This week on Game of Thrones: Two storylines collide north of the wall, two more intersect in the Vale, Dany grounds her children, Tywin has the worst father’s day ever, and we ask the question, “Is Bran even still on the same show anymore?”
There are two sides to every battle, and a hundred stories on any battlefield. This is a concept that came through brilliantly on last night’s Neil Marshall directed episode of Game of Thrones, “The Watchers on the Wall”, which took leave from its usual globetrotting ways to focus solely on the events at Castle Black.
I’m just going to come right out and say: I wasn’t really feeling this episode. After the insanity that has been pretty much the entire season so far, and the intense political plays of “The Laws of Gods and Men”, this episode served as a deep breath before the last three episodes of the season.
This week’s episode was full of characters seeking justice: Yara seeking justice for her brother, Theon; A son seeking justice for his father; and a kingdom seeking justice for its murdered king. But as Tyrion says in the trailers for Season 4: if you want justice, you’ve come to the wrong place.
This week: Cersei and Margaery play nice, Sansa arrives in The Vale, and Jon Snow deals with the mutineer situation in an episode made up largely of original material.
Game of Thrones gets crazy this week, as Dany takes a new city, the Tyrells make their move, Brienne sets out on a new adventure with an unexpected partner, and Jon Snow’s story continues to make some interesting deviations from the source material.
Game of Thrones suffers what could be its first missteps in an episode that, while still excellent, made a few weird choices concerning at least one character’s development.
Game of Thrones has a unique problem going into season 4. With the Stark rebellion crushed, the show finds itself lacking a central narrative post to hitch its reigns to. What about the White Walkers, you say? They’re still in the north, being ignored by almost everyone. Even the Night’s Watch is more concerned with the Wildling threat at the moment. What about Dany, you ask? She’s still in Essos, trying to liberate slave cities, but what she’s really doing is leaving massive power vacuums in her wake that will eventually lead to a narrative issue so confusing it apparently left George R.R. Martin at a loss on how to fix it and spawned its own literary term: the Meerenese Knot.
That’s not to say that the show has no conflict…quite the opposite. It’s full to the brim with conflict, and the fact that most of characters left (sans Joffrey, the little bastard) are the ones the audience are kind of rooting for– even seemingly irredeemable child-murdering cads like Jaime Lannister and Sandor ‘The Hound’ Clegane have become misunderstood anti-heroes over the course of the last season–makes that conflict more intense. So, until the White Walkers show up, or Dany finally gets on a ship and gets moving, character drama is the name of the game. Luckily the characters and the actors playing them are strong enough to pull it off.
Season four opens on the eve of King Joffrey’s wedding, and the arrival of Oberyn Martell. Oberyn has officially come to King’s Landing for the purpose of the wedding…but he has blood on his mind. Oberyn was the uncle of the Targaryen children the Lannisters had murdered when Robert’s Rebellion ended. He’s after one man, in particular: Gregor Clegane.
Oberyn’s pretty much a badass–a brothel patronizing, bisexual badass–and I couldn’t help but get a bit of a western vibe during his introductory sequence. Switch out Littlefinger’s brothel for a dusty saloon and give Oberyn a pair of guns, and you’re set.
The same goes for the final scene involving Arya and the Hound, and by far the best scene in the episode, not only for the action but the rapport these two have developed. They walk into an inn overrun by outlaws, the outlaws run their mouth, and the dusty, trail weary stranger ends up having to take out the trash. What makes the set up interesting is Arya, and the fact that one of the outlaws is the same man who took her sword and used it to kill one of her friends, way back in season two. Arya stalks up to the unarmed man, telling him the same things he told her friend until he remembers who she is, and slides the sword into his throat. It’s a moment that is at once thrilling (Go Arya!) but also a little creepy and unsettling as we see Arya enjoys not only exacting revenge, but taunting her prey beforehand.
Much of the rest of the episode is set up for the rest of the season: Jaime has returned to King’s Landing, but because of his hand, he finds his status has changed. Tywin wants to send him home to rule their city, and Joffrey taunts him as being weak and lacking ambition. He also finds himself at odds with his oath to return Catelyn Stark’s daughters, because quite frankly, there’s no where to return them to. Not to mention Arya’s missing and Sansa is now married to Tyrion. Then there is Cersei, who resents him for being captured and leaving her alone for the past year and a half.
Tyrion’s conflict comes from matters of the heart. He’s stuck in a loveless marriage with a young girl whose family has all but been wiped out by his. On top of that, he can’t be with the woman he does love because, despite all his claims to the contrary, Tyrion does have some honor. He has a heated exchange with Shae that is overheard by one of the Queen Regent’s spies. Should be interesting to see where that goes.
Up north, Ygritte is facing suspicion from her own people for letting Jon Snow escape. True, she shot him with three arrows, but as Tormund points out, she’s taken out rabbits from 200 yards in the past. If Jon escaped, he says, its because Ygritte let him go. A quick aside…the location they shot this scene in was fantastic.
Jon Snow is facing suspicion, as well. We find him at Castle Black, being questioned by Alliser Thorne, who’s had it out for Jon since season one, Janos Slynt (the city watchman who sold Ned Stark out), and Maester Eamon. They eventually let Jon go, and I’m a bit confused how this came about. They don’t show any deliberation, a vote, or anything. Maester Eamon simply speaks up and Jon is let go, for the moment.
Finally, I want to close these reviews with a discussion of any VFX in an episode. As usual, GoT’s production values remain high. The big effect of this episode (or any episode where they appear), was Dany’s dragons. These things have gotten pretty big, and they look amazing…motion picture quality even. The designs are beautiful, too. I just wish Drogon wasn’t such a screen hog and we could get a good look at the green and red dragons, both of whom appear somewhat smaller than their brother. The most interesting aspect of their scene was they way Drogon snapped at Daenarys, however. As Jorah tells her afterward, They can never be tamed, not even by their mother. It puts her status as the one person in in the world in possession of what is essentially a Weapon of Mass Destruction in question. I suppose WMD’s that can act on their own volition would be a bit of a problem.
So far, season four is off to a strong start. It has a bit of the Premier Expository Blues, as characters explain what has gone before while setting up plot points for the future, but like I said before, the actors and writing are strong enough that the show can get away with this somewhat.
I’m excited for next week, and from what I saw in the preview, a lot of fans are going to be thrilled (or sorely disappointed) with how it ends. Let’s say initially thrilled, but disappointed once they let it sink in.
This week’s episode being the third to last the season, it’s no surprise that its main purpose is to set up what’s going to happen in the final two episodes of the season.
The episode begins with Arya waking up, still alive and unharmed after being dragged into the woods by the Hound last week. Thinking that he is asleep, she tries to bash his head in with a rock, but he’s already awake. He tells her he’ll give her one free shot, and if he lives, he’ll break her hands. Arya backs down, and they hit the road.
Every great season of TV has at least ONE. One episode that just doesn’t quite live up to the rest. Season 3 of Game of Thrones has been fantastic, possibly even uniformly the best, given how much the people behind the scenes have to juggle. So it’s a bit ironic, I think, that the most uneven episode of the season was written by George R.R. Martin himself.