Game of Thrones: Series 2, Episode Five – “The Ghost of Harrenhal”

You know how last time there were five kings fighting for various crowns and thrones? Well, it looks like we might want to revise that number a bit after the opening of this week’s episode.

We all knew that the shadow beast Melisandre gave birth to was never going to be up to any good. Safe to say it lives up to expectations when, less than five minutes after the title sequence, it stabs good king Renly in his own tent in front of Catelyn Stark and Renly’s body guard, Brienne. Both women are quickly forced to flee as Renly’s banner men either flock to Stannis or, in the case of Margaery, Loras and the rest of Tyrells, run away as well. The speed with which events take place means the scenes lack emotional impact, especially considering Renly was one of the more likeable characters we have met so far. As a catalyst for subsequent events, though, it works marvelously; providing a power void that only Stannis can fill, and revealing a bit more about Margaery Tyrell’s character and ambitions as she replies to Littlefinger’s question ‘Do you want to be a queen?’ with the answer ‘No, I want to be the queen’. Despite Renly’s death, it is obvious we’ll be seeing a lot more of Margaery over the next few weeks.

As one story arc is cut short, meanwhile, two others are just getting geared up after being neglected for several episodes: those of Jon Snow and Danaerys Targaryen. Let’s start with Snow because, frankly, it’s hard to ignore him when his story takes place in some of the most breathtaking scenery we’ve seen in the whole series. The snowy wastes of Iceland are a perfect stand in for the snowy wastes beyond The Wall where Jon and his Night’s Watch companions are hunting wildlings. The mountains and endless plains are a welcome respite from the claustrophobic forests that were previously the focus. The change in location also gives Jon a moment to shine as he is permitted to scout ahead, temporarily giving up his duties as a steward. Only time will tell how this turns out.

Meanwhile, Qarth, the city Danaerys was made a guest of last week, is as exotic as the Northern Wastes are bloody freezing. The design team must have had an incredible amount of fun with its residents, most notably a collection blue lipped, purple robed ‘warlocks’ who resemble what would happen if a vulture and a human fell very much in love. The fact that Danaerys isn’t starving to death anymore also sets her back on track for her original storyline: finding the best way possible take back the Iron Throne for her family. To that end she is presented two options: either accept a proposition from her exceedingly rich host, Xaro, and buy an army, or rely on Ser Jorah’s assumption that the people of the Seven Kingdoms will rise up to support her as soon as she crosses the sea. She opts for the second, but the scenes that precede it reveal that Jorah is not only faithful to his queen but obviously in love with her, and knowing this show this is bound to end badly.

Tyrion is still consolidating power as he finds the king and his mother are commissioning the creation of wildfire: an incredibly fast burning substance that is the closest Game of Thrones has to a weapon of mass destruction. Far from stopping production, though, Tyrion encourages it, noting though that the alchemists are no longer making it for Joffrey but rather for his own needs.

Over on Pyke, Theon has also taken the initiative. Sick of being embarrassed at every turn by the collection of sailors he’s supposed to command, he concocts a plan to take Winterfell from under the Starks’ noses; a plot that is surely going to come to fruition as Bran Stark complains of dreams about the sea coming to his castle home.

Finally it is Arya’s story that gives ‘The Ghost of Harrenhal’ its title. Although the place is not as much of a Hell as it was previously she is still in a state of captivity under the guard of the ever polite but menacing presence of Tywin Lannister. The ghost, however, comes in the form of the foreigner she saved from a fire two episodes ago. Turns out he’s an incredibly gifted assassin who offers his services to Arya. She immediately puts him to work, asking him to kill the torturer from last week. As the man dies, we see a small smile from the little Stark, and one can’t help but wonder, like Theon, where this darker path will take her.

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