“A man is what others say he is, and no more.”
Game of Thrones
A Man Without Honor, the seventh episode of the second series of Thrones, is far less thematically unified than the sixth episode, The Old Gods and the New, which to some extent can only be a good thing: the character arcs of the combatants begin to diverge again, to splinter into multifacetedness. Jon Snow continues his trek through the wastes of Iceland the North, accompanied by an insistently flirtatious Ygritte (seriously, is it necessary for every single female character to be a sex object?); Theon Greyjoy goes hunting for the escaped Stark children; Danaerys tries to find her dragons; and Robb Stark deals with trouble at his army’s encampment. Narratively, each arc is spinning off towards its own particular end.
Ironically, though, it’s that very divergence that allows a kind of blurring between the factions, as the episode interrogates the nature of honour. Who is the titular man without honour? The most obvious candidate is Jaime Lannister, whom Catelyn Stark castigates for his murder of a kinsman. But we can also extend the epithet to Theon, who revenges any perceived insult to his power brutally and savagely; or the Spice King in Qarth, who murders the ruling council of his city to gain power for himself; or even Jon Snow, who, Ygritte implies, gives up his freedom to serve old men in the Night’s Watch.
It’s interesting that while the last episode stressed the universal niceness of humanity, this one appears to stress its universal seediness. We’ve always known that there’s little, morally speaking, to distinguish the various combatants in the war for the Iron Throne, but what A Man Without Honor illustrates is how the pressures of that war are driving them even closer together: despite all their plans, all their walks of life, the main forces of Westeros look more and more alike. (We could also compare, on the brighter side of things, the apparently benevolent attentions of Tywin Lannister to Arya and Robb Stark’s kindness to the wounded on both sides. It’s not all bad, apparently.)
I enjoyed this one a lot more than The Old Gods and the New. It’s less heavy-handed with its moral than the earlier episode, and the divergences of its characters allow for a more nuanced exploration of that moral. It’s just tightly-plotted enough to be pleasingly unified, and just loose enough to be thoughtful.