“The gods won’t mind. They spill more blood than the rest of us combined.”
It was another lively episode of Game of Thrones this week – not so much in terms of action, but in terms of the plot magnitude of events. Once more, it’s hard to be sure how much of this is the intent of showrunners Benioff and Weiss, and how much is based on what George RR Martin has told them about forthcoming plot. Still, this week saw yet more seismic shifts in Westeros’ balance of power, as the cull of important characters continued from last week. And yet I suspect that what will cause the most kerfuffle on the internet is not the characters who died as the one who didn’t.
So yes, to take that last one first – Jon Snow is back, courtesy of some Excalibur-esque magic from the disillusioned Melisandre. This wasn’t altogether a surprise, despite (or perhaps because of) Kit Harington’s fervent denials prior to the show’s return. While Game of Thrones keeps its fantasy elements to a minimum, the show has form in bringing people back from the dead – and it never goes well. Think of Khal Drogo, or Beric Dondarrion (also resurrected by a Red Priest).
I’m hoping the writers (Dave Hill this week) will take a similar tack in following up Jon’s revival, probably taking a while to show us that he Came Back Wrong. If they don’t, and Jon’s his usual heroic (if surly and unlikeable) self, I’ll start suspecting what some fans are already saying – that the showrunners just didn’t want to lose a popular character. If it starts looking like that, this formerly ruthless show may well have jumped the shark into sentimentality.
Still, it did make for a good capstone to an ep mostly devoted to shifting political players around the board. Indeed, the Night’s Watch plotline gave us the first bit of real action we’ve seen this season, as the Wildling cavalry rode to the rescue of good old Ser Davos and his holdouts against Ser Alliser’s mutineers. I mean, come on – that giant smashing through the door of Castle Black was pretty cool.
The other major characters who died this week are less likely to be returning. Following last week’s palace coup in Dorne, this week gave us regime changes in both the Iron Islands and Winterfell, the former of which was one of the plotlines from the books that I thought had been skipped over. In fact, compared to the books the Ironborn have been given pretty short shrift in the TV show, mainly serving as a motivator for Theon Greyjoy’s actions, which were vital to moving the plot along.
However, with the satisfying death of Patrick Malahide’s loathsome, wizened Balon Greyjoy at the hands of his pirate brother Euron, it looks like the show is about to plunge us into the books’ lengthy argument about the Ironborn succession. To be honest, I found this plotline tedious in the books, and wasn’t sorry the show had seemingly skipped over it. As Yara Greyjoy reminded her father this week, the Ironborn never really made it past the minor leagues in the War of Five Kings, a war that’s effectively over – what point then in devoting lots of screen time to them now? I can’t say I’m looking forward to endless infighting about who’s in charge at Pyke.
The power shift at Winterfell was far more interesting, if only because, as Wardens of the North, House Bolton really do have a lot of influence on what happens in Westeros. It was actually very similar to the fiery Sand Snakes’ palace coup in Dorne last week; a shrewd, measured leader being assassinated by his headstrong offspring who’ll probably plunge the House into chaos and disaster before even thinking about it. But while the Sand Snakes are enjoyably bonkers, Ramsay Bolton was just reliably vile. His hound-based removal of Roose’s widow Walda and her newborn son was predictable, but no less shocking for that – however pretty he may be, the guy’s an utter loon. It’s not going to be difficult to cheer at his inevitable death.
That’s a fair bit of plot advancement for a show that often seems to tread water for weeks on end, so it was no surprise that the rest of the plotlines continued in a holding pattern. We did at least catch up with Bran Stark, not seen for over a year, who’s now under the magical tutelage of wise old Max von Sydow in a cave. Von Sydow is another worthy addition to the cast of heavyweight thesps the show boasts; it’s just a shame that he didn’t really get to do much here. Still, at least we got the beginnings of an origin story for the ever-popular Hodor, or Willis as we now know him to be. That I’m actually looking forward to.
Not much new in King’s Landing either, though Jonathan Pryce got another sterling scene when the embittered Jaime confronted the ever-genial High Sparrow. It has to be said, though, that Westeros’ very own Spanish Inquisition seems thus far to be confined to the capital – and not all that successful even there, to judge by that drunken minstrel type who had the unfortunate encounter with Cersei’s very large bodyguard. The Sparrows are clearly putting the willys up the land’s aristocracy, but little is being made (unlike last year) of their effect on the ordinary populace.
Over in Essos, Varys and Tyrion popped up to remind us they were there, though as last week their entertaining scenes together advanced the plot not one jot. Still, it was interesting to see that the still-captive dragons may be smarter than we thought. Despite Tyrion’s assertion that “if I ever have an idea like that again, punch me in the face”, it did actually look like he might be getting the beasties on side. Well, to the extent that they didn’t flambe him instantly anyway.
At least Arya Stark seemed to be getting some movement in her plotline, with the reappearance of Jaqen H’ghar to take her away from all that. Really, his temptation ritual, which Arya resisted admirably, was too obvious for words; but I’m convinced that what really won him over was her adoption of his use of the third person to describe everyone including himself. “A girl has no name”. That’s all right then, what the Faceless Men really like is peculiar grammar.
Sex and Violence
Surprisingly little of either again this week – you’d almost think the showrunners were more concerned about the characters and the plot. For violence, you had to make do with two (admittedly memorable) head squelchings, one at the hands of a rather miffed giant, and the other courtesy of Cersei’s mysterious, mountainly bodyguard:
If you wanted sex or nudity, you were out of luck unless you were particularly keen on the corpse of Jon Snow. And even he had a dishcloth to protect his modesty.
Choice dialogue this week
Tyrion, attempting a new career as Dragon Whisperer: “I’m a friend of your mother. I’m here to help. Please don’t eat the help.”
Ramsay Bolton, responding to Walda’s pleas to spare his new brother: “I prefer being an only child.”
That drunk bloke, recounting palace gossip: “… from what I hear, Jaime Lannister’s half an inch short of an inch!”
Tyrion again, responding well to compliments on his intellect: “That’s what I do. I drink, and I know things.”
Like last week, this was a mixture of entertaining character vignettes and dramatic plot shifts. For the first two eps of this season to so substantially change the balance of power for some of Westeros’ major players suggests one of two things – either Benioff and Weiss are remaking this world for themselves, or they’re shifting the players towards an end game. With both Dorne and House Bolton now led by headstrong loons, I suspect the latter. Ramsay Bolton and the Sand Snakes aren’t going to sit around shrewdly scheming, they’re going to Go Out and Do Stuff. Which will likely be unwise, catastrophic and quite entertaining. If it weren’t for the prospect of sitting through endless wrangling about the Iron Islands’ succession I’d say the season was off to a good start; but maybe the showrunners will find a way to make that interesting…