‘Game of Thrones’ – ‘Garden of Bones’: I smell dead people!

A review of tonight’s “Game of Thrones” coming up just as soon as mathematicians rule the world…

“You’re fighting to overthrow a king, and yet you have no plan for what comes after.” -Talisa

There are so, so many players in the Game of Thrones this season, all boasting that they know how to play, but as we get to “Garden of Bones,” it becomes clear that many of the smartest and/or most successful players have only thought a few moves ahead at best.

After scoring another successful sneak attack on Tywin Lannister’s forces(*), Robb is feeling celebratory, but a nurse tending to the wounded on both sides points out how little he’s thought this plan through. Robb doesn’t want to take the Iron Throne, but hasn’t considered who will if he succeeds in killing Joffrey. Bad as Joffrey is, it’s entirely possible that his successor could lead to even worse things for both the South and North. Robb’s turned out to be an excellent tactician, one battle at a time, but the game is much bigger than that now.

(*) I imagine there will once again be complaints that the show avoided showing us a major battle scene, but A)the show simply doesn’t have the resources (in terms of time or money) to do many large-scale fantasy battle scenes, and B)I thought this was their best workaround yet: the Lannister guards in the dark, followed by Robb’s Direwolf coming out of the darkness to eat one, followed by a brief glimpse of Robb in the shadows, followed by the aftermath. Bing-bang-boom. The whole story of the battle told in four shots. If you can’t show the battles, that’s the way to do it.

Tyrion, meanwhile, continues to be very clever in how he deals with many of the powerful folk of King’s Landing. It’s a pleasure to watch him make Lancel Lannister his mole, casually pulling down every one of Lancel’s defenses for having sex with the king’s mother. But even Tyrion’s brains have their limits, and while he may be able to outsmart Joffrey, he’s no match for the raging sickness in that kid’s head. Who would imagine that if you sent a teenage boy two whores as a gift (and a hoped-for method of relaxation), he would decline their pleasures and instead order one to savagely beat the other (if not worse)? Just a horrifying sequence (when it ended, I wrote “Someone needs to kill Joffrey, this second” in my notes), and one that will hopefully be a wake-up call to Tyrion about exactly who he’s up against and how many people can be hurt in the process.

Across the Narrow Sea, Dany’s in a more desperate circumstance, so you can forgive her for going through the walls of Qarth without any idea what’s inside and what might be done to her, her people and even her baby dragons. When you’re on the verge of dying of thirst, you can’t think more than one move ahead. But as beautiful as that oasis looks, I don’t imagine it’ll be as perfect a haven as she might dream for. 

Arya’s in even worse shape in our other new location, Harrenhal, where she’s a prisoner of the Lannisters without Yoren’s protection. She may be able to mutter a list of people she wants revenge against – a list that keeps getting longer as her situation worsens – as a way to calm herself at night, but she lacks the might, or even the weapon at the moment, to do anything. As with Dany, she’s dependent on the beneficence of a stranger – in this case, Tywin Lannister, who, like Gendry, quickly sees through her cross-dressing disguise – and winds up in an improved position than she was earlier, but one that has even more potential for peril.

(Regardless of what happens, I’m happy we’ve gotten so much of Arya the last couple of weeks. It’s a huge cast full of compelling characters played by good actors, but Arya’s one of a handful of “GoT” regulars I’d gladly watch a spin-off about.)

And in far better circumstances than either young woman, the Baratheon brothers don’t seem to be thinking about the long game, either. Renly assumes his superior numbers are all he’ll need, while Stannis is putting similar faith into Melisandre’s magic. And given that the episode ends with Melisandre apparently giving birth to the freaking smoke monster from “Lost,”(**) grumpy old Stannis may be onto something here. Still, he seems to barely be doing any thinking at all here, letting the red-headed witch take charge, and it’s almost as unsettling for me to watch as it is for longtime Stannis loyalist Davos, who has to be there for Smokey’s delivery into the world.

(**) Seriously? She gives birth to a monster made out of black smoke? “Private Practice” would do a nine-episode arc about Addison preparing for that.

We’ve seen glimpses of magic north of the Wall, and across the sea with Dany’s dragons, but now it’s about to very much make its presence felt in the heart of Westeros. And when that happens, will everyone be able to think three moves ahead, or will they be too busy responding to the horror happening right in front of them?

Some other thoughts:

* Interesting that everyone seems to know about Renly and Loras. It’s one thing for Littlefinger to be hip to it, but for lowly Lannister soldiers to be gossiping about such a thing suggests it’s an open secret.

* Speaking of which, I polled you guys last week for an acceptable nickname for Margaery, since there’s no way in hell I’m going to get that spelling right every time. Runaway winner was “Mags.” We’ll see if it sticks. Failing that, she’ll be “Mrs. Renly,” and/or “Renly’s Beard.”

* Boy, was Michelle Fairley so good in the scene where Littlefinger returns Ned’s bones to Cat: overcome with emotion, but not wanting to let this conniving weasel glimpse even a bit of it, then only able to grieve for moments once he leaves, because there’s too much else to do.

* The cast shuffle continues. So, for instance, no Theon or Jon Snow this week, but Dany and Robb are back, and we get the introduction of a potentially significant new character in Xaro, Dany’s new host at Qarth, played by British actor Nonso Anozie.

Finally, I want to thank everyone for behaving much better last week in terms of the spoiler policy. Let me remind you again that we are here to TALK ABOUT THE TV SHOW AS A TV SHOW, AND NOT AN ENDLESS SERIES OF COMPARISONS TO THE BOOKS. The last two weeks, I set up a topic on our message boards for people who want to talk about the books to their heart’s content without spoiling it for the rest of us, and I’ve done that again for tonight’s episode, and will keep doing that for the rest of the season. Any comment that deals in any way with something from the books that hasn’t been on the show yet – be it a plot development, a character we haven’t met yet, a bit of motivation the show has yet to explain – will be deleted. Period.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com