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.
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.
Game of Thrones continues a strong fourth season with an eventful second episode. I’m a bit surprised that this played out so early in the season, but the big development isn’t necessarily who died, but what that death means for certain characters.
The crowd pleasing moment of the death of the show’s most despicable character (a title that must now be passed on to Ramsey Snow, if it hadn’t already) should have been immediately undercut by the fact that Tyrion was immediately blamed, and Sansa had to be whisked away by Ser Dontos (the drunk dude she saved way back in season two who suddenly reappeared last week). I would think fans would be FREAKING OUT now that Tyrion is on his way to the dungeons, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that people’s hatred of Joffrey blinded them to that little fact. Perhaps next week it will sink in.
I’m also a bit surprised that people are just happy that he’s dead, and not calling bullshit on how he died. I know a few people who are upset that it wasn’t Arya who done the deed. Perhaps they need time for that fact to sink in, as well.
With the death of Joffrey also comes another problem…a lack of a central character for everyone to hate. I’ve been wondering how many people have stuck around just to see how he gets it, and now that it’s happened, I wonder if the show’s ratings will fall off (not that it will matter, the show’s already been renewed through season 6).
With those nuggets out of the way, on to the rest of the episode.
We open on Ramsay Snow as he and a young woman hunt down another young woman, a broken Theon Greyjoy in tow. Perhaps opening with this scene wasn’t coincidence…with Joffrey out of the way, this guy is now the resident Nasty in Westeros. Even his father, Roose Bolton (the guy that sold out Robb) can’t stand him.
With everyone talking about the final scene, its easy to overlook the brilliant scene between Ramsay and Roose, the first solid indicator on the show that these two are related. Roose berates his bastard for flaying and castrating Theon, claiming that he wanted to trade Theon for a place called Moat Cailan that has been occupied by the Ironborn (I’m assuming this is where we’ll catch up with Yara, Theon’s sister). Ramsay demonstrates the psychological damage done to Theon by having the broken man (now calling himself Reek) into shaving him with a straight razor and confessing to Roose that he did not kill Bran and Rickon Stark. Theon is so terrified of Ramsay that he dare not attempt to murder his tormentor, for fear of what may happen. Roose sends men to look for the wayward Starks.
Alfie Allen, the actor that plays Theon, is great in this scene, and it’s the strongest performance in an episode filled with killer performances.
In King’s Landing, everyone is preparing for Joffrey and Margaery’s wedding. We get a nice scene between Tyrion and Jaime, who haven’t appeared on screen together since the first few episodes. It was good to see them interact, with Tyrion calling himself and his siblings “The Dwarf, the Cripple, and the Mother of Madness”.
Soon after, Tyrion learns from Varys that Cersei knows about Shae, and Varys is no longer able to protect them unless Shae leaves. This leads into what is probably one of the weaker scenes in the episode, where Tyrion berates Shae into leaving by reminding her that she is a whore. Its all bit overwrought, and since we know that Tyrion is just doing it to protect her, we’d think Shae of all people would realize it as well. Nevertheless, Bronn takes Shae to a ship, where she’ll be taken to Pentos. Or so we think. Bronn is a sell-sword, after all, and Tyrion’s money is Tywin’s money…and Tywin seemed keen on having her brought to his tower.
Elsewhere, on Dragonstone, Lady Melissandre is torching infidels and is sent to discuss religion with Lady Selyse, Stannis Baratheon’s daughter. I’m not entirely sure what these scenes were meant to do except reintroduce these characters. Since Stannis now knows about the threat at the Wall, it would seem he should be preparing to head that way about now, but he isn’t.
We also catch up with Bran, north of the wall. He’s spending more and more time warging out, and the others fear that he may end up forgetting himself and becoming part of Summer, his dire wolf, permanently. The group later comes across a heart tree, and Bran wargs into that, apparently. He has another vision of the three eyed crow, a decimated throne room similar to the one Dany saw in the House of the Undying, and the shadow of a dragon flying over King’s Landing. He also hears a voice telling Bran to keep going North. I have no idea what any of this means, but the implications are interesting. Is Bran going to be set in direct opposition to Dany eventually? If so, what does that mean? Is Bran being duped into unleashing Winter? Or is Dany’s coin going to land on the side of madness? Again, this is another scene that begs a lot of speculation, but will probably be forgotten in the wake of the Wedding.
Speaking of the wedding. The events leading up to the episode’s climax where rife with awkward tension. It was good to see Diana Rigg still killing it as Lady Olenna. Another high point was Oberyn and Ellaria’s conversation with Tywin and Cersei as they smiled through their teeth at each other while trading barbs. The look on Tywin’s face when Oberyn suggest that princess Myrcella is safer in Dorne where “the rape and murder of young girls is considered distasteful”, as opposed to Westeros, is priceless. There was also the great exchange between Jaime and Loras, and Cersei and Pycelle. Then Cersei and Brienne. Cersei was pretty much ruining everyone’s day.
Finally, there were the events leading up to THE event, in which Joffrey has a troupe of actors re-enact a farcical version of the War of Five kings, in which Joffrey is depicted as single-handedly taking down Stannis, Renly, Rob, and Balon Greyjoy (despite the fact that Balon is still alive and the Ironborn are still raiding the North). Joffrey is pretty much the only one laughing as Loras storms off and Sansa goes catatonic watching her brother’s death turned into a joke. The looks on the faces of those in attendance, from Varys to Olenna to Margaery, all show that every one thinks the show is in bad taste, and that there is little love for Joffrey. And yet, when he begins to choke, it is Lady Olenna, ever the shrewd power player, who screams for some one to help him. No one wants to be seen as happy over the King’s death, although most are probably feeling it.
Finally, there was the perfectly paced sequence in which Joffrey systematically humiliates Tyrion in front of everyone, to the point where even Sansa takes pity on him. All of which leads to Joffrey’s final dastardly act, pointing to his uncle as he dies and laying the blame squarely at Tyrion’s feet, tying off what was very nearly a perfect episode.
In terms of VFX, this episode was pretty light. There was a beautiful matte painting of the Red Keep during the approach to the wedding reception, and the effect of Joffrey’s dying face, likely a combination of make up and digtal enhancement, was also well done. The imagery during Bran’s vision was appropriately stylized and dreamlike, as well.
Season four continues to truck along. Previews for next week promise Dany’s arrival in Mereen and the Night’s Watch preparing for Mance Rayder’s attack. Only two episodes deep, and things are popping off left and right. Let’s just hope they leave some big moments for the second half of the season.