Game of Thrones 204: Garden of Bones

SPOILER WARNING: All events that have occurred in the TV show up to and including yesterday’s episode are fair game. I have read the books but I will not go any further beyond small hints that only fellow book-readers will catch on to. You’ve been warned.

I don’t think there’s any question that “Garden of Bones” is the best episode of the second season so far. There’s so much to discuss, so let’s just get right into it.

“Game of Thrones” has the best opening sequence on television. Not only is it awesome, it’s educational. We all know that the show has the potential to be very, very confusing. So it’s only fitting that its intro shows a map to help get our geography in order. Each week, any new locations are added into the sequence. This week there was Harrenhal and Qarth, “the greatest city that ever was or will be.”

This intro lets all us fans know that after a week-long wait, it’s finally “Thrones” time again. Sometimes it feels like it would be more appropriate if this was the show’s opening.

The Battlefield

“Garden of Bones” opens with a fart joke… or does it? There was all that buildup just so the guy could “break wind,” or so we thought until another kind of wind, Robb’s direwolf Grey Wind, pounces on them. We see Robb with a number of his men, the screen fades to black and we hear cries of “The King in the North!”

There will be those who complain that many, in fact most, of the battle scenes occur off screen (we all remember Tyrion getting knocked out before the Battle of the Green Fork towards the end of last season). This is going to be a fact of the show, and I’m here to tell you why the haters are wrong.

In the books, Robb is not a point of view character. All we see of him is through Catelyn’s eyes and thus many battles are not witnessed firsthand. Battles are handled similarly in the show, and it’s not an issue. David Benioff and Dan Weiss, the showrunners, are working on a limited budget in terms of both money and time. Let’s consider how much the CGI for the dragons and direwolves must have cost. Do we really want them blowing that money on every little fight? Plus, Weiss and Benioff have 10 episodes to adapt a 1000-page novel. This show is driven by characters, not action or plot. We can’t be wasting valuable screen time on action scenes. I can promise you this: there is only one battle that you need to see this season, and you’ll get every brutal second of it. The author of the books, George R.R. Martin, wrote that episode and they spent a month (as opposed to the standard 10 days) filming it.

When we fade back in, Robb walks around the battle’s aftermath and we’re introduced to Roose Bolton, one of the series’ most ruthless characters. As always, the show does a great job of characterizing Bolton, as well as the differences between his family and the Starks, in just a few lines. Roose tells his king of a Bolton family axiom, “A naked man has few secrets, a flayed man has none.”

Robb is then introduced to a field nurse played by Oona Chaplin (Charlie Chaplin‘s granddaughter), who says her name is Talisa. Reports on Chaplin’s casting indicated she would be playing a character named Jeyne. Readers will know what that means.

The most important part of Robb’s interaction with Talisa/Jeyne in this episode was the way it put war in perspective. For Robb, the fighting is about honor, avenging his father’s death and saving his sisters’ lives. But what about the smallfolk fighting on both sides? They haven’t committed any crimes nor were their lives at stake before they became soldiers. They are but pawns in the game of thrones.

The harsh reality of war and the different ways it affects people depending on social class is a recurring theme in the books. We’re rooting for the Starks, so it’s all too easy to think of the Lannister soldiers as faceless enemies who deserve to be annihilated, the Westeros version of stormtroopers. But as Talisa points out, most of those Robb fights against, like the man who has his foot amputated, have nothing to do with the crimes committed against the Starks.

King’s Landing

There is a line in A Clash of Kings, the second book in the series and the one upon which this season is based, that nicely sums up Tyrion in his role as the good guy on the bad team. Shae asks him what he will do now that he is Hand of the King and Tyrion responds, “Something Cersei will never expect… I’ll do justice.”

This week’s King’s Landing scenes gave a glimpse inside the heads of a number of major characters.

In the first scene, Joffrey commands a member of the Kingsguard to beat Sansa Stark before Tyrion puts an end to it. Tyrion does exactly what he says he would — justice — and Joffrey acts like a dick. But the most subtle insight was into the mind of The Hound, Sandor Clegane, who clearly disapproves and gives the girl his cloak when Tyrion stops the charade.

Viewers may be wondering if Joffrey is really as terrible as he seems or if he’s just a young boy trying to garner the fear and respect he feels he deserves. The next scene, in which he gets a chance to vent his frustrations sexually, answered that question. As Bronn put it, “There’s no cure for being a c**t.”

This isn’t Shakespeare, the characters can’t just go off on soliloquies to explain their inner motivations and feelings. So in the past, Tyrion, Theon, Littlefinger and Pycelle have had scenes with Ros as a way of giving the audience some insight and backstory. This week, Joffrey finally got his chance with Ros, also known as the exposition whore.

There’s been talk that Ros’s scenes were just gratuitous nudity, but that wasn’t the case here. The way a man treats a whore shows his true colors. He can be honest — after all he’s paying. Having Joff command Ros to hit the other whore confirmed that he’s a sadistic little prick without having the 16-year-old actress who portrays Sansa nude up, as was the case in the books.

Daenerys and Qarth

Daenerys showed a leader’s instincts at the gates of Qarth by refusing to show the 13 her dragons. She will not become a beggar or mere spectacle, even if it means the death of her people. By showing some balls, she enters Qarth as an honored guest. Plus, her dragons are small and weak, so even the fastest glimpse would mean a chance they could be stolen. Eventually, she gains entrance to the city with the help of Xaro Xhoan Daxos.

It’s worth noting that Nonso Anozie, the actor who plays Xaro, is black. In the books, the Qartheen are an extremely pale people, referred to as “milk men.” The show’s writers did a good job of finding an in-universe explanation for Xaro’s skin color, saying he came from the Summer Isles before his rise to power.


Before she falls asleep, Arya recites the “prayer” she learned from Yoren, listing all the people she wants to kill. “Joffrey, Cersei, Ilyn Payne, The Hound, Polliver,” rinse and repeat. A few more names will be added to the list before things are said and done.

The torture scenes were fantastically executed. “Is there gold in the village? Where is the Brotherhood?” the Tickler asks. Like Arya and Gendry, non-readers have no idea what he’s talking about.

One of the great things about “Game of Thrones” is that no one is safe; anyone can die at any time. We all learned that lesson the hard way last season, so I’m sure non-readers’ hearts were beating when Gendry was being tortured. Even though I knew the outcome, I’ve never been so happy to see Tywin Lannister.

Lord Tywin put his smarts on display, showing everyone how he got so powerful. He points out the stupidity in killing the prisoners when every able-bodied worker is needed for the war effort and is quick to see that Arya is a girl, which no one else seemed to notice. Arya tells him she dressed as a boy because it is safer to travel that way. Tywin responds that she’s smart, which is more than he can say for his men, and makes her his cupbearer.

Renly vs. Stannis, Cat and Littlefinger

Sticking Littlefinger into the plotline here was another change from the books, but it works because it expedites the plot and gives Aidan Gillen more screen time. Lord Baelish chats with King Renly and Queen Margaery (who apparently buys her clothes at the same store as Garrus from “Mass Effect”) before he is reunited with Catelyn, who he has loved since boyhood.

Renly and Stannis’ parlay was a scene I’ve been waiting on for months, and it did not disappoint. The actors captured their characters perfectly: Stannis is rigid and unforgiving while Renly is lighthearted and sarcastic. The writers discarded Renly’s peach jokes from the books (although it did seem they were referenced when Renly was holding fruit earlier), but still managed to inject plenty of humor into the scene. Melisandre claims Stannis is the Lord of Light, “born amidst salt and smoke,” before Renly quips back, “Is he a ham?”

Again, the show used dialogue to make for entertaining exposition in Stannis and Davos’ conversation on the ship. Stannis hacked off four of Davos’ fingers up to the first knuckle as punishment for his time as a smuggler, but raised him to knighthood for his heroic acts during Robert’s rebellion. As Stannis puts it, “You were a hero and a smuggler. The good act does not wash out the bad, nor the bad the good.” Davos jokes that he now has “four less fingernails to clean,” before Stannis interjects that it’s “four fewer fingernails to clean.” That’s Stannis for you, so serious he’ll correct your grammar while telling the story of cutting off your fingertips.

They saved the best for last this week: the birth of the shadow baby, the “son” Melisandre promised Stannis, was crazy. I can’t imagine what non-readers must be thinking. As Salladhor Saan said in the last episode, everyone everywhere believes they’ve found the one true god. While the Seven and the Old Gods have done little for their followers, we’ve seen Melisandre survive drinking poison and create this monster, so it’s clear that the Lord of Light has some true power. Non-readers don’t know its purpose yet, but Stannis told us that “cleaner ways don’t win wars.”