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!

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