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Game of Thrones Recap: "Second Sons," or Don't Have Sex With Melisandre by Donald McCarthy

Let’s talk about weddings.

I’m not a wedding person. I’ve never been interested in the fairy tale wedding, or having a wedding, or even getting married. There’s no question that on this issue, I’m a bit of an outlier. Weddings have been a staple of our community for centuries, acting as social, economic, and religious events. The media often likes to tell us that a wedding is the seminal moment in a person’s life (next to, maybe, having kids) which is why we have ten year olds already planning for their wedding.

Game of Thrones is here to tell us that sometimes weddings suck. In the past, Martin has said that one of his many goals in writing Game of Thrones is to demystify medieval traditions so it’s no surprise that we’re treated to a sickening wedding tonight. Michelle MacLahren is back as director and she takes a nice approach to the wedding scene between Sansa and Tyrion as she films it like a funeral. Sansa’s procession down the line felt more like the carrying of a casket than a bride being brought to meet her groom. This wedding, like many medieval weddings, is purely for political convenience and Game of Thrones shows us how this would affect the people involved in it.

The after party is perhaps more disturbing. King Joffrey threatens to rape Sansa and Tywin informs Tyrion that he has to have sex with Sansa tonight and get her pregnant as soon as possible. It’s a disgusting affair and almost unbearable to watch until one of the more shocking, and certainly exciting, moments of the show happens. When Joffrey encourages the crowd to hoist Sansa up, remove her clothes, and bring her to Tyrion’s room for the bedding, Tyrion tells him no. Joffrey ignores him so Tyrion PLUNGES A MOTHERFUCKING KNIFE into the table and threatens to castrate Joffrey, telling him he’ll be fucking his wife with a wooden cock if he tries to do anything to Sansa. It’s a great moment because we’ve wanted someone to tell Joffrey off for ages and yet it’s overshadowed by the fact that we know Tyrion is still controlled by his father. Sure, he ignores his father’s command in the bedroom but that’s only because Tywin can’t see him. Game of Thrones has a complicate relationship with families. With the Starks we see how powerful and life-affirming having a family can be but with the Lannisters we see the exact opposite.

Another medieval tradition Martin likes to go after is magic. Magic and the medieval ages have been linked in our fiction for some time and Martin takes an interesting view on it. Tonight we see the cost of Melisandre’s magic: she must sacrifice Gendry. Stannis is less than comfortable with it and goes to the imprisoned Davos for advice. It’s the episode’s best scene because we can see the frustration and mutual respect between Stannis and Davos. I’ve said before how great a job Stephan Dillane does as Stannis but Liam Cunningham does great work as Davos even though he’s not at all how I pictured him in the books. I also enjoyed seeing Davos learn how to read. The series has often pointed out how uneducated people are and it’s fun to see Davos basking in the opportunity to read. I was as happy as him when he figured out how to read the sentence.

The fact that Stannis decides against Melisandre is clearly a turning point in their relationship and, next to Varys and Davos, Stannis is one of the first characters to take a stand against the extremes of magic. He clearly believes in Melisandre’s powers but he’s no acknowledging that the moral cost might not be worth it. The audience has to acknowledge this, too, because we get an incredible uncomfortable scene where Melisandre seduces Gendry and tries to have sex with him (I have no idea if it was intentional or not, but I thought it was hilarious that as soon as Melisandre was naked the actor who played Gendry looked right at Clarice Von Houten’s breasts) in order to get him vulnerable before she straps him down and places leeches on him. Stannis has barred her from killing Gendry but she still manages to get her blood in a gruesome way.

Martin’s habit of complicating real life and fictional tropes is one of the reasons Game of Thrones is such a rich show and book series to talk about. Every week I write about an aspect of the show that stood out to me that week and I always wonder what the hell I’ll write about next but by the time Sunday comes around it’s never a problem. Game of Thrones is the best show, including everything that airs year round, on TV. Well done as ever.

Donald McCarthy is a teacher and writer. His fiction has appeared with KZine, Cover of Darkness, and The Washington Pastime. His non-fiction has been featured in The Progressive Populist, Screen Spy, and AOL Patch News. And here, too, but that was probably obvious. His twitter is @donaldtmccarthy and his website is