If it’s one thing I noticed above all else in “A Man Without Honor,” it’s that nearly every story featured in the episode ends on some kind of a cliffhanger (actually, what I noticed above all else was a significant lack of Peter Dinklage, but that doesn’t work as well for this introduction so I’m sticking to the cliffhanger bit). Lady Stark draws her sword on Jaime. Jon Snow’s surrounded on all sides by Wildlings. Dany and Ser Jorah Mormont are on the run from that shape-shifting warlock fellow who’s holding her dragons in the House of the Undying. I can’t for the life of me recall if Mr. Warlock’s name has actually been mentioned on the show, so I did myself and all the other non-book-reading fans a favor and looked it up: Pyat Pree. Plus, who could forget the big ending note featuring Theon Greyjoy and two charred bodies that may or may not be the youngest of the Stark clan?
But I’ll go into Theon’s situation in a little more detail later- there are other things to attend to first.
Four separate cliffhangers. That’s a fairly large number for a single episode of any television show, but thankfully “A Man Without Honor” is able to balance four sudden reversals of fortune without any of them feeling cheap or forced in the slightest. And this many abrupt changes actually feels natural at this particular point in the show. This season of Game of Thrones has been a little slow at times, bogged down by the weight of so many different characters in so many different places, so a sudden burst of forward plot momentum was necessary now- there are only three episodes to go, so we’ve really got to start pushing towards the big, climactic, game-changing stuff that’ll end the season.
But all these parallel cliffhangers feel natural for another reason as well. The vast majority of “A Man Without Honor” finds almost every major character in more or less the same position- completely out of his or her depth in an extreme situation, and just sort of winging it with the hope that things will turn out right in the end. Be it Jon Snow trudging through the frost-bitten mountains up north, Theon leading a search party or Arya growing just a little bit closer to the man who’s grandson ordered her father’s death, none of these characters really have a clear endgame in mind- just a vague idea of what they should be doing or where they should be going. Naturally, it makes sense that most of these stories end with those vague expectations being dashed against the rocks in some grand dramatic fashion.
So what makes or breaks it for this episode is the buildup as each “character X stumbles along by the skin of his or her teeth” story. In some cases this works better than others. Specifically, Arya and Tywin Lannister’s scenes together work extremely well, due to the actors’ (Maisie Williams and Charles Dance, respectively) astounding chemistry and the way the tension in Arya’s story has ramped up consistently in every episode since she’s reached Harrenhal. Tywin’s inching closer and closer to her real identity (especially with that little catch in her pronunciation), and combined with the mystery of who Arya’s final kill-wish would be creates a real feeling of anticipation for when these two finally clash in a big way. The weird sweetness of the friendship they’ve developed adds to the unease, but honestly, I doubt that the bond that’s grown between these two potential enemies will keep them from killing one another. That shot of the hanged guards towards the beginning of the Harrenhal segments demonstrates just how vicious Tywin can be. And I doubt that his ruthlessness is any less intense than Arya’s desire to avenge her father.
But Arya’s not the only one navigating treacherous waters in “A Man Without Honor.” Her own half-brother’s been plodding around with Ygritte for nearly two full episodes now. Honestly, though, I don’t see myself invested in those scenes as much as I am with the ones in Harrenhal. That cliffhanger at the end certainly pulled me in (as all good cliffhangers tend to do), but some of the back-and-forth between Jon and Ygritte just seems the slightest bit stale. The idea that Ygritte sees Jon as a caged man because of all the rules and laws and oaths in his life certainly makes sense, and we get the fun little irony of her seeing him as shackled while she’s the prisoner, but there’s nothing in this particular conflict that really reaches out and grabs me.
Part of the joy that I get from Game of Thrones is seeing unexpected relationships develop between former adversaries (Osha and the Stark clan) or through shared hardships (Tyrion/Bronn or Catelyn/Brienne), but the rapport between Jon and Ygritte lacks the freshness or the ingenuity that I usually see on this show. At times, it even seems cliched. Yes, Jon’s been frustrated of late in the Night’s Watch. Yes, Ygritte’s trying to tempt him and take advantage of his weakness. However, If you took away the incredible locations in Iceland, the costume design and the talent in our two actors, I feel like all that’s left would be something very trite.
I will say, though, that when I saw the preview for next week’s episode (with a gruesome-looking Lord of Bones towering over Jon) my mind erased any and all problems I had with this story and replaced them with slavering anticipation to see this Lord of Bones onscreen. I haven’t read the books, so I only know from what I saw in the two seconds of footage in the preview, but I’m assuming this is the Mance Rayder that everyone above the Wall’s been talking about. And I cannot wait to see him onscreen. Funny what a sinister-looking skull mask will do to me.
Another thing I’m looking forward to next week? More Tyrion. At least fifty percent more Tyrion. Maybe even more than that, considering that all we were treated to this week was a single solitary scene.
But what a scene it was. Cersei’s been spending the better part of two seasons making herself out to be as despicable as possible, but for a moment we actually get to see Cersei let her guard down for once in her life. Just like everyone else in “A Man Without Honor,” Cersei’s playing this game without a rulebook or any real idea of what to do, and the less controllable and more reviled her son becomes, the less influence she’s able to wield. All of this leads to a surprisingly tender scene where Cersei’s actually able to open up (to some extent) to her brother, and even speak candidly about her and her brother’s affair (oddly enough, so does Jaime when he’s confronted by Lady Stark). Combine this with a similarly-endearing scene where Cersei speaks frankly to Sansa about womanhood and life with Joffrey, and we’re starting to see a Cersei that’s genuinely empathetic. I wouldn’t go as far as to say “likable” just yet, but it’s certainly a start.
And so I come to the moment that ended “A Man Without Honor.” Honestly, I’m not sure what to think. My gut reaction to seeing the corpses was to think “holy crap” and then make a similar face to the one Theon’s making in the final shot. But this episode holds so much information from us that it’s hard to make an informed decision about anything.
Our very last glimpse of Theon before this is his discovery of the walnut shells back at the farm, and from there we immediately jump to two charred corpses. We don’t see any of the post-walnut searching. None of the potential capture (or lack of capture) of the two boys. None of the decisions made after this point.
The dialogue itself is also incredibly vague- just a bunch of general “this is what happens when you cross me, people of Winterfell” threats to those in attendance. For all we know, Theon didn’t realize what had happened to the boys (if it really is the boys), or hadn’t meant for things to go this far, or had expected something other than charred corpses when those bodies were raised up. There’s nothing in what he says that actually points a finger at Theon being the one who masterminded the execution (and his face at the end certainly registers enough shock that this might be the case).
I guess we’ll have to wait till next time to find out. Until then, here’s a handful of extra closing thoughts.
- Hodor cracking walnuts for Rickon, and the overall dynamic between our escapees creates a weird and warm family vibe as they’re running away. It’s actually kind of sweet.
- I absolutely adore Peter Dinklage’s delivery on the word “tactics.”
- There’s a fun piece of irony in that Cersei lights all her candles herself rather than deal with her handmaidens, and Sansa, the next in line for Cersei’s old position as queen, completely relies on her own handmaiden as a confidant, and somewhat as a friend.
- Cersei also laments that Joffrey’s nothing like Jaime, but I’d argue that Joffrey’s actually the spitting image of his father/uncle. Both are complete and utter sociopaths with a an unpleasant juvenile quality to them. Just listen to the way Jaime spits out the words “poor old dead Ned” in that hateful, mocking tone. If Jaime had been a king and not a squire at sixteen, I doubt he’d be that much different from Joffrey.
- Jaime also looks terrifically evil when he’s chained up after being recaptured at the end. Some gorgeous makeup work with that scraggly, sinister-looking beard.
- Xaro Xhoan Daxos also has some very cool golden jeweled insects on his clothing. I don’t know if those have been there every time he’s been onscreen, but either way, the art department was firing on all cylinders for this episode.
- One small gripe before I go- the “Previously On Game of Thrones” sequence makes a big point of emphasizing Pyat Pree, a character who delivered a handful of creepy lines two episodes ago and has done absolutely nothing since then. So when we find out that the mystery dragon thief is in the meeting with Dany, my brain immediately jumped to the creepy guy who was seemingly unimportant but was given a decent chunk of the “Previously On” (and is therefore an important part of the episode). Now, I obviously didn’t pick up on the other twists that followed this reveal, but I really wish there was some way of keeping the “Previously On” segment relevant without placing gargantuan red flags on smaller characters like that.
And that should about do it for “A Man Without Honor.” I’ll see you all next time.