I do give the show credit, Game of Thrones clings to reality as often as it can. We’ve been introduced to White Walkers, Direwolves, Wights, Dragons, and now – A Shadow That Kills. Yet, we still don’t know how far the rabbit hole goes. And in Ghost of Harrenhal we realize some of the characters are just as clueless as the viewer.
The episode opens with the death of Renly Baratheon, who is killed by the shadow that Melisandre birthed. Both Lady Catelyn and Brienne of Tarth were in the room when Renly died and are accused of murder by Renly’s guards – because no-one understands how a shadow killed Renly. Faced with the choice to fight or die, Brienne kills three guards in outrage. Stunned, Lady Catelyn talks Brienne into fleeing the camp. Brienne pledges loyalty to Lady Catelyn, and the two agree to head north and tell Robb Stark of the news.
Littlefinger makes an appearance at Renly’s camp to talk with the Tyrells about Stannis. He knows Loras is outraged at Stannis for Renly’s death and would never follow Renly’s troops to join Stannis. Littlefinger asks the Tyrells to come to King’s Landing, hinting that Margaery could become the new queen. “What do you desire most in this world,” Littlefinger asks Loras. “Revenge,” Loras says.
Tyrion has managed to gain power in every episode, yet still does not have control over Cersei. Believing that he can scoop Cersei, he brings news of Renly’s death. Cersei, monotone and unsurprised, shows bold confidence towards winning the war with Stannis, claiming that the side with the most coin will win. At first, Tyrion is puzzled by his sister’s foolishness. He shows a genuine interest in helping her, when Cersei drops a bomb – she has already been working on some “secret” project to prepare for the war and is not about let Tyrion in on it.
To uncover this “secret,” Tyrion consults cousin Lancel in Flea’s Bottom, the poorest part of King’s Landing. Tyrion reminds him he knows of his affair with Cersei, and could totally screw him over by telling Jaime about it. When Lancel tells Tyrion that a substance called “wildfire” is being made, Tyrion is in disbelief. Apparently this wildfire stuff is very dangerous and hasn’t been used since the Targaryens ruled Westeros. As Tyrion says: “Piss on wildfire, and your cock burns off.”
As Tyrion is leaving Flea’s Bottom, he sees a peasant speaking public criticism about a new “twisty demon” controlling the Throne. Tyrion realizes that he is the “twisty demon” and that the people of King’s Landing are blaming him for their hardships. The irony in the situation is that Tyrion is the only person on the King’s Council who actually cares about the peasants. When Tyrion sees the pots of wildfire, he is both horrified and amazed. Knowing the advantage wildfire would give to King’s Landing, Tyrion takes over production of the substance.
Davos Seaworth, the honest smuggler, has known Stannis Baratheon his entire life. He is uncomfortable with Stannis’ new religion, and discusses Melisandre’s shadow with him. But Stannis refuses to speak about it. Stannis believes that using Melisandre is the only way he can win the war, but does not care to know about the details. When he tells Davos to prepare for battle, there is a genuine look of question on Davos’s face as to who is really in charge: Stannis or Melisandre?
In the Iron Islands, Theon Greyjoy gets no respect. He is emasculated by his crewmates and his sister. His sister makes it a point to remind him how many ships she has (29 more than him). Theon has been commanded by his father to raid fishing villages, an insignificant task, but gets the notion to sack Torrehn’s Square, a small town north of Winterfell. Theon knows that doing so would give him the respect he needs to be a prince, but it would also sever his ties with the Starks forever. Right now we’re asking ourselves “how far will Theon go?” Will he actually go to war with the Starks, the same people who raised him? Or will he redeem himself…
Arya has become very good at the only thing that is keeping her alive: lying. She is a cupbearer for Tywin Lannister at Harrenhal. Tywin, the richest man in the Seven Kingdoms, asks where she’s from. When she falters, we wonder if this could be the end of her false identity, but she quickly saves herself. Tywin is impressed, and for a moment it seems as though he can see through Arya’s deception.
The true mystery of this episode is Jaqen H’ghar. He was locked up in a cage when Arya released him and his two cellmates, but surprises Arya dressed as a soldier. Jaqen is perhaps the most puzzling character yet; he talks in third person and knows of Arya’s identity without her revealing it. “A girl says nothing,” he says. “Friends can talk in secret. A girl keeps secrets.”
Arya has no idea what to think of Jaqen or why he wants to help her. He has somehow transformed from prisoner to soldier, has a streak of silver hair and speaks in riddles. “A man owes three,” he says. The line is disturbing, even for Arya. She has wished the death of many different characters, but has never been presented the opportunity to act. Arya names The Tickler, perhaps because he is the cruelest person she knows, and possibly to save her friends.
At Winterfell, Bran is acting as Lord. He has been having increasingly disturbing dreams and reveals to Osha, a wildling captive, that he dreamt the sea would flood Winterfell. Also, Bran hears news of an attack at Torrehn’s Square, a small town to the north of Winterfell. Osha, who has taken an interest in Bran’s three-eyed-crow dreams, is greatly upset by what this change in dream means, and knows something is not right. Now that we know Theon is in Torrehn’s Square, would he dare take Winterfell, the same place he was practically raised? Do Bran’s dreams predict the future?
Past the Wall, a new character emerges: Qhorin Halfhand, a tough man of the Night’s Watch who is familiar with the wildlings. Qhorin announces the wildlings have become more sophisticated, and that he will lead a small party to scout out the wildling camps. Jon Snow sees a chance to prove himself, and asks to go along. Commander Mormont questions Jon, knowing full well that this could be the last time the two see each other. In the end Mormont lets Jon make his own decision.
Commotion erupts in Harrenhal when The Tickler is found dead in the middle of a crowded street. Arya sees Jaqen H’ghar smiling at her from a window above the street. Smiling, he makes the motion of a single tear running down his cheek. If Jaqen did kill The Tickler, he must have done so with extreme skill. And now Arya has two more deaths to deal.