“People work together when it suits ‘em. They’re loyal when it suits ‘em. Love each other when it suits ‘em. And kill each other when it suits ‘em.”
Love was in the air this week in Game of Thrones, though in keeping with the show’s usual style, it didn’t make Westeros seem any more appealing a place to live. Love, both emotional and carnal, was very much in the forefront of many of the characters’ minds (though the ‘carnal’ part is usually a given anyway). It fed into the many subplots which increasingly involve people being forced into marriage against their wills for reasons of political subterfuge, in this year’s script by original author George RR Martin.
The problem with being forced into a loveless marriage for political advantage (usually somebody else’s), is that the characters are frequently forced to abandon those they do love. Obviously, this is of most concern right now in King’s Landing, as Tyrion, Sansa and Cersei are still dealing with the shock of Tywin’s various arrangements. Loras Tyrell, the other one affected, hasn’t been shown to express an opinion yet; though since I doubt the High Septon permits gay marriage, it probably doesn’t matter to him which loveless marriage to a highborn lady he gets trapped in.
Tyrion, though, cares a great deal. Not just because he is a decent enough man (by this show’s standards) not to want to force himself on the unwilling Sansa; but also because his genuine love, the temperamental Shae, is unlikely to be happy about sharing him with anyone else.
It turned out he was right to worry about this; Shae was very far from happy, and not shy about letting Tyrion know it. Yet really, what did she expect? She seems worldly enough to realise that a highborn Lord isn’t going to be able to publicly declare love for a former whore. After all, she owes her current position as Sansa’s lady in waiting to Tywin Lannister’s stated intent to kill any whore he found his lecherous son shacked up with. In the circumstances, the best she could ever have hoped for was what Tyrion offered – the life of a well-kept but ostensibly secret courtesan.
Still, Shae does enjoy being difficult, and perhaps her outrage was deliberately contrived in spite of knowing all this. Certainly Tyrion could have made a less tempestuous choice of direction for his affections. All he wants is to be loved – not just by his romantic partners, but by his family and the rest of the population. But as Bronn puts it, “You waste time trying to get people to love you, you’ll end up the most popular dead man in town.”
Sansa Stark is certainly unlikely to love him, as he well knows. She poured out her woes this week to Loras’ seemingly sympathetic sister, though as ever Margaery Tyrell’s selective use of truth betrayed her own agendas. On the face of it though, the ‘sisterly’ advice she gave Sansa was well-reasoned and helpful. Yes, Tyrion may not be attractive, but he’s always been ‘kind’ to Sansa and never taken advantage of her.
And after all, he’s a better option than the previous family member Sansa was engaged to – as Margaery pointed out, she’s the one saddled with Joffrey. Based on previous encounters though, I don’t think she’ll have any trouble holding her own against him. And for all the friendliness of their exchange, it was noticeable that she didn’t let Sansa down as easily as she could have by revealing that her brother wasn’t all that interested in girls anyway.
Love was also much on the minds of Force Stark from Winterfell, as the Army of the North trundled Frey-wards to keep Edmure Tully’s assignation to marry one of Lord Walder’s numerous daughters. This one’s purely a political marriage, and everyone concerned seems pragmatic enough about it. As Brynden put it, it would be the most prestigious marriage for the Freys in centuries, even if Walder is, as he put it, “a weak piece of shit”. Notes of caution were sounded though; as Catelyn mentioned, he didn’t want his family married to a Lord, but a King.
However pragmatic Robb, Brynden and Catelyn are about the arrangement though, Edmure is less than happy. He has a right to be; he may be a pillock, but he’s been forced into this position because Robb himself cheerfully ignored just such a duty, marrying Talisa for love and eschewing the vital arrangement with Walder Frey.
A lot of fans aren’t too keen on Talisa, one of the characters created for the TV show. But I like her; she’s far more interesting than her colourless and ill-developed counterpart in the novels, a princess who we barely even see. This week, her relationship with Robb took an even more serious turn as she revealed that she was pregnant. An heir would secure Robb’s claim to the throne of the North even more securely – that’s a nice plus to the unusual situation of actually marrying for love.
His illegitimate half-brother also had love on his mind this week – and he wasn’t the only one in the truculent Wilding strike force. In a surprise development, we discovered that Mackenzie Crook’s craggy Orell has been hiding a secret passion for Ygritte. No wonder he keeps trying to kill Jon Snow. Ygritte’s having none of it though; it’s Jon she wants. Perhaps it’s because of his talented tongue.
And surprisingly, Theon Greyjoy also got to experience a bit of carnal love this week – quite probably for the last time. Still strapped to a cross and covered in torture-derived scars, he was right to be suspicious when two buxom young ladies unstrapped him and tried to seduce him. After recent developments for him, he’s sensibly not trusting anyone. And certainly, I’d be suspicious if I was given a break from unceasing, agonising torture for a bit of rumpy-pumpy.
Theon being Theon though, he couldn’t keep from getting into it when the two young ladies… pressed the matter. Which was exactly when the mysterious ‘Boy’ burst smirkingly into the room, to nobody’s surprise at all.
It’s some measure of quite how bad the torture has been that Theon instinctively curls up and moans at his tormentor’s mere presence. This week, though, it was more than just a flaying or a finger-chopping. As the ‘Boy’ put it, “would you say your famous cock is your most… important part?”. As he advanced on the cowering Theon with a very nasty looking knife, the shot blurred and faded to black. It seems not even this show will explicitly show a man getting his penis cut off (perhaps thankfully).
But it wasn’t all love this week (for Theon, not even love, ever again). Love is secondary to power for these characters, and we got a short but revealing scene which showed where the true power currently resides in Westeros. Joffrey was, for once, trying to actually do what Kings are supposed to do, and take part in the governance of his country. Up till now, he’s only used his office to exercise his capricious, usually sadistic whims, so this was a bit of a surprise.
Unfortunately for him, the country is already being quite effectively governed – by his grandfather. Tywin has taken to holding Small Council meetings in his own residence, with Joffrey not even invited. Challenged on this, he shrugged and offered to have the petulant King carried up the Tower of the Hand; he then dismissed Joffrey’s (actually well-founded) concerns about Daenerys Targaryen. At which point he turned and left without so much as a dismissal from his supposed monarch; remembering a few seconds later to turn and offer a cursory, contemptuous, “… your Grace”. It was a reminder that not only does Joffrey not rule Westeros – he knows who does, and is powerless to challenge him.
Over the sea, we briefly caught up with Dany and her Unsullied army as they advanced on the slaving city of Yunkai. Joffrey’s right to be worried about her, with her fearsome dragons and her 8000 highly-trained soldiers. Luckily for Westeros though, she’s far more concerned with her abolitionist aims, telling a Yunkish Lord that she aimed to liberate all the slaves in his city despite his attempts to bribe her with gold and ships to retake her homeland. Very humanitarian, to be sure; but is she really so unconcerned with her actual aim of taking back the Iron Throne?
There was also a brief catchup with the Stark kids – Bran’s party was getting fractious, with Osha very suspicious of cute young mystic Jojen Reed. Back in the forest, Aryua was none too happy with Beric and the Brotherhood for so readily giving up Gendry. Unfortunately for her, impetuously running away landed her straight in the arms of Sandor Clegane, still hanging around in the woods. Another unlikely alliance in the offing?
Speaking of which, Jaime Lannister got to prove once again that his former captor Brienne holds more than his mere admiration. Released from Harrenhal by Roose Bolton (who seems suspiciously eager to please Tywin Lannister for a supposed Stark bannerman), Jaime managed to coerce his escorts into heading right back there when he learned that Brienne was to be left to the ‘mercies’ of the loathsome Locke.
Lucky for Brienne, as it turned out, since Locke had stuck her in a pit with a wooden sword to fight a maddened bear. I mean, like, an actual bear – none of your namby pamby CG here. I don’t know if Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Gwendoline Christie were really in the pit with it, but if so they can’t have had to act too hard to look terrified.
Sex and violence
Plenty of both, as ever; this was written by the original author, after all. Robb Stark got to actually have a sex scene with the beautiful Talisa, and this was pretty much an equal opportunity nude-fest, with both partners showing off everything but their frontal nether regions. Mind you, Richard Madden did get dressed (ish) afterwards, while Oona Chaplin spent the rest of the scene lying nude on the bed.
Sex mixed with violence (as it so frequently does in this show) for Theon, as his two temptresses were quick to disrobe and display pretty much everything for the panting viewers. For those of us more inclined towards attractive men, unfortunately Theon was merely shirtless. And, soon thereafter, cockless. Previously, Alfie Allen has been just about the only main actor to happily wave his member about onscreen – sadly, it looks like this isn’t going to be an option from now on.
In other violence, not only was that bear genuinely terrifying, it got in more than a few good clawings on Brienne. Jaime, for his part, got to show off his nasty-looking stump, as it was dressed by the sinister former Maester Qyburn. And Qyburn revealed why he’d been ‘de-chained’ as a Maester – he’s basically Westeros’ own Dr Josef Mengele.
Big Acting moments
Nothing as Emmy-baiting as Jaime’s tale of kingslaying this week, but some powerful scenes. Sophie Turner has had a fair bit of stick for her performance as the admittedly wet Sansa Stark, but the scene between her and Natalie Dormer’s Margaery had brilliant performances from both. Elsewhere, Natalia Tena got a chance to shine as Osha recounted the story of how her lover disappeared, only to return as a murderous blue-eyed zombie. Osha hasn’t had a whole lot of depth, so it was nice to see her get her own character moment.
As ever when original author George RR Martin is on scripting duties, this was an excellent episode. Constructing it cleverly around a loose theme, he also worked well with the characters and situations introduced purely for the TV show, giving some needed backstory to Talisa, and having Melisandre explain to Gendry quite why he’s so important. I’m glad Gendry has been combined with another book character; as a result, we get one well-drawn character instead of two thinly-drawn ones. I also get to look at Joe Dempsie some more, which is a bonus for me.
It’s not Martin’s best adaptation for the show; that surely has to be last season’s epic Blackwater. The events on display here were necessarily far less world-shattering. But it’s nice to see the author get to grips with one of the more character-grounded episodes, and his skill at creating (most of) these characters in the first place lent itself well to the skills of the talented cast.