So far, each season of Game of Thrones so far has built steadily to OH FUCK moments in their ninth episodes. In season one, Ned loses his head. In season two, the Battle of the Blackwater changes the course of the war. This season will, no doubt, be any different. All of these OH FUCK moments require careful preparation, “piece setting” if you will, which means that some of the episodes in the lead up the the ninth are a bit…plotty. This episode, “Second Sons,” doesn’t feel like a run of the mill “setting the stage” episode. Rather, it feels like an episode that is making the most out of the tense scenarios our players find themselves in. As a whole it works well, even better because it wisely decides to do few obligatory drop-ins, and instead focuses on the characters and their relationships, feelings, schemes, and plots.
The episode begins with Arya, now captured by the Dog, facing a choice: accept her lot as prisoner, or fight it. Really, it is the choice facing nearly every character in the episode: to accept the hand dealt to you, or to run, fight, or plot your way out of it. In the end, Arya’s choice to not kill the Dog makes sense for her and sets the pattern in this episode. Nobody (almost nobody, really) can escape fate; that’s what makes it fate.
For Gendry, the ability to choose his fate was a dream that died the minute the Brotherhood sold him to Mellisandre. After reaching Dragonstone with her, and getting a taste of the wealth of the lords of Westeros, Gendry realizes that he, again, is a prisoner to the needs of the realm’s more powerful players. What they need is, literally, his blood for Mellisandre’s magic.
Gendry’s scenes work better than they should because they are carefully woven into Stannis and Davos’ scenes. Stannis has come to free his friend and King’s Hand from prison, not out of loyalty (or even out of any broadly defined attachment) but because he realizes that he too is trapped in his alliance with Mellisandre. He needs her more than she needs him, meaning that for all his claims to authority, Stannis is bound to her will. Davos, a man with no pretensions of power or lofty ideals about his own ability to change fate, and little regard for his own life, is perfectly positioned to speak out against the Red Woman’s plans, even when those plans are already in motion.
The title Second Sons refers to the episodes two major storylines: Tyrion’s wedding to Sansa ( Tyrion is Tywin’s second and lesser loved son), and Daenerys’ interaction with the Second Sons Sellsword company hired by the Yunkish to defend their gates.
Tyrion, like everyone else, cannot escape his fate: to enter into a political marriage to a girl of fourteen and, likely, to lose the love of Shae. The marriage plays out over the length of the episode, each scene finding new ways to Shame Tyrion (his new wife’s fear and loathing of him is bested only by his nephew’s cruelty to him and his father’s hatred of him) and so, Tyrion does what he does best. He is, after all, the God of Tits and Wine (am I the only person that thinks Peter Dinklage deserves an award for best drunken acting?). Other characters, particularly Margery and Cersei, begin to realize that, for all their planning and scheming, they too are unable to best fate.
The eipsode’s finest moment comes late in the wedding when Joffrey (fresh after threatening to rape his new aunt-in-law while Tyrion sleeps), calls for the crowd to begin the bedding (a ceremony where the wedding guests strip the couple, carry them to bed, and listen while themes get adult). Tyrion, drunk, slams a knife into a table and utters the most inconceivably badass threat that anyone has ever uttered in the history of ever. Seriously.
This threat, while admittedly badass rings, hollow because of the fact that Tyrion, like everyone else, is powerless. He is the King’s uncle and not the King himself. A dwarf and not a warrior; an outcast and not a “proper” lord. In the end, Tyrion must take his lumps, act a fool, and try to fight another day.
There are only two moments in the episode in which fate gives any of the characters a bit of grace. tThe first is when Tyrion refuses to forcibly bed a FOURTEEN YEAR OLD GIRL WHOSE FATHER WAS JUST KILLED BY HER PREVIOUS SUITOR, EVIL KING SHITBAG. It was a tremendous moment of humanity, played perfectly by everyone in the scene.
The other moment came courtesy of the only person who seems able to change the hand he’s been dealt: Daario Naharis, lieutenant of the Second Sons. When the Captains of the Second Sons meet with Daenerys, there is little hope that they will switch to her side. Sellswords may lack honor, but a contract is a contract. Daario, however, disagrees, feeling that fighting for beauty is better than fighting for money. So, rather than accept his lot, Daario kills his superiors, takes their army, and switches sides. “Daario Naharis always has a choice,” he tells his new queen. Sadly, so few people are Daario Naharis.
Second Sons was much better than it has a right to be. Folks who haven’t read the books might be lulled into the false notion that the plot has found a kind of equilibrium. Of course, that is far from the truth. Next week’s episode will, if the past is any indication, throw as big a wrench into things as the ninth episodes of the first two seasons. So, for the false sense of security this episode builds by focusing so tightly on the characters, I think this episode was a success.
Adult Themes: Tons, including a moment in which Daenerys decides that she is not cowed by the eyes of the douchy Daario.
Blood: Mostly in the bellies of leeches. Blech.
Changes: These are based on books?
Lowlights: Another scenes of sexposition? Great.
Highlights: Tyrion tries out threatening violence, Tyrio gets drunk. Basically anything involving Tyrion.