Monday, August 29, 2016

Game of Thrones Rewatch 2.4: "Garden of Bones"

Read the previous entry in this series here.
Read the next entry in this series here.

2.4 “Garden of Bones”
Written by Vanessa Taylor
Directed by David Petrarca
Commentary by Liam Cunningham (Davos) and Carice Van Houten (Melisandre)

Oh, look, it’s another episode of Game of Thrones where death is the major theme, but this time it’s not individual deaths or people doing things to cause their own deaths, but massive deaths inflicted on the common folk at the hands of the nobles. The title comes from Daenerys’ arrival at Qarth, where Jorah tells her that because of the location of the city, if the masters of Qarth decide not to admit travelers, they die outside the gates, where their bodies are just . . . left.

Daenerys and her khalasar come very close to suffering this fate; the Thirteen (the council that governs Qarth) ask to see her dragons before they’ll admit her, and Dany balks. The reason for her refusal to show them the dragons isn’t clear—stubbornness? Not like being told what to do? CGI budget too low?—but because of her refusal, the Thirteen are prepared to allow Dany and her people to die in the desert. Only the intervention of Xaro Xhoan Daxos prevents this fate; he swears a blood oath (cutting across his palm, of course, because people in TV shows and movies don’t need those tendons) to make Dany et al his responsibility while they’re in the city. It looks like altruism, but chances are it’s not. (Nobody on this show ever does anything just to be nice.) So Daenerys and her khalasar live for a bit longer, entering Qarth, the greatest city that ever was or ever shall be.

There’s some Lannister soldiers who aren’t so lucky. Robb ambushes Stafford Lannister’s camp, leaving bodies strewn across the battlefield. Roose mentions that they have too many prisoners and offers to torture a few (specifically by flaying them) to get information rather than feeding them. Robb tells him no, then dodges any further discussion by helping a pretty battlefield nurse hold down a wounded soldier who really doesn’t want his foot taken off. Roose insists that there are more important things to be doing than dealing with this one single Lannister soldier, and he’s right, for the most part, but Robb has to make goo-goo eyes at his new soon-to-be love interest (so much more on her later). Yet spending some time with the soldier and Talisa allows the show to bash home its message a bit; Talisa proceeds to chastise Robb (you know, just the king, nobody important who could have her head off for sass-talking him) about starting battles that cause no-name smallfolk to suffer. She does bring up a good point that he doesn’t exactly have plans for what to do after he’s sacked King’s Landing and killed Joffrey, then retreated north to be King in the North—who’s he going to leave on the Iron Throne?

Meanwhile, Arya, Gendry, and Hot Pie are in the thick of the expendable smallfolk, watching the Mountain’s torturer try to get information about the Brotherhood and what valuables might be left in the village. One of the women tells them that he picks one person every day and tortures them to death. (My husband pointed out that this is really stupid—why tell them anything if they’re just going to kill you anyway? Getting any information through torture-to-death, especially in front of people you plan to torture to death, is really inefficient.) Her time in the cage gives Arya an opportunity to build and refine her “prayers”—the list of people who have hurt her or her family and who she plans to kill one day. The torture goes on for several days, until Tywin arrives and tells them torturing perfectly able-bodied people to death—like Gendry, who’s in the chair when he shows up and tells Tywin he’s a smith—is really extraordinarily stupid and they need to stop it at once. Arya comes to Tywin’s attention because Polliver yells at her for not kneeling, and Tywin decides Arya needs to be his next cupbearer. This accelerates Arya’s timeline a bit, as the books have her working as a floor-scrubber for a while before becoming Roose Bolton’s cupbearer when the Starks retake Harrenhal, and completely shifts the power dynamic and implications for this relationship. I’ll have more to say on it in the next couple of episodes.

Joffrey’s abuse of the smallfolk is more intimate in this episode; in order to try to mellow him out (and get him to quit beating up on Sansa), Tyrion gives him a nameday present of two whores—Ros and Daisy, both of whom we’ve seen before. Joffrey doesn’t want to actually have sex with them (his avoidance of Ros’ groping is interesting, and I’ll have to keep an eye on his reaction to sexual situations from now on to see what the showrunners are doing with this). Instead, he wants them to hit each other. A lot. Hard. With a belt. And then with a stag-topped staff. At crossbow-point. Because he’s a sociopathic, sadistic little shit. (Every single commentary track that deals with Joffrey at all mentions what a nice kid Jack Gleeson is and what a shame it is that he’s the most hated man on television.)

The specter of dead smallfolk is less visible when Renly and Stannis have their parlay on the bluff overlooking the ocean, but it’s still there if you know where to look. These two men (and Catelyn) are discussing how to avert a battle between them, a battle that, like Robb’s attack on the Lannisters, would kill lots and lots of people. This isn’t their main concern, though, beyond the fact that killing lots and lots of people would mean their armies would be weakened when it came time to attack King’s Landing. Mostly, they’re worried about their pride. Stannis believes he’s the rightful heir to the throne, all other considerations be damned. Renly believes he’s the better choice for king because he’s more personable and has more support, because Stannis never bothered to make any friends. Catelyn thinks they’re both being idiots and need to kiss and make up. Of course neither of them can or will bend, so the peace talks are a failure and they ride off to get ready for war.

Or, in Stannis’ case, to cheat. Hard. For a man who prides himself on honor and justice, he sure doesn’t balk at using underhanded and magical means to get what he wants. He’s got an “ends justify the means when it benefits me” kind of outlook that makes him not nearly as honorable as he thinks he is. Of course, Ned Stark was as honorable as Stannis thinks he is, and look where that got him. So Stannis has Davos use his smuggling skills to sneak Melisandre ashore, where she once again shows us her boobs, then births a shadow monster that runs off to make sure there won’t be a fight between Renly and Stannis.

Bones once again play a part in the story when Petyr and a couple of Silent Sisters bring Ned’s bones to Catelyn. Tyrion has arranged it as a show of good will, hoping that Cat will agree to trade Jaime for Sansa and Arya (completely lying about having Arya), since they know Robb won’t do it. Petyr then makes a tactical mistake in trying to convince Catelyn that now that Ned is dead, they can finally be together, still believing that it was Cat he had sex with all those years ago (spoiler: it wasn’t. I don’t remember how much the show goes into this whole Cat-Lysa-Petyr mess, so I’ll deal with it when and if it comes up).

Any storyline in A Song of Ice and Fire that deals with the smallfolk (Arya’s and Brienne’s, primarily) emphasizes how the lords playing their “game of thrones” do so on the backs of the smallfolk, who for the most part couldn’t care less who’s in charge as long as they can live in peace and feed their families. In A Clash of Kings, Arya overhears some of the Harrenhal prisoners complaining: “It’s not just, it’s not. [. . .] We never did no treason, the others came in and took what they wanted, same as this bunch.” She then proceeds to curse the Tullys, Lannisters, and Starks equally (Clash 416). A lot of book-fans complain about Brienne’s story in A Feast for Crows, claiming that “nothing happens,” but what’s happening is Martin establishing how much the War of the Five Kings has decimated the countryside, uprooted families, and generally left chaos in its wake. So few medievalist fantasy novels deal with the plight of the smallfolk at all that it’s really refreshing to get it from Martin (even if he does exaggerate for effect).

On a side note, while Liam Cunningham and Carice van Houten’s commentary didn’t add a lot to the analysis of this episode, it was a joy to listen to, because they’re clearly such good friends and spend a lot of time teasing each other. Also, Liam Cunningham’s accent is delightful.

RIP: Rennick
Lots of Lannister soldiers
Stafford Lannister, apparently (not on screen)

Next week: A girl must choose. A king dies. A man goes north.

All images from

1 comment:

  1. As ever, reading your rewatch report is a pleasure.

    The point you make near the end that "So few medievalist fantasy novels deal with the plight of the smallfolk at all" is a telling one. Tolkien makes some attempt to do so in showing Saruman's treatment of the Shire, of course, but that is often elided in popular conception. I have to note, though, that Martin's contemporary, Robin Hobb, does do a fair bit to point up how the plain folks work. But I don't see the Elderlings novels getting taken up for screen-treatment anytime soon--even if there are more of them, and in more complete narrative arcs, than novels of Westeros.