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Review: Game of Thrones, Season 2 Episode 4

Posted by Patrick Sauriol on Sunday, April 29, 2012

Based off of George R.R. Martin’s 1,000-page opus A Clash of Kings, the second season of HBO’s Game of Thrones takes the first year’s intricate plot lines, character shadings, and thematic undercurrents and simultaneously expands and deepens them to a ridiculously exponential degree.  Or, at least, it’s supposed to – the actual doing just may prove to be a ways off from the source material’s being.

This column (It Is Known: An Analysis of Thrones) acts as a companion piece to both series, novel and television, analyzing the continuing story of the War of the Five Kings – and how it fares in the transition from the page to the screen.  What it will not do is spoil the story; the hope and intent is elucidation, not ruination.

Given the twists and turns, betrayals and sacrifices that await in the next seven episodes, such illumination will be needed.

It is known.

 

Episode 204: “Garden of Bones”

The first half of Game of Thrones’s first season was dedicated to working out the kinks of the adaptation process; although these first five installments are solid, they still, in retrospect, bear the gawky awkwardness of adolescence.  The latter half of that first year, meanwhile, marks the period when showrunners Ben Weiss and David Benioff became more surefooted in their translating prowess, and the first three episodes of season two have begun a time when the show is actually being conceived, executed, and even received as an actual television series first and foremost.

It is “Garden of Bones” that will, in hindsight, be remembered as the next milestone in Benioff and Weiss’s baby – when the show, in a highly unfiltered or uncompromised fashion, embodied more than just a literary narrative jotted down some 14 years ago.  Knowing what is to unfold in the moments to come (or, even, in the years that follow) does nothing to alleviate the tension that is built or the disgust that is created by watching hapless villagers-turned-prisoners be tortured by the Mountain That Rides’s men.  When combined with the birthing of shadow babies by the Lady Melisandre (which was handled almost flawlessly) or, even, the new addition of King Joffrey having his whores savagely beat one another, it makes for an hour of television that will surely live long in the annals of the medium, coupled with the sheer potency of such series as The Sopranos or Battlestar Galactica.

Given the gradual increase of disturbance or uneasiness that accompanies each subsequent book, it makes one wonder just how unbearable, say, the (proposed) third season finale will be to watch…

 

The Differences between the Novel and the Episode

Daenerys Stormborn has a remarkably truncated presence in A Clash of Kings; at only five total chapters, it’s the smallest amount across all five published novels and literally half of the presence she had in the first book.  It comes as no surprise, then, that David Benioff and Dan Weiss would, on the one hand, draw out her storyline as much as possible (as we saw with just the one [or so] scene contained in each of the first two episodes) and, on the other hand, expand it to include brand-new material.

What may come as a surprise is the form this new content is already taking.  When the bloodrider Jhogo returns from scouting the Red Waste, he not only bares the news that the city of Qarth is receptive to her presence, he also brings with him three visitors on strange creatures that turn out to be camels, representatives from the three major forces that dominate Qartheen life to one degree or another:  the warlocks, the merchant guild known as the Thirteen, and the mysterious shadow binders.  They have all come to look on Daenerys with their own eyes.  From the book:

 

Dany stared down at the strangers.  “Here I stand.  Look, if that is your pleasure… but first tell me your names.”

The pale man with the blue lips replied in guttural Dothraki, “I am Pyat Pree, the great warlock.”

The bald man with the jewels in his nose answered in the Valyrian of the Free Cities, “I am Xaro Xhoan Daxos of the Thirteen, a merchant prince of Qarth.”

The woman in the lacquered wooden mask said in the Common Tongue of the Seven Kingdoms, “I am Quaithe of the Shadow.  We come seeking dragons.”

“Seek no more,” Daenerys Targaryen told them.  “You have found them.”

 

…and that’s it.  Dany has no reservation in the slightest about letting the emissaries see her dragons, and the Qartheen have no particular problem in welcoming her to the city, probably because of the khaleesi’s openness.  In fact, the very next scene shows the parade-like welcome her meager Dothraki horde receives as they are celebrated from the city’s massive walls and are subsequently lead down its majestic streets.

There is an undercurrent of tension to the entire throughline, however, as Dany is repeatedly told not to trust anyone in the greatest city that ever was or ever will be, both by those that call Qarth home and those that do not – although this is only what can be described as a subdued element of the narrative, a card that Martin keeps (comparatively) close to his vest.  Given the producers’ inclination to play each and every subtlety to the hilt, though, the suspense is trotted out to the forefront and made into something of a showdown spectacle (not unlike, say, Lord Eddard Stark and Ser Jaime Lannister).

Which is not to say that it doesn’t work, and doesn’t do so splendidly.  The actor cast in the brand-new role of the spokesman for the Thirteen is quite simply superb in every way a performance can be gauged:  inflection and intonation, body language and facial tick.  And the casting of Xaro is equally impressive, even if the showrunners had to invent a bit of backstory to make him a person of color (which, of course, is nice to see, as a bit of racial diversity in a world that was very deliberately made to be white-dominated is nonetheless refreshing).  It will be intriguing, at the least, to see how Weiss and Benioff continue to play the heightened drama of Qarth out – and how it continues to diverge from the source material.

Another divergence – one more inexplicable both in its conception and execution – is the method in which the fateful meeting between the Kings Baratheon, Stannis and Renly, is handled.  In Clash of Kings, it is Renly who comes out as getting the upper hand in the exchange:  flippant and utterly unflappable, Renly forces his sweet brother with nearly every word to grind his teeth and bark out every reply from a place of sheer defensiveness.  On the show, however, it is Stannis, the very picture of cool, calm, and collected, who emerges as the side of greater strength, making his younger brother grimace and ride off in anger.

And then there is the matter of the peach.  In the middle of the parley, Renly reaches to his side, which makes Stannis, unwilling to be caught unawares, go for his own sword – but it is only a peach that Renly produces, sweet and succulent.  Having already thoroughly embarrassed his older brother, he next offers him the piece of fruit and then, when refused, proceeds to casually eat it throughout the remainder of the “negotiations.”  There are few beats of such pure characterization in Martin’s work, not the least because it is often such moments of silliness or wantonness that define both the individual engaging in it and the one mystified by it.  The peach’s absence is sorely missed.

As is, it should be noted, the lack of explanation of King Stannis’s presence at Renly’s encampment.  In the book, not a small amount of time is devoted to the huge plot twist of Stannis’s mighty fleet arriving at Storm’s End, the ancestral seat of House Baratheon, as opposed to the expected target of King’s Landing; Stannis cannot claim the Iron Throne without first securing his own traditional throne, after all – not to mention the sheer number of lordlings and knights that come attached to it.  In the series, Stannis seems to magically arrive, with no advance warning or even attention spent to the revelation.

Forget its being sorely missed – this one is downright mystifying.

 

 

Expanding the Story

Care to see what Wired, the Huffington Post, and Realms of Fantasy have to say about Game of Thrones’s second season thus far?  Then you should check out the new roundtable that Marc N. Kleinhenz put together for this here very site.  It’s long but very informative, and it contains some little nuggets of insight that should prove enriching to your Thrones viewing experience.

 

The Lore behind the Iron Throne

Previous It Is Known Installments

 

[Marc N. Kleinhenz has written for 18 sites, including IGN, Gamasutra, and Nintendojo, where he co-hosts the Airship Travelogues podcast.  He also likes mittens.]

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