It’s Tuesday! That means we’re here with yet another installment of The Wars to Come, our Game of Thrones rewatch seeking find where showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D) let things slip out of gear. Last week, we sat through a rather boring episode. This week Bryan Cogman returns as the writer for “What is Dead May Never Die,” with Kylie, Julia, Danzie, and Jana here to break it down.
We pick up right where we left off at Craster’s Keep, where Craster himself had just knocked Jon unconscious. The episode opens with Craster ordering the Night’s Watch to leave, and Joer Mormont yells at Jon to wait for him outside. Once there he scolds Jon for not following orders, but Jon tells him what he saw: something taking Craster’s baby. It becomes clear that the Lord Commander already knew about this, but the Night’s Watch can’t afford to be choosey in its allies. As they all prepare to leave, Sam says a goodbye to Gilly, and gives her a thimble from his mother that he wants her to hold for safekeeping.
Slightly further south, Bran tries to explain to Maester Luwin about his wolf dreams, where he imagines himself inside the eyes of Summer. Luwin tells him there’s nothing to make of it and that any tales about people with abilities to warg are just that—tales.
Much further south, Catelyn has arrived at King Renly’s camp, where he is holding a tourney. Brienne of Tarth bests Loras Tyrell, winning herself a place on his kingsguard, before Renly addresses Cat. She makes sure to insist on Robb’s kingship, and when it’s challenged why he didn’t come himself, she explains that her son is fighting a war while they’re playing at one. Renly shows her his 10,000 troops, though she seems skeptical that this “summer army” will do well once winter comes.
Renly has his own issue to deal with. Though he’s been enjoying his nights with Loras, there are apparently people whispering about them. Even more, Renly has married Margaery Tyrell, Loras’s sister, yet their marriage remains unconsummated. He tries to get that bit over with, though Margaery makes it clear that she understands his sexuality and relationship with Loras. She promises him that however they need to make arrangements to allow him to impregnate her, she will do it.
Over on the Iron Islands, Theon yells at Yara for her deception once they’re alone together, though she is not sorry in the slightest. Balon then arrives and tells Theon of his plans: attack the North while Robb is distracted and marching against the Lannisters. Theon tries to argue against this idea, but Balon won’t hear it. Yara tells him to make his choice whether to come with them or not, but they’re going either way. Theon writes a letter to warn Robb, but burns it, deciding instead to commit to his place with his family. He has a priest bless him with salt water.
Speaking of Lannisters, Sansa is still stuck surrounded by them in King’s Landing. She is forced to have a brunch with Cersei, Myrcella, and Tommen, where she is casually told that if Robb dies, she’ll still be expected to marry Joffrey. Shae is also unhappy with her situation, since Tyrion wants to get her a job in the kitchens washing pots. In a good solution for both women, Shae is made Sansa’s handmaiden. It’s clear to Sansa that Shae has never worked in this role before and doesn’t know what she’s doing, though the two seem to have a bit of a bond nonetheless.
Tyrion, meanwhile, is working on his political planning. He wants to figure out who is loyal to Cersei, so he tells Pycelle, Varys, and Littlefinger three different plans about where he might send Myrcella to keep her safe in the event of an attack on King’s Landing. Pycelle ends up being the one who tells of the plan to send Myrcella to Dorne, so Tyrion has him thrown in a dungeon. Varys congratulates him, though Littlefinger is mad that the plan Tyrion had told him wasn’t the one that was going to happen. Still, Tyrion has something else for Lord Baelish, which involves going and seeing Catelyn again.
Finally, on the way to The Wall, Arya has trouble sleeping. Yoren tells her that he also witnessed the murder of a family member before, and the way he was able to sleep was by reciting his brother’s killer’s name over and over as a mantra before bed. This story is cut short when their group is attacked by more Lannister soldiers, who kill both Lommy and Yoren. In the heat of the battle, Arya frees three criminals from a cage that had caught fire. The Lannister soldiers ask again for Gendry, but Arya quickly lies on the spot, saying Lommy was Gendry, since his famous helm was lying near him. It spares their lives, though we learn the Lannisters plan to march them to Harrenhal.
Initial, quick reaction
Kylie: Thinking back over everything that happened, there were a few clunkers, yet nothing particularly worse than the past couple of weeks. And somehow I turned it off with the feelings, “Wow, it’s starting to slip a lot more.” Is it because the lolz gay scene was that bad? Is it Lady Zuriff? Is it the pacing and that things are starting to feel tensionless? I honestly don’t know. I’m worrying this is a case where I’m sour on it because of adaptational choices (Tyrion the Infallible versus the books) more than a complaint about the actual quality.
Julia: Yeah, the season so far in general feels very…beige. Even the things I like, the Ironborn stuff, for instance, I don’t like that much. There was very little rise and/or fall of emotion. Even Shae only got me a little annoyed.
Jana: This episode felt a lot like a shopping list to me. A checklist, maybe? As in there were bits and pieces here and there with little to no interconnection outside of the fact that we kinda know 90% of the plot points are part of the same greater war, more or less. Most segments were perfectly alright on their own, but, like, they very much feel like several smaller episodes sewn together into a big one. That’s technically what every other episode is kind of like, too, but this is the first time I really felt it. So much so that it’s the one thing that sticks out to me. Might be a me problem, though.
Danzie: A little sleepy, but mostly benign. It’s funny, there is a kind of nostalgia in watching season two for me. It’s not that I fondly remember the episodes per se (although ACoK is my favorite book in the series, so maybe that helps), but I do fondly remember the positive feelings I had watching it back in 2012. It’s a weird kind of nostalgia.
Also, I have a feeling I’m going to be in the minority of liking the Catelyn scene at Renly’s camp. Sue me. I’m easily won over by Michelle Fairley and the Baratheon motifs everywhere.
Julia: Theon’s plotline in Pyke remains by far the best part of the season. And by best I mean the only part that seems to mean something thus far. There’s family drama, and I love it. My favorite moment was after Theon’s baptism when he looks over at Balon and is all, “Do you love me yet, Daddy?”
Also honorable mention for the conversation with Bran and Lewin where they talk about magic. I forgot how much I love this character and how his love for Bran shone through. Weird, but I’m glad he died when he did and not like poor Osha.
On the other end I think I’ll go with the entire sequence of Tyrion’s Cunning Plan™ to root out a spy by trading Myrcella like a baseball card, topped off with a conversation with Varys where he praises Tyrion as being the best schemer ever in a way that we have no choice but to take it at face value. I don’t know, Saint Tyrion is bugging me more than ever. Especially since he apparently didn’t let his girlfriend leave their room for god knows how long.
Jana: That scene was so much better when we didn’t know that Show!Varys is being perfectly genuine here. Nevertheless, my lowlight has to be our arrival at Sexual Liberation Capital aka The Reach. Yes, Margaery, explain to the gay how and why to make babies with you. Invite your brother along; fun for the whole family.
Also, “And Margaery’s a virgin?” Dude. Dude. What are you, a subreddit?
I’m gonna go and be boring and list the dinner scene and subsequent scene with Shae and Sansa as my highlight. Is this the first tense Cogman dinner? The children are adorable, Sansa is spot on, and Cersei daring her to say something out of line was weirdly amusing. I also thought Shae’s first day at work would be a lot more on the Sansa being a bitch side, but like. No. Not only was Sansa right in being frustrated with someone presumably being paid to do a job having no idea how to do her job, they also managed to convey pretty well that any and all lashing out she does is due to the horribly fucked up situation she’s in. Or at least that’s what Sophie Turner’s acting told me. My true highlight is probably Sophie Turner’s acting.
Danzie: Not gonna lie, the highlight of the entire season for me is Renly’s crown/armor. It looks gorgeous and fits Book!Renly’s style perfectly. I want a tiny version of it for my dog Renly.
Speaking less superficially, I agree with both Jana and Julia. I sort of wonder if I liked Theon’s scenes because his chapters in aCoK were, in my opinion, GRRM’s best work in the entire series. Is it mostly copy and pasting? Yeah, but it’s damn good copy and pasting. They aren’t “fixing” what isn’t broken from the source material. Alfie Allen sells Theon’s daddy issues so, so well.
I also enjoyed the emotional subtlety of Sansa’s scene with Shae. I’m glad it immediately followed the dinner scene, because I think otherwise it wouldn’t have worked. The projection of the abuse she’s facing was very real… but it’s still ever-empathetic Sansa, so the absolute worst abuse she can sling is milquetoast highborn elitism. I miss Sansa.
Lowlight: I liked the first of the two scenes at Renly’s camp, but you really are left wondering why the Margaery/Renly/Loras stuff even existed. It would make sense if they wanted to expand Renly’s character and show the challenges of being in the closet while trying to run a campaign that is really only afloat on popular appearance… but he dies next episode, so what is the payoff? It’s investing money into a company that you know is going out of business.
Marg and Renly’s marriage consummation was left purposefully ambiguous in the books, but I guess it’s important that we know Margaery isn’t lying to Joffrey when she says the marriage was never verified? Because… that matters?
I dunno, I’m trying to make sense of it, but really I think they just wanted to be the edgy show that wasn’t afraid to go there with gay sex… except they totally were because they had to cap off the fully clothed makeout scene with boobs for fear of alienating their core demographic.
Kylie: I think knowing what’s coming in terms of Loras’s scripting makes it all the worse, too. So much of those scenes banked on the notion that it’s funny for gay people to like, exist in a feudal order, and ha-ha Renly is screwing up his nose in disgust! Because straights are never forced into sexual relationships they find repugnant or off-putting.
And damn, yeah, he is dead next episode. Maybe time would have been better spent fully contextualizing his military position or like, platform, rather than giving him and his boyfriend a fight because the concept of lineage is escaping him.
That was my lowlight too, in case you couldn’t tell.
What’s funny about the Sansa/Shae scene is that while her frustration and panic over her situation (and confusion) read perfectly well for us, it’s also the kind of scene that gives Sansa haters fuel. “She’s just being a bitch again when Shae’s trying to be nice!” Cogman certainly isn’t responsible for fandom dialogue, and there’s a reason he’s known for awkward family dinner scenes. But what really works for us gets twisted so easily, and frankly situated in a show with intense Badass worship, it’s hard to blame people.
The Arya scenes were fine, but not amazing, and the other King’s Landing scenes were Saint Tyrion blessing us with his wisdom, so I think Iron Islands are my highlight by default. But I was having trouble super enjoying this episode, whereas it came more easily in 2×01.
Quality of writing
Danzie: It’s hard to really comment on it. It’s obviously not great, but nothing stands out as offensively bad either. However, you can see D&D starting to settle into their comfort zone of not giving a shit narratively. Scenes are more about plot points and less about tying together a bigger story. Renly can’t produce an heir, but that doesn’t go anywhere. Craster is involved with the white walkers, but nobody ever confronts him about it. Tyrion delivers major PWNage(?) to Pycelle but not much comes of this either, because they never figure out how to integrate Pycelle into the plot in a meaningful way. You can get away with it short term because you think it will eventually make sense, but hindsight is pretty unkind to these plot threads.
Julia: Maybe it’s because this was a Coggers episode but I felt that the writing within any given scene was, like, passable, but the structure of the episode as a whole was just designed to create boredom. Or lack of tension? I guess I think ol’ Bryan did the best with what he was given.
Kylie: That’s the best way of putting it, Julia. I think the beats he was made to cover weren’t the best, but lol-gayness aside, the writing was at least competent. And used a decent amount of book dialogue.
Julia: And his attempt to turn Cat’s inner monologue into dialogue only made me cringe a little bit.
Danzie: It’s funny, Julia. It might be my lady-crush on Michelle Fairley, but I think she sold those lines, and Renly keeping a cool head through it all with everyone around was a very Renly thing to do. It showed off her stanning the north, while he kept up his southern appearances.
Also, Brienne! This is her first episode, and I think her reveal was great!
Jana: Also beyond that, the writing was competent. The episodes issues, besides, you know, Renly’s tent and also Shae, were mostly structural, since basically everything in this episode was a set-up for something, and that was done competently. Let’s just enjoy a time when most setups still have pay-offs.
Our 8th grade book report (on themes)
Kylie: Hey, the episode title worked this week!
Onto themes… Lies? Secrets? This is such a general theme, I know, but I was thinking that it permeated every plotline. Jeor was “lying” or at least not being forthcoming about Craster’s true nature, Renly was lying about his Tyrell relationships, Shae lied about Lady Zuriff, Tyrion lied to everyone, and Ayra lied to the Lannister soldiers that came for them. I guess Bran and Theon kind of stick out here, since Theon just made a choice, and Bran was trying to get Luwin to take his warging seriously. But it’s the best thread I can find.
Julia: Wow, Kylie, full marks. I can tie a very tenuous thread that’s, like, expectation versus reality between Shae, Sansa, Theon, and Bran. Bran thought magic was real but Lewin tells him the story about how his own dreams there were disappointed. Theon thought he would be welcomed back into his family. Imagine how happy 1×01 Sansa would be if you told her that she would be having dinner with the Royal Family. And poor annoying Shae thought Carol’s Landing would be way more glamorous than this. I guess we can throw Jonny in there too, since his expectation of how the Night’s Watch needs to behave north of the Wall was challenged.
Danzie: It’s hard to nail down a theme, because every scene was so… not interconnected in any way? I feel like this section is only going to get harder to write as we continue down the rabbit hole.
Jana: Yeah, what Danzie said. This season will prooobably still do okay on that front, but we’re already having to split segments up between themes, that’s… Foreboding.
Cracks in the plaster (the bullshit to come)
Julia: I think this was the first time Varys spent a conversation telling Tyrion how wonderful he was, so that’s a huge milestone for the show. And Sansa and Shae are now together, so it won’t be long before all of Sansa’s scenes are about Tyrion and Shae’s relationship.
Kylie: I don’t just want to harp on Renly/Loras/Margaery, but Jesus, Margaery is anachronistic for Westeros. This may be the biggest crack in the plaster yet, since it relates to everything: mainly, how they have no fucking idea what they’re doing with women, or what Martin’s doing with the setting. People on the westeros.org forums have been speculating about Marg’s hymen since they were launched, probably (was that post 2005?), so of course let’s run with that ambiguity and make the embodiment of performative maidenhood a scheming sexpot who can remove her dress in 2.5 seconds.
Julia: I honestly thought she was in her underwear until Renly said “Nice dress, hun.” So, yeah, welcome to the show, anachronistic scantily clad Reach ladies.
Jana: Also, like, Cat is just a walking crack. In the plaster, I mean. Still with little to no agency, and even though her lines were also her observations in the books, they came off as a tad too antagonistic for someone as wise as Catelyn. Brienne is still fine so far, at least. That’s nice.
Kylie: Maye there’s a reason her observations were internal…
Julia: Oh dear. The editing in Mission Marry Off Myrcella made all the difference, didn’t it. So was omitting the part where Varys flat out tells Tyrion that he knows exactly what he’s doing, thereby destroying any effective spy catching that might be happening.
This Tyrion is just the best, you guys.
I also like how there was no reaction to the rather major revelation that Pycelle has been a Lannister loyalist, like, forever. “Since the days of the Mad King.” That’s kind of a huge deal, and in aCoK Tyrion’s thoughts made that clear. They could have had his smug smile fall for a second or something.
Jana: Varys just, genuinely stanning Tyrion here with no ambiguity and no sense of playing him at all. Hindsight is a bitch. Also, the riddle? What’s the point of the riddle when who actually is to blame for Ned’s death is just… Never elaborated upon? I mean, there isn’t even Shae in the background going “it’s the rich man!” to hammer home her characterization, so what even?
…And here I just praised them for their setups still having pay-offs. Yay.
Danzie: Varys’ dialogue (as always) was just such overwritten nothingness (designed to be a trailer one-liner they can put on merch), and so was Tyrion’s humble brag of “I don’t like riddles, golly gosh, is the short person casting a large shadow referring to me? You’re too kind Varys.” Varys was declaring his love for Tyrion so hard that you half-expected them to makeout at the end.
Also, the editing for the schemy scene (schene?) looked like it was done by a first year film student. Like, points for creativity, but it ended up looking so gimmicky.
Julia: I’m also a little confused about Sam this week. Now he’s great at talking to girls and pressuring them into taking presents?
Jana: That’s the charitable reading. I felt Sam’s scene with Gilly was extremely uncomfortable in the context of all the times he fantasized about girls so far. Not the intended effect, that’s for sure, but after all that, to me at least he came across as much more of a creep than necessary. Especially considering how Book!Sam is not a creep at all.
Kylie: Gilly did seem super pressured. I wanted to shout at him to leave her alone. Maybe she doesn’t want the thimble!
Julia: Maybe her father/husband/abuser will find it and want to know where she got it? I doubt that would be pleasant for her.
Carol Watch: who is Cersei this week?
Kylie: I mean, Carol definitely loves her children, but this is pretty much Cersei out of the books too. Maybe it’s because this is a situation that really does fucking suck for Carol and Cersei alike, because patriarchal bullshit? Sometimes Cersei is put-upon too.
Jana: It was a Carol-esque plight with a very violent, Cersei-like reaction that you could almost understand. Like, there was nuance to the scene and there were grounds for you to be on her side. That’s what makes it hard to differentiate here, I think, usually the scenes with her are less… Ambiguous?
Julia: And the dinner scene felt like it was compatible with both. It all depends on whether Cersei was thinking about how dumb Sansa is or if Carol was thinking about how much she wanted to hug Tommen.
Danzie: It was Schrodinger’s Cersei. She was both book!Cersei and Carol depending on what mood you’re in.
Exposition Imposition: good or clunky?
Julia: I think it was fine. We even learned that the Martells hate the Lannisters. The world building with Luwin explaining about maesters’ chains felt very natural. So did the Greyjoy’s battle plans. We got to find out what a handmaiden’s job description was.
Danzie: I want Luwin to have his own spinoff where he’s a history teacher who inspires inner city kids to believe in themselves. He can exposit literally anything and I will hang on every word. I love this man.
Jana: It’s Cogger’s episode, so like most of the writing, the exposition was competent. But for real, I feel like people in general didn’t stan Luwin enough back when the show came out. He is so great in every scene he’s in.
The only thing that was maybe a little clunky was the dinner scene, though that still played very well into Cersei trying to provoke Sansa into saying something incriminating, and also, look at these kids. Of course they need some more explaining what’s going on. They’re, what, 7 and 10?
Kylie: Even Renly’s “here’s my war position” exposition wasn’t bad. It fit with the walk-and-talk of the scene.
How was the pacing?
Kylie: I felt bored. I’m assuming this has something to do with the pacing? I feel like they didn’t really linger too long on any one plot, it’s just that the individual scenes were very slow-going. Or maybe I was just bored.
Julia: I don’t remember being bored reading A Clash of Kings but that might be too apples to oranges. It does feel like nothing has happened in this season yet, doesn’t it?
Danzie: It was definitely slow going, but since it showed off some of my favorite stuff from aCoK, it gave me the warm fuzzies of reading the book for the first time. So I wasn’t bored, it just made me want to re-read loads of stuff again. I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing? 😛
Jana: Yeah, everything in this episode was setup, which takes the momentum right out of everything. But that’s largely a structural problem, as mentioned above. Even much better shows have slow episodes of getting the pieces into place. It’s fine. This is fine.
Let’s talk about sex, baby
Jana: Renly’s tent sure was a busy place this week.
Julia: My favorite part is, as you mentioned Jana, the arrival of the Reach as the sexual liberation capital of Westeros with Marg’s décolletage that goes all the way down to her navel in the tourney scene and her “official” virginity.
Jana: And she wore that piece of nothing surrounded by people in heavy cloaks or full armor and in weather conditions that would make this uncomfortable at best. Like with Ros going commando and flashing Theon last season, wearing that cannot be healthy.
Kylie: I liked the part where Marg offered to lie on her stomach so that Renly could pretend she was Loras. I’m just… I’m thinking about Book!Marg now and her big performance during Maiden’s Day.
Danzie: I like how she knows he’s gay but still tries to seduce him by getting naked. Like, Marg, it really doesn’t matter how nice your boobs are, he’s not into it. What is it with this show and playing sexual assault off as a joke when the victim is male?
They genuinely want you to laugh at the dumb-dumb gay who doesn’t want to have sex with the beautiful woman who is throwing herself at him. Even his boyfriend is trying to force this crap on him. Gross.
Jana: And then there was the sex worker they caught Pycelle with. Because of course. Let’s just have a pair of tits in the background for the scene. Well, at least she was paid extra?
Kylie: It was FUNNY when Tyrion gave her an extra coin!
Jana: But… What for? That she didn’t get to enjoy such a spry man as Pycelle? What exactly is the joke here? Am I too dumb and literal to get it?
Kylie: It’s funny when sex workers witness arrests. Like, oh man, that’s awkward. Are you not laughing yet?
In memoriam…Yoren, Lommy
Julia: I didn’t hate them? I don’t even mind Arya’s riverlands adventures being a compressed at bit. That is, until I remember that it’s so they have room for her to bond with Tywin Lannister.
Danzie: Can’t say I’m gutted over Yoren, but he had a likable little role. Him killing the crossbowman was pretty badass, but there’s a reason ranged infantry, y’know, stand at the back? Like, why are you reloading your crossbow five feet away from an oncoming attacker? Stand behind your buddies with swords so they can cover you, you dingus.
If these are the soldiers in the Lannister army then no wonder Robb is kicking their asses.
…and I don’t have much to say about Lommy. I completely forgot he existed until this rewatch.
Jana: To be fair, cutting down on the amount of characters and misadventures in Arya’s first trip through the Riverlands is probably not the worst decision. Not until you remember what they do with all the time they saved that way. Ugh. Yoren went out like a badass, yay; Lommy went out like a bit of a dumbass, but hey, at least his death covered for Gendry. Though you’d think the guys would have been briefed about how all of Robert’s bastards have black hair…
Kylie: I had a hard time feeling much of anything for either of these characters. I think Yoren worked for the role he was in, but it wasn’t this horrible “ohhh nooo” moment like it felt in the books. Also the Lannister troops told us they were coming back, so it felt more like a, “well, what did you expect?” kind of thing. But yeah, Jana, it’s always going to get worse.
That takes us to the end of this week’s rewatch, and we’re definitely curious to hear everyone’s thoughts. Is there a lack in the tension, or are we being too negative because of the changes from portrayals in the books? Was the lolz-gay scene as bad as we’re making it out to be? And where do Lady Zuriffs go? We shall discuss below, and as always, we wish you good fortune in The Wars to Come.