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.
The Rains of Castamere. Where do I even begin with this one? Chances are by the time this goes up, you’ve seen something, somewhere, talking about the audience reaction to the events of last night’s episode. You’ve seen people familiar only with the show freak out, and you’ve probably seen people who read the books years ago telling them not to freak out and stop watching the show, because you’re in for a treat soon (that treat probably getting pushed to sometime next year).
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.
Living up to last week’s episode, what with its fiery dragon apocalypse closing it out, would have been a tall order for any show. But damn if this week didn’t do just that, but from a different direction.
If last week was all about moving the plot forward, then this week was all about character. The episode somehow managed to squeeze nearly every member of its enormous cast into it’s hour long running time, and still somehow managed not to feel imbalanced, rushed, or overloaded. The writers of this show have mastered the art of exposition, explaining the world and how it works without sacrificing the story. It truly is one of the best written shows on TV, on a purely technical level.
Three scenes in particular stood out to me. First, the opening scene, and quite possibly the best sword fight of the series, if not the best on TV in some time. This duel is the fulfillment of last week’s sentencing against Sandor ‘The Hound’ Clegane. Clegane is a monster of a man that few could ever hope to match. He has but one weakness, a fear of fire. Beric Dondarrion knew this and used it to his advantage. The result was an epic face off that was not only visually stunning, but built upon character foundations set down two years ago in the first season. The outcome of this fight also serves to further the Lord of Light mystery, as well as push Arya toward a crucial cross roads in her story.
The second standout scene involved Jaime Lannister (who has quickly become one of the more complex characters on the show) and Brienne of Tarth. This match up was my favorite story in Storm of Swords, and it’s a real treat to see it come alive on screen. It is important to bear in mind that both characters are nude in this scene, though the nudity isn’t primarily sexual. It’s more about emphasizing their vulnerability, Jaime’s in particular, as he finally reveals the full circumstances surrounding his murder of King Aerys Targaryen with a simmering, frustration fueled speech that nearly renders him unconscious due to the festering wound of his right wrist and the heat of the bath. Can a character who once shoved a ten year old kid out of a window in order to cover up his incest ever be redeemed? Maybe not, but this scene goes a long way to do just that.
Speaking of Jaime’s incest, the third scene of particular note involved his sister/lover Cersei, their father Tywin, and younger brother, Tyrion. Cersei spends much of the scene with a smug smile on her face, amused by the secret she knows, but Tyrion is unaware of. Both Petyr Baelish and House Tyrell have designs on Sansa Stark and through her, Winterfell. Tywin doesn’t intend to let either happen. Instead, he intends to wed Sansa to Tyrion, ensuring their supremacy in the north. Tyrion protests, and in another outstanding, low key moment, we are reminded of the horrible event Tywin put Tyrion through years before, when Tyrion says that he’s already been wedded once before.
Cersei watches, smiling that smug smile, but once Tywin is done with his son, he turns to his daughter and tells her that she will be married to Loras Tyrell, thus expanding their power to the South. Cersei’s demeanor changes completely at the drop of a hat as she realizes that she is being shunted off to spend the rest of her life in yet another loveless marriage. The scene ends with Tywin laying down the law to his children, telling them how tired he is of their trudging over the family name before storming out of the room and ending the episode.
While those three scenes were the standouts, that’s not to say there were other goings on in Westeros this week.
Robb Stark’s army continues to falter, despite having won all of their battles. The Lannisters have pulled back and decided to wait the young King out. This has caused discontent amongst the Northern ranks, as Rickard Karstark, one of Robb’s most valuable banner-men, is still angry at the loss of his son at Jaime Lannister’s hands, and Robb’s inability to do anything about it. So, in his rage, Karstark kills two young Lannister hostages. Both Talisa and Catelyn advise him not to execute Karstark, lest he lose support of the house. But Robb, in his stubbornness, believes that if he stands for righteousness, he cannot allow the murder of those under their care to go unpunished, Lannister or no. There goes that damnable Stark honor again…
North of the Wall, Jon Snow and Ygritte share a nice little romantic moment. It’s worth pointing out that anytime a show of this nature adds a romance between two young idiots, proceedings take a turn for the cheese. Luckily, their love scene somehow avoids this trap, even with Ygritte’s “You know nothing” catchphrase. In fact, the catchphrase is used in a great reversal, as Jon shows her that he does know something, despite “being a maid.”
Across the sea, in Essos, we catch up with Dany and her newfound army. As they march, Barristan Selmy and Jorah Mormont reminisce about the reign of Aerys and the civil war. Barristan says that he has served the drunken and the insane, and that just once he’d like to serve a ruler he’d be proud of. Jorah is in much the same boat, and both of them hope that Dany will be that ruler.
The conversation takes a sour note, however, when Barristan reminds Jorah that his reputation in Westeros has faltered since the war, given his crime of selling slaves. He suggests that, if they are to help Dany win the hearts of the people upon her return to the west, then Jorah might consider stepping away, for her sake. Jorah reminds Barristan that he’s no longer the lord commander, and that they are both nothing more than exiles at the moment. The only wish he follows is Dany’s.
As for Dany, she has the officers of her new army meet with her and choose their own commander. His name is Grey Worm, a name given to him by the slave masters to remind him that he is vermin. Horrified, Dany tells him to choose his own name. Grey Worm chooses to remain Grey Worm, because the name he was born with was cursed, and Grey Worm is the name he had the day Daenerys Targaryen of Westeros freed him.
Finally, we take a trip to Dragonstone, where Stannis Baratheon takes the time to visit his wife. This is probably my least favorite scene in the episode, namely because Stannis is probably my least favorite character, and the whole fetus-in-a-jar-of-green-slime motif that the half crazed Lady Selyse has going on looks borderline Schumacher Batman. This scene does eventually lead to the introduction of Stannis’ disfigured daughter, Shireen, and a brief but sweet scene between her and Davos where she learns that he can’t read and agrees to teach him, a small but important plot point further down the line.
Other bits of Note:
Gendry telling Arya that he was staying with the Brotherhood Without Banners. When she asks why, he tells her that they are a family. Arya says that she could be his family, to which he replies, “No. You would be my Lady.”
Lady Olenna continues to wreak havoc on the status quo when she goes to see Tyrion about the cost of Joffrey’s wedding. She tells Tyrion that she’d heard he was a drunken, debauched little terror, and that she is quite disappointed to find nothing more than a book keeper. Then she agrees to pay for half of the royal wedding. It seems not even Tyrion can keep up with the Queen of Thorns.