boy too.” Whelan certainly improved for me in this episode, and showed some really good depth. It’s like she wants to throw all the spite in the world at her seemingly craven brother, yet something lurks behind that gaze—either she pities him or truly empathizes. But the situation at hand (and the fact that she is a Greyjoy) has no room for pity. Well played.

When Balon Greyjoy (Patrick Malahide) entered and laid out his plan, hands spread open on a large map, I’m not sure why, but… for some reason I couldn’t help but think of Hitler’s various reactions to things over the years. Don’t ask me why!

Theon’s continued difficulties with his father are really forcing a choice, and Alfie Allen has played this brilliantly. He really struck home with that hoarse cry, “You gave me away! Your boy! Your last boy! You gave me away as if I were some dog you didn’t want any more, and now you curse me because I’ve come home!”

King Balon had no answer for that. Theon won that little battle, even though he didn’t enjoy the victory one bit. Powerful as that was, one of Theon’s strongest scenes happened later in the episode, done with no words at all; just Theon, the letter he had just written, a single candle, and the world slowly crumbling around him.

Powerful. Alfie Allen is going to garner some bloody Emmy recognition if he’s not careful.

Back at King’s Landing, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) was having a hard time reining in his tempestuous lover Shae (Sibel Kekilli). Her yowl, accented in German, gave me a brief flashback of my first Scorpions concert back in ’84. Klaus Meine she is not, however, and neither is she a kitchen wench. “Every man who has tasted my cooking has told me what a good whore I am.”

We joined Queen Cersei (Lena Headey) having a lovely Lannister dinner with her daughter Myrcella (Aimee Richardson) and Prince Tommen (Callum Wharry), whilst Sansa (Sophie Turner) ate in sad silence. I like that they’re showing the fact that not all of Cersei’s children are Joffreys-in-the-making, and I like that the prince and princest got some attention, else future happenings in future episodes might elicit a “Who are they again?” from any newcomers to Game of Thrones.

(Seriously though, who are they going to cast as Tommen’s kitten Ser Pounce? I need to know these things!)

And then who, of all people, appears at Sansa’s door but Shae. No, gentle readers, this did not happen in the books (until much later)… and holy hell, am I intrigued. This could beget all sorts of things, though I don’t imagine Shae will be teaching Sansa how to make fish pie. Sophie Turner continues to light up the screen even when (or especially when) Sansa is at her lowest. She makes frayed snippiness seem vulnerable and strangely charming. And of course this exchange was excellent:

“Have you ever been a handmaiden before?”

“Yes.”

“For whom?”

“Lady Zmumblemumble…”

“Lady Zourif?”

“Lady Zourif.”

Hey, Shae sold it.

And next we come to my favorite scene of the season so far. I wondered how they would do the “Tyrion sells Myrcella to three different people” thing… and this episode did it with clever panache. It wasn’t just how they kept switching characters in between Tyrion shots, it was the care they took with each angle, positioning the various Small Council members the way they did. And their individual reactions were just bloody priceless. Pycelle (Adrian Glover) was in full Pycelle mode. And Varys (Conleth Hill)… Ah, Varys.

“Ooo. The Queen mustn’t know. I love conversations that begin this way.”

Varys looked as stunned as I’ve ever seen him when Tyrion said “Theon Greyjoy.” Because the choice didn’t make sense at all. And you know Varys does not like to look stunned.

Littlefinger’s wheels were spinning right away, too, almost faster than he could talk. Aiden Gillen must have read that particular chapter in A Clash of Kings, because it literally came across just as the book described:

“Littlefinger looked like a boy who had just taken a furtive bite from a honeycomb. He was trying to watch for bees, but the honey was so sweet…”

I can’t stress enough how excellent all four actors were in this scene. And it may be a lesser thing for people not familiar with the books—I’ll grant that, there are no bouncing breasts, no swords skewering spleens—but people who enjoy A Song of Ice and Fire as literature have to adore everything that went into making this.

Loved. Loved. Loved.

Cersei is unravelling more and more. “Make no mistake, they’ll mount her pretty little head on a stake right next to yours,” Tyrion warned, and she completely lost it at that point, shoving him so hard against the stairs that I feared for the health of Dinklage’s lower back.

He was healthy enough to hook Littlefinger again. “A pity. I was planning on making you the centerpiece of my latest deception.” Littlefinger is like a kid who has convinced himself the fluffy looking porcupine will truly never hurt him. Not him

We had a nice Bronn exchange:

“Filthy old stoat. Almost hate to interrupt.”

“No you don’t.”

“No, I don’t.”

Maeter Pycelle loses his beard and gets tossed into the dungeons. I suppose if I had to mourn any scene being cut from the books it would be the sight of Pycelle pissing all over the room as he was dragged off. But I suppose (and Julian Glover is probably thankful) it’s difficult to get an actor to urinate uncontrollably in front of a camera; hell, I can hardly do it in a urinal if someone’s standing next to me. Performance pressure…

Nice touch that Tyrion paid that poor whore (don’t recall her name—I’m calling her Nu Ros) the extra coin. For her troubles.

And we end with this episode’s finale—a nasty bit of action, reminding us that this is indeed a very bloody Game of Thrones:

Yoren (Francis Magee) and Arya (Maisie Williams) had their midnight discussion, and we got yet another nice addition to the books. I like the fact that Yoren’s dark tale of pretty Willem and the murder of his brother is basically the inspiring catalyst for (BOOK SPOILER): Arya’s future bedtime prayers. (END BOOK SPOILER.)

“I buried an axe so deep into Willem’s skull they had to bury him with it.”

I’m gonna say that’s pretty deep. Magee played the shit out of that role, and Cogman wrote some great original lines for him. But none better than the soon-to-be-always-quoted one here. And let’s just add it now:

“I always hated crossbows. Take too long to reload.”

Sure, Yoren bit it, but he took a few Lannisters with him. Fuck right.

(Hot Pie might have helped avenge him, but was too busy yielding, as was proper.)

Appropriate Lommy was killed in an almost identical fashion as he was in the book, save for one cool little detail: Arya’s Needle was the tool used in the killing. That sword’s thirst for young blood is a little Stormbringeresque, am I right?

I am right. And “What Is Dead May Never Die” was a television masterpiece.

Kudos have to go to Bryan Cogman, who is growing in leaps and bounds, especially from last year’s able but blunted “Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things.” I want to call Cogman a “diamond in the rough,” but that’s not quite true, as he seems to come pre-polished. And his overall understanding of the story—not the pointless minutiae that some fans obsess over, but the actual story—is better than anyone could dare to hope for.

(I once remarked to my wife that Bryan Cogman’s job was the one I would most like to have—“Keeper of Lore” and indispensable right-hand man to the showrunner gods and all that—and felt strongly about it up until around the point she reminded me that it would require I leave my writing loft and spend time out-of-doors in the cold and rain.)

(Trading comfort and OCD rituals for immortality? Not this guy!)

(And if I really wanted immortality I might as well go to church, right?)

Anyway. Game of Thrones: no sign of a sophomore slump. Bring on next week!

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