We've had vicious kings, and we've had idiot kings, but I don't think we've ever been cursed with a vicious idiot for a king!
Written by: Vanessa Taylor
Directed by: David Nutter
If you were ever curious, dear reader, the answer is no: I have not even attempted to make comparisons and contrasts between George R.R. Martin's novels and D&D's television adaptation of the ASOIAF novels. I feel there is very little critical power in doing non-stop, "The book did it! Why didn't the TV series do it too?" gripes. Plus, I don't think D&D ever envisioned doing a beat-for-beat adaptation of the many point-of-view chapters from the books, so let's not immediately declare Game of Thrones a failure just because a few sections are left out or a season might deviate from the novel a little. Deviating from the novel is my impression of how the majority of critics view "The Old Gods and the New", although the irony is that this is the best episode of season two thus far. We get introduced to an important new character, and there are a series of shocking and bloody moments as well, moments that also bring on more intense dialogue and top-notch acting.
Since it's the first place we go to in the episode, I'll start with what's going on in Winterfell. It's now in the possession of Theon Greyjoy and his crew, with Theon now declaring himself a prince and Lord of Winterfell. This is what all of those tiny moments during season one, the ones where Theon was lectured and/or questioned by those around him, were building up to. Theon has struggled with being taken seriously since pretty much the start of the series, so here is the time where he believes he can truly prove himself, no matter what cruel decisions he must make. Unfortunately, this is where things get even more sad for poor Theon: even after taking Winterfell, he still can't prove himself. Theon is unable to decapitate Ser Rodrik (Ron Donachie) with one blow, and he later allows Bran, Rickon, Hodor, and Osha to escape during the middle of the night. Theon's shot at regaining his status as a Greyjoy is already slipping through his fingers. And what's going to make it even worse: Theon is soon in for a world of hurt.
The news of Theon's betrayal obviously doesn't sit well with Robb, who once again encounters the nurse Talisa (Oona Chaplin), and if you want the very short list of the most predictable things in Game of Thrones, the eventual romance between Robb and Talisa is close to the top. "Garden of Bones" is Talisa's first appearance, yet watching the way she talks with Robb in that episode, you can't help but think to yourself, "Gee, I wonder if those two will hook up later." "The Old Gods and the New" doesn't even try to conceal this budding romance, and Catelyn has to reassure Robb that he is promised to marry one of Walder Frey's daughters. A promise is a promise. Do we really think Robb is going to follow through with it, now that he's got the hots for Talisa?
I'll tell you who else gets the hots: Jon Snow. He hesitates to kill the wildling woman Ygritte (Rose Leslie), and after allowing her to escape temporarily, he catches her and then snuggles up next to her when the two stop to rest for the night. Again, obvious love interest is obvious love interest. Why else would Ygritte not get her head chopped off right then and there? Oh, that's right; the Starks (which includes Jon Snow) are terrible at killing people when they really need to kill someone, so why would anyone be surprised? Sarcasm aside, there is good in Ygritte being kept around: she pushes Jon's buttons and really challenges his commitment to his vows as a brother of the Night's Watch. This is something that continues more into next episode, so I'll come back to this Ygritte challenging Jon thing.
We now move on to where "The Old Gods and the New" is at its most intense: King's Landing and Qarth. Joffrey and the rest of the royal entourage are forced to flee from an unruly crowd, in a scene that quickly turns into a full-blown riot. To continue the raging intensity, Tyrions hits Joffrey with one of the greatest bitch-slaps you'll ever see on a television series. It's also a scene that is a perfect microcosm for how unfit Joffrey is to be king and how skillful Tyrion is in the world of politics. When Joffrey gets a little bit of manure thrown at him, he demands for the entire crowd to be killed, while constantly having to moan that he is the King and can thus do whatever he wants. Everything Tyrion says or does, which includes him slapping Joffrey, is backed up with reasoning; Tyrion cares about the Realm and doesn't want to seat it crumble. He has no personal agenda against Joffrey; he's simply doing what a worthy Hand of the King would do. In a city full of filthy, seemingly normal white sheep, Tyrion is the clean black sheep, and we can't love him enough for it.
In Qarth, a not so awesome moment of intensity: some motherf*cker steals Daenerys' dragons! Well, considering they're the only three dragons in existence, it was inevitable that someone would try to steal them. It's a twist that would only work early on in Game of Thrones though, because how in the world could someone steal and imprison a fully grown dragon? I also think it's the right direction to go for Daenerys in Qarth right now, because it assures that no one, Westeros or Essos, with an important, ongoing story line is safe from harm.
There's a lot to keep track of right now, but there's a lot of excitement to expect coming down to these final few episodes of season two. "The Old Gods and the New" features a little bit of everything you hope to see in a Game of Thrones episode: blood-soaked action, memorable acting, sharp dialogue, and several shocking moments that can turn a peaceful situation into a chaotic one in the blink of an eye. Whatever diversions "The Old Gods and the New" have from the novel, it's hard to argue against them when the episode is as strong as it is from top to bottom. This David Nutter guy must have a lot of talent. No wonder D&D will keep bringing him back.
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