TV Recaps

'Game of Thrones' Season 2: Episode 5 Review and Recap - 'The Ghost of Harrenhal'

Lighter on the murder and degredation, with more attention to story

Game of Thrones Season 2: Episode 5 Review and Recap
Alfie Allen as Theon Greyjoy in "Game of Thrones"
Photo: HBO
NOTE: This review/recap contains spoilers for "Game of Thrones" Season Two, Episode Five. I have also added a batch of four images from this episode at the bottom of this post.

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.

GRADE: B+

Below is a gallery of four images from this week's episode. Click on any one of them to begin browsing.

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  • steve-o

    I thought it was an excellent episode. It really got this season going. Only one thing that was aggravating, and it was aggravating reading the book as well. I guess it's just one of those things that needs to happen otherwise it would be end of story. Here it goes.

    Arya you have 3 lives to take! As smart as you are you couldn't name 3 very significant people!! C'mon

    • http://www.film.com/author/laremy-legel Laremy Legel

      I agree, I thought that to. It should have been "Joffrey, Tywin, Cersei" and the war is over.

  • Jane D.

    A great episode, things are really starting to happen now.
    One of my favourite scenes occured when Brienne swore her allegiance to Lady Catelyn and Catelyn in turn made her pledge to Brienne. Brienne is my favourite new character of Season 2. I look forward to seeing more of her.

    • Kimberlesk

      I agree -- I thought that scene was touching and I'm sure significant. I like Brienne as well and I'm anxious to see where her story is going (I haven't read the books). This show is so intriguing along all its storylines. I'm glad I decided to keep watching even though I was completely lost most of the first season!

  • Babydill

    Not to seem pedantic but I believe Theon's sister was renamed Yara for the show.

    • http://www.film.com/author/laremy-legel Laremy Legel

      I feel like you're probably correct there.

      • Evenstarr

        Yes she's called Asha in the books, I can't work out why they changed her to Yarra?

        • Andreas

          It's because they thought the name was too similar to Osha, and gave her a new name to avoid confusion in scenes where one of the two are talked about.

  • Ivan

    As with prior reviews I agree with most of what you're saying, however, for this one, there are a few points where I disagree. First off, you claim that the show would be lost without Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), as that may have been true for the first season, the great ensemble cast for this second one has put the show's participants on a very very even keel. Off course we love watching Dinklage on screen he is great, but, we can never deny Davos, Jeoffrey, Arya, Catelyn, Daenerys, and every one who has come in and stepped up their game for Season Two. I am, very very excited to see what new characters are presented in next weeks episode, and I am sure that, very much like last season, if episode five put the pieces in their final position, episode six will the the definite turning point, so look for the amazing and quite agressive unraveling of plots. I for one can't rate this seasons episode quite yet I'm in love with every line and character that is put before me, non have disspointed...

  • book_fan

    the plot changes are terrible !!
    arya didn't directly server lord tywin
    the tickler didn't die like that
    and bloody hell where are the Reeds ? Bran with green dreams, osha filling the role of *spoiler ;)*... BU77SH!T !!

    • Ivan

      As with most adaptations you shouldn't compare what you see on screen to what you read in the the source material or all you'll experience is dissapointment. Just ask yourself this, are the decisions made by the creators giving the show the fluidity, depth and story that it needs? 'cause that's exactly what I think, off course the changes matter to those of us who've read the books, but as long as they work FOR the show I've got no problem.