“By what right does the Wolf judge the Lion? By what right?”
As a friend of mine recently commented, for most shows, last week’s Game of Thrones would have been a season finale. For Game of Thrones, it was episode 4.
With that ep’s spectacle and thrill count having virtually maxed out, it was back to a more contemplative, introspective ep this week, as the intrigue continued to ramp up throughout Westeros and beyond. Also, having skimped on it last week amidst the excitement, it was time to get back to the nudity and titillation that the show (despite having so much else going for it) seems to have become known for.
After his absence last week, it was good to catch up, albeit briefly, with Jon Snow and the Wildling army as they massed their forces Beyond the Wall. For Jon, it was plainly a moment of decision about how far he was willing to go as a double agent – or is he really going native? Orell (Mackenzie Crook, a man with a perfect face for this show) demanded intel about how many of the 19 castles along the Wall were actually manned, and you could almost see the cogs whirring in Jon’s mind as he tried to work out how far he should go in betraying his ‘brothers’.
Yes, as Orell noted, everyone knew about Castle Black. But then Jon, stumblingly, told him of the only other two; Eastwatch-by-the-Sea and the Shadow Keep. It was a genuinely tense moment, helped by Rose Leslie’s performance as the fierce Ygritte, who was to make Jon choose between his Nightwatch vows and his new loyalties in the first of many sex scenes this week. Goodness me, Ygritte could do with eating some food.
There was more shagging over in King’s Landing – but then, that’s pretty much par for the course. More interesting was the continuing political manoeuvring between the increasingly influential Tyrells and the Lannisters. This is obviously a huge deal this year, and Diana Rigg’s Olenna Tyrell is plainly the brains of that family – though granddaughter Margaery plainly takes after her.
Her verbal sparring with Tyrion was a joy to watch, as he was forced, in his new capacity of Master of Coin, to point out that the Crown couldn’t really afford a lavish Royal Wedding in the middle of a war (something David Cameron seems to have ignored as well). Olenna countered with a litany of quite what the Tyrells are providing to keep the Lannisters and King’s Landing in the fray – men at arms and provisions galore. Tyrion’s a hard man to outsmart politically, but that did it. By the end, when Olenna offered to pay a portion towards the wedding, it came across as a condescending gesture from the victor to the vanquished; “I’d heard you were thoroughly drunken and debauched. What a disappointment to find only a browbeaten bookkeeper.”
It looks like the brains in the Tyrell family rest very firmly with the women. The only Tyrell male we’ve yet seen, young Loras, was again ensnared this week by his fancy for pretty boys, as he spilled his guts about his impending wedding to Sansa Satrk to the fey young squire he’d just bedded. He’s plainly a novice at the kind of political manoeuvring you need at a royal court.
The ‘squire’ was, naturally, one of Littlefinger’s whores, feeding back intel about Loras’ intentions to Lord Baelish and, not coincidentally, Cersei, who’d tasked the slimy brothel keeper with digging dirt on the Tyrells in the first place. Hard to see why that would be difficult when (unlike in the books) Loras’ and Renly’s proclivities seem to have been very much common knowledge. Still, it’s good news for Baelish too, as he’s rather more interested in Sansa than Loras is – for all sorts of reasons, not least her influence in the North.
Cersei may think she’s got the upper hand as a result, but even she’s a mere novice compared to loving father Tywin. The elder Lannister took the opportunity to sternly berate both of his fractious offspring this week (Jaime still being absent). He’s not going to have the Tyrells seizing the North by marriage to the last Stark, oh no. He’s got another husband in mind, one that will bind the North more thoroughly to the Lannisters.
The look on Tyrion’s face when the realisation sank in that it was him was a picture. As was the moment when Cersei’s satisfied smirk fell flat at the news that she had a part to play as well, by marrying the less-than-interested Loras. “Not again!” she cried – remember, her father previously wed her to the similarly uninterested Robert Baratheon. For all that she’s a scheming bitch, moments like this make you genuinely feel for Cersei. Her father does what he does dispassionately, thoughts fixed entirely on political advantage rather than the feelings of his family. Tyrion, for his part, has enough of a scrap of decency to feel horror at the idea of Sansa being saddled with marrying him on top of all her other misfortunes. Tywin may think it’s a fait accompli, but his children are less than happy.
Over at Dragonstone, we caught up with the ever-miserable Stannis Baratheon, still smarting from his defeat at the Battle of Blackwater; and we also got to meet, for the first time, his family. In keeping with the nature of the show, they’re not exactly well-adjusted. Wife Selyse (Tara Fitzgerald) is a devoted disciple of Red Priestess Melisandre, who takes news of her husband’s infidelities with her in stride; after all, it’s the will of the One God. Oh, and she keeps her stillborn sons in pickle jars. Nice.
Thankfully, Stannis’ little daughter Shireen is much, much nicer. Well, except for the nasty plague that’s caused half her body to atrophy into scales. Given this lot in life, it becomes easier to sympathise with Stannis becoming the hard, unyielding figure he is; even though, with his daughter, he at least unwound a little to become the merest shade of a loving father. He still keeps her in a dungeon-like shuttered room like a cause for shame though. No wonder she thinks of Davos Seaworth as more like a father – there was a tender scene as she crept down to the actual dungeon to see him, and promised to teach him to read. Her choice of textbook – the life of Aegon Targaryen.
Of late, it seems the backstory of the Targaryens – and Robert Baratheon’s rebellion against them – has been a recurring theme. This is all to the good, as in the books’ complex backstory, this history is vital to understanding pretty much every plot. The TV show has been filling it in sparingly, but recently it seems determined to cover every detail. This being as well-written as it is, thankfully it avoids clumsy exposition (for the most part), the stories arising naturally from the dramatic interaction of the characters.
Some of it was revealed in the long-overdue backbiting between Dany’s loyal lieutenants Ser Jorah and Ser Barristan, as Barristan revealed his discontent with his Kingsguard oath forcing him to follow first a madman, then a drunken idiot. We also got introduced to Dany’s new leader of her Unsullied troops, the surprisingly sexy Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson).
Given the choice of a new name, he chose his slave name after all, avowing that it was lucky as his original name was what he bore when sold into slavery in the first place. Nice, but it looked like the first crack in Dany’s abolitionist masterplan…
More Targaryen history was revealed as Jaime, his arm getting shorter all the time, confided in Brienne in the Harrenhal baths. Since losing his hand, Jaime is a shadow of his former self, leaving the reticent Brienne to pick up the pieces. For all their mistrust, they’re obviously getting to be fast friends, bound by mutual warriors’ respect.
Which is what Robb Stark seems to be losing. The long-discontented Lord Karstark finally burst into outright mutiny this week, choosing to vengefully slaughter the teenage Lannister hostages caught by Edmure Tully in place of the vanished Kingslayer.
Given this show’s frequent plundering of various moments in British history, it was unavoidably reminiscent of Richard III’s alleged slaughter of the Princes in the Tower. The Lannister boys might not have been princes, but they were Tywin’s nephews; and that’s a recipe for trouble. A Lannister always pays his debts.
Unfortunately, Robb is finding himself more and more in lose/lose situations. If he let Karstark off with a warning, he would appear weak. Make an example of him, and he would lose the rebellious bannerman’s armies. Choosing the latter, it looks more and more like the King in the North’s cause is getting lost. As Karstark himself said just before losing his head, “kill me and be cursed. You’re no king of mine.”
Elsewhere in the Riverlands, Arya Stark bore witness to the Hound’s exoneration in trial by combat. Confronted by Beric Dondarrion’s flaming sword (and remember, Sandor Clegane is terrified of fire), he nonetheless won the day, much to Arya’s fury. She was also somewhat astonished to find that, having been skewered by the Hound’s sword, Lord Beric was returned to life (for the sixth time, apparently) with a few whispered words from Thoros of Myr. For a fantasy show, Game of Thrones uses magic very sparingly; nonetheless, the Lord of Light (god of both Thoros and Melisandre) seems to be the only deity in Westeros with actual power – I’d abandon the Seven, if I were everyone else. Perhaps Stannis is on the right track after all…
Quite a bit this week, as if to make up for last week’s excitement leaving no room for titillation. Culprit number 1 was Ygritte, dropping her furs to seduce Jon Snow; though to be fair, that wasn’t gratuitous, it was a vital plot point in showing how far Jon would go to abandon his brethren or blend in with the Wildlings (however you look at it) by breaking his vow of celibacy. Still, it was notable that we saw a lot more of Rose Leslie as Ygritte than we did of Kit Harington as Jon.
The score was evened up a bit in favour of male nudity as Brienne and Jaime took a bath together, though this was as far from titillating as you could get – she was plain nervous, and he was recovering from having his amputation seared clean. Still, we got to see both their arses – but that’s still 2-1 for female nudity.
Never mind – Loras Tyrell was soon at it with pretty boy ‘squire’ Olyvar – and in his case, you saw the whole package (as it were).
Given the full frontal (albeit fleeting), I’d say male nudity wins out this week.
The Big Acting moment
These seem to be increasingly frequent this season, and barely an episode goes by without at least one of the cast giving an Emmy-baiting soliloquy. This week, there was an early contender with Arya’s determinedly non-tearful farewell to the gorgeous Gendry; I shall miss Joe Dempsie.
But the undoubted Big Acting moment of the week was Jaime Lannister recounting the last days of the insane Aerys Targaryen, and how he himself gained the nickname of ‘Kingslayer’. Already a complex character painted in shades of grey, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau made Jaime seem a flawed hero for breaking his oath and killing a king intent on massacring his own subjects. It almost made up for Jaime’s incest with his own sister, and his attempted murder of the ten-year-old Bran Stark to cover it up. Still, it was an astonishingly powerful monologue, far more effective than showing the events in an actual flashback.
So yes, a more low-key ep of Game of Thrones this week – insofar as this show does that. Screenwriter Bryan Cogman is apparently the keeper of the show’s ‘Bible’, and you can tell with this week’s frequent recounting of Westeros history. The political machinations continue apace, and it’s worth remembering that, for all the high drama of late, we’re still only halfway through this season’s run. There’s till plenty of plot to cover before we even get halfway through Book Three…