“What is Dead May Never Die” is the first episode I’ve reviewed thus it’s the only one I’ve watched more than once, and as I suspected, a lot of it went over my head. I feel I should also mention that, unlike our other reviewers, I haven’t read the books, so this week you’re getting the more casual viewer’s take on the episode.
As with many HBO series, the first 3-4 episodes of any season seem to primarily be spent setting up the characters and events that make the second half of the season really pop. This can often make these episodes a little trying to get through, but there is still enough blood, flesh, and intrigue to entertain the patient and thrill-seeking viewers alike. Thrones, more so than 99% of the other series out there, demands that you give it your full attention in order to understand the story’s developments. It’s the second season and I’m still sometimes confused as to how all of the characters relate (on top of the sheer plethora of characters, incest, geography, and deception also help to muddle matters at times), fortunately there are family trees, maps and similar aids available online to help along the slow pokes like myself.
Now back to the episode at hand. As per usual I felt most of the highlights belonged to Tyrion. Not only is his character the most interesting, but Dinklage plays him with such a perfect mixture of poise, humour, and humility that it’s becoming clear that his character is best suited for the throne he’ll likely never reach (pun intended). The fact that he doesn’t seem to desire it makes him all the more suitable. Here we get perhaps the best example so far of Tyrion’s brilliance when he hatches a plan to discover who is spying for the Queen. He suspects Grand Maester Pycelle, Varys, and Littlefinger. In a very clever sequence, he holds private meetings with each and reveals plans to marry off Princess Myrcella, but names a different suitor to each suspect, all of which he knows Cersei will find objectionable. When Cersei confronts Tyrion about his plans to send Myrcella to House Martell, which is what he told Pycelle, the Grand Maester is ousted and subsequently de-bearded by Tyrion in a humiliating confrontation. This ruse is a perfect example of why you must always pay close attention to every interaction in order to prevent confusion, as I certainly didn’t fully grasp it the first time around.
Theon’s role in all of this is starting to become a little clearer as we learn more about the family he returned to in the previous episode. We quickly learn that Theon’s father, Balon Greyjoy, is not particularly fond of any of the Starks nor the son he sent to live with them, and is more keen on having his weirdo daughter lead an army to the North to invade Winterfell while Robb Stark is occupied with fighting in the South. Despite a shitty homecoming and a letter Theon writes to Robb warning him of Balon’s plans, it appears as though Theon decides to betray the Starks in favour of his family when he burns the letter and pledges allegiance to the ‘Drowned God of the Ironborn’ in a ceremony resembling a baptism. Seeing Theon torn between two families like this, between blood and love, adds a lot to his character and it will be interesting to see if the ceremony births a new man, or if it was merely empty words to appease his father.
This episode also introduces Brienne of Tarth, a female warrior played by the 6 foot 3 Gwendoline Christie. Before it is revealed that she is a woman, we see her as a masked knight defeating Ser Loras and subsequently earning herself a place in Renly’s guard (much to Loras’ chagrin). I don’t know if I should blame the show’s director for lingering on the helmet too long before she removes it, or Lord of the Rings for making it a bit of a cliché, but it became painfully obvious to me before the reveal that the fighter was going to be a female, despite her deceiving size. I’m looking forward to seeing what else Brienne capable of and hope she can help Renly deliver his promise of Joffrey’s head.
And while we gained a warrior with Brienne of Tarth, the end of the episode saw the demise of another: Yoren. His death can be seen as somewhat foreshadowed by a monologue he delivers in the preceding scene. Here he tells Arya of the events that led him to the wall. In order to avenge his brother’s death he put an axe so deep into the murderer’s skull “they had to bury him with it.” This is easily one of my favourite lines from the show so far and very well delivered as Yoren relays the gruesome image to the child with both pride and repentance. While nothing in his story directly foreshadows his imminent doom, it is simply the attention given to this tertiary character at this point combined with the uncharacteristic bearing of his soul that make us feel his life is nearing its end. It is then that Joffrey’s guard arrives in search of Gendry, when Yoren refuses to comply his death is a valiant one.
Speaking of the King you love to hate, he was noticeably absent from this episode, as was Daenerys with her winged companions, nor is much screen time is given to Jon Snow and the developments occurring on the wall. This kind of neglect is inevitable when juggling so many storylines, but I can say with confidence that those who missed those characters this week will not be disappointed next week.