(The eighth and final season of Game of Thrones debuts on April 14th, marking the beginning of the end for HBO’s cultural touchstone. Over the years, we’ve covered all 67 episodes of the series, and are revisiting those original reviews in our new retrospective series titled, “Winter is Coming”. We’re pulling these straight from our vacuum sealed digital time capsules, so step into the virtual time machine with us and read our impressions from way back! With the benefit of hindsight, there is plenty of reasons these reviews will raise some eyebrows)
The first scene we get in “Garden of Bones” features a couple of Lannister footsoldiers chuckling at their own low wit, mocking Renly Baratheon’s homosexuality – that is, until Robb’s soldiers sweep in and cut them down in darkness. That’s a sign of things to come: no more time for messing about, ’cause things are starting to get real.
For the first time since the premiere, we’re graced with the presence of King Joffrey, who’s proving to be even more despicable than we may have thought possible. First, he points a crossbow at poor Sansa, hoping to make her atone for Robb’s latest victory, then he orders her beaten and stripped; I seem to recall a saying about absolute power that applies here. Tyrion, in his wisdom, sees that the boy’s vicious streak must be curbed somehow, and thinks that dispatching Ros and a friend to deflower him should do the trick; he underestimates just how poisonous the little bastard is. Tyrion’s response to Joffrey’s savagery should be something to see: he’s not foolish enough to openly defy his king, but neither will be let that affront go totally unanswered, one must think.
“Garden of Bones” marks a full-on descent into darkness
On and near the battlefields, we get crucial character moments that seem destined to pay off later. Renly and Stannis confer onscreen for the first time; it’s difficult to believe they’re meant to share a mother, as they have virtually no qualities in common beyond their shared desire for power. Renly may be popular, but given Stannis’s status as an unflappable operator with a scary-ass secret weapon (more on that later), it’s hard to envision Renly coming out on top if it’s between them. Elsewhere, following his latest military triumph, Robb gets a lecturing from a field nurse named Talisa (Oona Chaplin), who challenges him to define just what his role will be if the North triumphs; if he has no desire to sit on the Iron Throne, then who will? Despite his victories, we’ve not spent a lot of time with Robb, which robs the scene of impact a little, but it’s still a pleasure to watch him come into his own and sort out his place in Martin’s unwieldy universe.
The episode tips into truly miserable territory when Arya arrives at Harrenhal, a former castle that now serves as some sort of hellish makeshift Lannister POW camp. In short order, we get animal-based torture, heads on pikes, and the re-arrival of Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane (formerly played by Conan Stevens, now played by Ian Whyte) – things get so dark that the re-arrival of Tywin Lannister actually improves things. Having Arya and Gendry be pried from certain doom at the last second is a little on the forced side, but it’s preferable to the alternative.
Of course, the episode’s most important sequence going forward is its last, as Davos witnesses the birth of…what, exactly? The arrival of Melisandre’s slithery amorphous black viscous shadow creature hellbeing thing seems to indicate the return of magical elements to the show in a big way, but it also begs some questions that may or may not need answering, depending on how ambiguous the show’s universe decides to be about such things. Is Melisandre some sort of black-magic priestess who worships a less-obviously-evil deity as some sort of false pretense? What enables her abilities? And just what are the limits of her power? It’s difficult to assess just how the balance of power might be shifting when that power can’t be quantified yet. But that’s the sort of fascinating uncertainty that Benioff and Weiss must surely be counting on.