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 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 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.
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.