"Cleaner ways don't win wars." -- Stannis Baratheon
Everyone say it together now: Crazy shadow-demon birth!
If the character of Melisandre hadn't drawn you in yet in "Game of Throne's" second season, I'm betting she had by the end of episode four, "Garden of Bones."
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As the episode (a strong first effort by writer Vanessa Taylor) came to a close, Melisandre gives birth to King Stannis' shadow-demon son (who, if the show is consistent with the books, is the image of Stannis, himself).
This shadow-demon will have a major impact on the course of the second season, but I won't give any spoilers away.
One could almost root for Stannis (as he has the most legitimate claim for the Iron Throne) if he wasn't so hypocritical and humorless. While plotting some shady, black magic, he (no joke) actually corrected Davos' grammar. He was that guy. He also prattles on endlessly about honor, but when he gets a chance for power opts for infidelity and dark magic.
Robb Stark (Richard Madden): The episode opened with the young wolf destroying Stafford Lannister's forces with a surprise night attack. Stark's wolf, Grey Wind, spooked the Lannister horses (and killed his fair share of men) in the raid, during which the northerners took very few casualties, while the Lannisters lost thousands. That's four consecutive battles won for Robb. Stark was his usual noble self, forbidding torture and even tending to the wounds of an injured Lannister man, whose leg needed to be amputated. One suspects Robb took an interest in this particular soldier because he found the woman doing the amputating to be attractive. But one also suspects that Robb would be too noble to admit this.
Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson): Just when I thought Theon Greyjoy was becoming my most hated character on the show, Joffrey completely redeemed himself. He reminded the television world why he's the most vile, despicable villain on TV: First, he had Sansa Stark (his fiance') beaten and stripped in front of court ("Leave her face. I like her pretty," he says) and then he had a whore tortured ("Harder. I said, 'harder.'") This part took some liberties with the books, but I thought it was a perfect adaption. I used to hate Joffrey so much I couldn't think straight, but now I appreciate what a great villain he is. Is there a more sick, sadistic pervert in literature? I can't think of one. By comparison, Tyrion and the Hound, both of whom came to Sansa's aid, look almost regal. "What kind of night beats a helpless girl?" Tyrion objects, dismissing his punk, under-qualified king nephew. My official, updated list of Most Hated "Game of Thrones" Characters now stands as thus: 1) Joffrey; 2) Theon; 3) Littlefinger; 4) Cersei; 5) Pycell.
Arya Stark (Maisie Williams): Still undercover, Arya is a Lannister captive taken to Harrenhal, the epic, enormous castle that is in ruin thanks to the old Targaryen dragons. "What kind of fire melts stone?" Arya is asked. "Dragon fire," she says. There, Lannister men are torturing people, not so much for information as for pleasure, it seems. King Robert's bastard, Gendry (also undercover) is about to be tortured, when Lord Tywin Lannister returns and puts an end to the cruelty and makes Arya his cupbearer. Not all of these Lannisters are so bad, it appears.
Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage): After saving Sansa from Joffrey's cruelty, Tyrion outmaneuvers Lancel Lannister, by threatening to inform Joffrey of Lancel's affair with Queen Cersei, Joff's mom. He strikes a deal to make Lancel one of his informers, in addition to Varys. With Bronn at his side, Tyrion is free to stand up to anyone in King's Landing, including the queen and king, with a unique combination of wit and hired muscle.
Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke): Dany and her Dothraki followers arrive at the vastly rich city of Qarth, home to merchants and warlocks. If she's not admitted inside the city's walls, all her people could die. "The desert around their walls is called the Desert of Bones," she's warned. But after negotiations for her entrance don't go so well, she's forced to begin to threaten like a true Targaryen: "Turn us away and we will burn you first," she says. Eventually, a rich merchant named Xaros Xhoan Daxos (go ahead, try to guess the pronunciation) vouches for her. "She is the mother of dragons," he reasons.
Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane): King Stannis meets his younger brother King Renly atop a hill near Storm's End to negotiate. That doesn't go so well. Stannis declares, "The Iron Throne is mine by right," and Renly counters that Stannis doesn't have any friends and "No one wants you for their king." Catelyn Stark tries to make the brothers reconcile to no success. That's when Melisandre makes a not-so-veiled threat at Renly and departs. Stannis then asks Davos to take Melisandre by boat to the castle of Storm's End, but he doesn't exactly tell him why. (We now know it's so she can give birth to his shadow-demon son.)
The only other notable plot developments this week involved Littlefinger, who made yet another pass at Catelyn Stark, before delivering her dead husband's bones to her. Because, you know, there's no better way to win the affections of a widow than that.