Game of Thrones: Season 4, Episode 3–Breaker of Chains

“A wise king knows what he knows and what he doesn’t.”

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(SPOILER WARNING!)

After original author George RR Martin’s stint on scripting duties last week, it was back to showrunners Benioff and Weiss to follow up that episode’s tumultuous events. Understandably, that meant the majority of this week’s episode was centred on King’s Landing, as various interested parties took on the roles of amateur detectives – their quest for the truth, as ever, taking second place to the quest for power. Or, in Tyrion’s case, self-preservation.

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Starting off at the very moment last week’s ep ended, this week saw the only decent Lannister still gawping at the King’s corpse while his wrathful sister screamed for his arrest. Cersei, blinded by maternal grief, is hardly the most clear-thinking of sleuths; but as Tyrion himself recognised, she’s also one of the least likely suspects. Whatever her other (many faults may be, she’s fiercely devoted to her children – even the monstrous Joffrey. No, Cersei couldn’t have done it.

Of course, if one were to make a list of those who likely wanted Joffrey Baratheon dead, it would probably be very long and include most of Westeros’ population. They, however, didn’t all have the opportunity, so this episode focused on those who had – his nearest and ‘dearest’.

Sansa makes an obvious suspect – Joffrey had her father executed, then proceeded to mentally and physically torture her for “years” (is the show acknowledging that its events reflect the timescale of each season’s production now?). Just to put her in the frame some more, she was swiftly whisked away from the scene of the crime by her unlikely champion Ser Dontos, now revealed to be in the pay of none other than Lord Petyr Baelish.

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Ser Dontos swiftly earned his ‘pay’ from Littlefinger with an arrow through the face. It’s good to see the scheming brothel-keeper for the first time this season; though poor Sansa had yet more of her romantic delusions shattered as she discovered the whole scheme had been Baelish’s from the start, with Ser Dontos just a paid stooge who cared less for her than for 10,000 silver pieces.

Poor Sansa – in the face of all evidence to the contrary, she still manages to have some belief in the chivalric notions of the court. Which is why, as Tyrion concluded, she too was an unlikely suspect. But just where is Littlefinger whisking her off to, and why? Could it be, as Tyrion seemed to surmise, precisely to point the finger at both her and her husband? Is Petyr Baelish, who wasn’t even at the wedding, pulling the strings from behind the scenes?

So, another, hitherto unrevealed, suspect. But there were plenty of others. What about Tywin? On the face of it, unlikely; with Joffrey in place as King, Tywin still obviously held all the real power. And yet, the capricious psycho-monarch was difficult to manage, and his apparently saner little brother Tommen already seems much more pliable, accepting Tywin’s masterly lecture on how to be a King (“Listen to your advisors”) without question. I wouldn’t rule Tywin out – but this seems to make his schemes more difficult than they would otherwise have needed to be.

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Still, he maintained his composure as ever, adapting his wily schemes on the fly (if that’s the case). A new scheme led him to interrupt the (not at all gratuitous) debauchery of one of the other suspects – the grudge-bearing Prince Oberyn of Dorne. Standing his ground and denying knowledge of his henchman’s involvement with the rape and murder of the hot-blooded Prince’s sister, Tywin managed to broker a deal – Oberyn will join the triumvirate of judges against Tyrion, in return for which the Mountain will be… encouraged to meet him.

That was another terrific performance from Charles Dance, perfectly calm and calculated in the face of a man who has every reason to want him dead. Pedro Pascal as Oberyn faced him down well, but was plainly no match for his wiles. But it also made it seem unlikely that Oberyn is the culprit either, as he swore to Tywin that it was beneath contempt to hold children responsible for the actions of their fathers – or their grandfathers.

So, probably not Oberyn. How about the Tyrells? On the face of it, unlikely; a delicious scene between Natalie Dormer and the majestic Diana Rigg showed that Margaery and Olenna are not as secure in her claim to the monarchy as they’d hoped, Joffrey having inconveniently died before consummating the marriage. And yet, as Olenna pointed out, having this particular husband poisoned at his wedding was probably the lesser of two evils compared to actually having to live with him. I wouldn’t rule them out…

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In other King’s Landing news, Jaime Lannister continued to perplex. Having gained our sympathies in recent episodes, he proceeded to promptly throw them away again by raping his sister. In the biggest church in the capital. Next to the dead body of their son. He’s audacious, I’ll grant him that; but I’m not sure even Cersei deserves that kind of treatment, even if she is, as he spitefully put it, a “hateful woman”. Nicolaj Coster-Waldau is making Jaime a hard character to figure out; one minute evil, the next noble, then bitter and back to nasty again. But then, that’s what makes him interesting.

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And, sadly, it looks like it’s goodbye to Podrick Payne, Tyrion’s loyal squire – one of the most honest men at the Court, even if you include Tyrion himself. Pod was given a surprisingly emotional farewell scene, as his master firmly ordered him to leave the city, lest he be murdered by “the mysterious They”. Daniel Portman’s been terrific as Pod, putting real flesh onto a fairly basic character, so you really felt for him as he said goodbye, the merest hint of tears glistening in his eyes.

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With so much going on at the Capital, there wasn’t room for many other plot threads; but as ever, there were some very significant vignettes. Most were single scenes, but the Night’s Watch got a fair bit of screen time for the first time this season. Along with the Wildings who’d made it over the Wall, who staged a genuinely nasty raid on an idyllic-looking village. It came as a bit of a shock that the first shot was fired by a fierce-looking Ygritte, but it was nowhere near as nasty as the Magnar of Thenn grabbing a little boy and gleefully informing him that he was about to eat his dead parents. That is one nasty dude – of you were starting to think the Wildings were not too bad, you should think again.

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The raid led to much consternation at Castle Black,and the surprising spectacle of Jon Snow actually agreeing with the odious Ser Alliser Thorne (the reliably loathsome Owen Teale). The Night’s Watch doesn’t have the men to take on the raiders, and still hold the Wall against Mance’s main forces waiting on the other side.

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This led to another interesting development, as Grenn and Dolorous Edd staggered back through the Wall, having escaped from the mutineers still holed up at the late Craster’s Keep. Having lost track of where they’d got to, I actually let out a little cheer to see them back; but their news heralds further problems. Jon Snow had told Mance Rayder that Castle Black was 1000 men strong. If Mance’s gang grab the mutineers, it won’t take him long to learn the truth – so it looks like another trip beyond the Wall is in the offing. If that means settling the score with the similarly loathsome Karl (the ever-typecast Burn Gorman), then I’ll be happy.

We got a snippet from Dragonstone, where the ever-gloomy Stannis took the news of Joffrey’s death with his customary stoicism – really, his three greatest enemies now dead, and he still can’t even crack a smile? No, instead he took the time to have a go at Davos for releasing Gendry; I wonder where he’s got to now? I do hope Joe Dempsie hasn’t been too busy with other projects to put in a (hopefully shirtless) appearance this season…

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Still, while Davos is now prepared to concede that the Red Woman’s magic is actually pretty reliable, he’s still no convert to her rather scary religion. As he pointed out, blood magic doesn’t win wars, soldiers do. But Stannis is rather short of those, and lacking the funds to hire more. Unless… It’s time to make a loan application to the Iron Bank of Braavos, who (if you recall) also hold quite a few Lannister debts that they haven’t quite got round to paying yet. I like the sound of the Iron Bank – I bet they do more than charge you £25 for a letter if you’re overdrawn.

There was also time for a blackly comical catchup with the surprisingly successful odd couple of Arya and the Hound, as they took the opportunity to share dinner with a foolishly generous local peasant. The Hound’s table manners were predictably atrocious, while Arya tried in vain to counter that with the airs and graces she presumably learned at the noble table of Ned Stark.

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Predictably, it didn’t end well – you could see that coming when their host offered the Hound a job, to be paid for out of some hidden silver. I’ve commented before that dinner in Mad Men is fraught with danger; but at least Don Draper and co are unlikely to get clouted round the head and have their fortunes stolen by an embittered brutal mercenary. This, it seemed, was another lesson for Arya in How Things Really Are: “there’s plenty worse than me. I just understand the way things are. How many Starks they got to behead before you figure it out?” Nice one, Mr Clegane.

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But the ep needed an epic climax – and as ever, who better to supply one than the Targaryen Liberation Army, now rolling up at the gates of Essos’ last great slave city Meereen? The army looks impressively huge (thanks, modern CG techniques), but those walls look impressively hard to breach (thanks, slightly less successful CG techniques).

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After a literal pissing contest (don’t ask) between a Meereenese champion and the new, more contemplative Daario Naharis ended up with a 1-0 victory for House Targaryen, Dany played her masterstroke. Yes, those walls would be hard to breach. But her real ally was already inside them – the thousands of slaves held against their wills by some very worried-looking masters. Having appealed to them with yet another rousing speech in a foreign language (Emilia Clarke’s getting very good at those), Dany further made the point with a catapult fusillade of broken slave collars. The 1% of Meereen should probably be very worried right about now.

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Sex and violence

After eschewing these topics last week in favour of intricate Court intrigue, Game of Thrones was determinedly back to its usual self this week. Unusually, the first sex on show was anything but gratuitous or titillating; Jaime’s rape of Cersei didn’t even involve any serious removal of clothes. And the harshly realistic nature of the scene should (hopefully) mean that no viewer got their jollies there.

But we were back in familiar territory when a scene opened with an extreme close up of a woman’s bottom.

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It wasn’t entirely a surprise that this woman was in bed with another woman. And another woman. And a man. And another man.

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Yes, it was a jolly fun time orgy for Oberyn Martell and Ellaria Sand (who, as Stephanie reminded me last week, is not his sister but his paramour, if that makes any difference in this show). Still, the ever-willing Will Tudor as Olyvar probably got more nude screen time than the two anonymous ladies, with plenty of lingering (and not entirely unwelcome) shots of his pert bottom, muscly chest, and even a blink-and-you’d-miss-it shot of Little Olyvar:

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I’m not sure the orgy actually added anything to the plot, though it did serve to give us more amusing detail on Oberyn’s character – “one day you will be old… before then, I hope you’ve fucked your fill”. Shame then that he was the only one to keep his clothes on, inexplicably failing to remove his breeches throughout.

A fair bit of violence too, though this all had plot rationale. First to suffer was Ser Dontos, with an arrow to the face to underline that, as Littlefinger put it, “he was a drunk, and a fool. And I don’t trust drunk fools.”

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That was mild though, compared to the Wildings reasserting how badass they were with a vicious assault on an all-too-innocent village. The action was all quick cuts (as it were), but you could still see plenty of hacking, slashing and gouging.

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So, after last week’s intricately plotted web of social awkwardness, it was business as usual for Game of Thrones this week. Not that that’s a bad thing at all; there was the usual rich dialogue, cleverly drawn characters, and ongoing intrigue, with even time for a few new plot threads. The acting continues to live up to the scripting, and even a few overly ambitious CG shots don’t detract from the epic feel of the thing. Three and a half seasons in, this is still a show at the top of its game.