In the wake of Nedd Stark’s death there have been very few trustworthy characters in this series of Game of Thrones. Just when you think you’ve got their loyalties pinned down they turn around and spit in your face.
Poor Theon, though. Even while he’s attacking Winterfell as a Greyjoy there’s a sense that he doesn’t really know what he’s doing. Those opening scenes of him shouting orders and botching executions whilst his old friends and the people who raised him are uncomfortable; not necessarily because the things that he’s doing are so terrible but because it’s clear that he isn’t comfortable in his role, and is nothing more than a child attempting to impress his father at the cost of his previous friendships.
It’s an excellent performance on the part of Alfie Allen as he conveys a sense of forced confidence under-shadowed by the doubts of whether what his character is doing is actually right. Luckily, Bran and his siblings manage to escape before they are subjected to even more incompetent brutality.
Prospects of escape for the other Stark children, however, seem to be rather out of reach. Arya’s position at Harrenhal as Tywin Lannister’s cupbearer has become increasingly precarious as she desperately tries to protect the truth about her identity. Although the affably villainous Lord is still being civil towards her, the exchanges between the two hint that he may be slowly deducing that she isn’t just a poor girl from the north caught up in the horrors of war.
The presence of Littlefinger, the one man who would be able to recognise her, raises the stakes even further. Help is at hand from the assassin Jaqen who kills an inconsequential knight to protect the young Stark’s identity; using up the second of the three deaths that he owes her. Despite her survival, her exposure to the darker side of the world can do nothing but harm what remaining innocence is left within her.
In King’s Landing, Sansa is in much more immediate danger as the city revolts against its King. The scenes of violence are some of the most gruesome yet, as mobs brutally beat and tear off the various body parts of anyone close to the court they can get their hands on. Sansa herself is almost a victim of rape until the timely intervention of The Hound, Sandor Clegane. She realises that her mere proximity to the King, no matter how much she despises him herself, is enough to make her an object of hate for the people. The riots do bring a degree of satisfaction, though, as Joffrey is once again slapped around by Tyrion for his incompetence. These few instances are slowly becoming the highlight of the show, as it’s the only way the young monster is ever really reprimanded for his idiotic, brutal reign. Too bad it’s clear that he will never learn his lesson.
Across the sea, Qarth doesn’t really seem to be responding to Daenerys’ impassioned pleas and forthright speeches about thrones and birthright as readily as the Dothraki tribes did. Her search for ships to carry her back to the Seven Kingdoms has proven to be more difficult than first thought, especially as she doesn’t have the one thing that the merchants do value: money. It’s sad to watch; we’re so used to seeing her always succeed in some way in the face of adversity. This time, her efforts ends in tragedy as she returns to her quarters to find that, to top things off, someone has stolen her dragons.
Jon Snow, meanwhile, is proving to be just as bad at being a scout as he was a steward. Next to the scarred, fingerless Halfhand he looks positively infantile. He might be good at swordplay but he’s just a bit too chivalrous to cope with the harsh reality of life beyond The Wall. This comes to a head when he discovers that not all wildlings are big, gruff, brutal and bearded men, but that there are in fact women as well. When Jon agrees to execute one such wildling girl, he is unable to and ends up separated from his Night’s Watch companions. Whether they’ll actually bother searching for him or not is a mystery but one thing is certain: Jon really isn’t cut out for the job he is meant to do yet.
Despite there being plenty of solid story beats in this week “The Old Gods and The New” seems almost rushed compared to previous episodes. The riot in King’s Landing is confined to a curiously small space of time, despite being a relatively major plot development. We don’t even get to see the taking of Winterfell, only Theon strutting around its halls after the battle is won. Perhaps this is because of budget constraints, but it’s almost as if we only ever get to hear about the chaos that strangles the Kingdoms, and never the opportunity to see it for ourselves.