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And so passes Renly.

It’s been a while, again, since I did one of these. Been playing a lot of Skyrim lately, though, and it’s put me in a Game of Thrones sort of mood.

The fifth episode’s major theme is ambition. We get a sort of summary of most of the major players’ ambitions or, failing that, the lengths they are or may be prepared to go to see them through. The question on the table is, “what is the cost?” and this is the show when it comes to showing the full ticket price of ambition.

For example,  Stannis wants to sit the Iron Throne. In order to make this happen, he’s willing to use some pretty extreme methods. The shadow birthed last episode by Melisandre crashes Renly’s party and murders him. Before this happens, Renly and Catelyn are in the middle of negotiating how an alliance between Robb and Renly might end the war, serve some justice to those who need it, and get things back to the less chaotic status quo set by Ned and Robert all those years back.

It’s Renly’s last scene and it’s filled with a sense of optimism undercut by the foreboding as we remember what’s about to happen to him. Brienne’s mournful wail and semi-mindless violence in the wake of his demise cuts through the WTF. Gwendolyn Christie steals another scene and underlines the perfection of her casting.

Dangling the promise of an end to all the bastards in Westeros is a nice way to send Renly off. This is Game of Thrones so there’s no way we’re gonna see a nice clean ending for anyone. The shadow-assassin isn’t just killing Renly, but reminding us of this.

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Speaking of WTF.

In the very next scene, Littlefinger continues to act the ally of House Tyrell. He counsels Margaery and Loras to fuck right off or be in deep trouble. Loras is grieving, much like Brienne, and just wants to hack off Stannis’s head. The practical heads prevail, however, and the Tyrells decide they are going to run away.

This scene is mostly about Margaery. Littlefinger is still feeling her out, trying to figure if she’s a player or a piece. Margaery lets us all in on her true ambition, to be not just a queen but the queen. Littlefinger probably thinks she’s a piece, a way for him to get closer to his own true ambitions (which remain an enigma), but I think we’re meant to wonder if perhaps she is a player after all. So far they’ve done a great job of showing Margaery as a cunning and pragmatic woman, sort of a Cersei 2.0 which is the easy mode way to adapt the character, but the writing and acting make it work.

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People love their Cersei gifs.

Cersei and Tyrion get another redundant scene together. It’s an echo of the scene where she pushes him, not just because it’s the same set, but because it’s the same old bullshit. Tyrion wants to know about Joffrey’s war plans this time, but Cersei continues her petty defiance in light of Myrcella being sent to Dorne against her will.

The only interesting thing in this scene, something I didn’t notice the first time around, is that Cersei is hitting the wine super hard. This is a follow up from earlier episodes where she is drinking a lot and it foreshadows the Drunk Cersei goonery that is so splendid later on.

Cersei is a great example of how ambition works for these characters. Her ambitions are always what rule her, and she is extremely indelicate in the process of attaining them. She schemes and this gives her the appearance of cunning, but the schemes never seem all that smart. The show chooses to emphasize her bitterness and meanness, but also how she is in some ways lost in her position. She’s less inherently wicked in the show, I think. This is intentional, definitely, as evinced by the change to having Joffrey order the execution of Robert’s bastards instead of her. The drinking contributes to this sense of Cersei as less formidable and competent than she seemed in the books. She’s dangerous still, but in different ways. I think she is also somehow more sympathetic too. Not so much in season one with Lena Headey scowling her way through her performance, but definitely it’s starting to show now. Headey also gets better, especially as the season comes to an end.

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Tyrion is getting bored of Lancel.

Because he can’t get what he wants from Cersei, Tyrion goes to Lancel. More reason to cut that previous scene altogether: the point is information which we get anyway, the very next scene. This is another redundant scene, though. Yes we find out some crucial info about how Cersei and Joffrey planned to fight Stannis’s fleet whenever it comes. But the redundancy comes from Tyrion’s badgering of Lancel, which feels repetitive given it’s the same material he spewed last episode.

I think the explanation for these clumsy redundancies is that they wanted to give the audience more Tyrion. This makes sense but it’s also disappointing in a show where time is so very precious.

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Nice background detail here: note the men bowing? These are meant to be Renly’s men. Renly’s death has made Stannis twice as powerful.

After what happened with Melisandre, Davos is ready to give Stannis another stern dose of truth. This scene gets at the heart of the ambition theme at the forefront of the episode. Stannis is supposed to be this righteous man, but he’s also proud and extremely ambitious. He does a thing he knows is dishonorable and evil and he won’t discuss it because he is ashamed. Better to erase the truth than deal with the consequences.

Davos changes tactics in his bid to weaken Melisandre’s influence and tells Stannis that she is already thought by some of the men to wield too much power. If she’s there at King’s Landing when they attack, it will look like her victory. Davos, I think, is less worried about people thinking Stannis is her thrall than he is that this is actually what’s going on. We already know that Melisandre’s influence on Stannis is tied up in his ambition.

The honorable part of Stannis doesn’t allow him to punish Davos for his honesty. Instead, Davos is rewarded again this time being granted command of the fleet when the battle happens. Stannis rewards honesty and loyalty, and this is either a cloak of honor he wraps himself in to hide his core, or it’s the core that shines out a little bit in spite of the darkness that’s growing around him.

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Any excuse for a Bronn shot, baby.

In the streets of King’s Landing, discontent is mounting. This is as much set up as all the talk of war. King’s Landing has heard the rumors about Joffrey’s parentage, and they see Tyrion as an evil monkey wielding the true power behind the corrupt Lannister rule. The policies of Joffrey and Cersei are the root of the problem and Tyrion is a victim of irony. He wants to save them all and is doing a pretty good job, but they only see the Imp.

At least he still has Bronn.

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Theon still can’t catch a break.

About to embark on his inglorious mission to attack fishermen, Theon tries to get his men to acknowledge his command but they laugh him off in that crusty Iron Islands way of theirs. He doesn’t impress them, and partially this is because power is not inherent to the Ironborn. They have to see something tangible before they will trust a leader. Yara turns up to mock Theon and give him a little bit of a lesson on the loyalty he wants but hasn’t earned.

Then Dagmer Cleftjaw comes out of nowhere. He is nicer to Theon, maybe because he has some imagination. It’s a weird scene because Dagmer says his own name almost too quietly to hear. It’s when you see the scar that you know it’s supposed to be him. But it’s still distracting because this little scar just isn’t enough to evoke the character from the books. That guy was described as a fearsome sight. Here, Dagmer just looks like everybody else but with a scar.

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See? He could be Bronn’s brother. What gives, HBO?

Dagmer also gives Theon a bit of a lesson. However, he also eggs him on a bit. The wheels in Theon’s head start spinning and within a few seconds Dagmer is smiling like this because Theon has decided to mount a false attack on Torrhen’s Square to trick the Winterfell garrison long enough to take Winterfell itself.

Ambition.

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One of the better changes from the book is putting these two together more.

Arya is tip-toeing around her new job as Tywin’s cupbearer. He figures out she’s from the North during a war council and questions her about what the North thinks of Robb Stark. She tells him that they say he can’t die and he asks if she believes it. No, she says, anyone can be killed. That sentence resonates not only with the show/books themselves but also acts as a one-line summary of Arya’s entire character arc.

They deadlock their eyes and Arya doesn’t flinch. I think Tywin suspects she’s dangerous or at least doesn’t see him as a friend, but he likes her anyway and keeps her around. Good for us, bad for Tywin.

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Now Jaqen is a Lannister soldier?

In the aftermath of Tywin figuring out she’s from the North, Arya must realize the danger of her position. She’s not exactly the type to scare easily, though. She even goes after Jaqen, calling him “one of them now”. He points out her hypocrisy, being Tywin’s own cupbearer, and illustrates for her that they are doing the same thing: hiding in plain sight.

Because she saved his life and the lives of the others in the cage, he offers her three lives in return. She wants the guy who tortures people, The Tickler, but she doesn’t seem to quite believe Jaqen is as good as his word. Interestingly, he mentions the “Red God”. When I first watched this episode, I thought that they had made a change here and were streamlining the cosmology of Game of Thrones to be simpler for the audience. There are other signs that the show backed off its trust for the audience (so much a part of what made the first season a mega hit, in my opinion), and I believed this was one of them.

However, I think now that it’s a reference to the fire. I honestly can’t remember if he says this in the book or not but I’ve been told he does. Either way, the implication seems clear: Melisandre’s Red God is the God of Fire, and saving men from burning is thus saving them from the Red God. That Jaqen and the other Faceless Men have their own God remains in play, I hope.

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Sam is excited!

At the Fist of the First Men, an ancient landmark where the first humans of Westeros gathered, the Night’s Watch sets up camp. Jon and the Old Bear talk about Qhorin Halfhand, a legendary ranger of the Watch who is scouting for Wildlings and is supposed to be joining the Watch again to relay what he has learned.

Waiting for him, our heroes discuss the history of the Fist and the protocol of horn calls. This is some nice exposition to prepare us for when shit starts hitting the fan. It also foreshadows both the battle to come and the advance of the White Walkers at the end of the season.

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Tyrion gets another new toy!

Having learned from Lancel about the wildfire, Tyrion and Bronn visit the pyromancers to find out more. Interestingly, the pyromancer wears a chain similar to that of a Maester. Nothing like this was described in the book that I can recall, but it’s a nice visual connection. It implies that, whatever they are, the pyromancers see themselves or are seen to be like the Maesters. I think it implies a mimicry, one that attempts to legitimize the pyromancers.

Bronn points out how dangerous using this weapon would be in one of his hilarious monologues. The wildfire is basically the Game of Thrones version of “Greek fire”, a napalm-like substance used in battles in our history. Greek fire is a “lost technology”. At some point, people stopped making it and no one knows now how it was made or precisely what it was.

Though he agrees with Bronn about the dangers, once Tyrion sees the huge store of wildfire that the pyromancers have made, he also sees the potential.

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Dragons have to char their food before they’ll eat it.

Dany is getting a chance to relax over in Qarth. Her serving girls, one a Dothraki and the other not, have a bit of a rivalry going. Their debate is about clothing, whether Dany should dress as a Qartheen or as a Khaleesi. The issue is symbolic: this scene is about Dany’s identity. In a larger sense, it is about the temptation Qarth represents to her. On one side, the Khaleesi and on the other the Princess. One a leader forged in a crucible, the other a civilized woman dependent on the charity of more powerful men.

In the gardens of Qarth, we get to see a little shred of this “great city”. This underlines the disappointing scale of Qarth as we see it. But it’s more important to note that, at least in this episode, Danaerys is treated with subtlety and strong thematic work. Settling a dispute between two of her bloodriders, we again see the contrast between Dothraki ways and the ways of “civilization” and the sort of tug of war happening to Danaerys as she is again among the civilized, living a luxurious life.

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Stupid name, scary guy.

Of course, it isn’t pure charity that has brought her to this. There are factions in Qarth that want to use her. The first we get to see of this, of Dany’s centrality to some kind of power play happening there, is when Pyat Pree shows up. They nailed him, by the way. He’s a creepy motherfucker. He does some weird magical doppelganger effect that delights the crowd. He offers Dany the hospitality of the warlocks, implicitly asking her to choose them over Xaro Xhoan Daxos.

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Qarth finally feels like an alien culture in these scenes.

Xaro appears, however, to make fun of Pree and give us some exposition about warlocks. As he leads Danaerys away, a masked woman appears to give cryptic warnings to Jorah Mormont.

What they’re setting up is another front in the battle for Danaerys’s identity. Her serving girls only set the stage, but it’s Jorah and Xaro who are going to drive home the point.

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“A woman’s kind of courage.”

Winning the show again, Brienne swears service to Catelyn who won’t let her go off to get killed trying to avenge Renly. They note that the shadow that killed him was in the shape of Stannis, making them both targets not only of Renly’s men who blame them for his death, but of Stannis who will want the truth kept hidden.

Back in Winterfell, we get to see more of Bran’s good governance. Then Rodrick appears to tell him that Torrhen’s Square has been attacked by an unknown enemy (they assume sellswords in Lannister employ). After Bran sends him off to sort it out, he tells Osha about his strange dreams and the three-eyed raven.

Osha knows something, but doesn’t say what. Bran’s dreams are prophetic, the sea is Theon’s Ironborn and Rodrick is indeed killed by Theon later on. I think this scene is about setting the stage for Osha’s interventions later on. She is genuinely fond of Bran and Rickon, but I think there’s meant to be more going on there too. She knows Bran is important to more than just Winterfell.

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Qhorin doesn’t even get a proper introduction.

Qhorin Halfhand is a fan favorite from the books. He’s awesome. In the show, they talk about him as a way of introducing him and then plop him into this scene. The audience has to figure out who he is and it’s kind of poorly handled. Honestly, Qhorin’s whole part in the show is handled choppily and I’ll get to that in future recaps.

Anyways, here he lays out the stakes. Lots of that in this episode. The Wildlings have all assembled under Mance Rayder and he believes they will adopt greater discipline and more Southren-style tactics when they push South. Qhorin’s plan is to use Wildling tactics against them, then, by taking a few men to infiltrate his camp and kill him.

Jon goes along too. As Qhorin is the most important of Jon’s mentors, it seems like they’re going to give this bit its due. This scene, in spite of how choppy Qhorin’s introduction is, gets that right and feels like a good start for everything that’s going to go down.

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Daxos is soooo dreamy.

Being a shrewd manipulator, Xaro interprets that Jorah’s loyalty comes from love and tells this to Dany. In this scene, Emilia Clarke is given the writing needed to be the Danaerys Stormborn we know and love. She is witty, charming, and possessed of inner strength and her interactions with Xaro show that. It’s a bit sad, then, that the show fucks her up so bad for the rest of the season. That said, I remembered it all as a lot worse than it’s been so far, but maybe I thought the problems started earlier than they do.

Anyways, Daxos and Dany have a discussion about ambition. This emphasizes the theme I’ve been telling you about and makes it explicit. Dany is offered all the resources she needs to win Westeros at the cost of marrying Xaro, who is also fairly ambitious.

Jorah doesn’t like the idea. He insists that she make her own way and not arrive in Westeros at the front of a foreign enemy. He has a point when it comes to her legitimacy and he talks about why she’s the right person for the job. Her gentle heart is why he supports her, he says, and she begins to see the truth in what Xaro told her. Of course, she also understands that Jorah is correct as well. It seems like this scene reconciles Dany’s identity issues: she will do this her way, using her own means, and remain herself.

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Sexy Gendry!

Arya and Gendry hang out moments before the Tickler’s body is discovered. So it would seem that Jaqen is indeed as good as his word. As is the trend in Season 2, the episode ends with Arya’s storyline.

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And some vitamin Jaq.

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