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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Game of Thrones S02 E03: “What Is Dead May Never Die”

Game of Thrones Isaac Hempstead Wright

(previous: “The Night Lands”)

I mentioned in my overview review of Season One how incredible the child actors are here, but this episode made me marvel anew: Isaac Hempstead Wright as Bran Stark and Maisie Williams as Arya Stark are simply astonishing, particularly in this episode, in the maturity and the depth of their performances as young people totally unlike any that we would find in our modern world. Many children even today face life-alterating tragedies such as losing parents or losing homes, but the Stark children are additionally coping with burdens of leadership and family honor that aren’t like we should expect any young actor of the 21st century to be able to appreciate. Hell, most adult actors would have a tough time understanding such characters. But these kids get it, or fake it so well that it appears that they get it. I am amazed.

I like, too, that GoT — in the grand scale — understands that girls identify with this, too:

What boy doesn’t secretly wish for hidden powers, to lift him out of his dull life into a special one.

Arya! But there’s suddenly new kickass women warriors in Yara Greyjoy and Brienne of Tarth, too. Fuck yeah! There is no solitary token woman warrior here, and Arya is not alone in wishing for a different sort of life than the one that had been expected of her.

I’m really not sure if the men in the audience and the boys they used to be who are used to their dreams of glory being catered to in fantasy can appreciate how special and thrilling it is for a woman to see this.

But there are other strong, determined women, too, ones who do not accept the status quo and do their damnedest to grab as much agency as they can. Tyrion’s lover, Shae, who demands respect (and can I hope for a female rebellion to be fomented between her and Sansa?). And Margaery Tyrell, the new queen of Stormlands, who understands and accepts that her husband the king is gay yet takes this not as a rejection of herself but as a mere obstacle to overcome in order to cement his claim to the throne (as by ensuring an heir). It’s clear she loves him but that her entire identity is not tied up in him loving her exclusively. She recognizes that, entirely apart from whatever feelings she may have for him, their marriage is political, and must be treated as such.

Oh, and Tyrion. So clever, flushing out the spy among the throne’s advisors. (Also too: I’m so in love — again — with Peter Dinklage. The man is a god.)

I’m starting to wonder, what with Jon Snow’s actions north of the wall, whether he isn’t Ned Stark’s true spiritual heir. He seems intent on considering moral rightness and wrongness as a thing in itself, with no regard for the political implications. That might not be a wise thing in Westeros, but it’s certainly what Ned would have done…

(next: “Garden of Bones”)

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