Game of Thrones: “The Prince of Winterfell” Review

Game Of Thrones What Is Dead May Never Die Season 2 Episode 3 (5)

Yep, this was another good one—and yet another episode that may leave fans of the show and book purists divided. That sort of comes with the territory now though, doesn’t it?

Me? Loved it. My disappointment at the removal of one particular iconic scene (warning: I’ve decided “iconic” is my word of the day) from the book was washed away by Robb and Talisa, and by the exquisitely heartbreaking look on Bran’s face at the very end of the episode. Voop! Disappointment gone.

But more on that later. Can we talk about next week first? Because everyone else is. The setup for next week’s eagerly anticipated episode “Blackwater” is so palpable that some hardly paid attention to the intricate little setup details in this one. Not only does it look thoroughly badass (A Clash of Kings indeed), but it’s the episode George R.R. Martin penned himself. So it’s really like a double win for fans of the books and fans of this epic television series.

War! Is! Here!

(In 7 days. Patience, little birds.)

Geekgasm over.

And now my message is: Don’t overlook this one. “The Prince of Winterfell,” written by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss and directed by perennial show favorite Alan Taylor, showed why less is indeed more. This episode had peaks and valleys to be sure, but for the most part it was slow, delicious, and calm—at least on the surface. The tension Benioff and Weiss are building feels like this monstrous storm about to break, and everything is set up for what appear to be two truly epic season-ending episodes.

But the devil’s in the details, and Lucifer, that son-of-a-gun, was playing his fiddle like a surgeon plays with knives.

Speaking of music. Oh, the music. Ramin Djawadi’s various themes deliver right when we need them to; not only in the scenes themselves, but as swelling themes that hearken things to come. The Robb / Talisa love theme is at times soaring and at times heartbreaking, and I can’t help but think this was in part mandated by the show-runners, who even now are probably rubbing their hands together gleefully, waiting for the next season (or two) when they can really put that bad boy to good use. Just thinking about that music with a certain scene…

(I ain’t talkin’ the Rains of Castamere here, people.)

So. We opened (as we have often of late) at Winterfell as Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan) came to fetch little brother Theon (Alfie Allen) in order to take him home to dear ol’ da’. She’s her usual self, tossing “coont” around like it’s nothing (the “c-word” made an appearance a full five times this episode) and generally just being there to make Theon miserable, as is her habit.

It’s when she later takes Theon aside privately that we finally got a glimpse of Yara’s heart; she still actually cares whether her brother lives or dies, and that’s saying a lot for an Ironborn. This was probably Whelan’s best scene thus far; those soulful eyes are made for more than just cold stares.

North of the Wall, we met one of the legendary Mance Rayder’s right-hand men, the Lord O’ Bones, “Rattleshirt” (Edward Dogliani), who… alright, really, he just seems like a stubborn dude in funky armor. Hopefully he’ll get more to do in the coming years rather than just growl irritably. One of the things I missed from the books this season was the lack of Vargo Hoat—a truly colorful character. I was hoping the Lord O’ Bones would be a little more blustery and self-grandizing. Ah, well, maybe in future days.

Later, we got a clever peek toward what may be a very interesting season-ending scene between Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Qhorin Halfhand (Simon Baker). I have a feeling it will play out exactly as we hope it will.

We caught up with Robb (Richard Madden) headed—at a rather leisurely pace, I noted—toward the Crag to accept some vague Lannister surrender. This was the first of two excellent scenes between Robb and Talisa (Oona Chapman), so I enjoyed it, even if Robb didn’t seem to be in as much of a hurry to get to the Crag as I assumed he might be.

“And you’re marrying her for a bridge.”

“An important bridge.”

I loved the written dialogue between the two. Oh, and we got another great, iconic line:

“I asked him, ‘How can a man be brave if he is afraid?’ ‘That is the only time a man can be brave,’ he told me.”

Profound words, and a tip of the hat to the first book, A Game of Thrones. Even if the wrong character spoke it. (Hey, I imagine Ned said that a few times to more than one son.)

Later, Robb laid the hammer down on his mother Catelyn (Michelle Fairley), who apparently is fully off her rocker, trusting in the good faith of the Lannisters to allow her daughter(s) to be set free once Jaime is returned. It was a short scene, but brutal, with the full weight of Robb’s fury coming down as he ordered his own mother placed under house arrest.

Robb then laid a different kind of hammer down with Talisa. Some people didn’t like how quickly it moved toward a love scene, and I think that if we were given more episodes than 10 per season we might have seen a slower path taken to the actual coupling… though Robb in the books certainly didn’t take much time to court Jeyne Westerling, so… I guess “quickness” is appropriate.

And I think it is believable that Robb would fall into her arms, Frey vows or no. The one person he trusted—his mother—just thoroughly betrayed him. He feels like he has nowhere to turn. His final look was just, “Eff this circling, I’m going for it,” and Madden sold it.

Oona Chaplin too. Talisa is easily my favorite change/addition to the series, and Chaplin acts with her eyes, body, voice. She may actually be one of the best actresses in a series filled with excellent actresses. And her performance brings me to my…

BOOK SPOILER OF THE DAY: I think Talisa is still Jeyne Westerling. I think the story Talisa told about her brother almost drowning in the Rhoyne is at least partial fabrication. The show would have no other reason to bring up the whole “I always thought I was a good liar” thing back in episode 4 without there being some other payoff—some other lie she will try to tell. And if she’s not a Westerling why even mention the Crag in the first place? People mourning the supposed exit of Jeyne Westerling need to have some patience, I think, and let the show tell its tale. END BOOK SPOILER!

They’re really dipping into the A Storm of Swords well with the addition of that exquisite little scene between Brienne (Gwendolyn Christie) and Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). This has fanboi Axey chomping at the bit to get to next season just to see more of this epic pairing.

At Harrenhal, Arya (Maisie Williams) finally laid down the last name for Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha)—and the name was Jaqen H’ghar! I loved how incredulously pissed he looked. Chick was obstinate. Even after dude said “Please.”

“A girl lacks honor.”

A girl shrugs.

Which brings me to the lack of Weasel Soup, infamously awesome in the book and distinctly missing from here. Why even bring Rorge and Biter back for an appearance if this scene never happens? Arya, Gendry, and Hot Pie just got to waltz out untouched and unbloodied, which makes the Rorge/Biter thing make no sense. It actually feels like they were setting the scene up… but it fell through at the last minute in some way. I’m not criticizing the story itself, because from a non-book-reader’s viewpoint there’s nothing at all wrong with the escape. So it’s not huge. I just wished I could have seen it.

We got some really good Tyrion (deserved Emmy winner Peter Dinklage) scenes, as well as Varys (the sublime Conleth Hill). Tyrion always works best when he has someone to quip back and forth with, such as Bronn (Jerome Flynn):

“Me and the lads rounded up all the known thieves.”

“For questioning?”

“Ahh… no. It’s just the unknown thieves we need to worry about now.”

Later, Queen Cersei (Lena Headey) turns rather vicious on Tyrion, and we see the price that must be paid when one becomes a professional sexposition tool like Ros (Esmé Bianco). Cersei seems to take particular glee in torturing her little brother.

“That little worm between your legs does all your thinking.”

“It’s not that little.” Pause. “Why are you smiling?”

“Because I’m happy.”

“…Why are you happy?”

Tyrion delivered his iconic “your joys will turn to ashes in your mouth” speech with menace, and then turned to jelly in Shae’s (Sibel Kekilli) arms immediately after. Was it just me or did he seem a little more fervent than Shae?

I’m sure that won’t turn out badly.

We also caught up with Davos (Liam Cunningham) and Stannis (Stephen Dillane); such small amounts of screen time, yet both these actors make the absolute most of it. This bromance has chemistry!

“First we ate the horses. We weren’t riding anywhere, not with a castle surrounded. We couldn’t feed them, so, fine, the horses. Then the cats. Never liked cats, so, fine. I do like dogs. Good animals, loyal, but we ate them, then the rats.”

I love Stannis. And Stannis telling Davos he’d make him Hand was strangely reminiscent of when King Robert told Ned that very same thing. I liked the echo, as Davos is probably the most honorable and straight character left. Besides Brienne.

We got a brief scene between Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and Ser Jorah (Iain Glen); Clarke was less stompy this episode, which I appreciated, and Glen was intense in his fervent words to her:

“Until my last breath i will remember. Until after I have forgotten my mother’s face.”

Dany then cupped Jorah’s cheek, thoroughly helping to confuse the poor man hoping for a less platonic relation with the khaleesi.

And finally, we got the reveal most book-readers (and more than a few non-book-readers) already assumed was coming: the Stark boys alive and (relatively) well, hiding down in the Winterfell crypts.

And that last shot, as Maester Luwin (Donald Sumpter) was speaking quietly to Osha (Natalia Tena), and the camera pans so we can see the face of Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright)…

Who needs cliffhangers when you have that?

Truly good.

I can’t wait for next week! In case you couldn’t tell.

If you want a healthy, hot bowl of Weasel Soup, follow me on Twitter! That’s @Axechucker, ya coonts!

  • Anonymous

    Terrible episode. The first that really just failed, all around, for me; and a particular disappointment after last week’s that was so good. Like you I didn’t much care for episode 4 either, but it at least had some big, interesting moments and tightly scripted scenes.

    I am bothered by the loss of Weasel Soup, but even allowing for that (I’m guessing it was a last-minute budgetary decision, like Robert’s hunt in S1), this episode missed the mark on the show’s own terms. The single best deviation from the books D&D came up with this year was the Tywin-Arya relationship, and this brought it to an utterly unsatisfying conclusion. It turns out that Tywin really was too dumb to realize just who his cupbearer was, despite all the many hints he received. It would have cost nothing for them to have him ID her to Clegane in that early scene, have her thrown in a prison, and add some actual tension to the escape plot.

    Similarly, the decision to have Jon waste time chasing after Ygritte rather than following the course of the story as laid out in ACOK is looking really unfortunate now. There was nothing about those scenes that would have been especially expensive or difficult to shoot, but the emotional payoff for the ending would have been comparatively huge.

    A lot of wasted opportunity, in short. Blackwater looks like it will be amazing, but I think the ultimate quality of the season will really rest heavily upon episode 10, and that remains a total mystery. I can forgive a lot if they can pull off HotU and the Jon-Qhorin scenes well. But if not… I’ll be pretty disappointed with what looked for a long time to be an amazing second season.

    • Axechucker

      I still think “The Prince of Winterfell” is but a piece of the puzzle, and when viewed within the scope of the season as a whole will be viewed better by some. The hardest thing to do is to remove the “book reader” expectations and just judge it as a show, I know—trust me—but in the end it’s what we have to do if we’re being fair to it as a show.

      As an adaptation? It’s still the best I’ve seen. I’m willing to forgive a lot of lost Weasel Soup if they aren’t backing down from Arya’s journey. But I will judge them harshly if she is whitewashed in some way. 

  • Kalasin

    I’m hating how they’re handling Jon Snow.  He’s coming off as completely inept and a liability.  The relationship he had with Qhorin in the books, and how Qhorin developed trust in him, is completely missing, and the character himself is just pathetic.  Not to mention how they shorthanded the spy idea.  I liked the Talisa stuff just fine, but I thought the speech with her brother took up way too much temporal real estate in a show with time issues.  It’s really not all that important compared to Jon’s journey.  Her scene with Robb could have been much shorter, and then Qhorin could have at least had a decent conversation with Jon.

    I would be surprised if Talisa winds up being Jeyne – I thought there was a good chance before, but now that Robb has fallen for her, wouldn’t that make him REALLY pissed off to find out?  Would the stuff that’s coming up really happen if she completely undermined him and he hated her?

    • Axechucker

      I think, for Jon, he has to fall before he can rise, so to speak. He’s going to be at a much lower point (and how perfectly emo is that?) at the end of the season, I think, than he was in the books, which may make his journey that much more remarkable.

      And yeah, Robb should be pissed if Talisa reveals herself to be Jeyne, unless she does it in a tearful and utterly desperate way. We’ll see what happens!

  • Brynn

    I too think that they could have done better with Jon and Qhorin, to give a bigger emotional payoff with what happens later between them. I personally think they focused a little too much and too early for Jon Ygritte.

    I do love that Jaime and Brienne started their journey already this season. And they are really doing a good job with Robb.  His anger towards his mother was palpable and his attraction towards Talisa understandable. Although I thought it rather bold on her part to just barge into the tent of the “King in the North” while he’s having a meeting with one of his generals just to ask.. “how are you?”  I found it a little fabricated.

    • Axechucker

      I think Talisa came in wanting to sex up the King in the North!

  • I’m glad someone else liked the Stannis scene — “Never liked cats, so, fine.”  Stephen Dillane’s Stannis has really grown on me, and I wish we’d seen more of him this season. 

    • Axechucker

      Really, for such limited time onscreen, he’s just brilliant.  I’m hoping next season they actually give him something to do other than brood. I can’t imagine him just grumbling and grousing for as long as he did in ASoS.  That’s a necessary change they have to make, I think.

  • Bookreader

    I missed the scene from the book where Arya kills a Guard with the good old look at my coin trick 

    • Axechucker

      I still think it will happen.  Just not at Harrenhal.  At least I’m holding out hope.

      Arya needs to not be whitewashed. They can’t shy away from this.

  • Andrew

    I really love all the Stannis and Davos scenes, even better than I liked the book versions. The whole episode had a lot of really great character to character moments, but my favourite has to be Tyrion and Varys. “Imagine Stannis’s terror.” “I am trying…”

    I also really like the change to Catelyn. Her book version was just lost to grief and made a hasty decision. Show Catelyn actually did an arguably good thing to keep Jamie alive. Certainly not the BEST thing, but at least she thought it through.

    • Axechucker

      A shame Conleth Hill will probably never be nominated for an Emmy for this show. He IS Varys.

      And yes, Catelyn’s decision to free Jaime was a bad decision… but thoroughly believable. I sort of knew she would. Though I thought the news of Bran and Rickon’s deaths would reach her first.

  • Cabbo

    I missed the weasel soup, but more than that her first assassination of the guard on the way out. She killed the kid in KL by instinct, without really considering it. But for the guard she kills on the way out, she knows what she’s doing and has no problem with it. Maybe they’ll still have that, as they still need to give her the coin.

    Emelia (sp?) was pretty soap-opera-y in this episode. It wasn’t good. I just hope the HotU will be better.

    The Brienne/Jamie thing was good. Didn’t get far into it, just showed that their relationship in season 3 will be class.

    I think missandei stabbing Jorah was over-played, and a terrible change from the books. I thought bran was supposed to get the bat-wings?

    • Axechucker

      I thought Emilia was much more restrained this episode. She shines when she gets to be more soulful and quiet. But yes, I have high expectations for the House of the Undying—a phrase I now cannot even utter without Pyat Pree’s voice in my head. Creepy fucker!

      I am completely not understanding the Missandei reference. She has not appeared yet, and no one stabbed Jorah. 

      Drugs, man. Drugs.

      • Erik the Viking

        Whew! No missing Missandei scene!
        I was flipping out about the possibility that I dozed off.

        Cruel trick, dude. Cruel trick.

  • Erik the Viking

    I guess I’m an outlier on the episode hate-o-meter this week.

    I actually appreciated the extra love they gave to Robb/Talisa with the extended screen time. This is a dark, dark series, and it’s nice to step back and take a breather everyone in a while from the downer death/betrayal/vengeance/burntchildren themes. Considering that the finale is imminent (and likely thrilling and emotionally brutal), consider it a deep breath before the plunge.

    I also have to be the voice of dissent re: Jon.
    I like the added vulnerability and naiveté that show Jon displays. Being a Man of the Night’s Watch doesn’t mean you’re a ‘man’. It also gives more weight to “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” 
    I actually thought Quorin accepting Jon for the recon mission was a bit of a stretch. “We’re going to sneak up on a team of wildlings, in the land they know like their own breeches, and being detected is not… an… option. You have no experience whatsoever as a Ranger, and haven’t seen combat outside of your sheltered training yard… Oh, you killed a zombie?… Good enough for me. C’mon.” 
    Jon also needs to display some doubt/uncertainty about the infallibility of the Night’s Watch, if he’s to make a convincing Wildling convert. I think the time spent on the Jon/Ygritte scenes makes this much less heavy handed.

    And even when a particular ep doesn’t hit every single opportunity for greatness, it’s still damn good.
    Worst episode ever; fine. But that’s like saying “worst orgasm ever.”

    Anyway…
    Best.
    Show.
    Ever.

    • Axechucker

      I agree, E! I enjoyed the giddy joy on Robb and Talisa’s faces. That almost never happens in a GRRM world.

      And yeah, having Qhorin take Jon was a bit of a stretch. I’m not sure why he had to take anyone at all. 

      This is, again, one of those things that had to be shortened because of the 10-episode length. They’ll have plenty of awesome goodness to work with in the coming years as they have (essentially though not literally) granted A Storm of Swords 20 episodes.

      Best. Orgasm. Ever.

      • Erik the Viking

        Is that 20 eps over one season or two? It would seem prudent to rein in the pace of production so they don’t overtake Martin’s glacial pen.

        Also doing a MAJOR groove with the soundtrack.
        I just d’led the score from season 1 and it’s in heavy rotation. I’ve heard that the this season’s score is being released at the end of this month, and I’m PSYCHED!

        Djawadi is hereby the official composer of Erik the Viking. Between his GoT maesterworks and the jewel that was the Iron Man soundtrack, he’s got all my life moments covered.

        • Axechucker

          The 20 eps is over 2 seasons; more than likely the RW will take place near the front end of season 4—unless I’m completely off and they want to shred everyone’s soul with an end-of-season-3 spray of blood.