I was really hoping this week’s episode, “A Man Without Honour”, would lift several notches from last week’s exploitative jumble, and it does. The series desperately needed to rediscover its core values beneath the shock and gore, and it does so with some finely conveyed lore about the colonial history and gender relations of Westeros. The shock and gore, by the way, doesn’t so much as pause to draw breath, and this combination of depth and spectacle is what brings the show back to its best.
When Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan) was unveiled in episode 2, I looked forward to her as the spearhead of strong female performances this season, with Cersei (Lena Headey) and Dani (Emilia Clarke) close behind. O-ho, but I was wrong. Instead, Yara has been contained in her quiet, one-dimensional arrogance, Cersei has mostly played embittered shrew, and Dani the helpless girl, while it is Arya (Masie Williams) with her nerves of steel, a version of Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) reinvigorated from George R.R. Martin’s arc, and now Ygritte (Rose Leslie), who champion the strong performances by women in HBO’s latest big deal.
Last first: Ygritte has Jon’s number throughout the episode. Her sizzling dialogue is amplified by a depth of complexity, what is earnestly referred to as an actor’s “choices”, as she seduces Jon right into the arms of his enemies. Or perhaps my feeble man-brain can’t cope with the idea of a woman being so sexually available, yet maintaining complete control, WHILE BOUND. She seems to break all the rules, as her carnal dance also manages some cute moves by the writers to paint in some of the colonial history that goes to the heart of the struggle between the wildlings and the invading Andals.
Ygritte with her first “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” What an uncomfortable
Whatever else it is, the wall is an instrument of indigenous suppression, like Hadrian’s Wall. We are also reminded the Starks’ ancestry harks back to both the Andals and the First Men, linking them to the wildlings as authentic ‘north men.’ “So why are you fighting us?” asks Ygritte. What will this mean for Jon, separated from his brothers, with the unnerving precedent of Mance Rayder’s defection from the Night’s Watch? As stated last week, I’ve been trying to figure why the show has so consistently bungled the motivations of everyone around Jon throughout both seasons, and it occurred to me this week that the TV-Night’s Watch is not at all meant to be sympathised with. It thus occupies a less ambiguous position here than in the novels. Confusing and curious, but time will tell if it pays off.