The Ghost of Harrenhal (Season 2, Episode 5, Game of Thrones)

1 The Ghost of Harrenhal“Men win wars. Not magic tricks.” Bronn

Robb Stark is racking up victories over Tywin Lannister. No one has had a decisive victory so the Iron Throne still remains in play, and as Tywin points out to his war council, waiting for their adversary to fail is not going to work. New strategies will be required.

In spite of Bronn’s belief that men win wars, in this Game of Thrones episode ‘The Ghost of Harrenhal’, we see strategic shift from the mundane (men win wars) to the magical.

Magic and Mundane

The shadowy monster that Melisandre gave birth to in ‘Garden of Bones’ appears in Renly’s tent and murders him in front of Catelyn Stark and Brienne. With Renly dead the Tyrells are fleeing home and Renly’s bannermen waste no time in joining Stannis’s army.

As Tyrion explains to Cersei, this means that Stannis’s forces significantly outnumber Lannister forces. Stannis will be heading to Kings Landing, while Jaime remains a captive of Robb Stark and the bulk of the Lannister army is with Tywin at Harrenhal. In a world where “men win wars” it’s suddenly advantage Baratheon.

Tyrion discovers that Cersei has been looking into magic tricks, in the form of wildfire, as a means to defend Kings Landing. Tyrion, after a visit to the pyromancer, and a discussion with Bronn about the danger of launching the wildfire from within the walls of Kings Landing, puts another plan in place for the wildfire. Cersei stumbled upon the right tactic, but it will be Tyrion who masterminds the better strategy.

2 The Ghost of HarrenhalDemon Monkeys and Iron Island Decoys

Walking the streets of Kings Landing, Tyrion and Bronn listen to a street corner sermon on the corruption of court. Tyrion muses that the preacher has correctly summed up the situation at court, “brother fornicates with sister and we’re surprised when the fruit of their incest is rotten? A rotten king…a dancing king…prancing down his blood-stained halls to the tune of his twisted demon monkey” until Bronn points out to him that he’s the twisted demon monkey.

All the movement of chess pieces in this episode had me thinking back to King Robert Baratheon’s strategy for keeping the Seven Kingdoms united: under the Baratheon crown, manage the Lannisters and their money to keep the treasury full and at the same time ensure the stability and allegiance of the North with Ned. It was a good plan on paper until bringing the Lannisters and Starks together resulted in Bran Stark being pushed out a window, Tyrion being taken captive by Catelyn, and Ned pursuing the secret of “the seed is strong”.

Theon and Dagmer hatch a scheme that will allow Theon to prove himself to his father, Balon Greyjoy – they will use the decoy of seizing Torrhen Square to leave Winterfell undefended and vulnerable to an attack. (The boat Theon has been given to command is called the ‘Sea Bitch’ and whenever there is a reference it, I can’t help but think of Jesse Pinkman.)

We learn that Theon goes ahead with this strategy when Sir Rodrik tells Bran and Maester Luwin that Torrhen Square has been attacked.

“Anyone can be killed.” Arya Stark

In freeing Jaqen H’ghar, Arya has gained a mysterious and perhaps magical friend. Jaqen, now fighting for the Lannister troops, reminds Arya that she saved him and two others. In return, he will kill any three lives that Arya chooses in order to repay the Red God.

In spite of having a front row seat to Tywin’s strategic war plans to defeat her brother, Arya names The Tickler, the man who was performing the torture, as her first choice. And Jaqen delivers. Will Arya be able to make the most of her two remaining choices?  And without giving away any spoilers, I can say that “anyone can be killed” could easily be the motto of George R. R. Martin.

3 The Ghost of HarrenhalDragons and Warlocks

Daenerys, her khal, and her dragons are recovering within the walls of Qarth. We see her teaching the dragons how to scorch and eat pieces of meat. At Xaro’s garden party, she meets Pyat Pree, a warlock and one of the Thirteen, who invites her to the House of the Undying. When she asks Xaro about the House of the Undying, he dismissively describes it as a place where the warlocks “squint at dusty books and drink Shade of the Evening.” Jorah meets a mysterious woman as well, who warns him that there are those who have designs on the dragons.

Gaining entry to Qarth solved one problem for Daenerys: dying of thirst in the desert. But now restored, she is in the grip of Xaro who matter-of-factly offers her a share of his incredible wealth if she marries him – wealth that would presumably provide her with the boats and troops necessary to take the Iron Throne.

Things we learn from reading

One blast means a ranger returning; two blasts signals wildings, but Samwell Tarly shares with the other crows the little known fact that three blasts on of the horn signals White Walkers.

Tyrion Lannister once read, “piss on wildfire and your cock burns off”. The pyromancer can neither confirm nor deny whether that is the case, though it does “melt flesh like tallow”.

Sigil Notes

Lion (Lannister):

  • “He’s very busy. Being repeatedly humiliated by Robb Stark is time consuming.” Tyrion Lannister
  • Tywin Lannister is not one to suffer fools and send his cousin Reginald packing for suggesting they get some sleep before trying to hatch a strategy to defeat Robb Stark.

Stag (Baratheon):

  • “Fools love a fool.” Stannis Baratheon

Direwolf (Stark):

  • Bran has a dream vision, led by a three-eyed Raven, which bodes ill for Winterfell.
  • Jon Snow convinces Lord Commander Mormont to allow him to join Qhorin and the Rangers.
  • With Renly dead, Brienne of Tarth pledges her allegiance to Catelyn Stark.

Further Reading:

Watch along with me: Game of Thrones: The Complete Second Season

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