Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by Alan Taylor
At Winterfell, Theon receives a visitor and holds down the fort. Arya calls in her final debt with Jaqen in a way that displeases him. Robb is betrayed. Tyrion and Varys find common ground. Dany ignores Jorah’s advice. Stannis and Davos approach their destination, and Davos is offered a reward.
“The Prince of Winterfell” is a quieter, more character-focused episode than any that came before, and for the most part this worked quite well, providing the moment of calm before the storm. The previous episode was the one that most diverged from the story of the novels—it covered the fewest chapters from the book, and had the most invented scenes—and to some degree it’s returning to the roadmap that A Clash of Kings provides that gives the episode its strength. At the same time, it’s those niggling deviations—those that can’t be explained by the budget—which seem to hamper the episode most. On the whole, it’s a solid entry into this season, but more and more it looks like the final two episodes are going to bear the weight of being the “brilliant” episodes of the season.
Winterfell is an interesting place—I’ve praised the Greyjoy story there repeatedly, and that still holds as we get a last glimpse of Asha (yes, still refusing to call her Yara) as she rides in with only a few men and no plans to help her brother defend the castle when it’s so far from the sea. The language here is very much of the books, even some of the new material (some might object to her insulting Theon as a “cunt”, as she notes elsewhere that she finds it a strange insult for men to throw at women when their sex is the only thing they care about… but this doesn’t mean that she can’t use it towards a man, knowing how men feel about it), and it works quite nicely even if Gemma Whelan’s performance remains more restrained, almost solemn, compared to the constantly mocking, japing, smiling Asha of the novel. Alfie Allen performs strongly, as he has throughout this season, bringing to home Theon’s increasing ambivalence over the things he’s done. But… then they deviate it in a way that I can only describe as ham-handed: Luwin spots Osha in broad daylight, rather unconvincingly sneaking into the crypts with loaves of bread in her arms. Dagmer and Theon are only yards away, their backs turned… and doubtless there are other ironborn guards about. This sudden, sloppy deviation does nothing useful at present, and compromises the way that the fact of the boy’s hiding could and should have been left to the final episode, much as in the novels. There’s no real purpose to this other than missing a dramatic beat. Alas, that it marrs what has been a fairly flawless story line. Who came up with the idea? We don’t know, but we which they hadn’t.
Similarly, the story beyond the Wall… it’s well-acted, Rattleshirt looks well-done, but Qhorin’s capture undercuts the fact that the novels had a far more dramatic (and not particularly expensive) approach to the final segment of Jon’s story. Worse, it takes away one of the iconic moments of that storyline, replacing it with something more workmanlike. The core details are there, but the essence—the poetry and heart of it—seems to have been sapped away. I suspect this may have been done simply to find a way to have Ygritte be more present in the story, but it ill-serves Qhorin and Jon while it does not seem to be setting up anything more for Ygritte than what we’ve already seen. Still, the vistas are beautiful, and Simon Armstrong’s Qhorin reveals an innate dignity and sense of command that’s appealing, and fully befitting the character.
King’s Landing is always an enjoyable place to be, thanks to Peter Dinklage’s amazing turn, and he has several meaty scenes that show his range and his talent as an actor. Some of the material is new—and a trifle silly, as with the “Archmaester Ch’Vyalthan” business—but those parts that hew to the novels are very strong. Once again, Lena Headey’s Cersei actually seems to rise to the occasion to be a bit more firey, a bit more full of sparks of energy, and it pays dividends in the scene where she takes a hostage she believes will keep Tyrion from harming her family. More importantly, though, is Dinklage’s portrayal of Tyrion’s realization that she has the wrong woman—it’s poor Ros, taking the place of Alayaya in the novel—and his mixture of relief and tightly controlled anger that really captures the attention. Better yet, the writers finally give Tyrion a more emotional scene with Shae, revealing the depths of his infatuation with her. The only shame of it is that Shae remains such a cipher, completely enigmatic and seeming tetherless; Sibel Kekilli is more than up to anything the writers throw at her, but they seem to ahve shied away from her story in a way that seriously underutilizes one of Europe’s leading actresses.
The biggest problem of the stories that seem closest to the novels, it must be said, is Harrenhal—once again, we cannot fault the acting, but… What they’ve done is gutted the narrative of Arya’s character arc, stripped it of her move into becoming increasingly cold-blooded and ruthless, and left something that feels less horrific, less intense, and generally less interesting. Doubtless staging the betrayal of Harrenhal was beyond what the production could handle, but I think they could have stuck themselves to Arya’s story more closely on a thematic level, developing her. Perhaps the intention is to push the bulk of her development into the next seasons, but as it is, what I realize at the end of all this is… what has Arya’s story been for? She isn’t a different person now than she was at episode four, she hasn’t learned or developed since witnessing the initial horrors of torture and the death of Yoren. Charles Dance has been appealing as Tywin Lannister, and his scenes with Maisie Williams were always good, but perhaps too much of a good thing has misled the writers from making Harrenhal too much about him, and too little about Arya, one of the central characters in the novels, and the series.
The utterly new material is… more complicated to like. Robb and Talisa features two very appealing, good-looking actors doing their best with material that, ultimately, feels like a cliché through and through. At the least the fact that they went and returned from the Crag without incident, and Talisa gives such a detailed story (although one that, unless I’m mistaken, places her as being quite a few years older than the show’s Robb—a curious decision, I thought), that it seems we can put to rest any lingering notions that she’s “really” Jeyne Westerling, or even that she’s a Lannister spy. He relationship seems genuine. On the other hand, the brief Robb and Catelyn sceen seemed stack against the Lady of Winterfell, since at no time is her fear that Jaime was going to be murdered brought up yet it was clear in the last episode that that was first and foremost in her mind when she decided to act. Karstark can hardly accuse her of treason when he was on the verge of committing that treason himself before Robb was present to be able to stop him. Michelle Fairely provides a brave performance that rests so heavily on her gaze and her face, but I wish they had given her more to do, especially in light of our witnessing the result of her decision: the interplay between Brienne and Jaime as the Maid of Tarth leads her prisoner to a boat, parrying his jibes and making him do as she says. Nothing good can come of such a combative relationship, one might guess, since Jaime seems intent on needling Brienne until she’s ready to kill him.
And then… Qarth. This seems to be a trend with these reviews. There’s very little to say about this very short section, except for the fact that I think I would have preferred it as a closer for the next episode, as a kind of epilogue, rather than where it presently is placed. Doubtless they have their reasons for placing it here, but I can’t say I found it terribly compelling yet. I’m left hoping for the House of the Undying being something like what’s in the novel, capturing its tone if not its precise visual details—this is the Black Lodge moment for the show, the chance to have their room with the red curtains in terms of strange, dream-like surreality, and I hope they pull it off… but I dread that they won’t. We’ll just have to wait and see.
But before the House of the Undying, everything points to the fact that the next episode will focus almost exclusively on King’s Landing and the massive, epic “Blackwater”. Penned by George R.R. Martin and directed by film director Neil Marshal, this should be an exciting, visually impressive episode… and a very consequential one, as battles tend to be in the series.
The episode covers the following chapters of A Clash of Kings: Theon V, Arya IX, Tyrion XII, and Arya X. Arguably, it also covers two chapters from the next novel, A Storm of Swords: Catelyn II and Jaime I.
Changes of note, chapter-by-chapter:
Theon V: The poisoning of the ravens is a detail not from the novel, though it makes a certain amount of sense given Theon’s main aims at the time. One does wonder how the news of the “death” of Bran and Rickon is supposed to make its way south at present, however. More notably, Asha’s arrival with a few men is very much as in the novels, with some of the same dialog. The most notable change is her anecdote about his crying as an infant, crying that he stopped when she came to look at him, and her telling him that he shouldn’t die so far from the sea. Unlike in the novel, it seems she does not leave any men at all; in the book, she brings twenty with her and leaves ten behind. This chapter in the novel also features Theon sending Reek out to gather men for him—a detail lost in the TV show, as the role has not been cast this season.
Catelyn II (ASoS): This scene with Robb captures, in essence, the situation following his return from the west early in A Storm of Swords. The circumstances have been heavily changed in some ways, most notably by their being unaware of the alleged deaths of Bran and Rickon… and the fact that at that time in the novel, Robb had caused his own problems with his marriage to Jeyne Westerling, a fact that left him unwilling to fully take his mother to task when he knew that he had caused a much greater problem. The scene did lack any reference to the fact that Jaime was going to be dead before Robb arrived, which seemed a rather too obvious, artificial means of making Catelyn’s decision foolish. As noted in the previous episode, the choice was not keeping Jaime or letting him go, it was having the Karstarks murder him or letting him go—and while his death might have appeased Lord Karstark, it would have forced Robb to execute him as a traitor and again brought “discord” into his camp. On the whole, the show has apparently done its best to paint Catelyn in the wrong ... so much so that actress Michelle Fairley seems to believe that Catelyn has been “hoodwinked” by Littlefinger. On a separate note, twice now Rickard Karstark has been associated with the Seven—last episode Catelyn referred to him as “ser”, and now in this episode he’s said to be willing to offer his heart out to the Father. Lets just say that the Karstarks are First Men through and through, and follow the old gods. The Lord Karstark of the novels would never make such references, or be referred to as “ser”. I can only imagine this is a slip by the writers, rather than a deliberate change.
Jaime I (ASoS): This scene very briefly captures some of the dynamic between Jaime and Brienne in the first chapter, as she rows and sails down the Trident with him as a prisoner. In the novel, Ser Cleos Frey—who is half a Lannister, and whose role was in part taken up by Ser Alton Lannister—is also with them. Also omitted from the scenes are Ser Robin Ryger’s attempt to capture them using a river galley, Jaime having Cleos shave his head to make him less recognizable.
Arya IX: By the time of this scene in the novel, Tywin has already left the castle in charge of Ser Amory Lorch, and the Bloody Mummers have brought in northern prisoners. Arya’s third name proceeds similarly to the novel—she names Jaqen to get his help—but it must be said that the writers have lost some of the darkness and poetry of the scene, with the tension partially evaporated because it’s taking place in daylight, in a busy courtyard, rather than at night in the castle’s godswood. Particularly important is Arya’s growing rage in the novels, highlighted by her angrily telling the old gods that they were useless for having let her father die, leading Jaqen to remonstrate and warn her that gods are not mocked. Also of note, Jaqen does not again cite “he of fire”—R’hllor—when promising to kill anyone, nor does he pull out the knife he means to kill himself with if Arya insists. While Rorge and Biter do appear in the chapter, as in the scene, in the book they assist Jaqen in discharging his promised help to get her to unsay his name.
Tyrion XII: The most notable change in this scene is that Ros takes the place of Alayaya, the Summer Islander prostitute and daughter of Chataya. Otherwise, it plays fairly similar to the novel, although Kingsguard have apparently grabbed her rather than the Kettleblacks (roles left uncast this season). It’s worth noting that for the first time we receive the name of a non-cast Kingsguard: Ser Mandon Moore is mentioned by name, although obviously the role is fulfilled by an extra. Also of note, in the novel Cersei’s action is partially motivated not just because of her fear that Tyrion means to see Joffrey dead in the battle, but because he had the gold cloaks seize Prince Tommen and hide him away in Rosby, leading her to believe he means Tommen harm as well. In fact, where Cersei threatens that every harm that happens to Joffrey will be visited on Ros, in the novel Tyrion promises to inflict every harm on Tommen that is visited on Alayaya to try and keep Cersei from seeing her harmed.
Arya X: As noted, Arya seeks Jaqen’s help to rescue the northmen, which dovetails into the plot of the Bloody Mummers to betray Ser Amory to Roose Bolton. Here instead, Arya uses the third name to force Jaqen to help her escape. This is a very significant change from the novel, where the escape from Harrenhal is accomplished by Arya all on her own, including the cold-blooded murder of one of the guards by her own hand. On the whole, it seems this season has almost completely lost the thematic arc and character development of the novel for Arya. The abuse and horrors she witnesses in (and is occasionally victim of) lead her on a violent path that isn’t really in evidence. While naming names for Jaqen has given her a sense of agency, she’s fully aware in the novels that it’s borrowed and that with the third name that agency ends… but then she takes matters in her own hands, quite literally. Her final chapter ends with rather chilling words which have no opportunity to appear here. There’s still at least one more episode with her present, so perhaps they’ll touch on that there.
Jon and Rattleshirt: The introduction of Rattleshirt reveals the actor to be rather different than the small, sallow, ill-favored man in the novel—he looks more formidable here. Rather than a whole helmet made of a giant’s skull, it seems only the facial person of the skull has been incorporated into his headdress. Some of the interactions seem inspired by Jon I in A Storm of Swords, but Jon is never “presented” to Rattleshirt by Ygritte, although she does prevent him from killing Snow. The most notable change, of course, is the fact that Qhorin and Jon are both captured. In the novel, the rangers flee the pursuing wildlings, with two of them being killed and the third being sent to climb a difficult, different route out of the mountains and never being heard from again. On the whole, the scenario in the novels was both more thrilling and more emotionally rendered than what we have so far, although the bare bones of Qhorin’s plan for Jon remain evident in the scene. We rather wonder where Ghost is…
Robb and Talisa: Entirely invented, as we’ve noted in the past. It appears the visit to the Crag took place without incident, seeming to finally put an end to any notions that Talisa is a cover for Jeyne Westerling.
Tywin’s Council: The details of travel here are… well, not great. It certainly seems suggested that Tywin believes his army can reach King’s Landing in two days from Harrenhal, when in fact that would take more than a week—and nearer to two weeks—at a forced-march pace. Tywin does not leave Clegane in command of the castle, instead taking the Mountain with him…. and in quite a different direction, as at this time he pushes west to try and meet Robb in the field as he’s campaigning in the westerlands. And of course, as Arya never was Tywin’s cupbearer, the detail there is entirely new. Finally, Arya does not try to find Jaqen to have him kill Tywin for her as he’s preparing to leave.
Qhorin and Jon: Qhorin and Jon are never held by the wildlings, and the other members of their ranging are killed or lost—Squire Dalbridge holds a defensible position until he’s overwhelmed, Ebben is killed when Qhorin sends him to try and escape to safety, and Stonesnake is never heard from again after being sent on a dangerous climb.
Tyrion and Bronn: The Archmaester Ch’Vyalthan is made up—frankly, I don’t think GRRM would ever create a name that is quite so corny. It’s certainly not a Westerosi name, but one supposes one can’t rule out the occasional non-Westerosi student at the Citadel becoming a maester.
Fist of the First Men: The latrine-digging scene is new, but interestingly the discovery of the cache of “dragonglass” and the horn wrapped in an old cloak of the brother of the Night’s Watch is from the book… it’s just that it’s in Jon IV, and involves Ghost leading Jon to it. Giving this to Sam and Grenn works pretty well, however. It’s a nice detail to have.
Roose and Robb, Talisa: Robb doesn’t ever specifically order Ramsay Snow to seize Winterfell, as by the time he arrives back in the riverlands the situation has already changed radically. And as always, the Robb and Talisa material is all new, although some of the details of Volantis (the tattooing of slaves, namely) are accurate. On the other hand, it seems unlikely that a noble daughter of the Maegyrs would need to splash about in the river with the flotsam of the city—doubtless their home inside the Black Walls would have fountains and pools. I’m amused by the idea that the slave who saved her brother was formerly an ironborn priest at some point…
Davos and Stannis: This covers background details revealed in earlier chapters in the book. It’s a well-acted scene, and Stephen Dillane is particularly sharp. However, his more-or-less naming Davos his Hand seems like a too-early detail, drawn as it is from Hand from Davos IV in A Storm of Swords, where Stannis’s decision has a heightend impact given the circumstances. Doing it here feel liks it fritters away a lot of the emotional texture.
Tyrion with Varys and Joffrey: Joffrey’s general belligerence is accurate. Varys’s revealing that Daenerys has three dragons in Qarth, on the other hand, is a great departure—in the novels, Varys introduces vague rumors about Daenerys, such as the claim that a three-headed dragon is in Qarth.
Qarth: Daenerys never flees Xaro and Pyat, and so does not hide out in the abandoned manse as here.
Dagmer and Theon, Winterfell Crypts: Theon does not attempt to pay restitution for the killing of the miller’s sons, as they are in the novels, in large part because he already saw the miller and his wife (whom he had bedded before) killed to keep his secret. The largest departure from the novel is the fact that Luwin figures out that the dead boys were the orphans by overhearing Theon and Dagmer, whereas in the book he suspects it on his own because neither boy had atrophied leg muscles as Bran has, and that Luwin then spots Osha and joins her in the crypt; in the novel, he doesn’t know where Bran and Rickon are hiding until they reveal themselves.