‘The Ghost of Harrenhal’ is a very plot-intensive episode, throwing in a ton of plot advancement following a major – and shocking for newbies – development in the war of Westeros. It all plays well on a number of different themes, but unfortunately, the big event that kicks off the episode ends up feeling less like a shocking twist, and more of a device to topple a number of important dominoes in the storyline. Still a very strong episode with a great central theme, and particularly great for the different female characters of Westeros.
(by the way, if you haven’t seen the episode, stop reading now.)
I take issue with the editing of the end of the last episode and the beginning of this one. I think Renly’s death would’ve felt a lot more important if episode five ended not with the birth of Smokey, but with Smokey appearing out of nowhere while Renly pretty much solved every problem of the war (save for those damn Greyjoys), the shock factor of the moment is quickly muted by the push it gives to the many plot threads around the world. Sure, it’s more unconventional to kill him in the beginning of the episode, and it does give Renly a much-appreciated unheroic, not-in-Hollywood-slo-mo death: he’s simply stabbed, and in the next instant, is dead on the floor.
This act, of course, reveals to Davos what a shit storm Stannis is currently putting his dick in, and tries to persuade Stannis to stop seeing the light of the Red Woman and see the regular light he sees. Stannis, being the dull, immovable object he is, can’t see past his short sightedness, distracted by the allure of the iron throne. But it does bring about the big question of the episode for every character: what do you really want?
It’s something specifically asked of people like Daenerys (who finally gets some screen time in the weird world of Harth), but for many other characters, what they want it implied. Robb wants the north, Catelyn wants her family, and Brienne and Arya ultimately want revenge. There’s also the faction of people who’d like their buns on the throne, Margery Tyrell, Stannis, Melisandre, Baelon… but at some point in this episode for nearly every character, the real question of their true desires are brought into light.
And speaking of light, fire also continues to be a big role this season. Not only in Melisandre’s smoke-spewing crotch, but in the baby dragon’s mouths, and hiding in bottles underneath King’s Landing. Harnessing the power of fire is seen to be important in this world, but just like wearing a crown or having a huge army, simply having the tools to attain power doesn’t mean a damn thing when its time to actually use it – or fight to hold onto it. Like we saw with Renly, whose much-feared massive army didn’t mean a damn thing when it came down to the end of his life. Arya says it best: “Anyone can be killed.”
The death of Renly also served another purpose in the episode: the event was the catalyst for armies to start gathering to head off to war (if we didn’t already know that there is a huge battle in store later this season, the feeling being cultivated every episode certainly conveys it) somewhere in the south. There is the problem of protecting Winterfell, as we see with Rodrik and Bran, and battles to be fought beyond the wall as well, something the show reminds us in a couple quick, ominous scenes in the cold North.
It’s a lot to shove into one episode, and the episode does juggle it well, though it leaves every scene feeling a bit cut off, cluttering up the big picture in favor of checking in with a ton of major characters. I wish Renly’s death would’ve been given a tiny bit more weight – although I’m all for quick, undramatic deaths, but the death of Renly felt less of a powerful moment and more of a device. Still enjoyed the shit out of it, though: the tension continues to mount, and it looks like its heading toward an explosive conclusion.
- that scene with Brienne pledging fealty to Catelyn was well-done. It reminded us how awesome Catelyn can be, and also gave a bit of a softer side to Brienne, who we saw in full brutality taking out members of Renly’s guard.
- Arya continues her MVP run this season. Maisie Williams is really killing her nuanced portrayal of the tomboy Stark girl, and her scene at the end with Gendry was pure fucking joy to watch.
- I’m having difficulty grasping why Stannis sending Davos to Blackwater. If he’s an honest man, keep him around to be honest. I guess that would answer my own question: maybe Stannis is sending away all reminders of sanity so he can dive into this well of grumpiness and idiocy? Will lead to a quick death though – even master negotiators and leaders like Renly don’t hold up much to some good ol’ magic.
- the short stick this week: Robb and his direwolf, poor Sansa, and a mere glimpse of Theon being welcomed as less than a leader of his ship.
- the magic is really coming out in season 2, and this episode was filled with it. Plus, it was probably the first episode of Game of Thrones without buttcheeks or nipples (save for Gendry’s).
- Arya’s assassin buddy is going to make for some fun times at Harrenhal.
what did you think of ‘The Ghost of Harrenhal’? Feel free to leave your thoughts/comments below!