Holy creepy black smoke coming out of Melisandre's magic womb, do we have a lot to talk about tonight. Despite the loaded episode's disappointing lack of Cersei, ""Garden of Bones"" brought enough petulance, violence, and treachery to more than make up for her absence. In one corner, our beloved King Joffrey did something so horrific to a prostitute that it should probably be shown in high school sex ed classes. Like, hey impressionable youths in downtrodden urban public schools: You shouldn't be a prostitute, because a sadistic towheaded manchild might make your friend beat you with a fiery stick to get his rocks off. In the other corner, Melisandre gave birth to Lost's Smoke Monster, in a scene that I worry might scare some fans away.
Let's start, as usual, with the opening credits -- Welcome to Harrenhal, everybody! Here's some exposition on Harrenhal, for all of you non-readers out there: Harrenhal, like Pyke, is terrible. Even though it's the largest castle in the Seven Kingdoms, it's rotted with decay, and has a reputation of being cursed. Also, pretty much everyone who has recently garrisoned, commanded, or dwelled at Harrenhal (excluding the servants) is a violent, treacherous human being. If I had to choose between Harrenhal and American Horror Story's murder house, I'd have to go with the latter. At least they have sexy ghosts there, and a maid.
But wait, there's more: We finally get to see something across the Narrow Sea that wasn't Vaes Dothrak. Give it up for Qarth! Qarth is a very wealthy and very heavily guarded port city, that is supposedly very beautiful once you get inside. Unfortunately, that will have to wait for next week. Qarth is governed by a group of robed traders known as ""The Thirteen"", and its women prefer dresses that keep one breast exposed. (Yes, George R. R. Martin actually wrote this detail in the book -- it was not a product of 13-year-old Adam Friedberg's imagination.)
Alas, we began the episode at neither of these fascinating new places. Instead, the writers gave us a front-row seat to the meaningless atrocities of war, interestingly presenting Robb Stark (Remember him? It's been a while.) -- rather that a Lannister, as per the usual -- as the ""bad guy"" in this case. Stark and his men surprised a Lannister camp in the middle of the night, brutally slaughtering a gaggle of young boys who were making fart jokes only moments before. Our enemies: They're just like us.[PAGEBREAK]
Robb tried his darndest to grapple with this heinous moral dilemma, opting to forego torturing his Lannister captives -- probably to sooth his hurting Stark-brand conscience. But Talisa, a sexy healer slash sexy voice of reason in this insanity, wasn't about to make things easier. ""Do you think he's friends with King Joffrey?"" she asked, referring to a newly amputated Team Lannister youngster. ""He's a fisherman's son that grew up near Lannisport. He probably never held a spear before they shoved one in his hands a few months ago."" (ASIDE: Did anyone else find it disturbing that Robb was giving her his googly eyes over a bloody amputee victim? That's so Grey's Anatomy. It's pretty obvious that they're playing at a future romance here, though Robb has had only one romance throughout the books. And it was with a noblewoman, not a wise-beyond-her-years healer from Volantis. This could be exciting, because I always found the noblewoman to be quite boring.)
Robb tried to justify his actions by reminding her that life under King Joffrey would be miserable, and his only goal was to kill him. But Talisa, the unlikely voice of reason, had a comeback for that one as well: ""You're fighting to overthrow a king, and yet you have no plan for what comes after?"" Apparently, the King in the North forgot that killing the King in the South would require him to replace said King with a new King in the South. And here I thought the North remembers...
But just as we were starting to realize that Stark violence was just as heinous as Lannister violence, Joffrey showed up. Scratch that: Joffrey showed up, pointing a loaded crossbow in Sansa's face. Robb -- All is forgiven. Word of Robb's sneak attack had reached King's Landing, and Joffrey felt that threatening and eventually beating Sansa was adequate retaliation. ""Leave her face,"" he said to Ser Meryn, before Ser Meryn beat her and tore off her clothing. ""I like her pretty.""
Thankfully, Tyrion came in to halt the torture. He reminded Joffrey of what happened to the last king who did and said whatever the hell he wanted (The ""Mad King"" Aerys, who was killed by Jaime Lannister and replaced by Robert Baratheon), and escorted Sansa to safety. He asked her if she wanted to call off the hideous engagement, and when she responded ""I am loyal to King Joffrey, my one true love,"" he seemed impressed. ""Lady Stark, you may survive us yet,"" he said with admiration.
Tyrion's truly wonderful BFFL, Bronn, suggested that Joffrey was erotically ""backed up"" -- and a little premarital sex might serve the realm well. So, even though ""there's no cure for being a c---,"" (And Bronn wins best line of the week!), Tyrion hired two local whores -- Ros, and Nameless Whore #6 -- to ""get some of the poison out.""
Now, this is where things took an extremely disturbing turn. Instead of having a good old fashioned threesome with these two beautiful ladies, Joffrey physically and emotionally tortured them. One was physically abused, at Joffrey's command, by Ros: First with hands, then with belt, and finally, devastatingly, with something resembling a medieval torture device that I saw in Amsterdam this one time. Ros was mentally abused: He made this woman inflict unthinkable pain on her friend, and threatened her with a crossbow when she hesitated. Between this and the baby-murder, I'm thinking that a return to frozen Winterfell and boring sex with Theon are starting to sound pretty tempting to Ros. Comedian Aziz Ansari recently tweeted, ""If I ever run into the kid that plays that prick Joffrey on Game of Thrones, I'm sorry - I'm beating the sh-- out of him,"" and I think the world would have to agree.[PAGEBREAK]
Back at Renly's camp of jousts and jollies, Littlefinger arrived with his peculiar brand of ambiguous motives. Renly made it very clear that he wasn't a huge Littlefinger fan, but his ears perked up when the devious bastard cryptically hinted at the fact that he could help Renly's upcoming siege on King's Landing from within.
If Renly would have heard Littlefinger's conversation with Margaery, he would probably change his mind all over again. Littlefinger asked several pointed questions about Margaery's sham of a marriage. Like, ""Hey, why do you sleep in different tents, and why was your brother hanging out with Renly on your wedding night? Also, why is your husband totally gay? Weird!"" But Margaery is cunning, and responded with a mix of thinly veiled insults and the same kind of pre-rehearsed answers that you typically hear at a GOP debate. ""The whole notion of marriage seems to confuse you,"" she said. ""So allow me to explain: My husband is my king, and my king is my husband."" See, she answered everything while actually answering absolutely nothing! Genius.
But of course, the main reason for Littlefinger's visit was the promise of seeing his long-lost love, Catelyn Stark. He came on a little strong with the ""fate has given us a chance to be together"" crap, but the enraged Cat put down her dagger when he promised to return the still-captive Sansa and Arya (Lies!) in one piece. ""I fear for their longevity if they remain in the castle,"" he said.
Of course, the girls would come at a price: A sexy, incest-loving, Kingslaying price. Cat initially refused on the grounds that Robb would never trade two mere girls for Jaime freaking Lannister, but she seemed to waiver when he suggested going behind Robb's back. All this poor woman wants is more than two members of her family together, safe, at one time, and Littlefinger knows this -- he knows her, and what makes her tick. He probably even predicted her mini-meltdown when he brought in Ned's decapitated bones as ""a token of Tyrion Lannister's good will.""
Lancel Lannister didn't seem to care about Tyrion Lannister's good will when he barged in and demanded Grand Maester Pycelle's release on behalf of Cersei, but he was never going to get it anyway. Tyrion taunted Lancel about the fact that he was bedding Cersei in Jaime's absence, and wondered out loud what Joffrey would think if he found out. Lancel started squealing like a baby and placing the blame on Cersei -- in short, Tyrion already had him by the balls. He agreed not to tell Tywin or Joffrey about his indiscretion if Lancel would act as a ""little bird"" to Tyrion, telling him all of Cersei's secrets. He also told Lancel to broker a fake peace with his sister -- to her knowledge, Tyrion would obey her commands from now on, and would give her back Pycelle as a sign of good faith.[PAGEBREAK]
Across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys and her team of starving Dothraki miscreants finally found a beacon of hope: Her rider returned with a brand-new horse, given to him by one of the previously mentioned Thirteen of Qarth. The rider claimed that Qarth would be happy to receive the Queen of Dragons, but Voice of Reason #2, Jorah Mormont, was hesitant. ""The desert around their walls is called The Garden of Bones,"" he said. In other words, Qarth is exactly like Las Vegas.
When Dany and her Khalasar arrived, their welcome was not nearly as warm as was promised. The Thirteen were gathered outside the city's heavily guarded walls, armed with questions and a single demand: To see the dragons. You see, The Thirteen's talking head (Whose name is far too complex for our primitive brains to understand, and whose performance could only be described as ""Nathan Lane in La Cage aux Folles"") thought that their entire existence might be a lie. ""Where I come from, guests are treated with respect,"" said the tougher-by-the week Khaleesi. ""Not insulted at the gates.""
When their entrance was denied, Dany ditched diplomacy and did things the Targaryen way. ""When my dragons are grown, we will take back what was stolen from me, and destroy those who have wronged me,"" she said. ""We will lay waste to armies and burn cities to the ground. Turn us away, and we will burn you first."" Finally, Xaro Xhoan Daxos -- the ballsiest member of The Thirteen -- envoked a Qartheen tradition that would allowed the Khalasar to pass through. He sealed their entrance with his own blood, and any bad behavior from Dany's gang would be on his head. The gates were finally opened, giving us a peek at a truly gorgeous set.[PAGEBREAK]
Finally, we arrive at Harrenhal: And Gendry, Hot Pie, and Arya were not too psyched to be there. It smelled like dead people, and one of the first sounds they heard was a man's agonizing death screams mixed with crunching bones. So basically, Joffrey would love it there! If the boy king ever needs a torture porn vacation, Harrenhal is the place to be.
A haggard beggar woman provided a bit of exposition. Today ""they"" killed her son, her sister was three days ago, and her husband the day before that. So, yes -- ""they"" needlessly kill someone every day. That night, as Arya and her fellow captives slept outside, on the floor, in the rain, she took her recently deceased pal Yoren's advice: She whispered the name of each of her adversaries as she drifted off to sleep, praying for their deaths. ""Joffrey. Cersei. Ilyn Payne (Ned's executioner). The Hound (Joffrey's favorite man-pet)."" Personally, I'm okay with this list.
The next morning, the kids woke up to reaping time: PRIMROOOOSE EVERDEEEEEN. Just kidding, it was some random dude. But he died painfully and for no apparent reason, as he couldn't tell his torturer where the mysterious ""Brotherhood"" was hiding. Hot Pie wet his pants. That night, Arya added two new names to her ""People to Kill"" list: Polliver, Harrenhal's number one fan of torture and beating up poor people, and The Mountain: The Hound's even-worse brother who sliced open that horse back in season one.
Speaking of even-worse brothers: Stannis left Dragonstone to ""bargain"" with Renly. The boys instantly started bickering over who had the coolest new banner (Stannis' was now on fire, while Renly's displayed a Tyrell-gold stag), then indulged in an old-fashioned pissing contest. ""No one likes you! The Lord of Light is lame! Ned Stark was totally on my side!"" etc etc. Eventually, Big Mama Catelyn intervened: ""Listen to yourselves. If you were sons of mine, I would knock your heads together and lock you in a bedchamber until you remembered that you were brothers."" You know she would, too.
Stannis didn't listen, slapping Renly with an ultimatum: Surrender by dawn, and he would regain his old seat in the council, and be named heir to the throne (until Melisandre bore him a son). If he didn't obey, Stannis would destroy him. Renly thought Stannis' threats were ridiculous, since he had very few men behind him. ""The night is dark and full of terrors,"" Melisandre warned as they rode off. Oh, how right she would be![PAGEBREAK]
Back at Harrenhal, Joffrey's wish was almost accidentally granted as Gendry was picked for torture victim of the day. But then (never expect to hear these words again) Tywin Lannister rode in and saved the day. He reprimanded Polliver, the Mountain and co. for abusing able-bodied prisoners, then took Gendry as his smith, and Arya as his lady cup-bearer. Tywin, unlike everyone else besides Gendry, can easily spot the difference between a male and a female, and he admired Arya's intelligence when she told him that disguising herself as a boy made it safer for her to travel. Is anyone else excited to see the Tywin/Arya scenes we have coming up?
And now, finally, we come to the main (disturbing and polarizing) event: Stannis commanded poor Davos to smuggle Melisandre back to Renly's camp in the dead of night (which, in case you had forgotten, is dark and full of terrors), even though the guy is so ashamed of his smuggler's past that he keeps his chopped finger bones around his neck as a reminder. Still -- anything for Stannis.
Throughout their short voyage, Melisandre was a total drag. She made fun of his ""Onion Knight"" nickname, asked personal questions about his marital history, and ultimately accused him of ""wanting"" her. Ugh. She told him not to worry -- he would soon see what was underneath her crimson cloak. And seconds later, he did -- when they realized that Renly had barred their passage, she removed her clothes to reveal a severely pregnant and very active belly.
She sat on the ground to give birth, and when something started poking at her stomach from the inside, Davos appropriately freaked out. After many moans and enough nudity to satiate Friedberg for the week, a black smoky substance started making its way out of her vaginal canal. Black tendrils that vaguely resembled hands grasped her calves to pull its way into the world, and then off it went into the night -- as Melisandre looked on with a wicked smile.
Now, as a reader, I'm not going to pretend that I don't know exactly where this Smoke Monster/Demon from Fern Gully plot is going. And I personally like it -- Smoky gets some stalling plotlines moving at a breakneck pace, and lets us know exactly what Melisandre is made of. But many of my friends and colleagues who screened the episode felt that this ""birth"" was just a little too much. To them, even on this bananas show with dragons, white walkers, and Joffrey, Melisandre's birth was just too -- well, weird. Let us know what you think in the comments, and be sure to vote in the poll below!
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