Game of Thrones, Season 2, Episode 8: “The Prince of Winterfell”
Written by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Directed by Alan Taylor
Airs Sundays at 9pm ET on HBO
As is standard in installment-based narrative drama, sometimes you need an hour just to put the pieces in place. “The Prince of Winterfell” fits the bill as a table-setting ep, but it abuses that privelege a little too freely. It becomes hard not to sympathise for the newly freed Jaime Lannister as he begs Brienne for a fight; it would certainly have livened up the pace a bit.
Thank the Gods for Tyrion Lannister. It’s no secret that Peter Dinklage can and has acted circles around most of the rest of the cast, but it’s almost ridiculous how much he hogs the hour’s best scenes (and how much the other plotlines suffer in comparison). Whether he’s speculating over a dragon-ful future while scanning the horizon with the returned Varys, reuniting with his beloved Shae, talking employment apparel and Westerosi pronounciation with Bronn, or verbally sparring with Cersei (more on that later), his scenes are consistently the most fun and watchable, and it’s not a coincidence.
Unfortunately, much of the rest of “The Prince of Winterfell” is a bit of a slog, prepping us for next week’s sure-to-be-epic battle but not shedding much new light on our characters or what they’re up to. The worst offender is easily the way-too-long scene between Robb and Lady Talisa in which she explains…and explains…and explains why she’s a nurse and not something more traditionally befitting a lady of her breeding, before they fall into bed in a moment that’s meant to feel warmly romantic, but mostly makes one yearn for time spent with some of the more engaging figures just about anywhere else in the Seven Kingdoms. As usual, the Jon Snow scenes are increasingly snoozeworthy; I suspect that when the Wilding leaders threaten to gut him, a tiny cheer mounts in the darkest recesses of many viewers’ hearts. Another disappointment: Catelyn’s betrayal of Robb, which seems both strategically useless and a needless undermining of that character’s formerly considerable intelligence.
A little better is the scene we get between Davos and Stannis as they make their final approach on King’s Landing, which fills us in a little on their dynamic as well as their respective histories of faithful service to [ruler of the period in question]. It’s as nakedly expositional as the show gets, but Liam Cunningham and Stephen Dillane are two of the show’s strongest, most natural presences, so it goes down easy. Speaking of the Baratheon crew, though, it’s more than a little surprising just how little we’ve seen of Melisandre, given her…contributions, and Carice van Houten’s pedigree (seriously; if you’ve never seen Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book, Netflix it immediately). Hopefully we’ll get a little mor eout of her before the season’s out, even if she’s not on the water with Stannis.
Back to Tyrion for a moment. While the Robb/Talisa scene falls flat in its attempt to brighten Westeros with the all-consuming power of lurve, Tyrion’s scene with Shae works considerably better, thanks to the effectiveness of his exchange wih the thoroughly doomed Ros, who Cersei mistakes for his secret mistress. It’s too bad the Cersei-Tyrion scene is marred both by some off-brand dialogue revolving around cocks and their significance; it’s also a little unfortunate just how thoroughly it’s been demonstrated that, contrary to her suggestions, she’s nowhere near as cool an operator as Tyrion. It would be nice for him to have an opponent of comparable intelligence – perhaps Varys will do the trick a little later on.
It’s entirely possible, of course, that next week’s episode, written by Martin and directed by Neil Marshall (The Descent, Centurion), will erase any misgivings with blunt force awesomeness. But there’s an inescapable sense that, though Benioff and Weiss apparently done much to condense and arrange the books’ plot threads for maximum efficiency, there was still a little more plot-crunching in order than we’ve gotten in the past few weeks.