When "Directed by David Petrarca" appeared on-screen to open episode five of the second season of "Game of Thrones," I was a bit apprehensive. He's the fella who delivered the last episode, "Garden of Bones," which was easily my least favorite of the series. But the news was better this time around, with political intrigue and solid characters highlighting an episode that moved the series to a better place.
First up, the demon foreshadowed in episode four struck, and with legitimate CGI employed. The scene was handled well, especially given the lack of specifics the book provided. Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) jumps into the chaos, as Littlefinger often does, with an offer for the Tyrell clan.
The sublime Tyrion is all over it this episode; he's got quips for days. Highlights include him schooling Cersei on synonyms, playing verbal jujitsu in the service of coercion, all before finally dismissing his little cousin Lancel in the most cutting way possible. It's all Tyrion, all the time, and without him the series would be lost.
Would-be King Stannis (Stephen Dillane) and Ser Davos share a nice scene together where some hard truths are exchanged. Then (thankfully as he's been missing from this season) Lord Tywin makes an appearance, questioning Arya on where exactly she's from. They've got a great dynamic, the patriarch of the Lannisters and the long lost Stark soul.
Theon (Alfie Allen) takes a turn at being a captain, and as with most things Theon it's a perpetual disappointment. Additionally, something probably needs to be done about Asha (Gemma Whelan), especially if she's to have a bigger part as the series rolls on. I'm not sure about the notes she's been given, but she's got a smirk about her that doesn't give credence to the character's iron will and leadership capabilities. Back to Theon, his "plots and schemes" lead young Bran to a miscalculation which readers of the series will recognize as severe.
The highlight of the episode comes from Tom Wlaschiha (as Jaqen H'ghar) and the "three names" plot point with Arya (Maisie Williams). It's handled beautifully, portending even more diabolical fun in future episodes. The Wall remains a desolate wasteland, and winter is coming. Truth be told, The Wall continues to lack any semblance of intrigue. Is it because of all the snow? Is it the still murky threat? Episode Five involves the slightest mention of Mance Rayder, we can hope entertainment is coming along with his entry into the series.
There isn't much of a throughline this go-around, but if a theme could be fitted awkwardly atop "The Ghost of Harrenhal," it would be advanced weaponry. Wildfire is a much discussed tactic against King Stannis and his numerical superiority. Also this episode? A dragon! A glorious little dragon, and he's learning to cook tiny little meals for himself. The Dragons are the unending miracle of the show (and books), we all wait with fascination to see what becomes of them.
Last among the kudos goes to Nonso Anozie as Xaro Xhaon Daxos, who makes a sly offer to Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) she's sorely tempted by. The Daenerys angle is one long slow burn, and this episode is no exception.
Overall, a nice return to form, setting up episode six well. They went lighter on the murder and degradation and heavier on the long-term foreshadowing and complexity. It was almost as if they needed to get the venom out in episode four, in order to get their head straight for the remainder of the season. Hopefully that's now been accomplished, and we can look forward to a strong second half.
Below is a gallery of four images from this week's episode. Click on any one of them to begin browsing.