Amid all the scheming and plotting that swirls through the dizzying world of "Game Of Thrones," there is nothing quite as complicated as the gender politics that distinctively and often unpleasantly affects the show's characters. "Secon...
Amid all the scheming and plotting that swirls through the dizzying world of "Game Of Thrones," there is nothing quite as complicated as the gender politics that distinctively and often unpleasantly affects the show's characters. "Second Sons," the eighth episode, brings a closer, oft-uncomfortable scrutiny to bear on not just these frequently unusual relationships, but also all of the love and lust and sex that runs rampant through these lands -- not to mention the fear and happiness and fury and bitterness that is often created as a result.
We began with a most surprising new pairing -- the strange and menacing companionship of Arya and the Hound. Two of the most bitter and angry characters on the show -- with one genuinely loathing the other, who in turn genuinely loathes himself -- holds great potential for the future. Arya is forced to confront her hatred head-on, first by her refusing to risk attacking him, and then, by the sudden re-ignition of hope, something she had all but given up on. Suddenly, Sandor Clegane is the unlikeliest of saviors, proving that in the world of "Game Of Thrones," fate has a queer sense of irony indeed.
Meanwhile, in Storm's End, the slithery, sinister plans of Melisandre continue in full. There is a terrifically rendered dichotomy between the two counselors that bookend Stannis -- the ruthlessness and seductiveness of the Red Woman versus the boundless loyalty and perhaps naive dedication of Davos Seaworth. And while the initial meeting between Melisandre, Stannis, and Gendry was intriguing enough, it was Stannis's nighttime visit to Davos's cell that was one of the episode's high points. It was a perfectly acted scene, with Stephen Dillane capturing the both the fevered irrationality of the true believer he has become as well as the anxious cautiousness of the pragmatist he once was. And despite all he has lost, all he has been subjected to, Davos remains steadfast and honest to a fault. The dialogue between them was some of the most real and honest the show has had, truly feeling like two friends with a vast chasm between them, each unsure how to reach for the other. In the end, we find Stannis, mouthing the words of a zealot, while at the same time seeking the wisdom of a friend.
Yet while that happens, there was the heated and grotesque sequence between Gendry and Melisandre. Generally speaking, I haven't been a huge fan of her character, though I don't necessarily blame Carice van Houten's performance. She's devoured the character voraciously enough, I suppose -- it's just that all of the even tones and smoky seductiveness never quite worked for me. This week, her performance rang far truer than in the past, and perhaps it was because the character works best when her madness is shining through. That madness, much as it was displayed when she bore the shadow creature before Davos's horrified eyes, was on full display here. What makes it so powerful and affecting is that in spite of all that was happening -- stripping herself bare, the overcharged sexuality of the whole scene, which was graphic even by "Game of Thrones" standards, the bondage and leeches -- she remains calm and focused and absolutely single minded. Yes, there was an element of gratuitousness to the scene, but Van Houten made it work -- aided by a solid depiction of Gendry's heady combination of lust and terror by Joe Dempsie.
In King's Landing, the wedding of Tyrion and Sansa serves as a perfect backdrop for the uneasy alliances and unwanted unions that the Sansa, the Lannisters, and the Tyrells find themselves embroiled in. This entire sequence -- the wedding itself as well as a supremely awkward and uncomfortable reception -- did an excellent job of showing just how fragile and downright uncertain Tyrion can be beneath his arrogant, acerbic facade. At the same time, it gave us yet more reason to find Joffrey Baratheon to be the most contemptible, disgusting and downright disturbing character in q