HBO Game of Thrones Review: Season 2, Episode 4 “Garden of Bones”

Game of Thrones can be a pretty dark show; “Garden of Bones” was probably its most grim episode yet. The battlefield carnage, Lannister torture techniques, Joffrey’s sadomasochistic tendencies, and demon birthings helped remind us that Westeros is a nasty place.

Joffrey’s treatment of the prostitutes sent to him by Tyrion was brutal; I can’t be the only one who looked away when he handed that spiky looking scepter to Roz and ordered her to “use it” on the other girl. Tyrion knows that Joffrey is rotten, but I don’t think he knew quite how psychopathic his nephew really was. He’ll know once Roz reports back to him, and I assume that will make him a little more cautious around the crazy kid. It’s nice that we get to see Tyrion’s noble side, as he protects and covers up Sansa after her humiliation in the throne room. Interrupting Joffrey’s cruelty only made him more angry; he’s still too afraid to challenge Tyrion directly, but you can tell that the two prostitutes are suffering in part because of Tyrion’s nobility.

Meanwhile, Arya and Gendry are in the clutches of the Mountain, who are torturing people to get information about something called “the Brotherhood.” The torturer asking the questions, though, doesn’t seem too interested in the answers; I think he’s more interested in their screams. Arya and Gendry are spared by the arrival of Tywin Lannister. Ever practical, he orders the prisoners to work, and recruits Arya (who he immediately identifies as a girl) to be his cupbearer. While still a prisoner, she’s no longer in danger of becoming rat food. At night, she takes Yoren’s advice and clings to dreams of vengeance, listing off the names of those she wants to kill.

Halfway across the world, Dany and her band come across the city of Quarth. They are denied entry until the city’s leaders can see her dragons. Dany blusters and rages at the merchants, threatening to burn the city down for their lack of hospitality, but she doesn’t let them get a peek at her scaly children. Instead, another foreigner named Xaro invokes some kind of ritual, taking (I would assume) responsibility for Dany and her people while they are in the city. The doors open, revealing a very interesting looking oasis-like city in the middle of the desert.

The episode ends with Davos smuggling the red priestess ashore for some mysterious purpose. They chat about morality a bit. Davos thinks that people can be bits of good and bad mixed together; like a true fanatic, Melisandre asserts that people are either all good, or all evil. They arrive at a cave, where the priestess drops her robe to reveal that she is suddenly very pregnant. As Davos watches in horror, she begins to give birth to a nightmarish shadow creature. We’ll have to wait until next week to see what that creature actually does, but its arrival can’t be a good omen for Renly and his knights of summer.

A few other things:

* I noticed a fair number of departures from the book here; some new characters, some stories melded together or cut short, but it still all seems to work for me. The changes make sense, and are necessary.

* We see the aftermath of another battle, when Robb and his army vanquish another Lannister force. I would love to see a battle scene at some point this year, but I understand that sort of thing is expensive.

* Tyrion cutting down his cousin Lancel’s arrogant attitude was about the only bright spot I had in this grim episode. His wit really makes the show shine.

* A quick note on last week’s episode: The montage of Tyrion telling Pycelle, Littlefinger, and Varys different versions of his plan was really smartly done. It might have been my favorite scene of the season.

John is a TV blogger for Raked and an Entertainment and Sports contributor here at The TMR Zoo. You can follow him on Twitter at @raked_jc