Game of Thrones Revisited: 2.03 What Is Dead May Never Die
Game of Thrones, the critically acclaimed TV series by David Benioff and DB Weiss and developed from the best-selling series of novels by George RR Martin, has become a cultural icon. The tentpole of HBO's programming with a stellar cast and mix of medieval-style political drama and war with a healthy dash of fantasy, Game of Thrones has enthralled audiences worldwide. And in 2019, the show will come to a dramatic end in its final run of feature length episodes. In the lead up to season eight, I explore every episode leading up to the final battle for Westeros and the rest of the world; this time the pace settles down in this excellent early season two episodes that introduces us to more key players to the Game of Thrones...
Warning: There may be spoilers for seasons one to seven...
After a somewhat scatterbrained approach to the beginning of the second season, the third episode What Is Dead May Never Die is a much more balanced episode, taking the time to give each story the attention it deserves. While Jon being attacked by Craster for interfering in his ways feels like a layover for the last episode, the rest of the episode feels more focused. It means the plight of Daenerys and the events with Stannis on Dragonstone are on hold for a week, but their absence is barely felt.
This episode introduces us to Natalie Dormer's Margaery Tyrell and Gwendoline Christie's Brienne of Tarth, both key players in the seasons to come. There is something rather satisfying at seeing Brienne knock Loras Tyrell down in combat and position herself as a member of Renly's Kingsguard. Finn Jones isn't exactly the strongest actor in the pack (something that was clear when he played Danny Rand in superhero ensemble The Defenders) and he comes across as arrogant and petty in the scene where he questions Catelyn's authority and demands she kneel before King Renly.
Gethin Anthony however, imbues Renly with a great deal of humility and warmth in what is but a brief role in Game of Thrones. Even knowing his fate, it is clear he was always going to be eaten alive by his rivals in the War of the Five Kings; Catelyn is quick to call out his forces as an army used to the warmth of summer inexperienced in the coming darkness of winter. It's a nice metaphor and it is hard to imagine Renly surviving the events of the later seasons, let alone the oncoming dead.
But that is kind of the point; he is inexperienced and hiding behind his family's name. Even his choice of lover, as skilled outside his battle with Brienne as he might be, is a weak character. Loras's sister and Renly's wife Margaery is a different personality altogether. Behind the warm smiles and beauty you can tell she has a will or iron and isn't afraid to say or do what must be done to achieve the right goals, as she demonstrates when she suggests Renly bring in Loras to help her husband give her an heir without any sense of awkwardness or shame. It is a surprisingly tender moment between Margaery and Renly.
In King's landing Tyrion exerts his rule as Hand of the King and does an excellent job of rooting out Cersei's spy by playing off the cunning Varys, Littlefinger and Pycelle and demonstrating he is cleverer than any of them. This is Tyrion's best episode to date, played with wit and determination by Peter Dinklage who proves why he was right to win all those awards for his performance.
I love the building respect between Tyrion and Varys, though you can't help but feel the spider's suggestion that Shae becomes Sansa's handmaiden is a trap with a long game. It's also rather satisfying to see Littlefinger's grip on power continue to crumble; his rage at being played by the dwarf show's breaking that smug confidence he had in season one. Tyrion having Pycelle's dragged to the cells is another satisfying moment; he has always been an insidious character, hiding behind this frail, doddering façade and the icing on the cake is Cersei's rage at not being able to do anything to stop her brother's machinations.
Though while she may be powerless against Tyrion, the scene where she dines with Sansa and her children is a different matter altogether. This really is the long torture of the eldest Stark daughter; while Tommen's admittance that he wouldn't want her brother Robb to die speaks to his good nature that will ultimate be his undoing. The same cannot be said for Cersei who is beyond cruel as suggests with relish that Sansa will do her duty and marry Joffrey even if he kills Robb.
Family is also a key theme over at the Pyke as Theon's attempt at redemption falters. Patrick Malahide's Balon Greyjoy is a powerful , vile presence in Theon's life, something he has not had for some time and the glory he bestows upon his sister Yara are easily enough to make him betray his oath to Robb and join his father in raging a bloody war against the north.
At this stage in the show, Alfie Allen's performance has largely exuded arrogance but you see some of his conflicted nature in the scene where he writes his letter to Robb warning him and then swiftly burns it. There is some gorgeous cinematography in the moment Theon is lit up by the candle at the table while the rest of the room is think with darkness around him. It's an obvious metaphor for his current predicament and his fate to come.
Poor Arya is another child facing the horrors of the real world as she loses her third father figure in as many episodes. While her sister Sansa faces the emotional torture of Cersei and (an off-screen Joffrey), Arya experiences first hand the brutality of war as Tywin Lannister's lieutenant Amory Lorch arrives to take Robert's bastard Gendry. It's a sad and brutal end for Yoren, who was brought to life with Francis Magee's gruff but endearing performance as he refuses to surrender to the Lannister forces.
Arya meanwhile loses needle to the nasty piece of work that is Poilliver, who takes her blade and uses it to needlessly kill poor Lommy Greenhands and then finds herself marched to occupied Harrenhal (and with it some of the best scenes this season between her and Tywin). But she also sets up a very different path as she rescues Jaqen H'ghar and his unsavoury cohorts from the fire, though at this stage in the series, her journey to Bravos to train as a faceless man is a long way off.
What Is Dead May Never Die is the strongest of season two at this point, taking some of the brakes off the many plots and focusing more heavily on King's Landing, King Renly, Arya and Theon. Most significantly, it shows Tyrion Lannister in his element as Hand of the King, proving that of all the players in this game of thrones, he is certainly one of the most adept.