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Game of Thrones Season Two, Episode 5: “The Ghost of Harrenhal” Review

(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)


Well, that’s one would-be ruler down. Renly Baratheon dies an ignoble death at the hands of Melisandre’s foul hellspawn very near the beginning of “The Ghost of Harrenhal,” and that moment kickstarts an hour that moves by at a considerably elevated click. There’s significant plot movement on almost every front, as well as a very palpable sense of danger and imminent change.

Renly is dead, which would seem to be a boon to his almost hilariously unsentimental brother Stannis, but his faithful advisor Davos quite sensibly warns him of Melisandre’s ever-growing influence; if “Harrenhal” has a clear throughline, it’s the whole notion of advisement, and the importance of a clear, objective second opinion in the face of monumental decision. Following Renly’s death, the assassination is quickly pinned on Brienne thanks to her proximity to the deceased, and the ever-sterling Catelyn steers her away from a brash act of vengeance. (In return, Brienne swears an oath to protect Catelyn, which means she’s likely safe from harm for the foreseeable future.) In Qarth, Daenerys very nearly agrees to marry the deceptively ambitious Xaro after he promises the means to take Westeros by force before Jorah Mormont (who gets some timely advice of his own, via a very creepy masked woman in a bustling Qarth courtyard) talks her out of it with Iron Islands-style logic. And speaking of the Iron Islands, Theon Greyjoy turns out to be one pep talk away (courtesy of Ralph Ineson, aka The Office‘s Finchy!) from a more ambitious offensive than the one he was assigned.

“The Ghost of Harrenhal” a swift installment full of supernatural dread

Of course, no advisor is more prominent on Game of Thrones than Tyrion “demon monkey” Lannister, who seems poised to steer events in and around King’s Landing in very interesting directions indeed. Upon discovering that gallons of a scalding-hot substance called Wildfire are being stored in secret in preparation for a massive potential offensive, he takes charge of the stash, for purposes currently unknown to us. (Let’s hope he’s familiar with the short stories of Ron Carlson.) He also once again butts heads with Cersei, who is unaware that plots and schemes are the same thing.

Meanwhile, young Arya Stark has found herself in a very intriguing place herself: she has power. Not much power, mind, but huge heaps more than she possessed only days previous. Thanks to a previous heroic act, she’s earned the right to claim three lives, the first of which, the foul torturer the Tickler, is taken in the last moments of the episode. Having her reciting her list of people she’d like dead repeatedly in last week’s installment, only to have her literally drawing up an actual hit list starting this week, it more than a little on-the-nose, but damn if it’s not going to be satisfying to watch the wee lass give some back. (Speaking of which, her exchange with Tywin, in which she discusses Robb’s mortality, is quite possibly the most powerful of the entire season thus far.)

As one would expect from the grim opening, the magical elements of Game of Thrones are much more prominent than ever before. We see Daenerys bonding with one of her (shockingly adorable) young dragons, whose fire-breathing abilities have just begun to develop, but even more enticingly, we get a glimpse of what appears to be (in spite of Xaro’s smug dismissal) an actual, and extremely unsettling in appearance, sorcerer, who represents the House of the Undying, whatever that turns out to be. With more mysterious forces percolating than ever before, and the balances of power shifting this quickly (with Stannis appearing practically unstoppable at this point, especially after inheriting most of his brother’s soldiers), it’s already an epic build to what should be a battle of a grander scale than almost any in television history.

Simon Howell

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Simon is a sometimes writer and podcaster living in Toronto.

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