Game of Thrones: “The Ghost of Harrenhal” Review

Game Of Thrones The Ghost of Harrenhal Season 2 Episode 5 (3)

Well that was a hell of an open. I guess that answers the “What the heck is she gonna do with that shadow-baby?” question. If there ever really was a question.

“The Ghost of Harrenhal,” written by showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, and directed by David Petrarca, was a wicked good way of getting back on track after last week’s (slight) misstep. Petrarca acquitted himself quite well, directing the action fluidly and giving us just the right amount of patient focus on the actors and their expressions—something I actually find lacking in the exemplary-in-all-other-things Alan Taylor. This one felt like part of a soaring epic.

Loved the whole opening scene, and R.I.P. Renly (Gethin Anthony). We got to see Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) really kick some ass; her size and speed and ferociousness were showcased excellently, and Christie made me believe she could kill two armed men if she wanted to. That swordplay was absolutely believable. I’ll even forgive the show’s first weak link of CGI; the “okay everyone hold still while we insert a shadow-baby into frame” was held just a bit too long to feel real, but… enh. It’s the smallest quibble.

“Do you want to be a queen?”

“No. I want to be The Queen.”

They certainly hired the right woman for this Margaery. Natalie Dormer is even better here than she was on The Tudors. Loras Tyrell (Finn Jones) took the loss of his lover much harder than his sister took the loss of a husband; HBO’s Margaery is much more savvy than the (much younger) girl from the books, and…

FIRST OF MORE THAN A FEW BOOK SPOILERS:

…this may be the first death knell for Olenna Tyrell, aka the Queen of Thorns. One of the things this episode did was tip its hand at a possible amalgamation of some of the characters. Not just here, but with Bran later on. (I’ll get to that in a bit.) And I’m not saying Olenna won’t be cast for season three, but her importance may be lessened if Margaery is already this savvy.

And I would argue Margaery needs to be savvy if she’s aged up. I applaud it. Of course I could also see them casting Olenna and having her basically be a much older mirror to Margaery, so people could say “Oh, I can see where she got it from.”

So long as we get Butterbumps and THE BEAR AND THE (I CAN’T HEAR YOU!) MAIDEN FAIR I’ll probably be happy.

END OF BOOK SPOILER. THERE WILL BE MORE.

Also getting high marks was Aiden Gillen. While I didn’t like Littlefinger’s obvious obviousness last episode, Gillen was superb here. That devilish quasi-smile he gave to Margaery was Littlefinger to the core.

With all the magic this episode had—and it really flexed it’s supernatural muscles, didn’t it?—you kind of already know “leaving the red woman behind,” as suggested by Davos (Liam Cunningham) to Stannis (Stephen Dillane) might be a mistake. Me, I’d be like, “What? Magic? Hell yes I’m using it.” But you can kinda tell Stannis still doesn’t really hold to it. Even though he basically used it himself. It’s kind of like he’s believing his own press and forgetting “the red woman” is what got him Renly’s forces in the first place.

(So did Stannis think Melisandre bore him a son? I’m still waiting to see if they address it! On a show famous for having zero plot holes, this is still the only thing I haven’t figured out yet. I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt, and I assume it will be answered at some point… but I’m still mystified by Stannis’s seemingly forgotten motivation in begetting an heir.)

At King’s Landing, we got another great scene between Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Cersei (Lena Headey), and the scheming and plotting (which are actually the same thing) continues. Tyrion doesn’t get any of the answers he wants from Cersei, but who needs direct answers when you have Lancel Lannister, played by a very game Eugene Simon?

“I swear to you.”

“On what?”

“On my life.”

“I don’t care about your life.”

Tyrion: still a G.

(And I think this was Simon’s finest episode. I’m very nearly Team Lancel.)

I liked that we met Pyromancer Hallyne, played by Roy Dotrice, aka “He Who Also Narrates The ASoIaF Audio Books” and longtime George R.R. Martin friend and ally. The shot of Tyrion looking down that long, long hall filled with wildfire jars was epic.

Speaking of epic-ness, does Bronn (Jerome Flynn) ever suck? The answer is no—no he does not.

On the Iron Islands, we joined our good loyal friend Theon (Alfie Allen), preparing to set sail with his gloriously-named ship, the Sea Bitch, and I sort of love that none of the crew respect him one bit. Was I the only one who hoped one of the Ironborn would suddenly turn to the camera and ask, “Wot’s in your wallet?”

Dagmer (Ralph Ineson), who was called “Cleftjaw” in the books, should maybe be renamed “Dagmer Nickchin,” but I liked the role he played. Sort of a darker Bronn. He suggests they attack the under-defended Torrhen’s Square, Theon tells him they could take it, but couldn’t hold it once Winterfell sends forces to reclaim it…

Ding! This bodes ill for:

Winterfell! Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) continues to do his Littler Lord Bran thing, fielding the petty complaints of various minor vassals, whilst Rickon (Art Parkinson) cracks walnuts with… what was that? A stone? A burnt skull? Ominous that Bran does the only logical thing in responding to the attack on Torrhen Square, yet we feel like he’s doomed Winterfell.

Thanks, Theon.

Later, Bran talks with Osha (Natalia Tena) about his dreams…

ANOTHER BOOK-READER SPOILER:

The three-eyed crow! The sea coming to Winterfell! Holy Green Dreams, Batman! Bran has essentially replaced Jojen Reed. Does this spell doom for Jojen and Meera in seasons to come?!

Not necessarily, though the need for Jojen is lessened by Bran’s dreams and by Osha’s quasi-mystical bent. I still believe there’s a place at least for Meera, especially since Bran’s future storylines don’t involve anyone besides himself and Hodor (Kristian Nairn)—and that’s even if you change the story to add Osha and Rickon to the mix. That scenario would stand out as being especially dull to me—just this constant journey northward without anyone else to meet or interact with—so they kind of have to add other characters to it. I suspect the Reeds (or a singular Reed) will be added along the way.

END SECOND BOOK SPOILER!

Far beyond the Wall, the Night’s Watch has arrived at the Fist of the First Men—and we get our first glimpse of the Iceland filming. It looks bloody cold.

How freaking good is John Bradley? I like Samwell Tarly in the books, but Bradley makes him three times as likable. The fact that he seems to be the only ray of hopeful (and well read) sunshine amongst the men of the Night’s Watch highlights this performance even better. And hey—you can’t bring a man down when he’s in love!

We met the already-legendary Qhorin Halfhand (Simon Baker), and of course Jon Snow (Kit Harington) threatens to go emo if he can’t get in on any of the action. I’ll take my wonderful hair and go home!

(Actually, he’s emo period. But we like him that way.)

(Preview of next week: looks like we get to meet Ygritte! Kissed by fire! Color me stoked.)

So we swing across the Narrow Sea to Qarth, where Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) is basically being Hollywood-style shmoozed by Xaro Xhoan Daxos (Nonso Anozie), whose name, if you believe Twitter, is pronounced “Zoro Zone Ducksauce.” (I’m going to use that pronunciation forever.)

And we have dragons! “Dracarys!” Fwoosh!

And we have—

Okay, I did not expect Dany to pimp out Doreah (Roxanne McKee). The Lysene “pillow artist” was dead by this time in the books, so … hey, if something cool comes of this, story-wise, I think I’m liking it. I’m also liking what seems to be the budding rivalry between Irri (Amrita Acharia) and Doreah. Clearly Irri is out-of-sorts in this place. Well, all Dothraki are (unless you are Kovarro and looking to steal shit).

How many people caught Irri’s uncomfortable “Why am I here?” look when she was seemingly paired with another random Dothraki against her will at the party?

This guy did.

Seriously, I couldn’t get enough of that party. Xaro’s guest list was so completely Hollywood, since it included a goth (the warlock Pyat Pree, played by Ian Hanmore) and Lady Gaga (the masked Quaithe, played by Laura Pradelska). I also like that we got a glimpse of someone from Mereen!

Later that night, Xaro showed off his potential bling and then proposed to Dany. That rascal! What I liked best was the fact that he kind of alerted Dany to the fact that Ser Jorah (Iain Glen) is in love with her. How ‘shippy! Clarke and Glen were both fantastic.

Lastly… let’s visit Harrenhal, shall we?

“Amazing” Maisie Williams and Charles freaking Dance. That’s all I’m going to say.

(If I were female or gay I would add “…and shirtless Joe Dempsie.”) Dude did not look like that on Skins.

And I’ll end it with that. Except for…

FINAL BOOK-READER SPOILER:

I know some people are up in arms about the Tickler being Arya and Jaqen’s virst victim, and yes, this does sort of prevent a season 4 “Is there gold in the village???” Arya meltdown…

But let’s look at this objectively. This potential scene would take place in season 4, and Maisie Williams would be 16 years old when filmed. It may be wonderfully dramatic and cool to have a 10 or 11-year old going ballistic on a dude, frothing at the mouth and parroting his lines while stabbing him 800 times, but it doesn’t feel right having that coming from an almost-woman. I would expect a meltdown of lesser proportions, probably quiet-but-crazy.

And if you don’t have the lines, you don’t need the Tickler. Besides, it doesn’t make sense that she would despise him so much. She didn’t add him to her “prayer list,” because on the TV show, her time spent in his presence was much lessened. (It felt like one or two days, right?) Even the scene where she chooses him first—it feels like he’s just what she’s using to gauge Jaqen’s promise. She has no reason at all to think Jaqen would succeed. I don’t think she would choose Tywin Lannister right off the bat. Why should she believe this (probably crazy) man is even capable of it? The Tickler is just a minor first step. He’s a test, and if the Crazy Guy with the Two-Tone Hair actually succeeds, well, getting rid of him makes sense to her.

So fret not. I think the show is handling this just fine.

END OF BOOK SPOILER!

Great episode.

If you heard “The Tickler” and immediately thought, “Hey, cool Batman villain,” you’re my kind of peep. Follow me on Twitter! That’s @Axechucker!

  • Anonymous

    Great write-up, agree with almost all theories etc. I hope at least Meera shows up next season. B&W could easily turn her into a Katniss in Westeros. 

  • Anonymous

    I did forget to add my confusion as to why Cersei was credited with the wildfire idea. 

    • Axe

      I think that was just used as a way to show Tyrion taking something away from Cersei and Joffrey. Yet another minor victory for the little demon monkey. Doesn’t really matter who came up with it; so long as Tyrion gets to do his thing with it in the end.

  • Andrew

    Great review, as always, Axe! Personally, I think the *BOOK SPOILER* scene Arya was going to have with the Tickler will probably just be with Polliver, since it will be a lot easier for the audience to remember who he is if he has Needle. They might not remember his face or name, but they’ll remember the sword, and that’ll give them enough explanation as to realise who is he *END BOOK SPOILER*

    All the Arya scenes in this episode were just fantastic, but I cannot even put to words how many shirtless Gendry gifs I had to look at on Tumblr afterwords. And Bronn IS great, isn’t he? I certainly hope, as the City Watch Commander, they don’t give him Jacelyn Bywaters fate during episode 9. 

    • Axe

      Oh, I don’t think they’ll kill Bronn, ala Bywaters. 

      Or will they?? How else will Tyrion be fighting by himself at the end of—

      See, now, Andrew… you have me worried!

  • Anonymous

    I didn’t know that Pyromancer Hallyne was Roy Dotrice!  He was great!

    I was a little underwhelmed with the shadow baby death, I guess because I know it was coming – maybe this is the scene that Vanessa should have written, since she had the horror movie background?  It seemed a little awkward in the editing, almost like Arya’s stabbing of the stableboy in the first year that had jerky editing.  I think it’s just the whole matching it up with the green screen that made it awkward. 

    Also I was looking for more of a meltdown for Loras – I was looking for tears and sobbing. I guess there are always different ways to approach grief, and it just depends on what they wanted to convey.  But it seemed like Loras should have been more stricken.

    Brienne  and Catelyn, and the oath swearing in the woods brought tears to my eyes.  Here’s two women I wholeheartedly believe in, who are both very strong, passionate, honest and real.  I would love to have a spinoff of just Brienne and Catelyn.  The B and C Words…  Their scene was a highlight for me.

    And on the end of the show, you are spot on about shirtless Joe Dempsie.  I now will trade shirtless Joe Dempsey scenes for female boobs any time..

    • Axe

      I agree that the CGI editing was jerky during the Renly death scene. It’s hard to complain about bad CGI in the very same episode we got “Dracarys!” in, but it did look bad-television-y.

      I don’t know about the Loras reaction. I too would have been impressed in Finn Jones had been able to shed some tears for Renly, but some dudes just don’t cry, and Loras has spent his entire life playing the manly jock. Another fight sequence (Loras going berserk) tacked onto the end of Renly’s assassination would have been overkill, and VERY bad for pacing, in my view. TV shows have to have a certain flow. Renly’s death and Brienne’s reaction was a climax. Loras killing more people would have been the very definition of anticlimactic.

      And yes, I too was moved by Brienne and Catelyn’s shared oath. I’m sorry I didn’t mention it in my already-too-long review (I keep swearing I’ll make them shorter and don’t really), but that scene was poignant. Excellent. Michelle Fairley continues to be fantastic.

      And Jills… you know my stance on nudity:

      One naked male chest equals one naked female chest. I’m going Euro on this one. It’s all about what you find attractive.   

      • Anonymous

        You don’t need to make your reviews shorter – your reviewers are very entertaining, and every word is good! 

        I feel sad tonight, because I think the story is just going by too fast, and we aren’t getting enough time to really be with the characters before they move on to their next story arc.  I’m sad that we just got Renly and Brienne and Margaery last episode, and now this episode it’s gone.  It reminds me of the short time in my life when I watched soap operas, and they went so agonizingly slow.  It was so frustrating.  But this is the opposite – it’s going so agonizingly fast, it’s frustrating.  I know there’s nothing we can do about it, this is the pace they are doing, but I just wanted to express my sadness tonight.. Waaahhhh!

        • Axe

          Next (2) seasons should be better, since we’ll get 20 episodes for a book rather than 10. And ASoS has enough going on to make ’em all interesting.

  • Josh Atreides

    Great review FaB, after a rewatch of episode 4 I kind of saw the issues you were talking about on WicNet. I honestly believe that the first four episodes were slung together very quickly for the screeners whilst this episode seemed to be threaded together like my grandma making a quilt.To explain:  my grandma makes one frakking mean quilt! It was an elegant, beautiful tapestry and you seem to be one of the few not freaking out about the Tickler. This wasn’t just a tremendous episode of GoT, this was a a tremendous episode of television. 

    I also thought that Stephen Dillane was fantastic in his scene with Davos. Love that man. Love the site by the way! Hi Purplejilly! 

    • Axe

      Agree, agree, agree. Dillane—yet ANOTHER underrated performer. 

      P.S. I don’t believe for a minute your grandmother makes good quilts. How can I know if I don’t have one?  Please send me one of your grandma’s frakking quilts as proof.

  • Axe

    There are so few times when I can honestly say I have no words…

  • Shular67

    I wonder if Arya may not give Jaqen any of the names on her list.  Perhaps she wants to kill THEM herself.

  • Brynn

    I don’t remember Gendry being that sexy in the book…