Ned Stark…oh how I miss thee. While I do still love the series, as I mentioned last week, there seems to be something that is just missing for me this season. It could be that they are cramming so much in to an hour, but it also could be that as of right now, it is truly lacking a main character in the show. Tyrion Lannister is probably the most entertaining, but he is and will always be "a character." We haven't seen Jaime Lannister for weeks and Robb Stark has become a bit of a supporting character only showing up every few episodes. Before Ned's death, we knew that whatever was happening and wherever we went, we would always soon come back to our strong leader and the Stark family in Winterfell.This could be a nod to the writing of the character, but also a nod to the acting prowess of Sean Bean who just commands attention every time that he is on screen. I know that to stay true to the books his death was necessary, but I do wish that we still had a character that had the same magnetism that could always ground us with their presence.
However, in last night's "The Old Gods and the New," I did appreciate that it was an episode that truly revolved around the Stark family. Even though they are spread out across Westeros, almost every scene focused on them in some way. And, they actually gave the Stark scenes some time to breathe and show some character development. That felt very nice, especially when visiting with people like Jon Snow and Bran Stark who we have not even seen for awhile.
We even got to focus on the Starks in the scene at King's Landing that is meant to show how King Joffrey Baratheon is losing control of his people for ordering starvation and torture. After throwing a "cow pie" at his face, everything turns in to mass pandemonium but the character that we focus on the most is not one of the Lannisters but rather is Sansa Stark. We see her almost get raped in a pretty brutal way and for a moment think she could be the one that is going to pay the biggest price for King Joffrey's stupid decisions. Luckily, she is saved at the last minute, but afterwards while talking to Shae it is the first time that she actually admits her hatred for King Joffrey. Side note: Shae's reaction and warning to Sansa about trust makes me think that we need to watch out for her more than she or Tyrion might expect.
Turning to another of the Stark children, we actually get to see some story happen with Jon Snow, rather than him just trekking through the... well... snow. While crossing what looks to be a very very cold landscape the men of the Night's Watch encounter a camp of wildlings and particularly a young girl named Ygritte. When it is determined they do not have enough resources to keep her with them, she has to be killed and she has to be killed by Jon Snow. But…..he just can't do it. So, of course, she runs, he chases her and all of a sudden Jon is left alone in the middle of the snowy wasteland with no food, no heat and just the body of a forbidden lady to help warm him up. So now, I think the biggest question is going to be will Jon's morals last and will he be able to truly keep his vow to the Night's Watch and resist the "company" of a woman when they are trapped alone and cold. In a show brimming with sexual deviants and the way Ygritte tries to nestle her hips in to his, I think possibly not.
Then we actually to get to spend some time in Winterfell, which other than small scenes exploring Bran and his dreams in the castle has mostly been forgotten. We re-vesit it and leave it in a much worse place than we ever expected as Theon Greyjoy comes to invade and take over the place that he once called home. Although he never felt like he truly fit in with the Starks, they loved Theon and treated him as one of their own. You can see this in the eyes of Bran Stark, Ser Rodrick, and Robb Stark when they all learn of his deceit and invasion of Winterfell. As Ser Rodrick said right before his head was chopped (and kicked) off "God help you, Theon Greyjoy. Now you are truly lost". In this scene, we see Theon as a boy that desperately wants to be loved and accepted by his own family, but his rabid desire for both leads him to alienate the only people that actually did care about him. This scene also made me sad as we see Bran Stark try to stick up for his family and Winterfell, but he is left crippled both physically and emotionally and can't find any solution but to surrender to Theon. Luckily, Osha is able to prey on Theon's sex addiction and seduces him in a way that allows her to escape with Bran, Rickor, Hordor and the direwolves which leaves Theon with much less leverage in the war that he just waged than he hoped for. So, sadly, our once strong castle is now left with no Starks and Ned's death has truly scattered the family from the one place that originally brought them so much power and happiness.
And then, there is little Arya Stark whose scenes with Tywin Lannister have quickly become some of my favorites. They have such an interesting relationship and exchanges that are at times almost surprisingly tender and caring. This is especially a departure from the Tywin that we are used to seeing who is cold and calculating. In fact, he seems to be taking on a bit of a fatherly role with her, which could be even more interesting when he discovers that she is actually the daughter of his sworn enemy. In this scene we also see how smart this little Stark girl truly is. When Tywin asks why her father was killed, she simply replies "loyalty." Why yes, little Arya, that is true. Now, we know that she understands this and understands more about the battles throughout Westeros than we might have thought before. Arya also begins playing games as she steals a note about the movement of Robb Stark's army and before she can get caught, uses up the second of her genie in a bottle like death wishes from Jaqen H'ghar. Thrown in the fire to fend for herself, Arya is learning to play this game and almost a little too well. However, my biggest question of the episode….did Littlefinger recognize her?!!! For a man who deals in information, I think that we can be assured that even if he did he would not tell anyone, but his sly little smile and glance in her direction could mean anything! I think he probably did and let's hope he just uses this it against Catelyn Stark, whom he loves so dearly and not someone who will want to hurt the little sprite.
The biggest departure from the Stark family comes with our visit to Qarth and Daenerys Targaryen and what also might just be the biggest change from the books so far. After trying to make a deal with several traders Daenerys is forced to realize that her lineage does not hold as much weight as she thought as her attempts to trade for ships to travel and conquer the Iron Throne are turned down and she is frustrated. Only things get much worse as she returns to her room to find her servants murdered and her dragons have been stolen. So now, where is she left? Well, with nothing really. And, being that from what I hear, this is completely different from what happens in the books I don't think anybody knows what is going to happen and we are all in the same boat waiting to find out together,which I am sure will feel strange to all of you dedicated book lovers, but I find it kind of exciting.