Game of Thrones: “A Man Without Honor” Review

Game Of Thrones The North Remembers Season 2 Premiere

“So many vows… they make you swear, and swear. Defend the king. Obey the king. Obey your father. Protect the innocent. Defend the weak. And what if your father despises the king? What if the king massacres the innocent? It’s too much. No matter what you do, you’re forsaking one vow or the other.”

This speech, given by one of the series’ most interesting characters, is perhaps the very heart of Game of Thrones… and the very heart of George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire.” It’s the essence of it all—the Terrible Truth About Honor, essentially. It echoes the episode’s title and bears the standard for the story as a whole.

One could argue that truer words have never been spoken by any character in this series.

(Okay, fine, “Hodor.” Sure.)

(Make your “A Man Without Hodor” jokes now. I’m giving you the window.)

“A Man Without Honor,” written by showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss and directed by David Nutter, stayed slavishly faithful to the book that it was taken from in many ways. Some of the dialogue was seemingly photocopied directly from George R.R. Martin’s A Clash of Kings and right into the mouths of the actors playing their parts. Other parts seemed to take scenes that were only broadly hinted at in the book and made them full, complete and complex.

Still other parts were completely different. And most of those were damned good.

It could be said there was a distinct lack of action in “A Man Without Honor,” but this was one of those episodes the book adherents will probably love. I certainly did. I will be curious to see how much the general audience enjoyed it.

Opening at Winterfell, Theon (Alfie Allen) took his frustration out on Black Lorren (Forbes KB), the same Ironborn who mocked him to his face upon first meeting him. It’s interesting that Theon showed some backbone there, beating down the same man who had humiliated him earlier. Theon spent much of this episode showing he had exactly that—the iron will of the Ironborn—and he seems to finally be gaining traction with his own people. They fear his anger, if nothing else.

How long can that last though? A rule of fear can only last as long as the threat can be backed with force. And we know it’s a house of cards. Theon can’t stay ahead of his deceptions forever.

North of the Wall, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) did a lot of overland glacier trekking with the wildling girl Ygritte (Rose Leslie) on a makeshift leash. He clearly was not the one in control, however, as she consistently got under his skin, constantly haranguing him about sex. And more sex. And still more sex. Bones and stones and all the rest.

“I swore an oath.”

“D’you have sheep at the Wall? With your hands then? No wonder you’re all so miserable.”

Great chemistry with Harington and Leslie. Two excellent young actors just playing off one another. I especially loved the scene where Ygritte was walking backwards, taunting, taunting, taunting. She then launched into one of the best mini-diatribes I’ve heard all season, drawing a lovely verbal picture of how her eventual conversation with Jon’s commander might go. Even Jon couldn’t help but smile wanly at the end, defeated by her wildling stream of words.

“Turn back around,” he muttered.

“And I thought that we were done, but he said, ‘Turn back around.'”

Leslie needs to send Benioff and Weiss a thank-you card for that dialogue. That was money.

Speaking of great chemistry, Lord Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) and Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) had a great little scene at Harrenhal. We got exposition—without sex! What’s going on here?! Who are you people and what have you done to this show?!

“Do you know what happened?”

“Dragons?”

“Yes. Dragons happened.”

Book readers will be thrilled at all the name-dropping. Aegon the Conqueror, Visenya, Rhaenys (thanks, Matt!)… And who better to give it than these two extremely interesting characters.

Add to that the great subtext of it all—that this is still just a contest of cleverness between the two. It felt like Tywin finally won a round. Like he kind of lulled Arya into dropping her guard, caught up in what was essentially an ego-stroke for her. She felt good about this. And probably overconfident.

“You’re too smart for your own good. Has anyone told you that?”

“Yes.”

We’ll see if that comes back to bite her in the behind.

There were a lot of hounds in this episode. Theon used hounds to track the runaway Stark boys; Cersei mentioned hounds at King Robert’s hunting expeditions; Tyrion talked about dogs and leashes and crowns.

And of course there was the Hound, Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann), telling Sansa (Sophie Turner—heartbreakingly good) how he felt about killing. They gave us another San/San moment, though it felt just a little choppy. I fear there may have been something left on the cutting room floor, though all the particulars were covered. I sort of wish they would give McCann more room to breathe in this role.

(Yes, I know, huge cast. It’s the smallest quibble.)

Otherwise great to see that complicated “relationship” (such as it is) play out onscreen.

Later, Sansa experienced “flowering”… a not-so-flowery event that had her in a horrified, terrified panic. I actually like that they’ve placed Shae (Sibel Kekilli) in a favorable light, as far as protecting Sansa goes. Some people have complained that the TV show’s Shae has been much more unlikable than the one in the books, and that may be true—however the book version of Shae was basically this fake, fawning little sex kitten. Not very likable in the first place, unless you’re looking to bed her. So I like this. It will surely play into Shae’s future decisions.

After that, the scene between Sansa and Cersei (Lena Headey) had so many exacting, iconic lines from the book that it probably needs to belong in the adaptation Hall of Fame. Yet again, excellent actors being given the breadth to act.

A similarly good scene between Cersei and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) was nice to see; Dinklage and Headey both completely own their roles by now it almost feels trite to keep complimenting them. And how’s this for an ensemble show—the “lead” doesn’t appear until 50 minutes in.

Sean Bean would have never stood for it!

In Qarth, we got what was probably the largest deviation from the books. Who foresaw the the complete obliteration of the Thirteen? Not this guy! But oh, that was sweet. Pyat Pree’s (Ian Hanmore) illusory doubles—not so illusory! All hail the new King of Qarth, Xaro Xoan Daxos! Dude was in on it from the start, which basically means he helped engineer the butchering of his own servants.

Aside: rather funny that even Xaro (Nonso Anozie) mispronounces his own name. There’s no “h” in “Xoan,” son!

The fact that this spurs Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) toward the House of the Undying is interesting—and a lot more believable than how she was goaded into it in the books. I’ll be interested to see whether or not the show has Dany go in by herself. I would say that might be unwise.

At Robb’s camp (obligatory “King in the North” murmur), King Robb (Richard Madden) got to make googly eyes at Talisa (Oona Chaplin) some more. I sort of loved the look Talisa and Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton) shared in passing. He was clearly intrigued by something—and she was clearly weirded out. Purists be damned, I’m really liking Chaplin. So much better than a Plain Jeyne.

We were reacquainted with Alton Lannister (the underrated Karl Davies), and really got to see the full measure of him—just before the Kingslayer turned into “kinslayer.” Alton certainly didn’t expect to die that night, and double certainly not at the hands of the man he idolized.

Oh, Kingslayer! Jaime Lannister is completely inhabited by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau; I literally cannot read the books without hearing Coster-Waldau’s voice in every Jaime line. His delivery continues to be outstanding—dude’s just in full-on Jaime mode. He’s killing it.

Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) was driven nearly out of her mind by Jaime’s pointed words. With so much chemistry being talked about, how about some props for Coster-Waldau and Fairley’s chemistry? They had what was one of the best exchanges in season one, and don’t appear to be taking it easy this season either. I thought Fairley’s eyes were going to pop out of her skull. Jaime just keeps digging, and digging…

Until she just wasn’t taking any more. Jaime looked like a man satisfied—and quite a bit ready for death.

And then ah, the ending. It always comes down to the ending with this show, and could be argued no show does endings like this one. Theon! Props to the cliffhanger (even if the burnt bodies looked a little like paper mache)… though more interesting, for me, is something I’d like to discuss with the book readers…

(And not necessarily what you think!)

BOOK READER SPOILER: Dagmer (Ralph Ineson) is actually playing the role of Reek when he subliminally suggests to Theon that they have actually “found” Bran and Rickon. This gives strength to a theory I’ve had ever since meeting Dagmer:

Dagmer “Cleftjaw” is actually Ramsay—the Bastard of Bolton.

Here me out! This is a spitball in the great tradition of spitballs, sure, but my argument gains traction every time I see Dagmer onscreen. After seeing Dagmer taking Reek’s place during the hunt for the boys, and then re-rewatching his introductory scene at Pyke in “The Ghost of Harrenhal,” I’m more convinced it could be true. Here’s what backs up the total shot-in-the-dark I offer, based not just on the fact that he’s on Theon’s hip in a very Reek-like manner, but also because of his odd introduction two episodes ago:

1. When Theon is talking to Black Lorren on the docks of Pyke, a hunched figure in a black cloak and shawl exits the building (tiny inn? drinking shack?) behind them in the background. This person is practically the ONLY person in the scene not in Ironborn dead-fish gray drag clothes. The figure goes around the corner.

2. When Theon is talking to Yara, Dagmer (in full armor) comes back around the same corner and goes INTO the shack.

3. As Yara leaves, Dagmer exits the shack with a traveling satchel in hand. At no point do any of the Ironborn, Yara included, interact or notice Dagmer. This introduces the possibility that he has simply inserted himself within the group.

4. Dagmer refers to the Ironborn as “them,” not “us.”

5. Dagmer is an “idea guy.” This is underscored when he “gives” Theon the idea to use the two Winter Town boys in replace of Bran and Rickon. It’s exactly what Reek did in the books.

6. Setting up a secret Ramsay with an earlier tie to Theon makes more sense for a TV show than just having this random guy we only heard mentioned once retake Winterfell after Theon sacks it. Who better to betray than the one person that gained Theon’s trust so early? We’re invested in Dagmer earlier than we would be with some faceless guy from the Dreadfort. Ramsay is so sneaky he fooled even the book readers. Hell, it’s what I’d do.

7. Ralph Ineson is too good an actor with too much cred to have in some throwaway role. The book’s version of Dagmer “Cleftjaw” is not big enough for Ineson’s capable boots.

Granted, this isn’t perfect. Here are a few things that work against my theory:

1. The hunched figure in black is blurry, but really does look like an old woman when I squint. The face seems too pale for Dagmer, unless the showrunners / director are being REALLY careful.

2. Dagmer says he’s Theon’s first mate, which is a pretty important title to just casually wave about. Unless he knew ahead of time that the Sea Bitch had no first mate, it’s probably something you just don’t randomly claim. The only other explanation is Ramsay knew the REAL Dagmer, killed him ahead of time, stowed his armor, and maybe even scarred his face in order to pass as this “Cleftjaw” character (a name we actually haven’t heard yet)… I dunno. That’s a reach.

Of course there’s the chance that Ramsay has simply been Dagmer for years, and that when Lord Roose Bolton suggests to Robb that he send his bastard from the Dreadfort, he already knows Ramsay has joined Theon’s forces.

Is it still a reach? Sure. But damn, it would be cool if the writers worked to pull a fast one on the book readers. It makes sense to me, story-wise. The name Ramsay means a lot to us, but he’s basically nothing at all to people who just watch the show. Having Dagmer betray Theon would be ten times cooler than him just showing up with the Bolton forces on Winterfell’s doorstep. END BOOK SPOILER!

So… yep. Another strong episode. An “actor’s episode” more than something action-packed, but still a treat for most, I’d imagine.

Three episodes left!

If your name rhymes with Reek, follow me on Twitter! That’s @Axechucker!

  • Six30two

    I love your theory that Dagmer = Ramsay, but isn’t Dagmer too old to be Ramsay? 

    • Lolita

       I was just going to post the exact same thing.

       I even re-watched their scenes, and yep, he is too old.

      • Axechucker

        His age is another reason against the theory, true enough. Ralph Ineson is 42 years old, Michael McElhatton is… in his early 50’s? Roose Bolton probably did not have a son at the age of 10.

        • Hottchopz

          That’s a good point, but they’ve taken liberties before w the ages. And GRRM has said before he’d wished he’d made the characters older. That and maybe roose is playing a lot older of a character. In the books he’s supposed to he a man who looks young to be in his forties. Maybe the same is the case here and he’s in his sixties.

  • Maxwell James

    A typically excellent episode of GoT.By which I mean: it follows the books, more or less, but mostly finds very different inflection points for the big emotional moments in the story. 

    For instance: like most readers, there are few scenes I love more than the confrontation between Cat and Jaime. It’s just an awesomely written scene, a cat and mouse game between both characters, each with their own hidden agenda. Cat burning with grief and barely-contained rage, and Jaime really coming to life for the first time in the books, as a man whose ethical compass is not broken, but is radically different from that of most of his social peers. Several of the best lines in the books come right out of that chapter.

    Yet in the episode, it was only the second-most interesting scene featuring Jaime. While a good, well-acted scene, it lacked the crackling tension and big reveals of its equivalent in the book. But that was made up for by the scene with Alton, which was terrifically written to show almost every contour of Jaime’s personality – his charm, his sharp observations of people, his desperation at being caged, and his sheer relentlessness. 

    It didn’t showcase his ethical undercurrent, and perhaps subverted it by having him murder a family member. Yet somehow that didn’t bother me, in part because I know he had to be re-established as a Big Bad before he can really come into his own next year. And in part because the manner in which he has been imprisoned is far more horrifying than in the books, and I can see it driving him to that level of desperation.

    Which I think highlights both why the show is so good, and why it is sometimes very hard for readers to accept. There is a butterfly effect; the small changes do lead to bigger ones, and the contrast can be startling. We don’t always get what we want to get out the adaptation, but we do get some brilliant scenes that we never would have gotten with an approach that was more straightforward. Not only the Jaime-Alton scene, but also the (reliably great) Tywin-Arya ones, or the excellent scenes this week between Jon and Ygritte.

    It is like fan fiction in that way – increasingly so. But really good fan fiction.

    • Axechucker

      The writing in the Jaime / Alton scene was just great. Sure, the Stark guards were lax as hell (though it could be argued 99% of a guard’s attention is normally paid to outside attempts on freeing prisoners rather than what goes on in the cage), but the conversation leading to that was brilliant. Chilling. 

      I think you’re completely right about Big Bad. A television audience needs occasional reminds that Jaime isn’t just some misunderstood pretty face—he’s a really fucked up dude. It makes the road to redemption that much harder.

  • spacechampion

    I have no doubt Dagmer is not Reek.  All D&D are doing here is making sure that Reek knows nothing about what Theon did, so Reek will have no reason to try tracking down the two boys.  It’s a bit of a flaw in the books to believe Reek gave up so easily pursuing them.

  • Matt

    oh Tobias, spell-check man, Visenya and Rhaenys, there are almost always Ys in the names of the female Targaryens 

    • Axechucker

      Fixed, bro!

  • Anonymous

    Yeah I’m not feeling the Dagmar = Ramsay thing.  I just find it hard to believe that Ramsay could have infiltrated the Ironborn and gained such a high position (esp. for a sea-faring folk), all within the time that Theon was at Pyke?  Unless Ramsay is a faceless man and stole Dagmar’s identity….nah.  

    All they have done is combine the roles for the time being.  I’m sure they’ll introduce Reek/Ramsay later.

  • Skipjack

    ****BOOK SPOILERS****

    I have to disagree that Dagmer could be Ramsay.  As mentioned, he’s too old to be, but more than that there’s no reason for Ramsay to be on Pyke.  Roose Bolton doesn’t know that Theon is going to betray Robb Stark, and he said in ADWD to Theon that he only had the chance to rise when Theon took Winterfell.  I’m with you in so far as I’d like to see more Ralph Ineson but I just don’t think this is possible.

  • Andrew

    I’ll admit it, when you said Robbs Camp, I yelled King in the North. I regret nothing.

    Pyat Pree is a magical unicorn of Terror. I’m really loving the changes they’re making to Qarth, considering Dany is my favourite character and I can barely get through her arc in Clash of Kings without skimming or skipping ahead. It’s also starting to look like the tinfoil hats saying Doreah betrayed Dany might be right, which will devestate me. I trusted her! The level of emotional investment you can have in these characters is staggering.

    As I said on Tumblr, just…All the awards, Sohpie Turner. All the awards. And for NCW and Fairley as well; that scene was one of my favourites this season. Everybody just needs an award.

    • Axechucker

      Sophie Turner is INSANELY good. She’s what, fifteen? Christ almighty. Tell me any actress that good at that age and I’ll show you an Oscar winner.  Very glad HBO submitted Turner for an Emmy. 

      (I don’t think she’ll get the nod due to a lack of overall screen time, but hey.)

  • Ilikeegg

    I just don’t know why Ramsay would be on the iron islands. Or that he could recognize theon, and have this whole plan all concocted out. Reek in the book just happened to be a prisoner at winter fell.

    I think dagmer is just strictly to make theon look more sympathetic. Theon can’t come up with the ideas himself. And his crew can’t help because they are alienating him.

  • Erik the Viking

    I hope you’re right about Dagmar/Ramsey… That would indeed be a twist.

    I have to say I like the angle that the show is taking with Joffrey’s rage and dark nature; that it’s a byproduct of Jamie/Cersi incest, much like the Targaryen tendency towards madness. Nice touch. I feel it gives Joff’s a more realistic background for the stronger role he’s taking in the show vs. book.

    Also grooving big-time on the Arya/Tywin interactions. It gives both characters added dimension; we get to adopt Arya’s street cred and cleverness, and get to see some humanity from the man who is the head Lannister prick.

    Bravo!

    Righteous review, too, BTW.

    • Axechucker

      Thanks, E. I too love the Arya / Tywin stuff and—since it’s not book canon—am intensely interested in where it might be going!

  • Webg

    I agree about the choppiness of the scene between the Hound and Sansa.  I even said myself that they must have cut something out in the editing, because she went from “beg your forgiveness” to “do you enjoy scaring people” so abruptly.  In any case, Sophie is such a good actress.  I love the Arya scenes but Sophie’s part requires more emotion and range of moods.

    If Reek = Dagmar, then I will be sorely disappointed.  You don’t “infiltrate” the Ironborn. You don’t pretend to be such a good seaman and learn all the ways of their culture so quickly.  They are practically born on the sea.  It would be as hard as infiltrating the Dothraki.  Even Theon has trouble posing as one of them.

    • Axechucker

      My spitball is still a low-percentage shot-in-the-dark.  I would agree the Ironborn shouldn’t be that hard to fool.

      …Unless “Dagmer” has actually been there for years. But why would Ramsay be there in the first place? Yeah.

      Still, I hope for a better Ramsay reveal than just “I was at the Dreadfort and my dear ol’ da’ sent a raven, so here I am!~”

      (Plus there’s the fact that Ramsay hasn’t even been cast yet.  He’d just be some hooded / helmed dude if he appears at all.)

  • Hottchopz

    I have totally thought the same thing for weeks now. How did they all get away? Why would the Starks and the northern armies sack winterfell? What happens after they knock theon out? I picture them up-playing roose bolton’s betrayal and make it a big storyline arc connecting it to the red wedding probably that with Joffrey’s wedding should be season 4’s finale.