Starting with a fart joke and a direwolf mauling, “Garden of Bones” is an episode full of timely interventions and fateful confrontations, as well as one of the most disturbing cliffhangers you’re ever likely to see on TV. Despite some missteps, HBO’s Game of Thrones continues to be one of the most compelling shows on television with this fourth episode of the second season.
The episode kicks off with a bit of a let down: a battle… sort of. After a brief conversation between a couple of poor sods on guard duty, Robb Stark and his army launch a surprise attack against a Lannister camp. However, all we’re treated to is the surprise part, due to a rather unfortunate (but sadly necessary) fade out just prior to the battle.
The bloody morning after is where the real action happens though, featuring the introductions of two characters who will be integral to future seasons – pale-eyed Stark bannerman Roose Bolton (and his penchant for flaying people alive) and Robb’s love interest, the mysterious Talisa – a woman claiming to be from Volantis who is tending to the wounded in the wake of the battle. Talisa is not what she appears to be though, a common field nurse would not talk down to the King in the North even if she was in league with the Lannisters. There’s clearly more to this character though, since the actress playing Talisa, Oona Chaplin (granddaughter of Charlie), is actually credited as “Jeyne” in the series.
Whether Chaplin’s character turns out to be one Jeyne Westerling – the daughter of a minor house sworn to the Lannisters and Robb’s love interest from the books – remains to be seen, but so far her on-screen story is almost entirely different from that character. Originally Robb met Jeyne after being wounded while trying to capture the Westerling’s castle, and was subsequently nursed back to health by her. All of this happened off-page in the novels (since Robb is never a point-of-view character), so adapting the Stark’s love story for TV is fair game as far as we’re concerned, though it may anger some fans of Martin’s books. If the showrunners follow George R. R. Martin’s tale closely, fleshing out Robb’s story for the show will add much more weight to future events in the series. Martin himself has said that he wished he’d made the Young Wolf a POV character in the novels.
From the battlefields of the North to the court at King’s Landing, and the dickery of young King Joffrey is reaching new heights. In response to Robb’s victory against Lannister forces in the North, Joffrey points a crossbow at Sansa while debating whether or not he should kill her to avenge his men. This is as much about the young regent testing the limits of his power – or lack thereof – as it is about him just being a horrible little tyrant. There may be a method to his madness after all.
Joffrey decides not to kill Sansa, but orders her beaten instead. “Leave her face… I like her pretty,” Joff instructs Ser Meryn Trant. It’s brutal stuff and confirms our suspicions that Joffrey is more than just a little prick, he’s a bona fide sadist – something that is further demonstrated in the subsequent scene. The child body count for this season has already been pretty damn high, but seeing the naive young Sansa stripped and beaten by the vicious Ser Meryn (first Syrio, now this!? Come on!) after all she’s been through is not for the faint of heart. Sansa is hard to sympathize with at times, but you feel her pain as she’s punched and struck with the broadside of a sword over something she has no control over.
Tyrion’s fortunate arrival puts a quick stop to Sansa’s beating, and his timely arrival also gives him an opportunity to demonstrate his new authority as Hand of the King by very publicly dressing Joffrey down in front of the court. The Imp’s rescue of the young Lady Stark also foreshadows the interesting dynamic that develops between the two characters later in the books and will presumably be developed on the show.
There’s also a great little bookend to the scene where Bronn and Tyrion debate what may be causing Joffrey’s rather unfortunate behaviour. The two theorize that “dipping his wick” might cure what ails the piss-ant king. “There’s no cure for being a cunt,” Bronn muses, “but the boy’s at that age.” The pair are probably on the right track, but Tyrion’s name day gift to his nephew doesn’t result in much wick dipping – there is however a lot of whipping and beating. The spanking is all in good fun, the belt is a bit much, but the scepter at boltpoint is just cruel. Ros and her fellow ladies of the night are quickly finding out that life in the employ of Littlefinger can be exceedingly dangerous.
Cut to Renly’s camp and we’re treated to a few brand new scenes featuring a visit from the aforementioned “whore-monger” Petyr Baelish. But what is he doing in the Stormlands? Already known as a broker of information, these short scenes at the camp also help to lay the groundwork for Littlefinger’s future role as a broker of alliances. Always one to play the odds, Littlefinger makes some overtures to Renly regarding the younger Baratheon’s impending invasion of King’s Landing; however, we do not see if he and the King come to any kind of agreement. These new scenes with Littlefinger are entirely creations of the showrunners and were not featured in Martin’s novels at all. Not only do they add depth to Baelish’s numerous behind-the-scenes machinations, but they give viewers a better window into the relationship between Renly and his wife Margaery Tyrell.
Though everyone in the realm seems to know that Renly and Ser Loras are an item behind closed doors (or is it tent flaps?) – even the Lannister foot soldiers in the opening scene of the episode joked about it – Margaery seems to believe that Littlefinger’s perceptions of her relationship with her new husband are irrelevant. “My husband is my king and my king is my husband,” she states matter of factly. Margaery is quickly proving herself to be more than just a pretty rich girl – she’s yet another intriguing player in the game of thrones. Anyone who can shut Littlefinger down so effectively with just her words is a force to be reckoned with.
Across the Narrow Sea, we quickly catch up with Dany and her Khalasar still kicking it in the Red Waste after sitting out the last episode. Some good news at last for the starving band of Dothraki, as one of Dany’s bloodriders returns with a new horse and an offer from the city of Qarth to receive the “mother of dragons.” Ser Jorah continues to fill his role as Dany’s protector as well as official explainer of things for her (and the audience), describing the grim fate that awaits them in the “Garden of Bones” should the Qartheen refuse them entry into their city. The group has little choice but to travel to Qarth, not just for food, water, and shelter, but for something for Dany to do. After impressively closing out the first season, the character has had little to actually do in season two thus far besides wander the desert. Qarth is where the action is for the Targaryen and her followers.
Back in Westeros, as if the lot of the Stark girls wasn’t bad enough in this episode, we catch up with young Arya just in time to witness her arrival at the terrifying and imposing castle of Harrenhal. The massive ruined fortress – the largest in Westeros – is currently being occupied by the forces of Ser Gregor “the Mountain” Clegane, who is using the dragon-blasted castle as a staging point for the Lannister’s campaign of terror in the Riverlands. A place of death and torture, seeing the young girl and her compatriots exposed to such violence is truly heartbreaking. Arya spends her first rainy night at Harrenhal reciting the names of those who were responsible for her father’s death, as the late Yoren of the Night’s Watch taught her to do. “Joffrey, Cersei, Ilyn Payne, the Hound.” Sadly, we know that little Arya’s list is likely to grow before the season is out… hell, it grows in the next scene at Harrenhal when we are introduced to the Tickler and his unorthodox method of torture.
Returning to Renly’s camp and we find ourselves watching another scene created specifically for the show – an extremely unpleasant meeting between Catelyn Stark and Littlefinger. Cat rightly holds Baelish partly responsible for Eddard’s untimely death, having asked him to look out for Ned while he served as Hand to King Robert. However, this doesn’t deter Littlefinger from making a pass at Catelyn, professing his love for her only have it rebuffed at knifepoint by the fiery widow. Talk about awkward. Here the showrunners further expand upon Littlefinger’s character as a schemer and dealmaker, as well as the character’s torrid past with Cat and the Tullys.
Next we move to the long awaited parlay between the surviving brothers Baratheon – Stannis and Renly. Seeing the Baratheon’s face off on screen is a moment that many have been waiting to see, and it doesn’t disappoint. The back and forth between the two is full of contempt and ire, and Stannis’ ultimatum to his younger brother carries some serious weight. Renly may have the “friends” and the numbers behind him, but Stannis has got the Red Priestess and her burning god at his back. Something tells us this is not going to end well, and in this series you should always bet on the guy with the sorceress.
To Qarth now – “the greatest city that ever was or will be” – where Dany and her Khalasar are introduced to the Thirteen, a guild of traders who control the wealthy port city. The Thirteen offer Daenerys entrance to the city in exchange for a look at her dragons, but not wanting to reveal that they are only babies, she refuses. Denied, the Thirteen regrettably inform Dany that she will not be allowed into the city – a death sentence after the distance they travelled to get to Qarth. At her wits end, Daenerys threatens to return and burn the city to the ground when her dragons are born if her Khalasar is not given entry, but the Thirteen merely scoff at her, noting that if they do not allow her into the city she will die. It is only the last minute intervention of one of the Thirteen members, the hilariously named Xaro Xhoan Daxos, that saves Dany and company from starvation in the “Garden of Bones.” Dany learned the ways of warfare thanks to her late husband Khal Drogo, but this scene aptly demonstrates that she has much to learn about the art of diplomacy.
Finally we come to what will no doubt be a much talked about scene – Melisandre’s birthing of the shade. After giving Renly the night to lay down his banners, Stannis intends to make good on his threat, ordering Davos to deliver the red woman to the shore outside of Renly’s camp. Melisandre teases the Onion Knight about his attraction to her, “You want to see what’s beneath this robe.” And boy will he, and then some. Yeesh. (Hilariously the two actors, Liam Cunningham and Carice van Houten, played lovers in the 2011 film Black Butterflies – Davos has already seen what’s under her robe.) For most viewers, those who haven’t read the books in particular, this scene will either put them off the series entirely or hook them irrevocably. If the series follows the books, magic will remain a mysterious thing in the world of Game of Thrones, but the birth of the shade is the most overtly magical occurence to take place in the series thus far. It’s a jarring and stomach-turning scene that ends on a cliffhanger: the real question now is what is that shade going to do?
– Harrenhal and Qarth look wonderful in the title sequence. Great additions!
– While we realize that budgetary restrictions mean that big battles must be kept to a minimum, the fade out and off-screen carnage in the opening scene was yet another lowblow to fans who complained about the lack of battles in season one. We cannot wait for episode nine.
– The showrunners have somehow turned Joffrey into an even more irredeemable asshole than he was in the books. Kudos to Jack Gleeson on a jerk well played.
– Harrenhal looked just as scary as we’d imagined it.
– Our first mention of “the Brotherhood without Banners” by the Tickler as he tortures that poor sap and then Gendry. We can see that flaming sword in our heads already.
– Sure she was present at the parlay in the books, but why would Catelyn Stark be invited to a meeting between two men who oppose her son’s claim as King in the North?
– It wasn’t clear enough that “the Mountain” was “the Mountain.” The role of Ser Gregor Clegane was recast between seasons and putting him in generic Lannister armour did little to remind viewers that he was the brute who decapitated a horse in the first season.
– No Cersei or Jon Snow in this episode. Expect episode five to heavily feature the two of them.
– Good grief… the birthing of the shade was creepy as hell. We at once can’t wait and don’t want to see more of it. Carice van Houten is spot on as Mel in scenes like this.