Game of Thrones: The Ghost of Harrenhal

“Men win wars, not magic tricks.”

Game of Thrones

Yeah? Tell that to Danaerys Targaryen, then.

It’s ages since I’ve visited Westeros, and I couldn’t shake the feeling in this fifth episode of Game of Thrones‘ second season that I’d missed something. Danaerys is in Qarth? Arya is with Tywin Lannister? The Night’s Watch is beyond the Wall? What is happening?

Maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention last time.

Actually, notwithstanding (or, perhaps, because of) a stepping-up of the supernatural elements of the show, The Ghost of Harrenhal is a little nondescript. There are the usual conversations about wanting to kill everyone within easy reach but they lack conviction. Various things happen which should be dramatic but which somehow feel unimportant – perhaps because the reaction to them is so frequently lacklustre. “Oh, this guy’s dead? Never mind.” And everyone on screen is being oddly amiable: no pig-headedness from Danaerys, no casual cruelty from Tywin, absolutely no sign of Joffrey. Even Tyrion’s usual energy and humour is more or less absent. The general air of unremarkableness is not improved by some heavy-handed acting from the lady knight Brianna, or the eye-rollingly contrived appearance of an oddly dressed, masked woman warning Ser Jorah about people wanting access to Danaerys’ dragons. Because he couldn’t have worked that out for himself, obviously.

Though I was looking forward to the Supernatural Happenings that have been teased for the last season and a half, I can’t help but worry now that instead of generating tension through character the show will begin to rely on magic and ghosts to drive the plot, which seems to be what’s happening here. Instead of asking: what will the kings do now? we’re asking: what’s the weird shadow-creature? what’s Tyrion going to do with all that wildfire? what does the three-eyed raven mean? And while these are, in their own right, mildly interesting questions, the answers to them are seldom as satisfying as the show’s exploration of human responses to these phenomena can be. I can only hope that Game of Thrones will stay with the characters and not the plot.

On the upside, there was no nudity or ‘orrible violence here, which makes a nice change on the whole. There’s hope yet, it seems.

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