Game of Thrones Revisited: 2.04 Garden of Bones
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 we revisit one of season two's more disturbing episodes.
Warning: There may be spoilers for seasons one to seven...
Game of Thrones has been know to deliver disturbing moments and shocks aplenty, but the days when Bran discovered Cersei and Jamie having sex in the tower are a far cry from this disturbing episode. After a tense reunion between the Baratheon brothers - and Catelyn delightfully telling them she would 'knock their heads together' - the episode delivers one of the most ghastly birthing scenes ever committed to television.
There is something deeply unsettling as Davos smuggles Melisandre into the tunnels beneath Renly's camp as she undresses, revealing what can only be a supernatural, heavy pregnancy. The smoke monster clawing the way out of her is horrible, a perversion of all that is good about birth, setting up the first big casualty in the War of the Five Kings to come. You have to wonder why Davos doesn't abandon Stannis after this, seeing the full black magic of the Red Priestess at work, though of course there will be worse to come a few seasons later.
The events at Renly's camp are some of the most interesting moments of the episode; not only do we see Renly and Stannis face to face for the first time, there is another reunion between Catelyn and the ever-scheming Littlefinger, who comes with a gift of Ned Stark's bones in exchange for an offer to trade Jaime Lannister for both her girls; even now he uses her emotions to manipulate her while revealing his love for her. There was something rather creepy at his assumption that she would fall into his arms even after his betrayal of Ned last season, so desperate is he to finally have her.
There are horrors aplenty in this episode. Garden of Bones is the moment where King Joffrey's psychopathic cruelty is really exposed; his demand that Meryn Trant strip and beat Sansa in full view of the public is more than enough to demonstrate just how much of a monster he really is, but the scene where he forces the prostitutes to abuse each other while he looks up with a wicked smile and a crossbow is deeply disturbing. Like the shadow monster birth, this really is an episode that pushes the audience to their limits and what constitutes sadism and entertainment; fortunately David Petrarca pulls the camera back early enough so that witness nothing more than a few agonised screams.
Talking of horrors, Harrenhal is a ghastly place, a crumbling ruin consumed by dragon fire centuries ago and now a place of death and despair. The scenes where the prisoners are tortured by Lannister men in search of answers they cannot give is uncomfortable viewing, some of the most grim scenes Game of Thrones has ever done (along with the birth of the shadow monster of course). In some ways, ths episode maybe the darkest part in Arya's journey and there is great irony in Tywin Lannister riding in to save her - and Gendry - from torture by rats and death. Her advancement from prisoner to cup bearer will also deliver some of the season's best moments ahead.
Across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys Targaryen and her surviving flock arrive at the gates of Qarth. There is a real sense of desperation, particularly when the young queen tries to remain strong in the face of the Nicholas Blane's Spice King and his sly attempts to feign interest in her plight while demanding sight of her fabled dragons. It's an insidious role, one that suggest the beauty behind the city gates will bring more turmoil ahead. Nonso Anozie is equally as sinister as Xaro Xhoan Daxos, offering hospitality with open arms and a smile, but obviously hiding a much more dangerous agenda. This episode hints at some real development in her story; sadly this is a season-long stop gap before it really kicks off in Slaver's Bay next season.
Elsewhere Tyrion continues to shine in his role as the King's Hand, manipulating weasel-like Lancel Lannister into becoming his spy in Cersei's life, while saving Sansa from Jofrey's brutality. And the opening sequence that sees Lannister soldiers fall foul of Grey Wind as Robb's troops gain another victory was very effective, even if a another cut to the aftermath of battle smacks of limited budget the coppers being saved for the siege of King's landing to come in episode nine. We also have two further notable introductions; Michael McElhatton's ruthless Northern Lord Roose Bolton and Oona Chaplin's feisty field medic Talisa Maegyr, both of whom will be instrumental in Robb's downfall next season for very different reasons.
Garden of Bones is another effective episode, streamlining some of the storylines; Jon and the Night's Watch, Theon and the Ironborn and a number of King's landing characters including Cersei are absent this time. This brings a better sense of pacing to the remaining plots as they unfold. The puzzle pieces are starting to fall in place for the remainder of season two and beyond, mixed with the horrors on screen that audiences would probably sooner rather forget....