Welcome one, welcome all, to the latest installment of The Wars to Come, our Game of Thrones rewatch of Season 1-4, so that we may better understand the most outstanding drama on television’s roots. Last week, we were disappointed by George R.R. Martin’s Season 3 outing, while this week in “Second Sons,” showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D) take back the reins. And give us the Reynes. Kylie, Julia, Caroline, and Jana offer their thoughts.
We’re quick to learn of titular Second Sons on this week’s episode, and they are none other than a sellsword group hired by Yunkai. Dany decides to meet with their captain, Mero, along with two other officers, Prendahl and Daario Naharis. Dany tries to persuade Mero to join her side, giving him wine and two days to think it over. However, Mero has a different plan. He thinks Daenerys must be killed, and it is decided that Daario will be the one to do it. Daario disguises himself as an Unsullied and successfully sneaks into Dany’s tent while she bathes, but there it is revealed that rather than murder Dany, Daario killed Mero and Prendahl, and pledges the Second Sons to her cause.
In the riverlands, Arya thinks about killing Sandor to get away, though doesn’t. This ends up being a good choice, since Sandor soon reveals that he does not intend to take her back to King’s Landing, but rather to her Uncle Edmure’s wedding at the Twins.
Gendry, meanwhile, arrives at his new destination: Dragonstone. There, Stannis confirms that he is, “half Robert, half lowborn.” He’s taken away, and Melisandre makes it clear to Stannis that she intends to sacrifice him. Stannis seek’s Davos’s council, who is still in the cells, teaching himself to read. Davos tells Stannis not to sacrifice Gendry, pointing out that the only reason Stannis came down there is surely because he wanted to hear that too. Stannis releases him so long as he promises not to try and kill Melisandre again. Later, Melinsandre seduces Gendry, though abruptly ties him to the bed and puts three leeches on his body, while he protests. Stannis and Davos come in, and Stannis burns the now blood-filled leeches, saying the names of the surviving kings for each one: Robb Stark, Balon Greyjoy, Joffrey Baratheon.
In King’s Landing, it’s finally time for Tyrion and Sansa’s wedding! Tyrion tries to console Sansa beforehand and tell her that he won’t ever hurt her, though it’s clear Sansa is not happy with the arrangement. Margaery tries to ingratiate herself with (or just annoy) Cersei by saying they’re soon-to-be sisters, though Cersei responds by telling Margaery the history of House Reyne, and then threatening her.
At the wedding itself, Sansa is walked down the aisle by Joffrey, the “father of the realm.” He removes the stool meant for Tyrion to stand on to drape his cloak over Sansa, but Sansa kneels for him, avoiding incident. At the reception, Tyrion is very, very drunk, to the irritation of his father, who reminds him that he must be prepared to “do his duty” that night. Sansa walks off only to get threatened by Joffrey, who says he plans to rape her once Tyrion passes out. He also tries to insist on the bedding ceremony, though Tyrion threatens him.
After a tense moment, Tyrion plays up his drunkenness to avoid things escalating, and leads Sansa off alone. Once in their room together, Tyrion realizes he cannot go through with the consummation of the marriage, and promises Sansa he won’t touch her unless she wants him to. The next morning, Shae discovers Tyrion sleeping out of the bed and realizes nothing happened between them.
Finally, beyond the wall, Sam and Gilly try to hide in an abandoned house during the night. However, they are soon interrupted when a White Walker comes, trying to take Gilly’s baby. In desperation, Sam tries stabbing it with the dragonglass he found at the Fist of the First Men. This works, and the white walker shatters, while Sam and Gilly run off.
Initial, quick reaction
Jana: There was a lot of book dialogue in this. Arya and the Hound, Daenerys, and even large parts of the wedding had entire exchanges lifted almost verbatim. That doesn’t happen that often anymore this late into the game. Most parts of this episode were even somewhat enjoyable… And then there was the dick leeching.
Caroline: It’s nice to watch some of these early episodes and moderately enjoy them. Like, I still see the cracks in the plaster and the problems, but now knowing the shenanigans to come in later seasons the problems seem like small potatoes. Or small dick-sucking leeches. Whatever metaphor works!
I appreciate the book dialogue in a pining kind of way—like oh, I wish I was encountering this dialogue in the books, I wish I was reading the books right now. I find the use of book dialogue sad most of the time. But overall this episode was a solid “fine.”
Kylie: I wish that the scenes I didn’t like in this episode wasn’t as egregious as I found them (I once centered an essay on Sansa kneeling), because I do think overall this was a pretty decent episode. Or rather, I wasn’t sighing, yelling, and looking at the clock too much; most of it worked. Plus, you could knock me over with a feather that this was a D&D episode, because aside from a few choice lines, it really didn’t sound like their usual tone. Also, I’m suspecting no Theon or Jon did wonders for the quality of this episode.
Julia: The dick leeches were very, very *them*, though. I’m sure we’ll have a lot more to say about that later, but talk about a pointless scene…
I’m really upset that this week’s episode was so obviously better than last week’s. You know, given the circumstances. At least one things actually worked for me, which is one more than usual in the later seasons.
Kylie: Well, according to our commenter Drew, Martin may not have written more of that episode than we realized. I may need to hunt down the commentary track just to confirm that though—sadly there doesn’t seem to be a transcript anywhere.
Kylie: I genuinely enjoyed Olenna musing about Loras being slated to become Marg’s father-in-law, though I’m not sure I’d call that a highlight. I think I do have to pick the ending for that. Sam’s tone with Gilly kind of irks me, but they did such a great job of building that atmosphere, and you really felt just how terrifying it was for those two. It’s the kind of scene that makes you glad visual adaptations exist.
I’m barely stretching my arm up for this low-hanging fruit, but good god was dick leech a lowlight. It definitely didn’t drag on the way Theon’s scene did, but it wasn’t exactly short, either. I’m guessing a lot of my annoyance is thanks to book knowledge; Edric Storm was leeched without sexual assault, so I know there was no necessity in this at all. Add to that the way it gets played for laughs by Season 7, with Sandor telling Gendry to stop “whinging” about it, and we’ve got a real winner here.
Julia: I’m going with Cersei (Drunk!Carol?) and Marg’s absolutely awful grade 9 Creative Writing style conversation before the wedding for my lowlight. My only comfort is that I think good ol’ NatDo was having trouble being a pro during it too. Just… seriously, it’s called subtlety. Even if I’m supposed to think Cersei is just that dumb and unsubtle it was still really annoying to sit through. It also annoyed me that they change many details of the Rayne’s story.
Also, Marg. That dress is not appropriate for church.
I think we’re all going for the last scene for our highlight, and I don’t think we should be ashamed for matching. Even the conversation beforehand didn’t irk me like Sam’s patronizing tone usually does. Last names might actually be a concepts she needs explained to her after all. And Gilly was so cutely supportive about Sam clearly being triggered by the thought of his father. God, I want to root for these two.
Jana: The dick leeching was just so goddamn egregious. They could have stopped at any point earlier than when they did. They didn’t even need to start turning it sexual. But no, someone thought it was actually necessary to go there, and then put a leech on a dick. So yeah. Really easy lowlight right there.
Highlight… Hm. Olenna talking about future relations was fun and all, and the atmosphere for Sam and Gilly worked as well, even though it felt like they were playing hot potato with the little bit of lore that free folk babies aren’t named until they’re two years old. Nevertheless, and I feel really ashamed for this, I think my highlight was actually the first part of Dany’s negotiations with the Second Sons? You know, the part straight from the books. They somehow forgot to adapt her really, really good plan for the fight, and the scene with only the commanders really dragged, and the scene in the bathtub… Still, that initial meeting was good. Yes, she deadpanned a lot, but at least here you can believe it’s supposed to be to a point. Yes, the guy was gross, but he was very book accurately gross. I’m gonna go with this one.
Caroline: There is no contest—dick leeching is the lowlight. It made zero sense in-verse that that was necessary. One, we already know Mel intends to kill Gendry, so this whole leech business is stalling to start with. Two, blood from the abdomen is the same as blood from the penis, so there is really no reason. I hope show watchers caught onto the egregious violence of this scene.
I agree with Jana that some of the Dany scenes worked very well, especially with the gross Titan’s Bastard (I think that was him? Pretty sure there was a name drop). However, my highlight is definitely the ending scene with Sam and Gilly. Not the part where they talk about random crap—though I’d like to see a five-paragraph essay on the philosophical difference between winking and blinking—but the end where the white walker appears. The scene is frightening, as it’s supposed to be, and the intense power of the white walker (and the significance of Sam’s slaying of it) truly comes across on screen. It worked all around for me.
Julia: My true highlight might be Gilly shutting down Sam’s philosophy 101 bull about how winking and blinking are the same? She’s just, like, “Intention. Mic drop!”
Kylie: A wink is just not a sort of blink. What a terrible argument.
Quality of writing
Julia: Ugh, it wasn’t bad overall. Not excellent, but, like, competent. The King’s Landing stuff, as usual was the most amateur hour, and was the only time I was angry at the screen, but it was fine, dammit.
Jana: Nothing about the dick leeching was fine, though. Nothing. Well, and I found the scene where Tyrion and Sansa talk before the wedding pretty grating, too. It’s just…No, you guys. No. Not how any of this works.
Julia: Okay, you’re right about that.
Kylie: I think their writing betrays, if nothing else, a fundamental misunderstanding of the setting. This is especially the case if Martin really was the writer of the Dany and Sam scenes in this episode (which I’m still trying to source), since those were the set pieces that felt like they had the best grasp of world. But things like the Marg/Cersei scene, or Olenna joking about the family marriages, or Tyrion and Sansa’s chat don’t really feel like anything that could have worked in the context, even if the scenes themselves weren’t terrible and the dialogues were actual back-and-forths.
So I guess what I’m saying is, they wrote as well as they can write here.
Caroline: The writing was fine. Nothing was too egregious. I agree that basically anytime Tyrion is on screen the writing takes a bad turn (because it’s warping around his Good Guy persona). Some of the Arya/Hound stuff felt very basic. I don’t know who wrote the Dany scenes, but I found them to be some of the best this episode. I also enjoyed Cersei telling Marg the Castamere story. Overall, fine. Not necessary logical, but fine.
Our 8th grade book report (on themes)
Julia: The title is infuriating, because it’s the perfect title to have a theme, and one that Martin sometimes plays with, what with “second sons” often being aimless black sheep who feel “second best,” but nope, it’s just literal because of that sellsword group.
Like, you can try very hard and say that Stannis and Tyrion both are dealing with their sense of inferiority, I suppose. And Sam being a “second son” in terms of his father’s regard even though he’s technically first born, but man is it a stretch.
Kylie: The title doesn’t work, and I’m assuming it was incidental. Had “Stormcrows” won out in the writers’ room, that’d have been the name of the episode here. It actually reminds me of Seinfeld episode naming conventions this week. That doesn’t ramp up fully until Season 5 though.
The best I’ve got for a theme this week is subverted expectations for our characters. Arya is really getting taken to the riverlands, Davos is suddenly set free, Gendry is really being mistreated, Daario is really going to pledge to Dany, and Tyrion is really going to be respectful of Sansa’s sexual agency. It’s not great, but it was a bunch of scenes were things take shape in ways the characters couldn’t have imagined them to at the start of this episode.
Jana: Was this the first time Sam killed an Other on the show? Or was Sam the Slayer a thing? Because if not, then you can add that to subverted expectations as well. Both themes work for the episode, as well as they ever do, of course.
Julia: I think he just ran away from the Other’s the first time and then Mormont burnt that wight? Remember when Sam made eye contact with an Other and it let him live for… reasons? I feel like we let that go too easily.
The Butterfly Effect (Cracks in the Plaster)
Kylie: Tyrion has been a good deal of a nicer character for some time now, but I want to think this is the true beginning of his stagnation. It’s not so much that he doesn’t grope Sansa a little before stopping (I actually don’t see that working in a visual medium to convey the same choices as the character on-page), but rather his reaction to her asking what happens if she never wants him. He’s not hurt in any way, and his response is a joke about abstinence, rather than his book answer, which is basically, “I’ll just bang sex workers, no worries.”
It’s one thing to make him less flawed than his book counterpart, but they give him nothing here. There’s no complexity; he’s just a good guy who totally understands where his prisoner wife is coming from, and doesn’t have any expectations or hopes of her coming to care for him.
Jana: They’re almost friends when he walks her out to the sept. Ugh. Also, horrible thought—if they actually built up what a nice guy he has always been to Sansa in the last few seasons so they could, uh, rekindle this marriage in the end (before Tyrion’s dramatic heroic sacrifice, probably), and he then utters the words, “And now my watch is ended” I might actually throw something. Please tell me this is just my imagination. Please tell me this isn’t going to happen. Please.
Julia: If it makes you feel better, spoilers imply you have nothing to worry about.
The kneeling thing is not pissing me off any less all these years later. Sansa is just such an non-entity through the whole thing. And you’re right, Jana, they seem like friends by the time they leave her room. She even chuckled at one of his jokes. And then it’s just her standing there and doing what’s asked while Tyrion and Joffrey play off her. The most she did to express herself was have a drink before she got ready to lie down and think of Westeros. And it’s not that I think this behavior makes her weak or anything, it’s that, like, this whole marriage thing is about her, not about Tyrion and that is totally lost in the adaptation of this plot line. Let me say that again in all caps. THIS THING IS NOT ABOUT TYRION, HE’S NOT THE EFFING VICTIM HERE.
There. I feel better.
Kylie: This is a case where the visual medium can easily obscure that point. In the books, it was all Sansa’s POV for damn good reason. TV gives us a neutral point of view, so we’re not privy to Sansa’s thoughts. Of course, there’s still ways we could have seen a window into her feelings better, like with the camera focusing on her expressions, or even sticking Shae there as a confidant, as messy and weird as that scripting can sometimes get.
Instead, the focus was on Joffrey purposely trying to humiliate Tyrion (and how Tyrion handles it/Joff), and Shae and Tyrion’s relationship when Shae realized Tyrion didn’t sleep with Sansa. This is not made better by the fact that earlier in the season, they tried to shoehorn in Shae’s jealousy of Sansa, because who doesn’t want a love triangle?
Julia: I think we can also see the changes to Sansa’s relationship with Marg as butterfly wing flaps. If only because it highlights the fact that the wedding not being a surprise just makes it silly that Sansa has done nothing to try to get out of this, when she clearly should at least make an attempts, seeing that her good friend Marg and LF, who said he wants to help her, are both still there and having regular conversations with her. Or did LF leave? Whatever. But are we supposed to think she didn’t ask Marg or Olenna for help, or that she did and they said, “Nah, but here’s some sex advice?”
Jana: I think the implication was that LF left when Sansa sobbed and looked at his ship leaving at the end of The Climb? Now, admittedly, he was also dramatically monologuing at Varys in the throne room at the time, but, well, timelines.
Caroline: Part of Sansa being a non-entity in her resistance to this marriage is that, the way it’s filmed, when Joff removes the stool it is unclear if Sansa sees that action. On the re-watch I realized that she didn’t react to Joff taking the stool away; it’s a perfectly fair interpretation that she didn’t know, and so she wasn’t kneeling out of ignorance, not resistance or embarrassment. But in the totality, Tyrion as the consummate Good Guy is the biggest crack in this episode.
Kylie: I 100% only saw that as her not kneeling because she didn’t realize the issue.
Julia: I think I’ve made my opinion about the KL stuff pretty clear. Otherwise…the Gendry/Edric merger is not necessarily stupid as an adaptational decision, but I think this episode proves that the execution was lacking. And I don’t think it was especially efficient, given it necessitated Mel getting her butt to the riverlands.
The stuff in Slaver’s Bay is still pretty much just straight book content still, and it’s working fine. Even notwithstanding all these sellsword company names being mixed and matched in a way I find very confusing.
Jana: As Kylie mentioned before, did we either need or want Tyrion to fondle his child bride’s boob in a visual adaptation involving a still underage actor? No. Nope. Absolutely not. But what would have been nice is if they, I don’t know, kept him even somewhat close to in-character? “I want you, does that scare you, because it scares me,” would have given the scene more nuance and made it resemble the books more. They even set it up with the really, really bad conversation he had with Bronn last episode. And the meaningful glances exchanged with Shae when she brings breakfast and changes linens the next morning would have worked better, as well.
Which is, you know, not even mentioning the fact that Sansa was turned into a prop for one of her most significant acts of resistance. Which they also robbed her of.
Kylie: It’s beginning to be perfectly clear who the writers take an interest in, though interestingly Arya has been almost as sidelined as Bran this year. I guess that’s just a case of her not having enough to do?
Jana: Well, what Arya does get to do is bond with Sandor Clegane, waaaay more than her book counterpart ever does. Their scenes already are a lot less volatile than they are in the books, and this will only get worse. So much worse.
Kylie: Stannis is another example of characters they didn’t bother to think about in adaptation. Davos may have done well explicating why Stannis chose to visit him in his cell, but Stannis’s speech before that, when he’s trying to justify killing Gendry and his position as the chosen one, is utterly unsympathetic. I can’t imagine a single show-only viewer liking this guy.
Add to that the notable choice to have Robb’s name spoken first with the leeches, and without hesitation. I’m wondering if the original plan had been for Balon to die before Joffrey, so they said it as is for chronological purposes, only for that idea to go out the window. It’s the best I’ve got.
Carol Watch: who is Cersei this week?
Kylie: I think this is the kind of Cersei scripting people point to when they say we exaggerate the Carol stuff, you know? She threatened to have Marg strangled, after all. But to me, this is just a very drunk Carol who is Done With It™. She doesn’t actually have Marg strangled; she just can see the obvious social-climbing going on. And then later, when Joff wants to go antagonize Sansa, she tries to stop him (even telling him to talk to Marg instead). Plus, her response to Loras was just plain funny. Smalltalk is the worst, Carol!
Jana: That’s just what I was thinking. Poor Carol trying to contain her son! And yes, those five seconds with Loras were awesome. And kind of fit in with the drunk wine mom aesthetic, even.
Julia: I tend to agree. This is Carol being sad that she obviously has no control over the situation at all anymore. She’s being forced into this marriage, she can’t rein in her son, her dad stole all her political power, damn if she’s going to be nice to the scheming sex-pot who’s going to make her totally irrelevant.
Kylie: It’s also the heart and soul of Carol’s scripting. We get told she’s the most evil person ever, and she’ll have these random lines about extreme violence, but then she’s sad and reasonable in all her actions. Sometimes being Carol is just no fun.
Julia: And can we talk about her mini-burrito dress?
Caroline: I am a big fan of Carol’s burrito-inspired dress. If you’re gonna do a burrito dress, ladies, this is the way to go!
Exposition Imposition: good or clunky?
Jana: The scene where Cersei explains The Rains Of Castamere to Marge was… Clumsy. I actually thought they did this earlier this season, too, because at this point it is almost comical in the blatant attempt to explain the next episode, too.
Kylie: It’s a little weird they didn’t explain it earlier, since the song closed out the bear pit episode. But it really was clunky, especially since Margaery would certainly know this story, as would every other highborn in Westeros.
Jana: And you can’t tell me this particular story wasn’t a major factor for the Tyrells to join the Lannisters in the first place. Come to think of it, they could have mentioned it as a reason for Roose Bolton to send Jaime home, too. It’s the epitome of Tywin’s reputation and would have explained a lot about other Lord’s actions so far. Oh, well.
Kylie: I guess the good news is there wasn’t a ton of exposition otherwise. We have Jorah once again telling Dany about something Essosi (he rivals Littlefinger in that department), but you know, she doesn’t know who the Second Sons are and they need to explain the sellswords to her. It was pretty well done all things considered.
Julia: Ditto for Sam explaining last names, I guess. But it is shocking that we’ve gone this long without learning the story of the Rains of Castemere. Characters in the books never shut up about it.
Kylie: Props to the scripting of Gilly this episode, too. She actually calls Sam out as being condescending and asks if it was on purpose. Would that it’s mentioned again, especially in Season 6 or 7.
Jana: Also, again, I just feel like I have to point out that part of Sam and Gilly’s conversation was made so awkward by one piece of exposition notably missing—the fact that free folk kids aren’t named before they turn two because it’s bad luck/infant mortality is a thing. This way it just seems like Gilly is too dumb to think of names, even if Craster is the only man she has ever met. She’s named after a flower. The logical consequence would be to name the kid after something in nature. Like Rock, or Tree, or Sun, or something.
Caroline: I actually found the exposition on the Rains of Castamere pretty compelling, though of course Marg would already know the story. And it really should have come earlier. But hey, if you turn off your brain and just watch Lena Headey’s performance it’s all good!
How was the pacing?
Julia: Not one of the episode’s major flaws?
Kylie: I actually thought the pacing was excellent. Other than dick leech scene, everything moved, and I was shocked we reached the end when we did. It was more focused, and we didn’t have Jon or Theon dragging it down. I’d go as far as to say it’s the best paced episode of the season so far.
Jana: Seconded, wholeheartedly. Things were happening, and in quick enough succession that you didn’t really think about the pacing at all, which should be the goal, like with good exposition.
Let’s talk about sex, baby
Julia: I suppose this is the place to talk about the dick leeches in details. Specifically, what did the sexiness of the scene add to, like, anything?
Kylie: In two years it’ll make the reveal of old!Mel that much more incredible, I suppose.
Jana: If the goal was to show off Joe Dempsie’s physique again, fine. If they feared Carice van Houten’s contract for nude scenes would expire if she doesn’t get to take her clothes off every other episode, fine. That’s, by the way, also my thesis on why Dany had to stand up from her bathtub so dramatically.
Why exactly we needed Gendry seduced at all, I have no clue. Just, bathe him or give him new clothes or put the leeches on his hand. Convince him to try a new and hip medical treatment, it’s all the rage in the north. Uh. One particular part of the north. And even if seduction is the easiest and most on brand way to get him naked, why did actual intercourse have to be initiated? And why did they have to leech. His. Dick?
Kylie: Cause blood’s there, and oh my god they’re so edgy.
Sue me, but I found Dany’s nakedness in her scene effective and not voyeuristic in any way.
Jana: It’s by no means the most gratuitous nudity on the show, or by Dany, or in this episode, that’s for sure. But isn’t it also the last nude scene before Emilia Clarke said she wasn’t going to do that anymore for a grand total of two seasons before she nuked Vaes Dothrak?
Julia: I actually thought the nudity kind of worked there? Like, he’s trying to put her into a position of vulnerability and she won’t let it be one? I have little faith that that was the actual intention since, ya know, the pattern, but it was alright.
Kylie: My thoughts too.
Jana: Eh, it made me chuckle a little. But anyway, do we have anything more to say about the sex that very explicitly didn’t happen this episode? The meaningful glances? The fact that Shae had to check the sheets rather than putting two and two together when she saw Tyrion still in his wedding clothes and on a chaise lounge?
Julia: Oh Shae, never change. I feel like I should just go find that book quote where Shae tells Tyrion she’s not worried about his marriage because he’ll just knock Sansa up then lose interest. You know, just as a contrast.
Jana: Don’t forget when she suggests they drug Sansa and have sex right next to her in the wedding bed. Book!Shae is really hardcore.
In memoriam…Mero and Prendahl na Ghezn, the White Walker
Kylie: I really want to say something about Daario’s introduction, but I’m honestly just so distracted by Ed Skrein in the role, especially with him being replaced by someone who looks nothing like him. I think his scenes were mostly effective? But I honestly don’t have a ton to say about the captains’ deaths. Mero was suitably awful.
Julia: As a former regular on the westeros.org boards, I feel obligation to make a joke about poor Puddles and his unjust death. He just wanted to congratulate Gilly on the baby and give her the gift card for Snuggle Bugz he got!
Kylie: OH MY GOD, Puddles! Takes me back to the good days with Apple Martini posting about how Sam must pay, and other posters arguing for a name change to “Shards.” Good times.
Caroline: The fact that he was called Puddles has changed my life for the better. This is my new favorite thing!
Jana: Let us also never forget the three innocent leeches that were sacrificed. Their role was very limited, but damn if they didn’t make an impression.
Kylie: Balon Greyjoy died like 2.4 minutes ago, so the leeches can suck it.
For us, however, it’s goodbye. What did you think of this episode? Was it a step up over last week? Let us know in the comments below, and we wish you good fortune in The Wars to Come.