reviews\ May 2, 2012 at 10:23 am

Game of Thrones: 'Ghosts of Harrenhal' Recap and Review


During this season of Game of Thrones, I’ve been hard on episodes that try to visit too many locations and storylines, decrying them as cluttered and feeling like they are stretched too thin.  The latest episode, however, has managed to make me swallow my words by providing an hour that checks in with every major storyline on the show, but somehow never felt overstuffed to me.  Perhaps this is because each of the scenes in the episode felt as though there were moving us forward, propelling us towards the inevitable conflict that awaits us at the end of the season, rather than treading water with scenes of Littlefinger and his whores.  

Let’s start at the wall, with Jon and the Night’s Watch.  There’s not a ton to say about this whole segment, except that these scenes were gorgeous.  The location scout for this bit deserves an award, or a cookie, or something, because the shots of the icy wasteland north of the Wall were nothing short of stunning, especially with the contrast of our weary rangers trudging through the snow.  We also got to meet Dolorous Edd, (the wisecracking guy) who is a fan favorite from the book, as well as Qhorin Halfhand, who you can tell is a badass just from his name, and the fact that everyone kept talking about what a badass he is.  

Jon, after some convincing, is sent off with Halfhand to scout out what’s going on with the wildlings, which should be cool.  I hope we get to meet Mance Rayder this season, especially with the amount that everyone was talking about him in these scenes.  I’m gonna be honest, the Jon storyline hasn’t been doing much for me this season, but I’m excited for the coming episodes, because they promise that we may get to see Jon kick some ass once again.

While we’re dealing with the isolated storylines, let’s jet off to Qarth, where Dany is looking damn good in that blue dress.  Once I got over that, though, I actually enjoyed these Qarth scenes a lot.   The actress playing Dany seems to have stepped it up this season, which is good because I wasn’t all that impressed in season one.  Her and Xaro make a hilarious pair visually, since she’s so tiny and he’s so large, and the scene where he proposed marriage was just the right mix of sweet and weird.  

My favorite moment of this storyline, though, was definitely the weird little magic trick from the guy representing the House of the Undying (which is gonna be awesome, by the way).  I especially loved that his doppleganger didn’t go away when the trick was over, but just walked off with him.  The make-up and costumes for Qarth were across-the-board excellent, expertly conveying how different and alien this place is compared to somewhere like Westeros.  

My favorite scene in the whole episode, though, might have been the opening one.  Renly is murdered by the shadow baby from the last episode, and Brienne is forced to defend herself when she’s accused of being the killer.  I love Brienne, and the mix of grief and badassery here was perfect as she went from crying to killing dudes in, like, two seconds.  I thought the way Renly’s death was shot looked a little weird, but I loved the shadow baby itself, which was super creepy in how quickly it was there and then gone.  

Cat and Brienne are forced to flee, and the next time we catch up with them, they’re alone in the woods, riding towards Robb.  Brienne is set on revenge, but Cat warns her to temper her anger since Stannis is impossible to get to.  As a compromise, Brienne swears her loyalty to Cat, vowing to be her... bodyguard, I guess?  Anyway, this scene was played really nicely by both of the actresses, especially Cat, who I feel often gets the short end of the stick.  Michelle Fairley is doing a good job of making me like a character that I found dull and uninteresting in the books.  And I can already tell that Brienne’s story is going to be great.

Then it wisks us off to... lets say Pyke.  (I don’t always remember the order of events.  There’s a lot going on!)  We get another little scene of Theon and his sister being dicks to each other, and then we’re introduced to a character whose name I didn’t catch, but who gives Theon the idea that he needs to think bigger if he wants to impress his daddy.  There’s not a ton more to say about this scene, except that I know what’s coming next for Theon, and it’s a doozy.  Much like all of the other scenes in this episode, this bit did a good job of setting up what’s coming next.

I miss Tyrion, so let’s talk about Tyrion.  After intimidating Lancel some more, which is always fun to watch, him and Bronn went for a stroll through one of the poorer quarters of King’s Landing, where Tyrion announced that Joffrey was a lost cause, before finding out that the townsfolk think he’s the one pulling the evil little King’s strings.  This was a great glimpse at one of my favorite things about Tyrion, which is that he craves credit for the things he does and never gets it, due to his height.  It’s one of the things that motivates him to keep pushing forward, to continue fighting for what matters to him: the hope that some day, someone (possibly his daddy) will say ‘good job, Tyrion.  Thank you.’

He also discovered wildfire in this episode, which Joffrey is planning to hurl at Stannis’ army to set it ablaze.  Bronn doesn’t think much of this plan, which he says is just as likely to burn King’s Landing to the ground.  Tyrion agrees, but seems to have something in mind for the creepy green substance.  Something else this show does nicely is its minor characters, and the alchemist we met in this scene was a lot of fun, playing nicely against Tyrion and Bronn.  Once again, the episode sets up what is to come in a way that is fun and entertaining.

The only story i’m forgetting, (I think) is that of Arya in Harrenhal, which I felt was given short shrift considering that the episode was named for it.  The thing that this plot did brilliantly, which many predicted it would last week, was the interplay between Arya and Tywin, who carefully felt each other out as Tywin interrogated her about where she was from.  The tension here was perfect, with Tywin showing Arya that she can’t lie to him without him knowing, and Arya letting Tywin know that anyone, even him, can be killed.  Switching from amusement to anger in a heartbeat, Tywin sent her to fetch him water, where she ran into Jaquen H’gar.  

Jaquen, in exchange for Arya sparing him and his two companions, offers her three lives, which he will take, providing that she give him a name.  Arya quickly names him The Tickler, (the torturer with the rat-bucket) who is found dead shortly after.  These bits were done nicely, and I like the guy who plays Jaquen, but I guess I wanted more between these two.  I’m sure that we’ll get it in coming episodes, but if you’re gonna call it ‘The Ghosts of Harrenhal,’ I really want to see Arya and Jaquen’s deal play out in that episode.  Meh, whatever.  Let’s just say that Arya’s storyline is awesome and continues to be so.

And that’s about it for this week!  Like I said, this episode was excellent at moving things forward in almost every single storyline, either with big events like the death of Renly, or by positioning it’s characters to do something huge in the near future.  While I still prefer episodes with a sharp focus, if they are going to jump around, this is the way to do it.

Reader’s Corner:

  • Things are going to go down at Winterfell next episode it looks like.  Did you grin in dread like I did when Roderick announced that Torrhen’s Square was under attack by ‘The Mountain?’
  • I was right about that dude being the Tickler!  Boom!
  • We haven’t had much Jaime yet this season, but I’m really excited to see the chemistry between him and Brienne, which I hear they are moving up into this season a bit.  Exciting.
  • How long do we think Qhorin Halfhand is gonna be around?  I heard that they cast an Ygritte already, so I’m assuming that they are accelerating Jon’s story as well.
About The Author
Eric Zipper Eric Zipper is a writer and comedian living in Los Angeles. When he's not making you laugh, playing video games, or watching movies, he's probably sleeping. Follow him on Twitter @erzip
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