“I have no doubt the revenge you want will be yours in time. If you have the stomach for it.”
It’s a hard life in Westeros, and this week’s Game of Thrones was a dramatic one, full of revenge and betrayal. Well, more full than usual, that is. This was a spectacular episode both on a visual and a plot level, as some questions were answered, some schemes revealed and various characters showed unsuspected true colours. Unsuspected, anyway, if – like Sansa Stark – you’re naive enough to believe anyone in this show can be trusted.
With a lot to pack in, this ep eschewed the usual intermingling of plotlines, instead presenting many of them in one long chunk rather than intermittent scenes. This gave plot, dialogue and characters a chance for some real depth, while still not stinting on the action.
Inevitably, one or two got short shrift. there was a very brief visit to Bran Stark and his troublesome dreams of the three-eyed raven; once again, he found Jojen Reed in his dream with him, urging him to catch the mysterious bird. Disturbingly, as he climbed the tree, his mother Catelyn popped out from behind a branch to beg him not to climb any more, before pushing him off. Odd, and certainly dreamlike – does Catelyn have some deeper significance, or does Bran just associate her with her (justified, as it turned out) warning against climbing?
We won’t find out this week, as that was all we got to see of Bran and the Reeds. Still, they got a better deal than Jon Snow and the wildling army, who were nowhere to be seen at all. The other party up Beyond the Wall, however, got plenty of coverage, as the men of the Night’s Watch took to infighting and mutiny.
It’s hardly surprising, I suppose; they’re stuck shovelling pigshit for the loathsome Craster while their injured recover – or die. We got to see the funeral of one such, with a dignified eulogy by the Lord Commander slightly undercut as he forgot where his valiant brother had come from. But the words – “And now his Watch is ended” – had a haunting power.
Not enough though, to stave off cold, starvation and the inevitable PTSD brought on when you’re attacked by demonic supernatural beings who’ve slaughtered half your comrades. The mutinous mutterings of the disgruntled Rast _ previously so keen to leave Sam Tarly to die – hardly came as a surprise, under the circumstances. It was more of a surprise that the pragmatic Lord Commander Mormont (father to Dany Targaryen’s aide Jorah, lest we forget) was so willing to behave with the honour of a guest to the increasingly repulsive Craster.
He’ll come to regret that – or would have, if he hadn’t been brutally stabbed by Rast. As the equally disgruntled Karl (Torchwood’s Burn Gorman, perfectly suited to the unsavoury nature of life in Westeros) distracted him (and relieved us all) by offing the smirking, Craster (still with his mouth full), Mormont didn’t see the knife heading for his back, and all hell broke loose.
This is a major turning point for the Night’s Watch subplot – and arguably for the plot as a whole. It’s a shame to lose the excellent James Cosmo as Mormont, though Robert Pugh’s repellent performance as Craster was possibly so effective that his death was terribly satisfying. Sam took to his heels (hopefully along with the amusingly Pythonesque Dolorous Edd and Grenn), dragging Craster’s last wife and boychild with him. Nice to see Hannah Murray as Gilly again – and it looks like she’s going to have more of a role in the proceedings from now on. More seriously than just these characters though, who now will warn the brawling South of the supernatural horror poised to fall on them?
Also ecnncountering a turning point was Theon Greyjoy, in the show’s intriguing plot of its own invention, filling in some backstory from the books. I thought last week that Theon’s escape seemed suspiciously easy, with the mysterious ‘Boy’ (aka Simon out of Misfits) riding conveniently to his rescue just when all seemed lost. And I said when we first encountered him that, however friendly Simon out of Misfits might seem, he really shouldn’t be trusted.
Lo and behold, I was right. It was, as I suspected, all a ruse to get Theon to spill his guts where mere torture could not. It did, however, give Alfie Allen a chance at some Big Acting, as Theon obligingly told his ‘rescuer’’ everything his former captors had wanted to know. It was an insight into Theon’s character that made you feel some sympathy for him, particularly when he confessed that, after all his misplaced loyalty to Balon Greyjoy and the Iron Islands, “my real father lost his head in King’s Landing”.
Yes, he’s had an epiphany and realised (too late) that he’d have been better off staying loyal to the Starks. “I had a choice,” he sobbed mournfully, “and I chose wrong.” A good stab at the Big Acting Moment from Alfie Allen, which could have come off better if Theon wasn’t, basically, a spoiled, attention-seeking brat.
And all for naught too, as Simon out of Misfits lit a torch to reveal that the presumed haven of Deepwood Motte was actually none other than the torture chamber from which Theon recently escaped. “Put him back where he belongs,” sneered Simon out of Misfits. We don’t know – yet – quite who he is, but the enigmatic appellation of ‘Boy’ suggests that he’s someone quite important whose identity is for now being kept under wraps. My money is on the oft-mentioned ‘Bastard of Bolton’, Lord Roose Bolton’s ruthless illegitimate offspring. And top marks to Iwan Rheon for exploiting the likeability of what was basically the same performance he used to give as Simon before revealing his true sadistic colours.
Down in the Riverlands, we caught up with the now one-handed Jaime Lannister and Brienne, still captives of the repugnant Locke. The dynamic between Jaime and Brienne has been interestingly reversed now that the Kingslayer has lost his sword hand. For him, that was the only thing that gave his life meaning – “I was that hand”. After a disastrous attempt at swordplay with Locke’s men (to be fair, he might not have won against all of them even with both hands), he just wants to die.
So now it’s Brienne who’s defiantly trying to buoy up Jaime’s spirits. She knows what he did for her prior to losing his hand – the ‘Sapphire Isle’ of Tarth being so-called for the colour of its seas rather than a treasure trove of jewels. There’s a convincing, almost unwilling friendship springing up between these two, born of a grudging respect for each other’s abilities. And more, it seems almost as if Jaime is at the beginning of a path to redemption – he’s plainly carrying a fair bit of guilt and self-loathing.
Plenty of self-loathing, but no guilt, back at King’s Landing, where no seismic plot twists occurred but the scheming continued apace (as ever). It was good to see (for the first time this season) the wily Lord Varys back in the spotlight; Conleth Hill got some of the ep’s best scenes.
First with Tyrion, as he hypnotically recalled the tale of how he came to be castrated; it was part of a sorcerer’s quest for magic, that left him with a lifelong loathing for those who practised such arts. The speech was straight from the source material (albeit one book earlier), but a nice addition was the reveal that Varys had climbed to his position of influence partly to take revenge. And now the source of all that pain was delivered to his quarters – a wretched looking sorcerer indeed, stuffed into the crate he’d spent the scene trying to open. We weren’t told what Varys has planned for him, but I doubt it’s pleasant.
We also discovered that Littlefinger’s ‘loyal assistant’ and former whore Ros was one of Varys’ ‘whisperers’, as she filled him in on Baelish’s recent doings. It looks like he’s planning to take Sansa Stark off to the Eyrie when he goes to marry the bonkers Lysa Arryn (and her lands and titles). Oh, and for light relief there was also much speculation on the mystery of what exactly Tyrion’s squire Pod did to those three prostitutes that left them so enamoured of him that they refused payment. I’m not sure this bizarre addition to the narrative does it any favours, although I’m sure Benioff and Weiss find it amusing. I wonder if they enjoy Carry On films?
Be that as it may, the discussion prompted Varys to have a ‘little chat’ with Olenna Tyrell, in what was one of the best scenes of the season thus far. Olenna had the rare gift of being able to wrongfoot even Varys; as Hill verbally sparred with Diana Rigg, it was a joy to watch. These two are plainly more than a match for each other, both far more interested in political scheming than sex (“What happens when the nonexistent bumps up against the decrepit?” being one of the funnier lines).
And despite their feigned concern, plainly neither has any altruistic desire to ‘help’ Sansa Stark. As they explained (to the audience, mainly), she’s the sole remaining Stark not actually at war, and therefore “the key to the North” should Robb snuff it. All the better, therefore, that she marry someone “suitable”. Step up, Margaery Tyrell, who won Sansa’s trust with some girlish chatter before suggesting (in full knowledge of his proclivities) that she should marry Loras.
It’s hard to have much sympathy with the persistently naive and trusting Sansa. How long has she been in King’s Landing, and why has she still not worked out that all motives there are ulterior? Margaery, however, is playing the game like a master, with Joffrey wrapped round her little finger. Even the psycho boy-king himself seemed genuinely pleased when she revealed the secret to getting the people on your side – being nice to them. Plainly this hadn’t occurred to him.
Certainly Cersei seemed unsettled by her growing influence; and by that of her grandmother. Diana Rigg got yet another great scene as the two women verbally competed over which had the most influence. Right now, I’d say it’s Olenna. And so would Cersei, who even tried to enlist the unsympathetic Tywin’s help, to no avail. “I don’t mistrust you because you’re a woman,” was the response she got. “I mistrust you because you’re not half as smart as you think you are.” Charles Dance was at his most forbidding as Tywin here; and what are all those letters he’s writing every time we see him? Could be important…
The script dwelled at length on the vanished Targaryen dynasty. After Joffrey’s tour of the impressively CG’d Sept of Baelor whence their tombs were to be found, we saw the Hound accused of murder by the Brotherhood Without Banners, for his supposed role in the murder of the infant Targaryen heirs. Nice to see Brotherhood leader Beric Dondarrion pop up – you may remember him being dispatched by Ned Stark to execute Gregor Clegane way back in season one. Plainly that didn’t work out – as the Hound pointed out – but he’s had a mysterious rebirth centred around the “One God” so beloved of Red Priestess Melisandre (and, less disturbingly, Thoros). It was hard to see, but you could just make out the scar round his neck where he’d been hanged, and it just didn’t take.
All the Targaryen talk paid off in a spectacular final act, as Dany took delivery of her 8000 Unsullied soldiers, in exchange for a dragon. It was a perfect punchline to the subtitle gags of the last few eps when she spoke in Valyrian, revealing to slimy slave dealer Kraznys that she’d understood every insult he’d flung her way. Kraznys, for his part, must have been monumentally stupid to hand command of an 8000-strong army who obey their leader without question to a woman so avowedly anti-slavery.
So we got the Game of Thrones high-octane version of Spartacus, as the slaves turned violently on their masters at their new mistress’s command. Even better though, Dany has the use of a dragon. Kraznys’ crowning act of stupidity was to try and take payment for his slaves in the form of a similarly obedient killer creature, and he learned his lesson in the split second before he was incinerated.
It ended with Dany freeing the whole army, who (perhaps?) gratefully agreed to follow her as free men. It was an awesome (CG) vista indeed as they streamed out of Astapor, the dragons soaring above them, and one of the more impressive visuals we’ve yet seen. Dany now has the army she needs – should the feuding Houses of Westeros be worried?
This was a spectacular episode on many levels – plot, dialogue, visuals. As usual, even the smallest performance was a thing of beauty (see Thomas Sangster, who barely got a line this week). We’re only at episode 4, and some monumental events are already occurring in every plotline (except maybe the pointless one about Pod losing his cherry). So much was going on, in fact, that there was no gratuitous nudity or sex of any kind – a rare occurrence in this show. Frankly though, this episode had enough else going for it that I didn’t even notice the absence of that until I thought about it later!