If I remember correctly, episode six of last season was the point in which the story really picked up the pace and started to get interesting. Similarly, here in season two, it appears like the tenuous status quo that existed for several of our characters has begun to fall apart, or at least looks like it is about to. Bran and Rickon’s safe home of Winterfell is upended by Theon’s conquest; Robb and Catelyn are distraught by the news and rely on an untrustworthy looking bannerman and his “bastard” to bring the castle back into the fold; Theon makes one bad decision after another in an attempt to prove his manhood; Joffrey’s petulance causes a deadly riot to break out in the streets of King’s Landing; Jon’s mercy leads him to get lost in the icebergs with the fireheaded wildling, Ygritte; Arya’s true nature is nearly revealed to Tywin; and Dany’s dragons are abducted.
Varys’ lecture to Tyrion on the nature of power came to mind as I was thinking about this episode. Power is a trick, and this idea is driven home in both Winterfell and King’s Landing. Theon thinks he exercises power and control over the inhabitants of Winterfell, but Roderick’s defiance of him makes him look bad, and forces him to execute the old soldier to save face. It’s clear that he didn’t want to do it, but he loses control of events and in the end is forced to bring his sword clumsily down on the old man’s neck. The botched execution makes him look weak in front of his men, and monstrous in front of the conquered people of Winterfell. While Theon still holds nominal control over the castle, his rule is weak and has no foundation. Similarly, Joffrey thinks Kingship affords him power over everything, but his “divine right” doesn’t mean much when a hungry mob of commoners vastly outnumbers his guardians. Trying to exert power over others, and failing (as Joffrey and Theon do here, and even as Dany does in her attempt to convince the merchants of Qarth to give her ships to sail to Westeros) can spark a situation that spirals out of control. If Ned’s sudden, unexpected execution last season has taught us anything, it should be this: Once things have spiraled out of control, there’s no telling how widespread and damaging the fallout could be.
A few things:
* How many times have I used the adjective ‘brutal’ to describe this show? Probably too many, but I’ll use it again. Roderick’s execution was just brutal. His last words to Bran (“I’m going to see your father now” or something similar), to Bran’s anguished wailing, to the look of disgust and shock on Theon’s face after it was over combined to make a really powerful scene.
* I am really, really enjoying any little bit of interaction between Tywin and Arya. They play off each other so well. I also enjoyed getting a look into Tywin’s thoughts on his father, and the story of how he forced dyslexic Jaime to learn how to read as a boy. I never really had a very clear sense of Papa Lannister in the books, but in the series he comes across as wonderfully cold, calculating, and above all, infinitely practical.
* It was great to see Tyrion lashing out at Joffrey for being so cruel and stupid. As an added bonus, we got to see the young brat get faceslapped again. That never gets old.