Review: Game of Thrones 2.03: What Is Dead May Never Die

By Silvia Moreno-Garcia

[spoilers ahead]

Power can be such a headache. At least, that’s what we learn in this episode of a Game of Thrones. Renly has a bunch of men who will fight for him and the might of the House Tyrell to back him up, but as Catelyn Stark points out, he’s yet to fight a war. Then there is the little problem of his wife, the beautiful Margaery Tyrell, sister to Loras Tyrell. You will recall that Ser Loras is Renly’s lover. Renly needs to consummate his marriage to Margaery, and quickly, but he can’t bring himself to do the deed.

The Margaery of the TV show is older and wordlier than the one in the books. She knows Renly is homosexual and has no qualms with it, but understand that, to keep his precarious crown, he must quickly get his queen pregnant.

In Martin’s original, Renly’s homosexuality is implicit. The show, however, has established it as an explicit element and it has decided to take the bull by the horns, so to speak, by casting a young woman who is no innocent. This opens some interesting avenues for character development, as Margaery now becomes a sleeker, more determined player of this game of thrones, though this might pose a narrative crinkle or two in the following seasons. At the same time, Natalie Dormer plays Margaery well: This is a shrewd politician. It’ll be interesting to see what ripples her character creates. She might give the other good players a run for their money.

And who is a better player than Tyrion Lannister? In a series of quick edits, he tells Pycelle, Varys and Littlefinger that he is marrying his niece off to three different men, all in an effort to see whom he can trust and whom he can’t. Pycelle goes and gossips to Cersei about the betrothal, and is tossed into the dungeons.

As smart as he is, Tyrion does have his weaknesses: Shae, the feisty prostitute he’s trying to hide in plain sight by making her the handmaiden of Sansa Stark. Though we get only two scenes with Sansa, they are enough to establish how thoroughly traumatised and fearful the girl has become. She is living on the knife’s edge and she knows that any day, her head might be on the chopping block. At the same time, she seems to need a friend and perhaps Shae will do.

In the land of Cthulhu and Vikings, Theon is also getting a lesson in power and difficult choices. His father, Balon, is ready to raid the North while the Stark army is fighting in the South. Theon, originally sent by Robb to broker an alliance with the Iron Islands, wants to please his father and show he can lead, while, at the same time, he realises he must betray his friend. This gives us a fine sequence with great lighting, during which Theon burns the letter he penned: a letter which might have warned Robb about his father’s invasion.

Theon, an unlikable character in the books and onscreen, is fleshed out in the scenes with his family and even Balon, his stern father, gets a few seconds to show his sorrow when the actor reacts to Theon’s accusation that Balon let the Starks take him as a hostage years before. It’s this kind of good acting which keeps the wheels in the show moving (Cersei also gets a moment of humanity when she screams at Tyrion for brokering a marriage for her daughter, thus shipping her off away from court).

Finally, in the North, Jon Snow is also learning a lesson in power. Sometimes, you need nasty men like Craster. It’s a harsh world and a harsh reality for the boy, and the future doesn’t look any better with his party headed further North, closer to the bizarre, blue-eyed creatures that haunt the forests.

During this episode, we also get a scene with Brandon Stark, who explains he’s been having odd dreams in which he is a wolf. He is assured that these are just dreams and, though skinchangers might have existed many years ago, magic has left this world and such creatures, just like dragons, are long gone. Of course, dragons are back, so you can connect the dots about Brandon.

All this and I haven’t even talked about Brienne of Tarth! Brienne is a woman who also happens to be a knight, which is quite the thing in Westerosi society. In the books, she is extremely tall, strong, blond, blue-eyed, and definitely not a hottie. And what do you know, the casting department lucked out because they found Gwendoline Christie, who is blond, blue-eyed, definitely looks on the drab-and-plain side with all her armour, and she is – wait for it – 6’3”. Yeah. You can imagine what Brienne looks like when she’s standing next to Catelyn Stark: like an optical effect, which she isn’t. She’s just…perfect for the role.

Brienne is exactly what Arya Stark might want to be: a fighter. And yet, it is obvious in her brief scene that being an expert swordswoman is not as awesome as one might think. Neither is being a lady like Sansa. The world just sucks and the only one character who might have a chance to figure out this power thing versus being a woman caught up in a fucked-up world might be Daenerys, but she doesn’t get a single frame this episode, so we can’t tell what she’s up to.

Arya, does, however get a scene when her campsite is raided by soldiers sent to find Gendry, bastard son of Robert Baratheon. During the attack, she releases three dangerous prisoners who were in a cage, saving their lives. Thus, she spares Jaqen H’ghar, a man we glimpsed briefly in the previous episode (and who will become an important character as far as Arya is concerned). The soldiers kill several people, including a young boy. When they ask the survivors to identify Gendry, Arya speaks up and says the murdered boy was Gendry, thus saving the real Gendry.

Arya’s fate is different from the books, with much material condensed and modified, though it is obvious why the changes are being made: to advance the story. And you can imagine how much this needs to be advanced! As it stands right now, we’ve got Theon’s family going to invade the North, the different armies in the South heading for a clash, Jon Snow’s adventures byeond the Wall, never mind Daenery’s fate on another continent.

Though certainly not boring, Game of Thrones is packing a lot of plot into its weekly time-slot and I know viewers who have not read the books are probably trying to follow the action with frenetic questions plaguing their minds. Rest assured: It’s just starting to get good.

Stuff to notice:

  • Yara, Theon’s sister, seems like a direct counterpoint to Margaery: She is also a woman in search of a kingdom and power, though Yara will take it at knifepoint.
  • Does Petyr still have a thing for Catelyn? Tyrion suggests that he might send him off to broker a prisoner exchange and Petyr’s expression betrays a flicker of something. Will we see a Petyr-and-Catelyn scene for real?
  • Tyrion pays the prostitute who was flung out of bed when he came to arrest Pycelle. He actually pays her twice, for her troubles. Tyrion is classy.
  • Tyrion threatens Pycelle by ordering one of his Mountain Men to cut off his dick and feed it to the goat. When the man complains he’s got no goats around these parts, Tyrion urges him to improvise.
  • Margaery should marry Tyrion. With her quick, direct and practical approach to life, she’d make him a good queen and we know he’s got ‘ruler’ stamped all over. Daenerys could also benefit from a dose of level-headedness and expert maneuvering provided by these two. Fanfic, maybe?

About Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Silvia Moreno-Garcia lives in beautiful, rainy British Columbia with her family and two cats. She writes fantasy, magic realism and science fiction. You can read her stories in Imaginarium 2012: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing, The Book of Cthulhu, Evolve 2 and Tesseracts 13. She is the co-editor of Candle in the Attic Window, Future Lovecraft and Historical Lovecraft.

Silvia Moreno-GarciaReview: Game of Thrones 2.03: What Is Dead May Never Die