Much has been made of the violence and sex on Game of Thrones, and if it was possible for the writers to push the envelope even further, they succeeded in doing just that this week. Torture, twisted sexual violence, heads nailed on spikes, rat buckets and the graphic birth of a shadow monster are just a few of the things we were treated to on Sunday night during “Garden of Bones,” the first episode of Season 2 to be written by a woman.
The theme of this chapter was the lack of honor among these would-be kings, and in no king is this more obvious than Joffrey Baratheon. After last night’s episode, even Ned Starks’s spontaneous beheading seemed rational by comparison to the Joffrey we see now. His crossbow has become an extension of his arm. I felt a chill watching him as he held Sansa in its sight for far too long and commanded her clothes be ripped off in court. This scene is downright haunting after what follows, a highly disturbing scene of sexual violence in Joffrey’s bedroom that I hardly wish to recap here (all I can say is prostitutes have had it rough this season). It becomes clear that this is a teenage boy with no apparent sexual desires, who lusts only for violence and control. He did not want to see Sansa stripped naked for any pleasure other than the violence and degradation she would experience, exposed before the whole court. Does everyone finally sympathize with her?
Sansa’s brother Robb, ever the humanist, is the least obvious example of the dishonor among these kings (he is a Stark, after all). Like it was with his father, you really get the sense that Robb takes the title of lord and protector seriously. Many noblemen in this series forget that last part, but not Robb. If any one side commands true loyalty from their people, it is the Northmen, and for good reason.
On the battlefield, it seems that Robb is the only lord who sees the devastation and destruction inherent in war. It has always been with a heavy heart that he has claimed his victories. In the ninth episode of Season 1 (“Baelor”), after the historic defeat and capture of Jaime Lannister, Robb remarks privately to Theon, “I sent two thousand men to their graves today.” Theon replies, “The bards will sing songs of their sacrifice.” “Aye,” Robb says, “but the dead won’t hear them.” In the start of “Garden of Bones,” we see the same Robb in horrified awe over the destruction he has wrought. He even shows a clear sensitivity towards the maimed and wounded of his enemy camp, and resists Roose Bolton’s cool insistence on torturing prisoners.
Despite this, Robb shows a real naivety when he declares that he would win the war against the Lannisters and then retreat simply to be King of the North. Perhaps his mother could tell him a thing or two about what might happen in the power vacuum he’d leave behind, and the suffering he would perpetuate.
Though we have seen relatively little of Stannis, it is clear that he was at one time a man who was honorable almost to a fault. As Renly makes clear, the eldest Baratheon has been corrupted by the red priestess. In the end, Stannis’ only friend, Davos, quietly pleads with him to remember his honor as he moves against his own brother. “Surely there are other ways,” he says. “Cleaner ways.”
Stannis replies coolly, with not a shred of sympathy for his own blood. “Cleaner ways don’t end wars,” he says. We have only a brief, albeit grotesque view of Stannis’ dishonor come to life in the form of a menacing shadow delivered by a suddenly-pregnant Melisandre, and we’ll have to wait an agonizing week to see the effects of this sorcery. Truly, the night is dark and full of terrors.
Other thoughts from “Garden of Bones”:
- We had our first real shot of the derelict and soulless Harrenhal: a castle so cursed and wretched that it’s no wonder the kind of men that set up shop there. From what looks to be ruinous material found around the castle, a makeshift torture chair and now-infamous rat bucket device are rigged for the prisoner interrogation. “Where’s the Brotherhood?” they ask, over and over. Clearly, if the Mountain’s rapists and torturers are so concerned about it, this Brotherhood is something we could get behind.
- Did you recognize that really tall guy with the bat-wing helmet picking out prisoners? That was the new Mountain That Rides, Gregor Clegane. Admittedly, I had no idea who that character was during the show. It was only after that I remembered they recast the part, with Ian Whyte in place of Conan Stevens (who fought that memorable duel against his brother, the Hound, in Season 1). While I am no purist, this is one of the few of the showrunners’ divergent choices that I disapprove of. If the Mountain is anything, he is defined by his great size: not just in height, but also in muscle. He is supposed to be unnaturally strong, which makes his inhumane character all the more menacing. Time will tell if Whyte can pull that off.
- Arya as cup bearer for Tywin Lannister? That is a fairly significant departure from the text, but is likely due to the necessary economy of the show.
- Who noticed that The Hound is the first to cover Sansa up? Remember, this is the guy who refuses to be knighted because he feels unworthy of it.
- Margaery continues to be the character who has benefited the most from her on-screen adaptation. “My husband is my king, and my king is my husband.” The Renly-Margaery-Loras triple power play has become a force to reckon with.
- Littlefinger’s love for Catelyn is a strange one. He preys upon her maternal instincts by claiming that the Lannisters have both her girls to trade, if only she would release Jaime. Just as it seems she is strong enough to resist the temptation of the unequal trade, Littlefinger presents her with Ned’s remains. It’s a cruelly clever ploy: how much longer can she keep sacrificing her family to this war?