"A Man Without Honor" made me so many kinds of happy that, in the depths of my geeky heart, there was a 15-year-old girl dancing some kind of faux medieval jig. If Game of Thrones continues in this vein, the show may actually overcome its reputation as a gratuitous-gore-and-sex fest and become one of HBO's all-time greatest shows. In short, this episode was just fantastic.
Even more fun, so little was from the books that I ended up being shocked by some of the plot twists. Suspense! Love it!
All the actors reach a new level of awesomeness in this episode -- especially Lena Headey who humanizes the villainous Cersei wonderfully. She even has a private moment of brother-sister comradeship with Tyrion, who in the books she simply loathes as the demon who killed her mother. Here, Cersei is a fascinating composite of human strengths and flaws: she loves her children absolutely, but feels deep guilt for Joffrey's psychosis. She is scarred by the indifference of her husband the king, who she married very young. And in a moment of extreme candor, she provides what passes for gentle guidance in Game of Thrones-land to the terror-stricken Sansa. (In brief: "Giving birth hurts like hell, and your husband will always be evil, but royal motherhood is amazing!") It is suddenly not so easy to hate Cersei. (At least we'll always have the whore-beating, randomly-beheading Joffrey!)
This episode also resolved something that was driving me crazy: the idea that Tywin Lannister, one of the greatest strategists of his day, would not be suspicious of a girl on the run who happens to be educated and about the right age to be the missing Arya Stark. So my delight was extreme when it turned out that he had known all along. The dynamic between these two, which is developing distinct father-daughter overtones, is mind-blowing to me as a reader: in the books, there is no one more evil and disgusting than Tywin Lannister. And he is still evil... and yet. He is so much more here: a proud, distinguished man who likes a little girl with wit and spunk even when she's a child of the enemy. He seems to want to take her under his wing. I have no idea how this is going to develop, since in the books nothing like it happens at all, and as a plot thread it is delighting me to no end. Of course, this being Game of Thrones, there's no way that it can end with a happy father and daughter romping through the sunlit grasses of Central Park. I'm pretty sure they don't even have anything like Central Park in King's Landing -- just gardens where Varys and Littlefinger spy on people.
When it comes to making unlikeable characters likeable, Jaime Lannister goes through the reverse process -- here he does something unconscionable in killing a young cousin in order to escape. At this point I trust the Game of Thrones writers that they had good reason for this development, and look forward to seeing where they take his character.
With the exception of the extended (and eye-rollingly obvious) verbal foreplay between Jon Snow and the wildling Ygritte, and Theon's descent into crazy, this episode largely consists of conversations that add fascinating new dimension to the characters and plot. Unusually for this show, no one gets naked or horribly killed during these conversations -- there is simply pure and beautifully written character interaction.
Please HBO, may we have some more?