How about that time when I wrote about how sex in Game of Thrones has consequences? If I didn’t convince you with my argument the first time around, no doubt the final scene in Garden of Bones did, though both the fourth and third episodes of the season both do nothing to undermine that running theme. Is that slowly becoming the show’s most central idea? At this point, the repercussions of sex almost feel even nearer and dearer to the heart of the TV series than the novels themselves; maybe that’s just a given when one goes about reassembling the story through a visual medium. After all, through the magic of television we actually get to see these protracted and uninhibited displays of human desire, but in the end I think it’s more than that.
We’ve talked about the eye of god here before, and at the risk of sounding one-note I think this is really what’s driving the focus on “sexual aftermath”. Without tethers to bind us to a single character in each scene, and with the expansive perspective afforded by television, all of the screwing that’s implied in Martin’s literature becomes far more explicit. Put differently, with Game of Thrones D.B. Weiss and David Benioff are simply confirming events that we may have suspected Martin of sneakily folding into his plot, alluding to them but never giving us the bawdy, naked truth. But the lovers of Game of Thrones can’t hide their activities from a camera.
So we’re treated to a whole lot of flesh, but it’s flesh with a purpose. In episodes 2.3 and 2.4, it’s revelatory. For Renly, sex provides the opportunity for him to both be himself (as when he’s alone with Loras),which in turn gives Margaery, his queen, the chance to divulge her knowledge of not only his sexual preference but also of his affair with her own brother. It’s interesting that both of the remaining Baratheon brothers are presented with the concept of sex being an instrument in seizing power; Stannis has his union with Melisandre (who hasn’t been mentioned by name in the series yet) so she can give him a son, while Margaery coaxes Renly to get her pregnant so as to completely solidify his allegiance with her house. Frankly, Stannis looks to have pulled ahead in his own exchange of genetic material, though only us readers know what that shadowy creature Melisandre pushes out of her body is going to do. That should become clear next week.
But more echoes throughout Garden of Bones than the decisions of the Baratheons. In fact, Stannis has the same choice put before him as Robb does at the beginning of the episode– one concerning the question of taking the high road. The two characters are asked variants of that question, and come to opposing conclusions; Robb refuses to lower himself by torturing prisoners (something which itself resounds in the scenes at Harrenhal), while Stannis is determined to do whatever it takes to secure power. Just as their choices differ from one another, so too does their counsel– Robb is urged by one his banner men, Roose Bolton (who we’ll get to know better much, much later on in subsequent seasons), to flay enemy combatants, while the forthright Davos pleads with Stannis to find “a cleaner way”. Two very different men on a very similar path confronting the exact same concerns; one wonders what it’d be like to get them into a room together.
Which is ultimately what makes Garden of Bones such a great episode. It’s an episode built around structural resonance; the characters may be scattered across the country and even the world, but the thematic meat of the episode joins them all together despite their physical division. I’ll cop to being somewhat mellow by What Is Dead May Never Die; the episode’s fine enough, but lacking in terms of dramatic weight and forward momentum up until the end. Tyrion’s continued campaign to clean up in King’s Landing never fails to entertain, and we learn plenty of new information– with further emphasis on the theory that Craster’s boys wind up as Others somehow or another– but 2.3 feels instructive and expositional in unflattering ways. Garden of Bones just clicks at every turn– for me, it’s the best episode of season 2 thus far, though it does bear a disturbing lack of Alfie Allen, whose Theon is absolutely note perfect. (And his arc does take a great turn at the end of the third episode.)
But, in turn, What Is Dead May Never Die gives us absolutely no Daenerys moments, whereas Garden of Bones not only provides the first significant bit of progression in her story to date in season 2, but also the promise of further development in the next episode (where, I presume, the show’s uniformly excellent production values will really pop). Apart from the fact that Emilia Clarke makes a compelling mother of dragons, she’s located in a part of Martin’s world that’s wholly different from Westeros– which regionally feels far more typical of the show’s genre. I’m excited to see how Qarth, and eventually the rest of the continent of Essos, all come to life on-screen; they vary greatly from place to place, and there’s a lot that the show can do to truly differentiate them from one another as well as Westeros itself.
All I can say in the interim is that Game of Thrones remains firmly on-track despite a mild speed bump in 2.3; speaking too much to what’s yet to come would be somewhat criminal. But at the same time I can’t help but marvel at and wonder over the ways the writers alter the story to suit the format as time goes on. Maybe when the season’s complete, I’ll go back over each episode to catalog and explore the differences between the page and the screen– it’d likely be a worthwhile endeavor.