Stars: Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Michelle Fairley, Emilia Clarke, Aidan Gillen, Iain Glen, Kit Harington, Liam Cunningham, Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Richard Madden, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Alfie Allen, John Bradley, Jack Gleeson, Charles Dance, Rory McCann, Stephen Dillane, Carice Van Houten, Natalie Tena, James Cosmo, Jerome Flynn, Conleth Hill, Sibel Kekilli, Robert Pugh, Gethin Anthony, Natalie Dormer, Gwendoline Christie, Patrick Malahide, Gemma Whelan, Donald Sumpter, Finn Jones, Julian Glover, Francis Magee, Joe Dempsie, Nonzo Anozie, Nicholas Blane, Oona Chaplin, Rose Leslie
Vanessa Taylor, series created by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, based on George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire”
David Nutter
HBO, Sundays @ 9 PM
May 6, 2012

“The Old Gods and the New” would be a good title for a number of episodes of GAME OF THRONES. On the surface, it seems a bit oblique for the hour that actually bears the name, as there is no overt clash of theology. Of course, the “gods,” old and new, may refer to the changing powers in the land, with Daenerys Taergaryn (Emilia Clarke) reminding us that she actually has provable supernatural aspects.

In King’s Landing, Cersei (Lena Headey) is filled with icy rage and grief that her brother Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) has arranged a marriage between Cersei’s only daughter and the holding of Dorn. Tyrion has done this as a matter of political alliance, but also to keep his niece safe, as her foresees likely disaster in the capital. Cersei vows that if Tyrion ever finds love, she will take it from him – this worries Tyrion, as he’s trying to hide his lover Shae (Sibel Kakilli) in her role as servant to the king’s betrothed, Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner). As Cersei’s daughter sails away with her escort and Cersei, her son King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), Tyrion and Sansa start back toward the castle with their guard, a crowd of peasants jeers at them. When someone hits Joffrey with a cow pie, he demands that his guards execute everyone and it turns into a full-scale riot, with people torn limb from limb.

In the chaos, Sansa is separated from the others. She is grabbed by several men who tear her clothes, intending to rape and murder her. She is rescued by Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann), a member of the King’s Guard who kills Sansa’s tormentors by disemboweling them and returns Sansa safely to the castle. Sansa is shocked that she is so hated by people who don’t know her. Sansa confides to Shae that she hates Joffrey more than the peasants do; Shae counsels Sansa not to trust anyone.

At Winterfell, Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) strides in as a conqueror. He gets young Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) to cede the keep to him on the condition that Theon shows mercy to Bran’s people. However, Master of Arms Rodrik Cassel (Ron Donachie) spits in Theon’s face. Theon is reluctant to execute him but is advised that if Rodrik lives, the conquered people will not respect him. Despite Bran’s pleas, Theon executes Rodrik himself (and botches it). Bran’s Wildling servant Osha (Natalia Tena) first offers to fight in Theon’s army. When Theon refuses, Osha comes to Theon and offers to bed him in exchange for his freedom. With Theon sleeping, spent, Osha then goes to one of the guards, makes him the same offer – and kills him. Osha then spirits Bran, his younger brother, several household members and the boys’ direwolves out of captivity and into the woods.

At the war camp of Robb Stark (Richard Madden), Robb’s flirtation with the healer Talisa (Oona Chaplin) is interrupted by the arrival of Robb’s mother Catelyn (Michelle Fairley). They are together when they receive the news that Theon, who was raised at Winterfell, has taken the stronghold and killed Ser Rodrik. Robb’s first instinct is to go himself, but he can’t leave his army mid-battle, so one of his allies offers to send several hundred men to retake Winterfell and capture Theon.

At Harrenhal, Lord Tywin (Charles Dance) is curious but not displeased that his girl cupbearer, Arya (Maisie Williams), can read. Arya is appalled when Petyr Baelish (Aiden Gillen) comes to visit Tywin, but he seems not to recognize her. However, when Arya tries to spirit a note about her brother Robb’s battleground doings out of Tywin’s rooms, she is intercepted by one of Tywin’s men. Desperate, she goes to Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha), who has promised to kill three men for Ayra in return for her saving him and his comrades. Despite being uncomfortable with Arya’s demand that he do the killing right now, Jagen kills Tywin’s soldier just before the man is able to say anything to the lord about the cupbearer.

Beyond the Wall, the Night’s Watch scouting party led by Qhorin (Simon Armstrong) encounters several Wildlings. All but one of the Wildlings is killed in the skirmish. The surviving warrior is a young woman, Ygritte (Rose Leslie). Qhorin says she can’t be allowed to live, as she will alert her fellow Wildlings. Jon Snow (Kit Harington) offers to execute Ygritte. Qhorin and company see that Jon is having trouble killing a woman and give him some time and privacy – with the result that Ygritte escapes. Jon recaptures her, but still can’t bring himself to kill her. By now, he can’t find his comrades, or even his direwolf Ghost. He lays down for the night, clinging to the bemused Ygritte for warmth.

In Qarth, Daenerys is frustrated when her request for ships is turned down by two merchant-kings and a third demands sexual favors. Much worse awaits – when Daenerys and her host Xaro Xhoan Daxos (Nonso Anozie) return to his palace, everyone there has been slaughtered (including Daenerys’ maids) and the baby dragons have been stolen.

Once again, it’s astonishing that the makers of GAME OF THRONES manage to get this amount of event, action and emotion into an episode that lasts under an hour.

It’s hard to doubt that Daenerys will eventually get her dragons back because, to paraphrase Chevy Chase, she’s the Mother of Dragons and the dragon thieves are not. However, the scene of discovery is properly shocking and we are eager to find out how the situation will resolve itself. Once more, Clarke impresses us with the way she mixes Daenerys’ ambition and quick temper with her exultant belief in her own dreams.

Seeing Theon uncertainly teetering in his self-imposed role of triumphant hero gives us some sympathy for him at the same time we are repelled by his actions – Allen does a fine job of not only portraying but inspiring conflicting emotions. The sequences at Winterfell are harrowing. We may not be hugely involved with Ser Rodrik per se, but Bran’s horror and sense of betrayal is heartwrenching.

The Night’s Watch scenes are a little sludgy this time around – when we can anticipate that Ygritte is going to tell Jon that he’s “stupid, but brave,” it’s time to either do something unexpected or move along.

Balancing this, the scenes involving Arya tiptoeing around Tywin Lannister are genuinely suspenseful and the riot in King’s Landing is so visceral that it feels almost like a natural catastrophe. When Sansa is taken, director David Nutter and writer Vanessa Taylor whip us into a state where we genuinely fear that the worst may occur.

GAME OF THRONES has fully as many pieces as its unique opening credits suggest and its state of play remains awesome to behold. It just seems that, within its considerable scope, there might have been a more applicable scenario for the title “The Old Gods and the New.”


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: TV Review: GAME OF THRONES – Season 2 – “The Old Gods and the New”

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