Game of Thrones: “The Old Gods and the New” Review

This was either the best Game of Thrones episode yet… or the absolute worst, depending on who you ask. For me? It’s somewhere in the middle. Great start—possibly the best start yet—but finished with one of the most wasteful endings I’ve ever seen on this show. I’m a little deflated. But I’ll get to my thoughts in a sec.

If you thought this episode was the best ever… well, you may not have read the books.

If it was the worst

Well, then you’re a book purist of the most anal-retentive sort who deserves only the kind of death usually reserved for stoic older men with fabulous mutton chops.

Because seriously? This one may have strayed the furthest afield of any Game of Thrones episode yet. But oh, as far as compelling television goes, it was meaty.

(Insert The Soup sound bite: “Mm, meaty!”)

“The Old Gods and the New,” written by Vanessa Taylor and directed by David Nutter, had some truly great moments. The writing was crackling good, filled with some fantastic dialogue; Taylor has improved leaps and bounds, for me, from her tepid episode 3 debut. And Nutter (known more for Entourage, though I really loved his work on The Pacific) really knows how to draw us into a scene. The transitions were great, and the pace was up to Game of Thrones standards, which is to say breakneck and breathtaking.

We opened right in the middle of—or really, at the tail end of—Theon’s invasion of Winterfell.

“I’ve taken Winterfell. I took it. I’m occupying Winterfell,” Theon (Alfie Allen) told Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), apparently thinking that by saying it over and over again it would somehow justify the act.

(Somewhere out there, the #OccupyWesteros hashtag on Twitter did a gleeful little summersault.)

Theon gathered the people of Winterfell into the courtyard and—Holy Hell, is that all the people they have left? Talk about bare bones. What are there, like… nineteen people remaining? No wonder Theon took the castle so easily. He’s lucky Old Nan isn’t still around (R.I.P. Margaret John) or he’d have had a real fight on his hands.

“It grieves me that you’ve less honor than a back-alley whore,” Ser Rodrick (Ron Donachie) said, before spitting in Theon’s smarmy face. And then, in perhaps his greatest act, the old master-at-arms reassured the Stark children that he was going to see their father. Donachie was great, and if he’s ever been under-appreciated before, well, let that be no more. What an exit.

Hell, everyone was great. Donald Sumpter as Maester Luwin, attempting to be soothing as a voice of reason while fighting quiet desperation … and my god, I already knew what was going to happen, but Isaac Hempstead-Wright made me tear up. And I almost never tear up.

Way to go, kid. Make a grown man cry.

This was like a frickin’ acting, directing, visual, musical clinic. They should make viewing this bloody scene mandatory in film school, and just title it “How To Do It.”

Lastly, how good is Alfie Allen? Screaming at Luwin as though screaming at his own conscience, staggering after that last blow to Ser Rodrik’s neck (purists rejoice: Theon kicked a severed head!), eyes all freaked out… Seriously, Alfie bloody Allen. What an insanely great choice for Theon. Nina Gold and the showrunners couldn’t have truly known what a diamond-in-the-rough they had in him, right? I want to say they already knew he’d be this good in season 2, but there’s just no way they could have known. Shot in the dark that he’d step up this big.

Submit Theon’s beheading scene to the Emmy voters. Dude might steal one from Peter Dinklage.

North of the Wall, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) finally meets Ygritte (Rose Leslie)… and promptly gets lost in the frozen wilderness with her. I like the chemistry already, and love the fact that Ygritte’s accent is almost exactly the same as Osha’s, the only other wildling we really know.

The logical side of me would argue against Qhorin Halfhand (Simon Baker) leaving Jon alone to kill Ygritte—if it weren’t already there in the book. I should admit to that flaw in any review; I tend to be more lenient of logic hiccups if they were “already in the book.” I guess it is what it is.

Later, we got a rather interesting one-on-one scene between Ygritte and Jon. I guess inauspicious grinding is the wildling way of flirting. Insert any “stick ‘er with the pointy end” or “he doesn’t know where to put it” jokes as needed.

(LOL “insert.”)

At Harrenhal, Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish (Aiden Gillen) joined Lord Tywin (Charles Dance) and his new cupbearer Not-Arya (Maisie Williams). Yes, I too did note how quickly Baelish seemed to travel from the Stormlands to the Riverlands. Perhaps he was spurred by curiosity to look upon the plot of burnt land Tyrion had (briefly) promised him?

In all seriousness, I’d like to take a moment to discuss the passage of time on this show—something that I think is hard for some people to get their heads around. I’ve read various comments about how certain characters tend to get from point A to point Z with seemingly ludicrous amounts of speed (they’ve gone plaid!)…

But the truth is, a lot of time does pass. Not just in-between episodes, but during them. (What the hell else accounts for these kids growing up so fast, eh?) The show doesn’t feel compelled to tell us exactly how much time has passed between any given scene, but I’ll note that it also doesn’t seem to note days, weeks, or months aloud. Even the seasons are stretched, so in a way, this feels right. We pretty much know one thing: Winter is coming. And that’s it.

Anyway. After Littlefinger scampers off to who-knows-where (and don’t tell me he didn’t recognize Arya—rat bastard has tucked that information away for his own later use, I guarantee it)… Arya and Lord Tywin discuss the merits of reading. The Kingslayer is dyslexic! Who knew?

Arya’s later encounter with Amory Lorch resulted in her using her second “death wish” for Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha)—which begat the funniest death on the show to date.

A man moves quickly!

At King’s Landing, we’re really seeing the results of this shitty Lannister rule. The best part of course being the epic rescue of Sansa (Sophie Turner) by Sandor “The Hound” Clegane (Rory McCann), a show of all-too rare heroics that had every “San/San” ‘shipper squealing and squirming in their Hello Kitty pajamas.

(Personally I think I tend toward being a Sansa/Young Griff ‘shipper, but YMMV.)

This was yet another absolutely perfect scene, and for Sophie Turner especially; I can’t imagine the physical toll that scene took (or how many takes it took), but for me that was more intense and horrifying than Sansa’s public stripping at the hands of Joffrey. Nutter’s direction here was fantastic too; it was almost filmed like something from a very dark, bloody vigilante film. Loved.

Speaking of Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), Game of Thrones hardcores will note Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) got in another epic slap. I guess the challenge now is to loop it to a longer song.

At Robb’s camp we got to spend a little more time with Talisa (Oona Chaplin), who is quickly (or slowly, depending on the passage of time) winning the heart of Robb (Richard Madden).

“I always thought I was a brilliant liar.”

“Better at amputations, really.”

Robb has a nice little sparkle in his eye—Madden glows in even the shortest scenes—and the Volantis-born (?) beauty is an excellent addition to the story, in my opinion (though perhaps not if you’re part of Team Frey).

Back at Winterfell, Osha (Natalia Tena) has convinced Theon she would make a better bed-mate than a spear-wielder. (By the looks of her unclothed I might tend to agree!)

But ah, no one said anything about knives.

Lesson, boys: If you’re making out, playing tonsil-hockey with a randy wildling chick while you’re supposed to be watchful and on duty, and she reaches down toward your belt and grabs something hard on your leg… and you can’t feel it… that’s probably your knife she just snuck from your scabbard and—oops. Another greyshirt bites the dust. First of many, I assume.

(Props to Tena. Don’t know if she’ll take it as a compliment, but… she looks like she’s really good at cutting throats.)

We ended at Qarth, and that’s really where I have my only problem with the episode.

“Hmm, she has a talent for drama, this one,” the Spice King (Nicholas Blane) murmured.

Indeed she does! Quite a bit of drama, and teeth-gnashing, and eye-flaring, and all that. And some people want to take Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) to task for all the “Fire and Blood!” posturing, though I see it as reasonable. Dany is emotional—always has been—and now she’s feeling the weight of expectations. She’s channeling every loss she’s been forced to swallow into her need to return to Westeros, and the nobles of Qarth are really her only option. And they’re stymying her at every turn.

So I’d say she’s understandably miffed. Let’s see how miffed she is after she discovers her dragons have been whisked off to the House of the Undying!

Perhaps as miffed as I was to find poor Irri (Amrita Acharia) dead at the end of the episode.

Now understand, this isn’t a case of book purism. I am perhaps the last person to be accused of that. I love the books, yes, but I applaud any change if it makes the story better. Stealing the dragons? That didn’t happen in the book—and it’s better than the book. Hell yes, motivate Dany more! Feed into the awesomeness we will see in season 3!

In fact, making the show better than the book is tied in with my criticism. Irri is basically devoid of personality in the books, yet the show (and Acharia) strove to make her viable and interesting. Game of Thrones gave her an electric spark of chemistry with Rakharo in season 1, and made his passing in season 2 actually mean something. Rakharo had a farewell scene (two really), and even though he died offscreen, his death had an impact.

Irri? Just laying there like mortified window dressing, her death a rotten cherry on top of the stolen dragon cake. We can’t even expect Dany to be in full mourning for this, because her dragons—her babies—are missing. Dead Irri isn’t even given the chance to be the focus.

Look, I’m not saying every character that develops a nerd following needs some sort of heroic on-screen death. But this was almost disrespectful of the writing and acting that paved the way for this character. The episode wasn’t that long. They could have given us something; perhaps even a final scene: Irri, alone with the dragons… a shadow falls over her… she looks up, surprised—and cut to black.

Something. Anything.

If you’re going to kill a series regular, make something of it. Irri’s death as a throwaway cheapens the fear the show has worked so hard to cultivate—that anyone can die at any time—because it breaks the trust we have in the narrative. You made us care for this character. Don’t suddenly disregard your own hard work.

Anyway. Without that last little jarring bit, this may have been one of the top 5 Game of Thrones episodes, and that’s counting both seasons. Not bad at all for Taylor and Nutter. I can’t stress enough how good this was.

Four more eps left, people! The greatest television show on the air today. Bank it.

If you ‘ship San/San in your Hello Kitty pajamas (or in nothing at all), follow me on Twitter! That’s @Axechucker!

  • Emmalisek

    I basically agree with everything that you so brilliantly worded. And while I’ll probably never be able to watch Sansa’s almost-rape scene again and do wonder if it was taken too far, the acting and direction were wonderful (that goes for the whole riot scene, really). Between that scene, the first 10 minutes of the episode, and Arya at Harrenhal, this episode really emphasized the child actors’ ever-growing and impressive skills. But oh, those final moments in Qarth almost ruined it all for me; I completely echo your thoughts on Irri’s death. It also must be said: why eliminate two canonically-POC characters (Chataya and Alayaya) as well as kill off another POC character/actress when the show’s POC quota is already so low?

    • Axe

      I feel like we say it every week. “Wow, those kids are really good!” 

      But it bears repeating. “Wow, those kids are really good!”  I catch occasional snippets of Once Upon A Time, with that abominable child actor… and I thank my lucky stars I have Game of Thrones.

      (…Not that many of the adults on OUaT are much better. But still.)

      • OMG Axe did you just diss Once Upon a Time?!! I love that show, one of my favorites. I don’t know if we can continue to be friends now… 😉

        • Axechucker

          If you love and respect and cherish that overhyped fantasy soap opera, with its SyFy-worthy special-effects and cringe-worthy dialogue (not to mention subpar acting from 75% of its cast), I don’t think we were ever friends in the first place.

          • I do love it, I do, I do! Maybe we’re not watching the same show. 😉

  • Maxwell James

    The morning after, this episode still feels half-brilliant to me; but the other half left a bad taste in my mouth. The Winterfell scenes were incredible, as was the riot for the most part. And after sleeping on it, I even liked the Littlefinger scene, which hit the right combination of comedy & suspense, while keeping LF’s actual observations appropriately ambiguous.

    However – the death of Irri seemed a classic case of a show not knowing its own strengths. It was not shocking in the good way; instead, it felt cheap. Especially because Amrita Acharya had done such a great job infusing vivid life into a side character. Most of the rest of Dany’s entourage, with the exception of Jorah, feels shallow by comparison.

    The near-rape of Sansa, too, left me uneasy. It was a powerful scene – and on the whole the riot sequence was incredibly intense. But that seemed too much to ask of a 15-year old actress, however talented & mature she may be. I’m left hoping that they at least used a body double for some of it. 

    Finally – I’m really not digging the choice to separate Jon from the rest of the NW crew. It was executed well enough, and Rose Leslie is terrific, but this is the first case where I feel like a change from the text was completely unwarranted. And it could have undesirable butterfly effects. Jon’s second-half arc from ACOK is basically perfect from a TV-drama perspective; I really don’t understand why they want to mess around with it. 

    • Axe

      I’m very curious what they’ll do with Jon, now that he’s separated.  They have to get him back with the rangers EVENTUALLY, right?  Because then how else would we get the awesome book 2 ending?

      I get that they wanted to give Jon and Ygritte some extra “bonding” time maybe. But… I guess we’ll see! Curious!

      • Maxwell James

        I hope so. It occurred to me (SPOILERS) they might actually have him join up with the wildlings earlier, setting up a different sort of confrontation with Qhorin. I really hope they don’t go that route; his relationship with Qhorin is an important one & deserves to be developed. 

        And I missed the moment that followed his release of Ygritte in the books, with Qhorin saying that he had Jon do it in order to better know the man he was leading. At the very least, if they keep that scene it will ring differently in the show.

  • I’m Unsullied

    Love your review.  Here are a few of my thoughts…

    – Damn straight Littlefinger recognized Arya.  By the time she spilled on him he knew.  Now the REAL question is how the hell is this going to play out?  This could be the biggest departure from the book if he somehow acts on his knowledge….

    –  Is Irri really dead?  She was indeed out cold but I didn’t see any blood (I re-watched just to be sure).  She may actually be hurt but alive and serve as the witness to who committed the Grand Theft Drogon.

    –  The biggest surprise for me is how damn good the Theon arc is depicted.  I mean I appreciate it much more now after watching the series.  Alfie is a stud.

    • Axe

      Irri is dead. Amrita Acharia confirmed this in a few (very) recent interviews.

  • Anonymous

    I didn’t even notice Irri was dead, that’s how bad the death was. Shame shame shame.

  • Brynn

    I agree, Irri’s death was wasted. Dany was too horrified that her dragons (her children) were gone to mourn Irri.  I found the whole Dany’s storyline in this book to be boring ANYWAYS, and so I understand the need to insert violence/drama/suspense into her arc at this point in time.  But the show runners wasted a good opportunity to use the death of Irri for something better than what we saw.  

    Now death of Sir Rodrick… THAT was used well. I did appreciate that scene more in the show than I did in the books.

    • Axe

      The death of Ser Rodrik was intense! Domachie is a pro. 

      At least Theon finally got to kick a head.

  • Andrew

    I think if Irri died at any other point in the story, or in any other situation, she would have gotten a proper death, but unfortunately, she died trying to defend the Dragons, and the dragons overshadow her sacrifice; to both Dany, and the viewers. I am still holding out for a nice posthumous mention next week, though! Amrita Acharia will forever be the Irri I see when I read the books.

    Sansa/Young Griff? Permission to come aboard, Cap’n? I’ll go down with this ship. Now time to find some hello kitty pajamas.

    The scene with Sansa at the riot was terrifying. Since there was a lot changed this episode, I found myself seriously worried about what was going to happen for the first time in quite a while watching the show. The entire riot was really well done, and if Nutter worked on The Pacific, I can understand why. That show had some seriously great visuals.

    I also think it was good move for D&D to start developing Jon and Ygrittes character now, rather than wait till after Qhorins command. Their relationship in the book never really made sense to me, beyond Jon never had a woman and this one was quite willing, but now that they’re spending some time together BEFORE she goes back to the wildlings, and captures Jon with Rattleshirt, I can actually see how affection might develop.

    • Axe

      Yay, let’s have a Sansa / Young Griff pajama party! I’ll make the popcorn, you bring the handcuffs.

      (I may need my wife’s permission. She can be so possessive with my time sometimes!)Mighty Morphin Power Rangers pajamas are cool, right?

      • Anonymous

        Who’s young Griff? 

        • Brynn

          I believe young Griff everyone is mentioning is in GRRM’s latest book.

  • Anonymous

    Good review, as always, Axe!  I agree with most of what you said. For me, I loved this episode.  I’ve been labeled a ‘book purist’ at other sites for not liking changes from the book, but I think I can’t actually be a book purist, because I didn’t mind any of the changes from the book in this episode.  I loved the Tywin and Arya scenes, and I agree, OF COURSE LF recognized her.  But he’s keeping it quiet for his own purposes.

    I was BLOWN AWAY by Alfie Allen this week.  That look on his face, the sweat, the swinging his gaze around, checking what people thought of him after the terrible slash, hack and head kick was BRILLIANT!  DH and I just looked at each other after that scene. Wow…

    And your girl Sophie did a great job during her abduction/attempted rape scene.  It was painful to watch, and very disturbing.  I can imagine everyone needed a good break after that day’s filming!
    I’m not a San-San shipper myself, I’m more a Tyrion-San girl, but it was still a great scene.

    And I agree that Irri was really given the short end of the arakh in this scene.  Maybe when next ep opens, we will get a nice funeral for her.  If Dany is just going on in a crazy way about her dragons and not giving a little grief for Irri, that will be sad.

    I also feel like Amy Richardson was robbed of a chance to have a nice, dramatic, tear-filled farewell on the docks – it was too quick to just have her already in the boat and rowing away..

    And I don’t mind that the dragons were stolen. It ‘spices’ up a pretty drab and boring storyline for Dany.

  • Anonymous

    Oh, and I forgot to say, MY DH said this whole episode had a different feel to him, that it was shot differently, the cuts the angles, etc.  He said he liked the look of this episode better than any of the others so far.  Maybe it was the director?  Has this director done any eps before?

    • Josh Atreides

      He has not. But I hope he does more. The reason it was so well directed because he is David Frakking Nutter. The review mentions he directed Entourage. Everyone directed Entourage! David Nutter has directed perhaps some of the best episodes of The X Files. If you know anything about the show his first episode was the masterpiece “Ice”.  He did an exemplary job this episode, ratcheting up the horror, suspense, drama, intrigue and action. The chase with Jon and Ygritte on the ice was fantastic.
      And I want to marry Rose Leslie.That said, nice to take a breather at the episode threads over yonder isn’t it?  It’s literally become the Riverlands during the War of the Five Kings on that site. People who are usually civil are just becoming nasty. Disappointed in several posters thus far. 

      • Maxwell James

        Nutter directed the next one too. He’s a good one, although imo the cinematography & staging this year has been improved throughout. They’ve just done very good work developing the look and feel of the show, perhaps a result of Alan Taylor’s increased role.

        It is too bad about how uncivil some folks have gotten over at wic. The post-episode threads there in particular have descended into a lot of name-calling, purist this, apologist that. Then again, based on how people argue over the books, perhaps that was bound to happen.

        • Josh Atreides

          I’m kind of waiting for the posters that also comment on Westeros.Org to simply give up on WIC and remain there with Linda. Most of them are decent but some are being downright trolls now, one poster in particular. 

          More on topic, I too was shocked by Irri’s death and its suddenness. She wasn’t even bleeding, she was just immaculately dead. 

          • Anonymous

            I was hoping Irri would get a more dramatic death, if she had to go, then I was hoping maybe she was just unconscious, as someone else guessed.  I’m not sure if we know yet.  From her tweets, I am blaming Jake Stormeon who seems to have bewitched her into loving LA.

      • Anonymous

        I know, the bashing at WiC was (is?) reaching astronomical levels.  I wish people would just let other people have their opinions, even if they are negative.  I don’t mind listening to anyone’s opinion or complaint about anything, as long as they are civil, and make reasonably logical conversation as to why they didn’t like something.  It’s okay for people to like or dislike different things.  It makes me think twice about posting my long, drawn out opinions sometimes because they immediately get drowned with a ton of in-fighting posts.  I’ll just bring my long, drawn out posts here to Axey’s site instead, I think 🙂
        And good luck in your quest to marry Rose Leslie! Axe never had any luck getting Emilia Clarke’s number, maybe he can do better with Rose Leslie for you!

  • Taksi

    Irri didn’t look dead to me, just unconscious.  Until we get in-show confirmation otherwise, I’m going to assume she’s not dead.

    But if she is dead, I’d go even further than you and call it a Really Big Mistake.  Such a move could certainly have been handled better by giving her a final scene, but regardless of how it was handled, killing Irri at this point in the game is a mistake.  It’s not so much Irri herself (though Amrita was great), it’s the fact that there are no other characters left to fill her role in Dany’s entourage.  With Rakharo already gone, she is the only established Dothraki character left on the show.  The Dothraki culture is a vital part of Dany’s identity, and without any Dothraki around her I don’t know how the show would be able to convey that.  If they wanted to kill someone off to add to the impact of the stolen dragons (as if that weren’t enough), why wouldn’t they just kill Doreah?  She’s supposed to be dead by now anyway.

    • Josh Atreides

      Maybe Amrita couldn’t do the long haul? Guess we will find out the story eventually. Perhaps they are going to fill her absence with Missandei? 

    • Anonymous

      I know, and they just set up that whole Irri/Doreah rivalry last episode, I thought to help us empathize with the mixed feelings Dany was having – is she a Khaleesi or  Queen?  Guess she’s a Queen.

      • Josh Atreides

        The thing about Doreah is that she died in the Red Waste as far we know, so what HBO can do with her character is completely up in the air. I have a feeling that she was involved with the Dragon-napping. Just look back at season 1 with the conversation with Viserys in the Tub. Dragons were topic of choice. Then we see her again in season 2’s first episode, watching Dany feed one of the dragons. Again we see her in episode 5, having achieved very strong familiarity with the creatures. Even Dany says “they love you”. I can see her being the one to coax the dragon in the cage and perhaps she poisoned Irri (that would explain her immaculate corpse). 

        In regard to the above, changes aside, David and Dan have made we, the book-readers, speculate on the story! This is good because the spoilers that are being thrown about will have less effect now because anything can happen….it makes me excited for the episodes to come, these minor changes and while some are not that great, it can deflect the spoilers for the big events that will probably happen. Personally, the acting, directing, the majority of the writing, costume design, set design, is top notch for me. Episode 6 felt like A Song of Ice and Fire and I think they are capturing the theme and spirit of the books.  

    • Brynn

      I agree.  Irri gave more substance and personality than Doreah. It was Irri that made me care about Rakharo! Those two gave personality and substance to Dothraki in general. I am sad.

  • Adbrla

    If this was either the best or the worst episode yet, how did the author end up in the middle…