This review may contain spoilers.
Fantastical story hooks in "Game of Thrones" have taken a backseat to political mayhem since the show's debut; however, like the dragon's birth in the Season 1 finale, Melisandre's (Carice van Houten) birthing scene of a menacing, shadowy entity marks an eye-popping turn for the series.
Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) makes an interesting strategic gamble by unleashing the mysterious powers of Melisandre following a fruitless meeting with his brother, Renly (Gethin Anthony). Can he trust her? Is she evil? Who knows. She's certainly not a pushover. After all, when she knowingly drank poison like it was chocolate milk in the Season 2 premiere, you knew Stannis was playing with fire by welcoming her presence.
Sending Melisandre against Renly seems a bit odd too. Stannis is a man of deep honor, much like Ned Stark was. Is the use of such questionable conjuring honorable? Clearly no, but Stannis needs to win a war. His reliance on magic will likely backfire.
Meanwhile, Robb Stark (Richard Madden) is still punishing the Lannister armies. He seems unbeatable, and the Iron Throne is ripe for the picking.
But in King's Landing, Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) simply continues his cruel streak by humiliating Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) in court for Robb's ongoing victories. This brat needs to be impaled on the Iron Throne. Thankfully for Sansa, Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) arrives to temporarily deflect Joffrey's rage.
This isn't Tyrion's only shining moment though. Through the use of blackmail, he adds Lancel Lannister (Eugene Simon) to his list of assets to use against his sister, Cersei (Lena Headey). Lancel was sleeping with her; so he doesn't want that fact leaked by Tyrion. Now Lancel will report Cersei's every move. It's always an amusing moment to witness Tyrion applying his prowess for the game of thrones.
On the road north of King's Landing, Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), Gendry Waters (Joe Dempsie) and Hot Pie (Ben Hawkey) arrive at the massive castle known as Harrenhal. They are captives of the Lannisters, who are unaware of their identities. Harrenhal is a grim, forbidding place, and the Lannister's garrison seems engrossed by torturing prisoners, at least until Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) arrives to put a stop to it. Tywin's order for Arya to serve as his new cupbearer should prove fascinating.
South of King's Landing, Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish (Aidan Gillen) arrives at Renly's camp and slyly offers to help make the capital vulnerable to an attack. Baelish then delivers the bones of Ned to Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley); however, Baelish proves his deceitful nature once again by saying that Arya is safe.
Finally, across The Narrow Sea, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and her Dothraki reach civilization. They earn passage through the city gates of Quarth, despite the reservations by some of its ruling council.
POINTS OF INTEREST
1. Quarth and Harrenhal are both added the show's opening title sequence, which finally pinpoints Daenerys' current location.
2. The Lannister's torture method of using a rat in a water pail and fire to motivate the critter to attack a prisoner is unsettling. It's easy to sympathize with Arya's nightly countdown of who she wants to kill.
3. Tyrion's move to return Ned's bones to the Starks is a smart move; although, Joffrey's and Cersei's boneheaded actions to date probably derailed the value of the gesture.
4. Storm's End, one of the strongest castles in Westeros, failed to make an appearance in this episode. It was featured in George R.R. Martin's novels and was the main seat of House Baratheon. Melisandre actually birthed her creature below this castle.
Tyrion's confrontation with Joffrey over his humiliation of Sansa in court and his threat against the loathsome Ser Meryn Trant of the Kingsguard was a golden moment. Dinklage makes such scenes a marvel. The same can be said of his amusing encounter with poor Lancel, who is intellectually throttled by Tyrion.
Another highlight of the episode is the meeting between Stannis and Renley. This scene is backed by some memorable dialogue and acting, particularly from Dillane, whose portrayal of Stannis' rigid disposition is spot on.
And can Baelish become more devious? He is dangerous player on this precarious political landscape, yet few of his peers recognize this. Gillen is perfect in this role.
Four episodes in and this series continues to blossom, with no significant missteps in sight. Go HBO!
WHAT DIDN'T WORK
Robb's attack on the Lannister camp seemed to beg for a short, but stunning battle scene. But once again, we only see the aftermath. Hopefully as the series progresses, we'll be treated to some of the horrors of combat and not just its gory wake.
GIVING CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE
"Game of Thrones" stars Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Emilia Clarke, Michelle Fairley, Maisie Williams, Sophie Turner, Kit Harington, Harry Lloyd. "Garden of Bones" was written by Vanessa Taylor, and it was directed by David Petrarca.
"Game of Thrones" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.
See our Season 1 episode reviews for "Winter is Coming," "The Kingsroad," "Lord Snow," "Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things," "The Wolf and the Lion," "A Golden Crown," "You Win or You Die," "The Pointy End," "Baelor" and "Fire and Blood."
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