In this week’s Game of Thrones, Peter Dinklage reminds us that he’s the best actor on the show as Tyrion and Sansa reluctantly join their Houses, Daenerys surpasses her own reputation to further prove that she’s one of the most important female characters in modern television, and Gendry’s Baratheon-ness blows up in his face as Melisandre proves the power in a king’s blood.
Much of the episode is dedicated to Tyrion and Sansa’s wedding; a golden, bejeweled, luxuriantly Byzantine mosaic of an affair that simmers with too many undercurrents to count. Tyrell/Lannister relations are still at breaking point following the discovery of the marriage plot, which leads to some truly prodigious acting from each family member on both sides, the most hair-raising being a sinister discussion between Cersei and Margaery in which the former explains the legend of The Rains of Castamere to the latter before pleasantly threatening to strangle her in her sleep. This is a welcome, fiery and ominous taste of the queen-against-queen savagery of A Feast For Crows that makes us yearn for the day that this most difficult of books comes to be adapted. Charles Dance continues to menace and terrify as Tywin Lannister, his presence casting a freezing shadow over the proceedings, and Jack Gleeson’s Joffrey has his best episode yet, combining the fresher, giggling cruelty Joffrey has demonstrated this season with the disturbing, screechingly evil madness that has defined his character in previous seasons. But the undisputed star of the show is Peter Dinklage, who performs at his tragic, charismatic best after taking a little too much of a back seat this season. Tyrion is the drunkest we’ve ever seen him: desperately unhappy, guilt-ridden, raucous, yet ferociously protective of his young bride to the point of threatening to geld Joffrey, leading to an electrifying stand-off that is only prevented from resulting in bloodshed by the speedy intervention of Tywin Lannister. Tyrion’s drunkenness is disturbing and highly upsetting to watch, and Dinklage plays it with magnificent emotion and perfect believability and equilibrium.
The best wedding scenes, however, are those between Tyrion and Sansa both before and after the ceremony. Their conversation before the wedding is excruciatingly awkward but heartwarming as Tyrion tries to find common ground between them in their mutual desire not to marry. Sansa parries his every attempt to break through her defences, but when Tyrion gently takes her hand and vows, ‘I promise you one thing, my lady. I won’t ever hurt you,’ she smiles. In that moment, the chemistry between Dinklage and Sophie Turner is extraordinary, pointing us forward to all the future moments when Tyrion’s kindness comes crashing into Sansa’s thoughts, only to be shoved away again into her unconscious mind.
The scene after the wedding is a lot less uplifting, but glows with pathos, heartbreak and tragedy as Sansa begins to undress; Tyrion so drunk he can barely stand up straight. It is beautifully shot: Sansa standing with her back to Tyrion, her glorious golden clothing coming off in layers; Tyrion’s face filled with sadness and self-loathing at the thought that he’ll have to deflower a fourteen-year-old girl, yet awe-struck, moved, even, by her beauty. It is his respect for her, as well as his innate compassion, that makes him tell her to stop, increasing our love for him tenfold. The power of Tyrion’s strange attraction to Sansa, and the subtle ways that he expresses it, make for some of his best chapters in the books, so let’s hope we see more of it before the season is over.
Meanwhile in Yunkai, we’re treated to Daenerys’ best scene from the books, in which she displays Rhaegar Targaryen-like brilliance in trying to persuade the sellsword companies (here simplified to the three leaders of the Second Sons) to desert the Yunkish and join her instead. Among them is Daenerys’ future lover Daario Naharis, played by an excellent Ed Skrein, who combines just the right amount of magnetism, obsequiousness and punchableness in his interpretation of the character. But it is Emilia Clarke who truly dazzles (and delights) in this scene: serenely unconcerned at the sellswords’ lewd and jaw-dropping insolence, her persona seeming to blaze with red flame; she talks with the confidence, experience and hardness of a dragon, of a woman so accustomed to dealing with brutal men that even their lowest threats fail to concern her or make her blanch. As the sellswords leave, however, we see that this is also a mask she has learned to wear, the disgust on her face indescribable as she watches the retreating back of the most vicious of the commanders: ‘Ser Barristan. If it comes to a battle, kill that one first.’ When Daario returns that night, this time to assassinate her, she only seems to grow more military-minded, more queenly and more devastatingly charismatic. As she rises naked from her bath in front of Daario, we find ourselves thinking of the shy girl in season 1 who had to be told that tears aren’t a woman’s only weapon. But she doesn’t need to be told any longer: she knows it. Each episode turns Daenerys into a shrewder, wiser and deadlier politician, and Clarke has performed this transition subtly, brilliantly, volcanically. Emmy, please!
Melisandre and Gendry finally get to Dragonstone, where the Red Priestess continues her slow seduction of Gendry in order to win his trust, thus minimising the pollution to his blood that trauma causes at the time of sacrifice. The irresistible allure and spine-tingling menace of Carice Van Houten’s performance acts in perfect counterpoint to the hopeless innocence and naivety of Joe Dempsie’s; Gendry acting like a son Robert Baratheon would have been proud of, but only realising that Melisandre’s intentions are murderous rather than kinky when she ties up his feet as well as his hands. Mercifully, she doesn’t gut or immolate him, but uses three leeches to draw his blood. Stannis then casts these onto a brazier and intones the names of Robb Stark, Balon Greyjoy and Joffrey Baratheon, sending chills down our spines as we realise that all three will soon be dead. In the meantime, though, we should concern ourselves with Gendry, and with the newly-liberated Ser Davos, who are now in a position to once again take up the Edric Storm line of the story, though this naturally depends on whether or not Melisandre actually intends to kill Gendry, something we now have no way of knowing.
In shorter scenes, Arya and the Hound connect unexpectedly after she tries to kill him with a rock, Arya barely able to conceal her happiness when she learns that Sandor plans on reuniting her with her family rather than returning her to King’s Landing. Beyond the Wall, Sam finally learns the true significance of his obsidian dagger, the entire scene resonating with a The Lord of the Rings-like malevolence as two different forces of evil patiently wait their turn to sample the same prey.
A much better-structured and better-acted episode than those of the past two weeks, Second Sons lays many subtle foundations for future intrigues and relationships, and puts us firmly on the path to Westeros’ deadliest wedding season yet.