Danaerys has finally found somewhere to put her box of dragons: the walled city of Qarth where she is welcomed by a rather strange council of merchants known as The Thirteen. After a bit of heavy bartering (involving some strongly-worded threats about grown dragons burning the place to the ground), she is let in under the surveillance of a member of The Thirteen called Xaro Xhoan Daxos. Considering she’s only briefly been in two of the previous three episodes this short interlude is a huge leap for the exiled princess’ story.
Across the sea in the Seven Kingdoms it’s time for Robb, King in the North, to face up to even more of the realities of war. As has been common for this series we only ever get sneak glimpses of any actual battle but always have to deal with the aftermath. The aftermath in this case ends up with Robb removing the leg of a wounded enemy soldier (isn’t medieval medicine wonderful?) as he is lectured on the innocent lives that he’s inevitably going to end up cutting short. It’s a nice little aside and a good way to open an episode that is preoccupied with the inflicting (and the results) of horrible violence.
And there seems to be no greater master of horrible violence than our very own little King Joffrey Baratheon. We haven’t really seen a huge amount of him over the last few episodes but his influence has been ever present, most notably in that massacre of children that dominated the events of ‘The Night Lands’. Just in case we have forgotten how much of an absolute monster this guy is in person, the writers have decided to give him a quick appearance, physically and emotionally abusing Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), his captive wife-to-be. Turner’s performance has been consistently brilliant; her terrified ‘devotion’ to Joffrey plays against the monarch’s villainy perfectly. Good thing Tyrion stops this specific session of abuse and decides that his nephew is a bit ‘frustrated’. Things don’t go to plan, though, when the young king finds the late birthday present of two prostitutes in his chambers. I’m sure I don’t have to go into details but it ends up as just another terrible event to place at the top of a growing stack of terrible events.
Sociopathic behaviour isn’t confined to Joffrey’s court. After being taken prisoner by Lannister men, Arya and her group have been taken to the supposedly cursed castle Harrenhal, a ruin of a place presided over by The Mountain: Ser Gregor Clegane, a man we saw last beheading a horse. This time, however, he’s torturing prisoners by strapping a bucket of rats to their stomach and holding a torch over it. Supposedly this is all in the name of military intelligence; but the lack of results says otherwise.
This latest series of injustices is stopped short by the appearance of the head of the Lannister family and the sophisticated villain that this series has lacked in Joffrey: Tywin Lannister. This time, instead of a devil, he’s a godsend: putting the prisoners to work rather than torturing them and immediately noticing that Arya is in fact a girl and a perfect candidate to be his new cup bearer.
Stannis also meets his brother Renly. Safe to say, the fact that the latter has more men and is unwilling to accept his older sibling’s claim to the throne is a great annoyance to the older Baratheon. Stannis is slowly becoming one of the most interesting characters; his anger that the world is not as black and white as he would probably like, and that everyone is supposedly against his just campaign, is captured amazingly well by Stephen Dillane.
It’s probably this anger that Melisandre takes advantage of to perform the first part of overt magic seen in the show: giving birth to a shadow monster that is sure to cause nothing but trouble. The complete lack of spell books or any other clichés of fantasy avoids making the event seem contrived and instead turns it into a viable part of the universe that the show has created.
While not jumping from place to place as much as the other episodes, ‘Garden of Bones’ provides a focus and intensity that seems to be pushing the story forwards with ever greater momentum.
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