“I wish you good fortune in the wars to come. Now it begins.”
Amid the sprawling cast and multifarious plotlines of Game of Thrones, it’s actually rather easy to forget some of the characters exist (or at least, haven’ been killed yet). But as this week’s ep showed, that gives the showrunners the chance to use their newfound freedom, and show us what happened to them.
They weren’t all important ones, of course. We briefly caught up with Sam and Gilly, who I’d entirely forgotten were still on that boat to the Maester Citadel following the death of Aemon Targaryen. Their scene together was typically fun, endearing and comedic.
Sad to say though, important though these two may turn out to be, they’re not really doing much in the plot right now, and spent the less funny bits of it reminding each other of things they logically must already know, for our benefit. Lovely though it is to see John Bradley and Hannah Murray, perhaps we could have waited till they actually get to the Citadel before we caught up to them. From the other side, though, the luxury of having a long form drama is that, as a writer, you can do little character vignettes without necessarily having to have a plot happen. Kind of like Mike Leigh.
And it was cleverly placed to remind us of the Citadel and the Maesters, of whom we’ve seen little recently. This ep featured the return of two maesters we haven’t seen in a while, both played by legendary British character actors. Senile buffoon Grand Maester Pycelle (Julian Glover) was back for the first time in… ooh, ages; while King’s Landing politics also caught us up on the whereabouts of Westeros’ own Dr Mengele, Maester Qyburn (Anton Lesser). At this point he’s not even being coy about the Frankensteinian creature he’s risen from the dead (“children, this is Ser Gregor”).
Still, the main aspect of the King’s Landing scenes were to carry on the saga of the crumbling Royal Court with the fanatical Faith Militant. To that end, Jeffrey Dean Chapman’s King Tommen finally had that conversation we all wished he’d have with Jonathan Pryce’s High Sparrow; and to nobody’s surprise, found himself nodding in befuddlement to the pious zealot’s babblings. Well, to be fair, it’s Jonathan Pryce speaking softly with a smile – I’d be taken in, wouldn’t you? Perhaps Tommen hasn’t seen Something Wicked This Way Comes.
Also returning to disband and say goodbye was the not-seen-for-ages Small Council, who seem to have about as much influence in the government of Westeros as Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet did in Britain. Still, nice of the writers to give these richly drawn characters a farewell, if this is the last we’ll see of them. I’m not terribly going to miss the comedy sidekick of Mace Tyrell, or the disapproving pursed lips of Ser Kevan Lannister, but I really hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Olenna Tyrell. As ever, Diana Rigg owned that scene.
Perhaps the most surprising returning character, though, was Ned Stark. Yes, that one… but not. Benioff and Weiss have wisely used flashbacks very sparingly in this show, the first of the ep’s “Jedi training montages” gave us an excuse to watch Bran Stark watching his dad’s greatest triumph. Clearly this is well before a long acquaintance with cigarettes gave Ned the gravel-granite voice we’re used to. I’ve not come across young Robert Aramayo before, but his turn as Baby Sean Bean was (unintentionally, I presume) the comic highlight of the episode.
After that epic battle (about which Ned… exaggerated), it was almost an anticlimax to see the reappearance of Rickon Stark. Yes, that little boy we haven’t seen for years, still played by the no longer so little (and increasingly attractive) Art Parkinson.
Rickon’s return rather emphasises a problem I’ve mentioned before, that while months have passes in the show’s timeline, years have passed for its cast – nowhere more noticeably in the ones who started out pre-pubescent. Maisie Williams (also in Jedi training this week) looks very little different, but Parkinson and Isaac Hempstead-Wright as Bran look totally different than when the show debuted.
Oh, yes, and someone else came back, though I doubt you’d forgotten him. The ep spent a lot of time on the Return of Jon Snow, who seems to have returned from the grave unchanged. Unfortunately. In essence though, he got dressed, went outside, hanged his assassins and buggered off. I must admit, that last (“and now my Watch is over”) made me assume he was the “oathbreaker” of the episode title. But actually, if you recall the wording to the Oath, he hasn’t broken a thing: “night gathers, and now my Watch begins. It shall not end until my death”. Let’s face it, he did actually die – his duty is fulfilled.
Sex and violence
I may have to stop doing this bit. For the third week in a row, the show featured no gratuitous sex at all, and only the merest smidgen of nudity (the top of Jon Snow’s arse):
It was pretty light on violence too – by the standards of this show. Mind you, that was one brutally realistic hanging of the Night’s Watch mutineers, all twitching legs and swollen, blackening faces:
Choice dialogue this week:
Tormund Giantsbane, agreeing with Jon Snow’s dismissal of his deification: “You’re no god. I’ve seen your pecker. No god would have a pecker that small.”
The marvellously “plain-speaking” Smalljon Umber, discussing the nuances of politics with Ramsay Bolton: “Your father was a cunt. That’s why you killed him.”
Olenna Tyrell’s parting broadside to Cersei: “Margaery is the Queen. You are not the Queen, because you are not married to the King. I do appreciate these things can get a bit confusing in your family.”
Ser Alliser Thorne’s defiant last words: “I fought, I lost, and now I rest. But you, Lord Snow, you’ll be fighting their battles forever.”
Fewer seismic plot shocks than of late this week (though Rickon’s return could be a game-changer), this week’s ep showcased Benioff and Weiss’ skill for dialogue and the cast’s skill at acting (well, maybe not Dean-Charles Chapman). But there’s plenty of new plot threads to follow. Where will Jon Snow go to sulk now? Will Rickon have as nasty a time in the clammy hands of Ramsay Bolton as Theon did? And most importantly – what is in that tower Baby Sean Bean was so desperate to get into? Again, it felt like characters moving on to their final destination. The plot may not have advanced much this week, but it felt like the characters did.