The clock has struck “Tuesday” and we are back with more of The Wars to Come, our Game of Thrones reread project seeking to better contextualize the ever declining quality of David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D)’s show. You know…in our opinion.
We’re back with another Vanessa Taylor episode, “The Old Gods and the New.” While her debut in the writers’ room had been one of our least favorite episodes of all time, this week Kylie, Julia, Alejandra, and Jana are ready with open minds.
The sea drowns Winterfell, just as Bran had dreamed! In a clever ruse, Theon invaded Winterfell with his men after knowing the Starks would send aid to Torrhen’s Square. Bran surrenders the castle to prevent harm from coming to everyone living there, but not before Maester Luwin manages to send a raven to Robb. Ser Rodrik is captured by the Greyjoys, and when the Master at Arms refuses to give Theon any sort of respect, Theon executes him. Osha later seduces Theon, but slips out of his bed in the middle of the night, where she then goes to Bran and Rickon to help sneak them to safety.
In the Westerlands, Robb seems to have no cares before receiving the letter, flirting with the Lady Talisa of Volantis. They joke about whether or not she is a lady or a spy. Cat returns and very quickly reminds Robb of his promise to marry a Frey girl. When word does arrive of Theon’s treachery, Robb is furious, wanting to march his army back to Winterfell immediately. However, Roose Bolton points out this would mean giving up the gains they’ve made against the Lannisters. Instead, he says his bastard at the Dreadfort can retake it from Theon, to which Robb agrees.
Beyond the Wall, Qhorin and Jon’s party come across a small group of wildlings. They surprise them, but Jon is surprised himself to find one of the wildlings is a girl named Ygritte. Qhorin says that she needs to be executed, and when Jon insists he do it, the rest of the party walks on ahead. He is unable to, ultimately, and Ygritte does her best to get away from him. While he recaptures her, they’re nowhere near where Qhorin’s party left him. Instead, he’s forced to spend the night sleeping near Ygritte for warmth, unsure how to find his brothers again.
Down in Harrenhal, Arya is still doing her best to avoid Tywin’s detection. During a war council, he berates one of his officers for mailing letters to the wrong House. In fetching a book, he realizes Arya is literate. Littlefinger interrupts, however, bringing news with him of the Tyrells lack of commitment to Stannis. Arya is forced to serve him too, but manages to hide her face throughout the whole meeting. She is not so lucky later; she steals a letter of Tywin’s regarding Robb’s war effort, but gets caught red-handed with it by Amory Lorch. As he races to tell Tywin, she races to find Jaqen H’ghar—and give him Lorch as her second name. She begs Jaqen to kill immediately, and in answer, Lorch gets hit with a poisoned dart as soon as he reaches Tywin’s chambers.
In King’s Landing, Sansa has a similarly close scrape. Myrcella is sent to Dorne. On the way back from seeing her off, the party consisting of Joffrey, Cersei, Tyrion, Sansa, Tommen, and the Hound (as well as guards) run into rowdy smallfolk. Joffrey gets cow poop thrown at him and demands everyone’s heads, inciting a riot. The High Septon gets torn apart on the streets. Tyrion makes sure Tommen is immediately taken to safety, but as the rest of the party push through, Sansa goes missing. She is nearly raped, but the Hound saves her in the nick of time. Later, she complains to Shae that everyone hates her even though she hates Joffrey more than anyone, and her handmaid cautions her not to let the wrong people hear such things.
And finally, in Qarth, Dany tries to convince the Spice King to give her ships so she can invade Westeros. She delivers an impassioned speech about how her dreams come true, to no avail. The Spice King doesn’t consider her a safe investment. When she returns to Xaro Xhoan Daxos’s home, she finds all of the Dothraki who hadn’t gone with her murdered (including Irri), and her dragons gone. As she screams “where are my dragons?”, we cut to see one of the warlocks carrying them to the House of the Undying.
Initial, quick reaction
Kylie: Well, I can safely say this was the better of Vanessa Taylor’s two episodes this season. Sure we get the threat of sexual violence, but as far as things go this was not an unpleasant viewing experience. I’ll also call this an uneven episode, because the plots that work are just fine, but the plots that don’t really don’t: namely Qarth and beleaguered Grandpappy Tywin. Charles Dance and Maisie Williams cover a lot of sins in the latter, but the sheer contrivances are taking a lot away for me this time around.
Julia: Well, yeah, Ms. Taylor didn’t manage to produce something actively terrible this time. So hooray for her. I feel like I say this a lot, but there was not much here to make me feel anything. Is eye-rolling an emotion? I did that a few times I guess.
And the “WHERE ARE MY DRAGONS” wasn’t nearly as bad as I remembered.
Alejandra: I wanted to comment on this one because I remember liking it a lot the first time around. And now I don’t… hate it? It was fine. And that’s basically it. I remember back then, being unsullied, I utterly rejoiced at Tyrion slapping Joffrey and at Tywin + Arya. Now, the former hardly made me bat an eye and the latter made me gag. The pacing is alright, the scenes mesh well enough together. It’s fine.
Jana: Fine sums it up pretty well. Like, there are some gratingly stupid things happening in this episode, but as we’ll probably get into later, they seem to be… On purpose? Mostly? And even the things that were dumb but not on purpose were carried so well just because of the acting. There’s a reason people liked Grandpappy Tywin and Arya together. Good god, I am confused about those scenes.
Alejandra: The Letter Incident from season 7 now taints Grandpappy Tywin for me. I can’t even concentrate on the acting anymore. It’s ruined. They ruined it!
Kylie: I almost want to call the Spice King a highlight again. He has that Ian McShane quality of understanding what show he’s in.
However, I’ll give it to Alfie Allen once again. He’s doing a great job bringing Theon to life—his desperation and conflict, and how he’s just in so over his head. The Winterfell scenes felt fraught in a way the other theaters are just…not so much.
You know Qarth is sucking wind for me to pick that as my lowlight over the almost-rape for Sansa, but good god can Emilia Clarke not act. Her plotline so far has been yelling at everyone that she wants the throne (after criticizing Viserys for this attitude last year), and then off-screen, her people get slaughtered so she can react to that. Maybe someone delivering speeches in a way that’s not evocative of high school theater would have been able to sell this, but I honestly feel like this just wasn’t thought out very well. Also all I could think of was this:
Julia: Yeah, that scene where she’s talking to the Spice King was so overwrought that I thought that maybe the fact that she forgets how to move her face next season is not so bad.
Theon was great, as always, but I think I was even more moved by Bran screaming in the background. Who the fuck decided to make this kid a robot in the later seasons? Now that I’m here thinking, there are actors that have stayed at a consistently high quality for the whole series, but I can’t think of anyone whose acting has improved (Shae?) but quite a few who’ve seemed like they’ve gotten worse. Weird.
Despite what I said in the last section, there was one bit that made me angry. That was Shae telling Sansa not to trust anyone. Like, fuck you writers, Sansa understands that. I know because I watched the first season.
Jana: Oh god yes. That scene. Ugh. Four episodes ago, Sansa knew something was fishy about her new incompetent handmaiden, and now she’s out there, happily talking about how much she hates the Lannisters, completely oblivious to her situation? Did the part where she was publicly stripped down and threatened with a crossbow and yet kept face not happen fairly recently?
Uh. Nevermind that. So. Highlights. Positives. I liked the line where Tywin tells Littlefinger he’s an idiot. Of course, both of them are just mind-blowingly stupid in that scene, but that’s one thing I liked there. Does that count as a highlight? The Spice King was also great. I guess that’s it as far as my highlights go.
My lowlights are twofold. For one, the scene with Talisa. I mean, Richard Madden was made to play fairytale-esque princes as love interests. He has the face for this plot line. It’s just that the plot line has no place in this narrative and Talisa has no place in this universe, and just because they make jokes about how obviously she might be a spy doesn’t make it any less stupid that Robb doesn’t at least, you know, try and find things out about her? Find someone who can read her language and confirm she’s not spying? Why is he even talking to her at all? Blergh.
And then there’s Arya nabbing a piece of paper, reading it instead of destroying it, suddenly losing the ability to convincingly bullshit, and almost but not quite blowing her cover in a way so utterly predictable she would have almost deserved to be caught here. That was just. A whole lot of nope.
Alejandra: My highlight will also go to Theon and Alfie Allen. Winterfell brought up so many feelings for me this episode, in part because of Theon and Allen’s superb performance, but also due to my soft squishy spot for Winterfell and all of the nostalgia surrounding its fall.
I would say my lowlight is Qarth but like I said before, Grandpappy Tywin made me cringe for some reason. I hate that this is ruined for me, but it is. I could not derive any enjoyment from it at all. And that’s sad because Charles Dance and Maisie Williams do have fantastic chemistry and it used to be one of my favorite things about season two.
Quality of writing
Julia: Compared to Ms. Taylor’s last outing, this is a masterpiece. Nothing stood out as particularly cringe-worthy, independent from the acting, apart for some of Osha’s stuff. (Prince Theon told her to make the rounds? What.) Like, maybe someone with more skill would have been able to make something out of Dany’s speech. Maybe. Someone very talented.
Kylie: People talked like people for the most part. Osha was clearly lying, but “make the rounds” does have that kind of “making the eight” quality to it, I suppose.
I think the biggest issue with Dany’s speech is that it was a speech. Monologues rarely work well, especially on this show, and as a back-and-forth it would have seemed less ridiculous, I think. I mean, it was intended to be ineffective, I know this, but we were supposed to be sympathizing with her during it, right?
Alejandra: There is good stuff in here and also not so great stuff. And it’s the contrast that gets me. On one hand, Winterfell and the inner conflicts of both Bran and Theon were very well executed; on the other there was Dany’s speech, which I do think was meant to move us, what with all the “my dreams come true” bit.
Jana: Also the shit show that was Harrenhal. Nothing make sense and only the chemistry matters. Tywin and Littlefinger were already the most likely candidates to have overwritten trailer line dialogue, and this episode did not help. The Winterfell scenes were solid, though. Sans the disturbingly voyeuristic turn it took, the King’s Landing stuff was well-written as well. Okay. Aside from “I saw you cry.”
Our 8th grade book report (on themes)
Jana: I’ve got one! I have a theme. And the theme is amateur hour. Uh. Incompetence, rather. And it’s a story element rather than a production side effect! With Theon, it’s very obvious. His lack of competency (competence?) is basically what his entire early story arc is about. Most egregious example this episode is probably the botched beheading. And the thing with Osha. One of like three people to be good at her job this episode. This is followed by Jon who just fucks up royally with Ygritte. (The secondary theme is how sexually liberated wildling women are.)
Ygritte is the second competent person this week. Robb wafts around his honey pot. Both Tywin and now also Littlefinger don’t see anything wrong a literate cup bearer. Littlefinger even fails to recognize his one true love’s other daughter right in front of him, acting dodgy. Arya managed to actually sabotage the Lannisters once, but now she’s cocky and takes the goddamn letter with her instead of just destroying it, so Jaqen has to save her. The entire riot in the city could have been avoided if the royal family hadn’t been out there on foot which is just dumb. In addition to Joffrey just being himself, I mean.
Julia: Brilliant! Especially your secondary theme. I’ll add Dany’s inability to get a bank loan by yelling. And XXD’s inability to get into her pants too.
Dany, Theon, and Joffrey together could probably make another secondary theme of being entitled little shits.
Alejandra: I think I got something! After mulling it over a lot. Inner conflict! At least an intention of it it. We get some inner conflict for Jon, a dash for Arya (maybe?), a touch of inner conflict for Robb about his feelings, well-executed inner conflicts for Theon, you go Theon! And none for Daenerys Targaryen, bye.
Kylie: I actually want to nominate Shae as being competent this episode too. She was giving pretty decent courtly advice.
I’m wondering if “resolve” is a possible theme? Specifically faltering resolve. We’ve got Robb’s resolve re: the Frey marriage alliance, Arya’s cracking resolve in that she’s feeling some respect for Tywin (the only possible reason she hasn’t named him yet), Jon’s resolve to execute Ygritte, Theon’s resolve to be Ironborn and make his foes pay the iron price… idk. It’s probably just a minor spin on “incompetence,” but I think we’re likely supposed to be seeing a struggle with these characters.
Jana: Let’s not get hasty about Shae here. Though at the very least that scene helps connect Sansa to the theme twofold. Once, by, you know, blabbering away at the suspicious and formerly incompetent handmaiden she has now. And the other way, which I forgot to mention, was that if Sandor had actually done his job like he did in the book, she wouldn’t have had to go down attempted rape alley to begin with. But Sandor gets, like, half-credit for at least fixing his mistake before it gets too out of hand.
XXD both fails at getting into Dany’s pants and at having adequate security in his estate. That’s almost more embarrassing than Dany just…Yelling.
Kylie: Well, I’d argue with that ~~spoilers~~.
Also, I’ve been staring at the episode title for this week and can’t make sense of it. Bran has a vague old god-ish connection with his dream coming to fruition, but that’s not explicated, and in terms of new gods we’ve got…what, exactly? This is just utterly unrelated to everything that happens. Theon is told “gods help you,” but his god isn’t even the old or the new in that context. This is “Book of the Stranger” bad.
Cracks in the plaster (the bullshit to come)
Julia: Let’s make the scene where Sansa processes her trauma about Shae! And we also get the first creepy interaction between Jon and Ygritte where she puts him in an unwelcome sexual situation despite his explicit protest. And it’s ‘hilarious.’
Kylie: I will say though, Rose Leslie brings out the best in Kit Harington acting-wise. But yeah, it’s a hoot that he’s a virgin who she will later take advantage of and exploit.
The Sansa-attempted rape in general is a huge crack in the plaster, no two ways about it. She could have been chased in there without the full shot of the two guys spreading her legs and the other dude unbuttoning his pants. It’s the shock and awe of this world, or whatever, and yeah I realize Lollys was gang-raped in the books. But in a visual medium there’s just something so much more inherently voyeuristic about it, and there’s a reason we find out about Lollys in post.
Then add to that Sansa being instantly trusting of Shae and Shae having to tell her to shut up and not say the wrong thing to the wrong people. Maybe she’s a book snob and trying to get Sansa to do her A Clash of Kings arc? But it’s pretty obvious the writing team doesn’t take a huge interest in any strengths of Sansa’s from the books (or literally can’t recognize them).
Alejandra: Shae is a biggie; she’s too good and true, and it’s irksome now that I know where that storyline is going. But what makes my skin crawl is Arya and Tywin. Arya will conveniently omit her canoodling with the top Lannister when she accuses her sister of treason.
Julia: I love that in almost every one of these rewatch episodes, we find a way that season 7 is even worse.
Jana: Yes, Arya, Sansa was busy wearing pretty dresses at court while you were pouring Tywin Lannister wine and cleaning his table. Cleary, she is a treasonous bitch and you just did what you had to do to survive.
I’d put the northern sexual liberation capital beyond the wall here, too, sort of. Ygritte’s sexual assault of Jon will only get worse, and Osha… Well. Finds a very… Poetic end? Is that what we’re meant to take away here?
Alejandra: Wonderful feminist Shae, Tywin “good daddy” Lannister, “Sansa Who?”, and Talisa’’s mere existence now seem like incredibly outrageous misadaptations. Ripples, ripples.
And I just have to say, with all the bitterness of my heart, how…interesting I find that even back in season two they felt the need to combine Sansa’s story with that of a tertiary character such as Lollys. Because that’s what happened here.
Julia: And I guess some of Tyrion’s saintliness rubbed off on her, because rather than being a horrible asshole to Sansa, like book!Shae was to Lollys, she’s her greatest advocate and friends. You know, until she’s not.
The original material at Qarth is sticking out like a sore thumb again. It has this melodramatic tone that’s absent from the political intrigue elsewhere, at least at this point. And from what I recall, this will get worse before the end of the season.
Kylie: D&D explicitly said they changed Qarth to give it more tension and to give her a bigger “win” at the end of the season. I think that backwards nature of approaching it is pretty clear.
Also I hate to harp on this a million times, but the adaptational decision to age up Jon has yet another casualty this week: his not being able to kill Ygritte. I guess that protective-paternalism could still track in someone his age, but it comes across as painfully stupid in this context.
Jana: “I saw you cry” is very far from Sansa telling Tommen all about heroic knights from the past who cried very heroic tears about their sisters. They gave up an easy lore drop and a positive interaction for Sansa to make her more bitchy. Just to, you know, add to the priorities regarding her here, in addition to the combining her with Lollys.
Also, what a stupid way to make Arya waste a kill. I know they kind of completely ignored any and all context and thematic resonance of Arya’s stay at Harrenhal in favor of showing off how much chemistry Maisie Williams and Charles Dance have, but good god, this is…Bad.
Kylie: What’s fun is they think the changes to Sansa are more “badass.” She sasses Joffrey…go girl!
At some point we need to discuss Weasel Soup Scrap in full, but I’m not even sure which episode to pin that on. What is Arya even learning in this plotline? Sometimes the person trying to murder your family is nice? This is basically the equivalent of Ed Sheeran giving her rabbit.
Jana: The lesson Arya, and really all of us, are meant to receive from this is that Grandpappy Tywin is tough but fair and that Charles Dance is too good for this.
Carol Watch: who is Cersei this week?
Kylie: She was angrily making threats to Tyrion…that’s on-point for Cersei. Despite her random Robert baby, I’m starting to think we may not see the true Carol until Season 3.
Julia: And her refusal to see that this is in Myrcella’s best interest right now, even if she doesn’t believe in Tyrion’s good intentions, is very Cersei.
Alejandra: Let us enjoy her while we can!
We Need to Talk about Tywin
Julia: If you can quantify his level of grandpappy-ness, how high would it be? Patiently teaching Jaime to read? +5 grandpappy points.
Kylie: He nearly tousled Arya’s hair after learning she could read. He is just so blown away by this random nobody cupbearer, it’s like he’s happiest when there are children to whom he can pass on his wisdom. What an aspirational patriarch.
Jana: He berates a bannerman for screwing up the mail. Finds out his deceptively sharp cupbearer is literate. And draws no conclusions from this at all. Though I will repeat that I enjoyed his take down of Littlefinger, brief as it was. And I guess he also failed to notice his literate cupbearer acting dodgy around Littlefinger. Like any random kid would do, of course.
But yes, fixing dyslexia with tough but fair parenting is definitely the most grandpappy-est he has been so far.
Julia: Tywin hanged an innkeeper because she failed to stop a bunch of armed men from kidnapping his son who he hates, and this bannerman gets off with a stern talking to for incompetently sending military intelligence to the enemy? The Raynes and Tarbecks must be pissed.
Kylie: Even Reginald had it worse, getting sent home without supper.
Exposition, Continuity, and Other Things Writers Should Care About
Julia: Is anyone else failing to remember this dream Dany had that told her to burn the dragon eggs?
Kylie: Maybe she woke up and told Mirri Maz Duur about it right before Mirri told Dany she was infertile.
Hey, this is the official beginning of teleportation nation. Littlefinger made GREAT time to Harrenhal!
Jana: Oh come on, Storm’s End, Harrenhall, Riverlands Schmiverlands. And just because Dany didn’t tell us about her dreams before and we didn’t see them doesn’t mean they didn’t happen! Bran is the only one with dream cam, remember? Let him have something special for himself!
How was the pacing?
Kylie: I think it was fine in terms of switching between locations. However, there was a big disparity in how much actually happened. Harrenhal kind of felt like it stopped the plot dead in its tracks, while Winterfell was covering a pretty good amount of ground. On the whole it gave this episode the weird quality of feeling wheel-spinning, even though things progressed pretty nicely on a few fronts.
Alejandra: The pacing was fine in that there was never a moment where it felt too rushed or too slow for me. Though I must agree that Harrenhal feels stalled. But fine, fine. It’s fine.
Jana: Things are finally happening, mostly. And as bad as the Harrenhal sequence was, at least it was entertaining? It’s hard to describe. The only scene that sucked the tension out of everything and dragged the episode to hold was the honeypot, in my opinion.
Let’s talk about sex, baby
Julia: It’s probably the director’s fault more than hers, but Vanessa Taylor’s signature seems to be sex scenes that just go on way too long. The prime example is Ygritte’s comical dry humping, but the almost rape also seemed a little much. And how long was poor Natalia Tena standing there naked?
Jana: At least they lit a fire. Almost like it’s cold up there. In the north, I mean.
Kylie: You know, I wonder how much was Taylor, and how much was David Nutter’s call, the director for this episode. She certainly wrote the entirety of the Ros/Joffrey scene for 2×04, but I’m less convinced she had in her notes to hold the camera on Tena, or to have the smallfolk literally pin Sansa down. Remember, Nutter is the Red Wedding director who felt showing Stannis’s death “would have been gratuitous.” Just to put his choices in a bit more context.
Alejandra: I just kept thinking after I was done watching, about Sophie Turner filming that scene at, what? Fourteen, fifteen? If someone knows they used a body double for that sequence, please tell me and put my mind at ease.
Jana: Nope! I’m pretty sure the commentary track also had her mention that she did that in front of her parents that day, so no body double, but parental oversight? Does that make you feel better?
(At least they didn’t get her flowers as congratulations for this one.)
Julia: Did she once say she got all her sex-ed from GoT?
Alejandra: *long-suffering sigh* I wish I could say that surprises me at all, or even makes me sad. No, at this point it’s more like: “Of course.”
In memoriam…Ser Rodrik Cassel, Amory Lorch, Irri, The High Septon
Julia: That was Amory Lorch? Sure…
Jana: Well it sure was neither Weese nor Chiswyck, so why not?
Kylie: Guys, that was literally the name she said! It really makes me just sad for how much the Unsullied are missing out on. This is a far cry from the bear pit. Actually, where the hell is the bear pit?
Jana: It’s being built. Somewhere in the background. That’s where side characters go before they’re sent off rowing.
Kylie: The body-count of this episode was fairly high, thinking about it. Despite the list we build this section from, Irri actually wasn’t the only Dothraki slaughtered—it was all of Dany’s “khalasar” with the exception of maybe two guys she had with her. Seeing it this time around, it just felt so unnecessary. They’re warlocks; why not steal dragons with magic? Knowing what’s coming, it really just seems like they wanted to not deal with the hassle of writing to the Dothraki point of view in Dany’s scenes. I think we get a couple sticking around in the background of Season 3, and then it’s basically nothing until Season 6. It’s just a shame.
I’ve got zilch to say about the High Septon though. There is no way an Unsullied would have realized who that was.
Alejandra: I, for one, will miss Ser Rodrik. Go with the Old Gods, good man!
Kylie: Go, Ser Rodrik, with your beautiful mutton chops. We’ll see a younger Seth Rogen-ish version of you in awkward home videos.
This once again brings us to the end of yet another installment of this rewatch. What did you guys think? This was clearly a step up from Vanessa Taylor’s last episode, but did you enjoy it? Did it feel weirdly slow? Is Harrenhal landing for anyone? We look forward to discussing below, and as always, we’ll see you next Tuesday in The Wars to Come.