“Second Sons,” written by the showrunners David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, focused on a much smaller cast of characters than usual. From this, we got to dwell on some great interactions, albeit at the expense of the Jaime/Brienne, Robb Stark, or Jon Snow storylines. I don’t think anyone missed Theon.
The title, “Second Sons,” comes from the name of the mercenary troops hired by the Yunkai to protect their city from Daenerys. They are aptly named, for in this world, second sons stand to inherit nothing. Many of them join the ranks of the mercenaries for glory and gold, or are forced to marry girls against their will, or have to use mystical powers to claim the throne that is only ambiguously theirs. This episode featured many of the second sons of Westeros and beyond.
Sandor Clegane (the Hound) is one of the Seven Kingdom’s most infamous second sons. His older brother, the Mountain, makes the Hound look downright cuddly by comparison, as Sandor points out to his very reluctant captive, Arya Stark. Arya tries to kill him in his sleep, and he grants her one attempt, but dares her to make it good or else he’ll break both her hands. Wisely, she restrains herself, but not her tongue. She continues to lash out at him, thinking that he has her captured for the Lannisters. Instead, the Hound continues his profanity-laden tirade from last season (“Fuck the Kingsguard. Fuck the city. Fuck the king.”) by replying, “Fuck Joffrey. Fuck the queen.” In a way, his list of “fucks” to give about the people he used to serve mirrors the hit list Arya recites before her sleep.
Not only is the Hound not taking her to King’s Landing, but he is returning her to her mother and brother at the Twins, where her uncle’s wedding will be held. When he tells Arya about the time he saved her sister from getting raped by an angry mob, Arya clearly does not want to believe him. She cannot reconcile this man who is returning her to her family and saving Sansa with the loyal Lannister dog she met en route to King’s Landing in Season 1. Still, the Brotherhood Without Banners couldn’t fulfill their promise to bring her back to her family, and she can’t possibly hide her happiness at the prospect of returning home at last, even if it might mean giving up her vow to kill the Hound for what he did to her friend Mycah.
Across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys finally meets the “friends” of Yunkai: a mercenary band of warriors called the Second Sons after all the younger siblings who join them in search for whatever glory they can grab in this hierarchical world. Essos (the other continent east of Westeros) is not especially known for national militaries. Instead, they have a great mercenary tradition, with many “Free Companies” for hire; the Second Sons is one of them.
Daenerys tries to woo the Second Sons to her cause, attempting to bluff them into submission. The three men seem unconcerned about the threat of her troops. They’re not going to lose to a girl, no matter the fact that her troops outnumber theirs. Mero, also known as Titan’s Bastard, makes many sexually aggressive suggestions and threats, which always works to endear men to Dany. Prendahl na Ghezn, also a captain alongside Mero, has a handsome young lieutenant named Daario Naharis. The two captains turn down Daenerys without hesitation, knowing that their share of the riches from the contract won’t come until she conquers the Seven Kingdoms. Considering she has now shouldered a moral obligation to free the slaves of Essos, that could be years off. The three men leave and Dany tells Barristan that, if they should have to fight the Second Sons, he should kill Mero first.
Stannis, the second Baratheon son, and the one who was always overlooked, is still striving to remount his campaign from Dragonstone. He lost so many ships and men to the Battle of Blackwater that he can rely on nothing else but the sorcery of the Red Priestess, Melisandre. Still, Stannis has a rare quality of honor. Even though he is slightly more of a zealot for honor than the late Ned Stark, he is still striving to lead with integrity; he seeks power in part to save people from the Lord of Light’s version of the Rapture. But, in order to do that, he may need to sacrifice an innocent.
This leaves him torn in spirit, if not outwardly so, but Daavos is quick to pick up on his inner conflict. He comes to free his old friend and adviser from his cell on that particular day because part of him needs to hear Daavos tell him that he’s better than the man who sacrifices an innocent to the cause. He’s not convinced by the captive’s reasoning, but the fact that he’s still willing to seek Daavos’s counsel (and that Daavos is still alive in the first place) is cause enough to believe that perhaps this is not the end of Gendry, after all.
After the leeching, it’s unclear what, if anything, was accomplished from a mystical standpoint. The three men whose names were said aloud as the leeches were thrown into the fire (Balon Greyjoy, Robb Stark, and Joffrey Baratheon– the three remaining kings) are still living, though there was a cut to Joffrey immediately after. Will Gendry still be sacrificed, will he continue to be leeched, or is his work done? Melisandre made a lot of her butcher analogy– if you reveal your blade too early to the animal, the fear taints the taste of the meat– so it would seem odd if there was more yet to come for Gendry. But, knowing Melisandre, she couldn’t let her new toy off so easily.
Back in King’s Landing, the second son of Tywin Lannister is prepping for his wedding to Sansa Stark. The Stark girl readies herself in front of a mirror, next to which she has propped the doll her father gave her. She’s still a little girl, despite all that she has experienced. But it’s her wedding day, and even though it’s not the one that she has been dreaming of since her youth, she manages to put on her best teenage sulk and bear it.
The wedding is a dull and dreary affair, the opposite of the joyous occasion that it ought to be. The lone moments of quasi-joy for us as viewers come from the total displeasure of all of the attendees. For one, Margaery tries to ply Cersei with the same sister line she worked on Sansa. Unfortunately, the older woman does not take to it so kindly. In fact, Cersei responds with a long and elaborate death threat.
First, she references a famous and popular song (which was already sung by Bronn in Season 2) called the “Rains of Castamere.” This is the house song of the Lannisters, since it tells of Lord Tywin’s slaughter of a rebellious lesser lord, Reyne. House Reyne, we learn, was the second most powerful and prosperous family in the land. The first was and still is the Lannisters, of course. The Reynes wanted more, and so they launched a foolhardy rebellion against Tywin, and got utterly crushed in return. Cersei draws a not-so-subtle parallel between the Reynes and the Tyrells, who are now the striving family in second place. Margaery’s smile grows forced and frigid as Cersei finishes off the threat with a promise to wring her neck in her sleep, should she try to get friendly again. There is no love lost between these two.
Meanwhile, King Joffrey still likes to show that he can do virtually whatever he wants, despite the authoritative threat of his grandfather in attendance. He chooses to walk Sansa down the aisle, since naturally her father cannot be there to do it. Joffrey is like the cat who keeps the mouse alive just enough to continue to play with it. He gets some kind of base pleasure from goading Sansa. Whether that stems from actual desire for her is unclear; though he does threaten to rape her if she won’t have him willingly, it is not clear if he’s interested in her, or if he simply wants to torture her, as he has tortured Ros and other prostitutes in the past. The costuming in this scene is interesting, especially with the armor that Sansa wears around her waist. Taking a note from Cersei, she has armored herself for her wedding by fortifying her hips. She is quite literally steeling herself for her wedding night.
Tyrion, the quintessential second son, is tormented throughout his wedding by Joffrey, who cannot help showing off his power over his uncle. First, he steals the stool that Tyrion was going to use to perform the ceremonial robe-draping. Later, when he taunts his drunk uncle over the bedding ceremony, which would likely be a great humiliation for both Tyrion and Sansa, Tyrion threatens Joffrey with sincere malice. What’s interesting is that no one corrects him. No one puts him in his place, acknowledges his insubordination, or even declares him an outright traitor for speaking against the king. Making threats against a king’s life or person would have cost anyone else dearly, but Tyrion somehow gets a pass. Tyrion may not be loved by those around him, but he is able to get away with giving Joffrey a piece of his mind because people tend to agree with him. Even Cersei seems fed up with Joffrey, who doesn’t listen to her when she encourages him to make moves on his bride-to-be instead of pursuing the Stark girl with threats. The episode is ultimately smoothed over by a generally disproving and dour Tywin.
Back in the room, Tyrion and Sansa begrudgingly go through the initial motions of consummating their marriage, as Tywin has ordered his second son to do. Back during the Battle of the Blackwater, Cersei encouraged Sansa to drink when things got stressful, and though she did not enjoy the thought of wine before the wedding, she lunges for it now, pouring a hearty cup before the bedding. Tyrion takes all this in and halts her in her undressing, noble as always. Tyrion himself doesn’t get enough credit for the honor he holds, since he’s no saint like Ned Stark, but he’s always been kind and fair with Sansa and the other Starks. He promises not to sleep with her until she’s ready, and even plays off the suggestion that she may never want to sleep with him with a half-hearted recital of the Night’s Watch oath (they are sworn to chastity). They pass out without consummating the marriage, much to Shae’s apparent delight the next morning.
Outside Yunkai, the young lieutenant of the Second Sons, Daario, has been ordered by his captains to kill the dragon queen, despite his belief that they should join their ranks to hers. It appears as if he accepts this order willingly until we see him later, sneaking into Daenerys’s tent with an assassin’s blade held to Missandei’s neck. Daenerys is stern and commanding even in her vulnerable state, nude and in the tub. This clearly entices Daario, who made the decision to behead his captains so that he may ally the Second Sons to her cause. He presents Dany with both of their heads and swears an oath of his loyalty and love. He has a lot of confidence and bravado, not to mention physical strength and good looks– traits that are not unlike Daenerys’s deceased husband, Khal Drogo. The two beautiful and powerful people are naturally drawn to one another, but one hopes that Daario is sincere; his sword hilt is a naked woman not unlike the mudflap girl you see on many trucks in the US, and he uses a silver tongue on both Mero’s prostitute and Daenerys. It is yet unclear whether this man will be a true ally for Daenerys’s cause, or if he is a skilled and opportunistic Lothario. Either way, Dany has acquired more troops and weakened Yunkai before even stepping onto the battlefield. Her victories are piling up.
Finally, we visit the north where Sam and Gilly are still trying to outrun the undead menace with a baby in tow. Samwell Tarly may as well be a second son to his father, Randyll, whom he references in their conversation over what to name the baby. Gilly is originally drawn to his father’s name, but Sam urges her against it. After all, his own father forced him to renounce his rights of inheritance as the first born son, since Randyll found Sam utterly lacking as a male. Sam’s younger brother is the son that Randyll Tarly always wanted, and the only one he deemed worthy to carry on his titles and his legacy. Sam was forced to join the Night’s Watch so that his younger brother could inherit what was rightfully his. Sam is made to be the second son because he is weak, frightful, and unwanted. He doesn’t tell Gilly all this, but clearly he feels it strongly.
However, Sam gets a chance to defy even his own expectations when Gilly and the baby are attacked by a White Walker. Before that, ominous crows perched on the Heart tree they had camped beneath. This tree, with red leaves and a face in its trunk, is typically at the center of the godswoods, which are important to the Starks and the old religion. The crows serve as a warning to Gilly and Sam, who emerge from their hut in time to see the White Walker coming. Sam arms himself, but his blade is instantly shattered by the monster. As the White Walker descends on Gilly and the baby, Sam reacts without fear or hesitation, driving his secondary blade made of dragonglass into the thing’s back. The walker is instantly stunned and collapses in a heap of shards, leaving only the blade behind in the snow. The monsters that were so hard to kill have a weakness after all, and it’s Samwell, the fearful and cowering second son, who is finally brave enough to find it.
Other thoughts on “Second Sons”:
- Next weekend there will not be a new episode on Sunday night due to Memorial Day weekend in the US. Last year they aired their penultimate episode of the season (“Blackwater”) on the Sunday night of Memorial Day and it took a little bit of a ratings hit. To avoid this, HBO decided to delay the airing of the 9th episode, which is all for the best. You never want to miss the 9th episode of the season of Game of Thrones (Ned Stark’s beheading, the Battle of Blackwater…). Just thought I’d give you a heads up after my friend Charlie reminded me (“I was totally about to have people over and give them bread and salt…right before the Liberace movie.”).
- I loved this quote from Laura Hudson’s recap of the latest episode: