“Second Sons” is an unusually focused episode of Game Of Thrones, spending almost all of its time focusing on the stories of Dany, Stannis, and Tyrion at the expense of other plotlines that are working like gangbusters (Jaime and Brienne), barely puttering along (Theon or Bran), or falling somewhere in the in-between (Robb or Jon Snow). While I’m as ever more interested in what’s going on in Westeros than Dany continuing to walk over dickheads in the east, and I doubt I’ll remember this as a particular favorite episode at any point in the future, this was still the shortest hour of my week. And if it were to win an Emmy for Peter Dinklage, why that would be just fine by me.
Other than the primary three stories, we only have bookends featuring Arya failing to kill the Hound and Sam succeeding in killing a White Walker. It seems a bit unlike Arya to lose her nerve when offered a free shot at her captor, but I suppose we have to remember sometimes that she is still a 10 year-old girl, even if she is the most badass ten year-old girl that could conceivably be. What’s more surprising is that Sam does not lose his nerve when his sweetheart and her little brotherson are threatened by a Walker.
At least I think it’s a Walker, technically. It’s definitely not one of the seemingly mindless zombies that Jon killed in season 1, or attacked Sam in the premier. No, this guy is familiar-looking, as a sort of supervisory figure that probably spent his last few moments in Westeros wishing he’d taken a moment to actually kill Sam in the closing seconds of season 2 instead of focusing on creating an appropriately epic cinematic tableau. Finding out that Walkers are allergic to obsidian does take the wind out of their sails a bit in terms of monstrousness, but I suppose it’s nice for Sam to get a hero moment after three years. Not that I expect him to be in competition for anyone’s favorite character all of a sudden.
Meanwhile, over in Yunkai, Dany does jack shit and gets another new army for it.
Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but not much of one really. She meets a new guy (who is, improbably, as pretty as she is), he puts hoes emphatically before bros by decapitating his mates on the off chance it will impress her, it does and they’re in the express lane to the bonezone. I’m about as non-plussed by this development as Jorah is sure to be; some folks on the message boards have been commenting that Dany seems to be “playing the game on Easy Mode,” which hits it pretty square, in my opinion. Everything’s been coming up Khaleesi all year, and the adversaries she’s faced are so cartoonishly douchey (and this on a show packed with Littlefingers and Greyjoys) that they never seem like real people or real threats. She needs to experience some setbacks soon if I’m to continue sympathizing with her; I’ve never necessarily wanted her to take the Iron Throne, but it’s getting to the point where I kind of want her to fail to take Yunkai just so she has to try her hardest next year.
Stannis is another character that is more interesting when he’s on the ropes. When he’s winning, his righteous air is insufferable, but watching him try to maintain it in defeat is much more appealing to me. My favorite Stannis bit so far is the tiny moment of hesitation before telling his daughter that no, he didn’t win the battle, though the conversation when he came to free Davos was a close second. Having him sidelined for so long kept the Stannis material from really popping the majority of the year, but there’s a lot that interesting about it in general, and I’m not just talking about pagan bloodletting ceremonies and Carice Van Houten’s utter dearth of modesty.
What’s interesting to me about Stannis is that on one hand, he is the prophesied savior of a fantasy kingdom, which is basically the oldest archetype in the oldest book there is. But he’s not the protagonist of this story, and convention dictates that such role is reserved for teenagers, so between watching a middle-aged man wrestle with that weight and the sinister portrayal of Melisandre as his Merlin/Obi-wan figure, it puts enough of a spin on the trope to keep it from feeling too hoary.
The real festivities (dick-leech parties aside) are taking place in King’s Landing, though, as Tyrion and Sansa tie the knot with all the Lannisters and Tyrells looking on with varying degrees of disgust, bitterness and sadistic glee. I would never describe Game Of Thrones as an especially funny show, but between Joffrey’s exquisitely shitty move during the ceremony, Olenna’s attempts to parse the web of familial connections the pending nuptials will create, to Tyrion deifying himself as the patron of tits and wine, and Cersei’s utter dismissal of Loras’s attempt to reach out, this extended sequence pulled as many laughs out of me as any previous episode in its entirety. That it also managed to pivot in and out of legitimate tension whenever Joffrey re-entered the scene is a mean feat of tonal balancing, one that director Michelle MacLaren obviously honed on Breaking Bad, a show that manages to be consistently hilarious despite a generally grim tone and not having much in the way of characters that are intentionally funny. Hopefully Thrones will bring her back regularly, as the occasional lighter touch is always welcome (not for nothing is Tyrion the breakout character of an overcrowded show).
Tyrion’s outburst is definitely the highlight of the season for him, and seems likely to accelerate whatever plans his nephew has to have him killed. But it’s Tywin’s reaction, both to the threat to the royal prick and failure to knock up Sansa, that I’m more immediately interested to see. We only have two episodes left in the season, and the penultimate episode is generally where the climax (prior seasons gave us “Baelor” and “Blackwater” respectively) falls, with the finale being more of a transitional piece. However, with this season only covering half a book for the first time, it’s possible that this one won’t have quite the same fireworks on deck. The big events on deck seem to be more weddings, both at Kings Landing and the Twins, but hopefully Dany will finish up in Yunkai and Bran and Jon will make it to Castle Black as well. The sad part is that it will take us two weeks to see what’s next, since HBO has decided not to air a new episode over Memorial Day.
Two weeks? Oh, c’mon!