Sunday, April 13, 2014

Game of Thrones 4.02: The Lion and the Rose

And the internet should be exploding right... about... NOW. Exploding with GLEE, that is!!!! Welcome to week 2 of our season 4 Game of Thrones posts. As always I'm with my dashing colleague Christopher Lockett, as we work our way through this deliciously happy episode. EEEEEEEEEEEE!!! I'll let Chris go first while I try to collect myself...

Christopher: This episode is an excellent reminder that, however much we might complain about GRRM killing off our favourite characters, every so often he kills the people we hate with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns. The wee prick is dead! But because I knew that was coming, and because I have enjoyed your vitriolic loathing of the little shit lo these three years, Nikki, I will let you do the first jig upon his grave in this post.

Instead, I will begin by talking about the beginning of this episode: last season we left Theon in the throes of torture, mind-games, and castration. This season we see that young Ramsay Bolton—sorry, Ramsay Snow—was not merely tormenting Theon for his own amusement. Oh, make no mistake: he was totally amused by the whole process, the sick bastard … but it was all also done with an eye to breaking and subjugating Theon to the Bastard of Bolton’s will.

Poor Theon. I know you have very little sympathy for him, Nikki, but I wonder if the events of this episode have softened that perspective at all. We first see him hobbling along as fast as he can behind Ramsay and his (apparently) equally sociopathic lady friend (I think I heard him call her Miranda?) as they chase a terrified girl through the woods. I must confess that, watching this scene, I could not help but think the same thing as when similar moments occur in A Dance With Dragons—namely, a flashback to that moment in the Simpsons when Ranier Wolfcastle announces at the local community center that he will be teaching people how to hunt “ze deadliest prey … maahhn.” Apparently, Ramsay took the remedial course, in which he learned to hunt helpless terrified chambermaids (I’d like to see him try to hunt Brienne).

However much my mind may jump to such inappropriate allusions, this opening scene serves as a reminder later that Ramsay is only partially a calculating psychopath, and that at heart he takes perverse joy in inflicting terror and pain. For me, the most affecting—and horrifying—moment of this scene is when Ramsay sics his hounds on the wounded girl, which we don’t see but hear … instead we see Theon’s tortured face as she screams. Again, Nikki, you have to admit: however much you might not care about Theon’s torments, Alfie Allen shows his acting chops in this episode. He has little enough to say, but shows everything on his face. In those few seconds of hearing the girl’s screams mingled with the hounds’ growls, we see Theon’s own terror, horror, fear, hatred, and self-loathing … in short, we see Reek.

Sweeney Theon

And we see Reek again when Ramsay commands him to shave him in front of his father. “Theon was our enemy,” he tells Roose Bolton. “Reek? Reek will never betray us.” Roose has not appeared in the series as he is in the novels: in the novels he is described as slightly built, rheumy-eyed, pale, and generally physically unprepossessing … and yet carrying with him cold threat and danger, a man who looks through you. In A Game of Thrones (the novel), when Catelyn suggests at one point that Robb needs someone with cold cunning to lead his southern forces, Robb presciently replies “Roose Bolton. That man scares me.” In the series, Roose (played by actor Michael McElhatton) is somewhat more physically imposing than I imagined the character, but he does a good job of conveying Roose’s cold, calculating nature. We meet his new wife briefly: Lady Walda, a daughter of the Frey clan, part of his reward for helping Walder Frey betray the Starks. I’m probably spoiling a point that will be revealed in a later episode, but the deal with Frey was that Roose’s dowry would be his betrothed’s weight in gold. And so without hesitation he chose the most corpulent of the Frey girls. Roose is not, in other words, a man swayed by anything so fickle as sensual appetites (a reason he was probably disgusted with Robb Stark’s willingness to betray a marriage contract for love); and so we see his disappointment at the pleasure his bastard takes in torturing and killing. “We’ve been flaying our enemies for a thousand years!” Ramsay protests when his father takes umbrage at his treatment of Theon. “The flayed man is on our banners!” “MY banners,” Roose corrects him abruptly. “You’re not a Bolton. You’re a Snow.”

But however much Roose might regret the trust he put in his bastard, Ramsay’s exhibition of Theon’s compliance impresses him in spite of himself, and he suggests that, if Ramsay can retake Moat Caillin, perhaps—perhaps!—that designation of Snow can be reconsidered.

I’ll ask you what you thought of the Ramsay/Theon scenes, Nikki, but first—please, do your Dance of Joy on the corpse of the Wee Prick.

Nikki: Eeeeeeeeeee!!!

Ding dong, the little shit’s dead!
Which little shit?
The INBRED shit!
Ding dong, the lit-tle shit is DEAD!!

Ah. I said last season that Joffrey deserved to die, and yet I didn’t want him to because I enjoyed hating him so much that my enjoyment in despising him outweighed wanting to see him die a horrible death. Now, I shall revel in the moment (even though I know I’ll probably miss him soon). Never has a mess of vomit and blood and snot been so… beautiful. I had no idea this was going to happen; as far as I’m concerned, GRRM kills off the characters we love, and the only time a bad guy dies is when it’s someone we haven’t much invested in (like Polliver in the previous episode). To take out the most despicable of the Lannisters? The king? The single worst person on television right now? Glorious.

And by the way, Joffrey had to die for so, so many reasons, but chucking money at Sigur Rós and telling them to stop playing and get out? DIE, YOU LITTLE SHIT, DIE! (Anyone who follows me on Facebook knows my deep devotion for the Icelandic band, who play the minstrels at the party and then sing “Rains of Castamere” over the end credits; they are easily my favourite band and the best live band I’ve ever seen. How DARE he?!)

Sigur. Freakin. Ros.

But just in case it wasn’t clear that his death is definitely a good thing, they’ve really upped his dickishness these last episodes, especially in his despicable treatment of Tyrion. First bringing out a bunch of dwarf jesters to reenact the war between the kings of Westeros, once again beheading Ned Stark before his daughter Sansa, then treating Tyrion like garbage in front of the hundreds of guests, Joffrey’s sniveling face is the one every viewer most wants to smack, and has been since the first season.

Tyrion, I’ll let you have the honour:

However, beyond our personal grievances, and him being a horrible person in general, Joffrey is, quite simply, a terrible king. He’s weak, too scared to run into battle (as Tyrion brilliantly reminds him when he stands up at the wedding and tells Joffrey to reenact for all the guests how he had handled the Battle of Blackwater). He never, ever listens to any sort of counsel, whether it’s from Tyrion or Tywin or Cersei or Baelish. He knows very little about Westeros in general; remember in the previous episode where Daarios handed Daenerys the flowers and told her that in order to rule, she needs to understand the flora and fauna of the country, the people and what they need and want, and every bit of the landscape? Joffrey wouldn’t know what the difference between a flora and fauna was, much less have any sense of his people. The reason the marriage to Margaery was going to be positive was because she could stand before the people and say all the food was being given to the poor (an offer that Cersei quickly and privately repeals), which is the sort of thing Joffrey would never think of doing, but she tells everyone he did to make him look like a good and benevolent king. A king isn’t any sort of king if he doesn’t have one iota of support from his subjects.

The question now is, who could have done it? Was it Tyrion? He was holding the goblet, but there was really no time that I saw (having watched the wedding scene three times now) where he could have slipped something into that goblet. Could it have been Sansa, who holds the goblet at one point? (Again, she doesn’t seem to slip anything into it.) The final glass of wine was poured from the decanter sitting before Cersei, and she clearly didn’t do it, but that wine had to have been brought in from the kitchens. Sansa is quickly whisked away by the fool we’d seen in the previous episode, the man whose life she’d saved back in the second season, as if he’d known all along this was going to happen. Could he have poisoned Joffrey? Suddenly showing up the day before the wedding to say “heya” to Sansa and then grabbing her by the hand and telling her to run away seems a little suspicious. Could it have been the pie? Joffrey was drinking the wine the whole time, but it’s only after he takes a bit of the pie that he begins choking. Margaery is the one feeding it to him, and she never takes a bite (it’s passed around to others but you never see them bite into it, either). If someone had laced the pie, they would have been chancing killing everyone sitting up on the dais. It makes more sense to have put something in Joffrey’s goblet, but again, he’s using that goblet through the entire scene and it’s only at the end he begins choking.

In any case, there are so many people who would want him dead, the possibilities of who actually killed Joffrey are endless. Jaime for mocking him in the previous episode? (Jaime is his father, and seems to know that, so I doubt he’d kill his own son.)
The court jester?
Tyrion, just because he knows more than anyone what a sniveling little shit he is? (And for mercilessly slicing to bits the book that Tyrion had bought as a wedding gift, which had probably been handprinted and cost a fortune?)
Tywin? Seems like a long shot but since Joffrey’s such a horrible king, perhaps he was cleaning house with him the same way he was trying to do with Jaime? (If he’s willing to kill Shae, the woman Tyrion loves, why not kill the result of his twin children having an incestuous relationship?)
Lady Olenna? She seems pretty darn unfazed by the whole thing, and the goblet that he grabs right near the end is sitting on her table.

My money’s on Jónsi from Sigur Rós. As if I needed a reason to love that man more.

I’m sure the mystery will continue throughout the season, perhaps longer, perhaps just until the next episode, who knows, but at this point it doesn’t matter. All that matters is the king is dead, which will no doubt plunge all of Westeros into war once again. Although, we as viewers know that for all the talk of peace in the land and the war finally being over, there’s nothing but scheming and planning for more wars happening all around. That war will never be over.

I do want to add, however, one last time, that I think Jack Gleeson played Joffrey brilliantly. He was SO despicable, not just in his words, but in the way Gleeson held his lips in a constant sneer, in the way he always nonchalantly leaned against the sword on his hip, or crossed his arms in laid-back defiance, or flicked his hands about as if dismissing the one in front of him. I couldn’t imagine any actor playing him as perfectly as Gleeson did, and I really will miss the way he portrayed his character. But first, let's all watch him die again:

Something wrong, Joffrey?
You've, um... got a little something on your face there.

What's that, Joffrey? (giggle)
You're looking a little... zombie-like, there. Oh, and by the way:

Back to Theon, you’re right, I’ve never been a fan, and perhaps it’s just that I’m not a fan of Alfie Allen. I don’t know why, he just bugs me. But it’s never clouded my judgment about the character and what is happening to him; I think his life has been difficult, being taken from his father as a spoil of war and being a second-rate child to Ned Stark his whole life, constantly reminded he is not a Stark, but a POW, essentially. And then when he finally returns to his own father, Balon shows him even less love and respect than did Ned. He’s spent his life trying to prove he’s someone, and now he’s been tortured both physically and psychologically, and reduced to this sniveling, shaking thing we see before us. The scene of him shaving Ramsay Snow is masterfully executed, from Ramsay’s flippant way of telling him that Robb Stark was dead, to Roose’s very subtle look that he might actually be impressed by what his bastard son has done to the creature, to Theon looking one second like he’s about to lose his mind and try to take all of them out with a razor, then keeping it together and getting back to the task of shaving his slave driver, and calmly and politely telling them the truth about Bran and Rickon, probably the most important bit of information anyone in the Seven Kingdoms could have right now.

Now that you’ve allowed me to rejoice and kick up my heels with glee (I thank you for that, sir), how did the death of Joffrey on-screen compare to what you read in the books?

Meanwhile, I shall continue to do the dance of joy.

Christopher: No longer do the dance of joy, Numfar! For though we rejoice at our least favourite Lannister’s timely and appropriately agonizing death, it looks as though our favourite Lannister will be taking the fall for it—whether he did it or not. And obviously I know who was actually responsible for the assassination, and just as obviously won’t betray that fact … and even more obviously will watch in glee as you try and figure it out.

But one way or another, Tyrion has been accused, and suddenly all those images from the trailers of him in a small, dark room make more sense. Cersei is obviously unhinged by her son’s death, which creates a perfect storm between her mother’s grief, her general irrationality, and her hatred of Tyrion. Will Tywin (reluctantly) defend his son? Will Jaime intercede? Or is this the end of Tyrion? Stay tuned!

This was a very Lannister-heavy episode, which makes sense … the final scenes can’t help but echo the toast raised by Tyrion at the beginning, “To the proud Lannister children: the dwarf, the cripple, and the mother of madness!” Joffrey’s madness—or at least his complete and utter willfulness and petulance—is certainly at the forefront of this episode. There is a brief moment when he seems to have attained some semblance of grace and generosity, first when he is magnanimous with Margaery’s fatuous father Mace Tyrell, and then again when he manages to be gracious about Tyrion’s gift of a book. Of course, that lasts only until he receives Tywin’s gift, which is exactly the kind of toy his sociopathic little mind delights in and cannot resist from cleaving Tyrion’s gift in two (it’s probably just as well there wasn’t a hapless servant in reach). As you say, Nikki, the book looks expensive, and it is—in the novel, Tyrion is beside himself, murmuring that that had been one of only four copies of the book in the world. We know, of course, how much Tyrion loves books: that he gave such a rare and valuable tome to Joffrey probably wasn’t the wisest course. He must have known such a gift would goad him (in the novel, after he hacks it apart, he sneers at Tyrion that “You owe me another gift, Uncle”); it would have been smarter to have given him some sort of innocuous weapon, but I tend to see the gift of that book as a moment of genuine hope and kindness on Tyrion’s part, the infinitesimal hope that Joffrey might actually learn something from it, and a kind gesture from someone who knows the true value of books and learning. Whatever moment of sanity Joffrey appears to have had vanishes as he acts out like a spoiled child on Christmas morning, so outraged by a gift that displeases him that he breaks it.

I think it is this essentially childish nature that makes Joffrey’s madness at once so infuriating and so terrifying. Imagine giving a willful toddler power of life and death, and adding into that mix innate sadism, and that’s what we have with Joffrey. His petulance at his own wedding reception is emblematic of this, when he gets impatient with Sigur Ros; also in his planned “entertainment,” which is comedy of the lowest possible brow. Any more lowbrow and it would be underground. What is most interesting about this scene is less the show itself than the reactions of its audience: how everyone responds is a good insight into their character. Margaery at first looks amused and happy, smiling and clapping—probably relieved to see her new husband in good humour for the first time that day—but quickly becomes perturbed as she realizes the cruel intent behind it. Joffrey’s little brother Prince Tommen, who is sitting beside Tyrion, laughs until he also suddenly realizes that it is meant to mock his uncle (his quick, chagrined sideways look at Tyrion exhibits more humanity in a nanosecond than Joffrey has shown in three seasons). Loras Tyrell looks disgusted, and exits as soon as the dwarf Renly is humiliated; his father, Mace Tyrell, looks dismayed; Sansa is in shock; Tywin is at first mildly amused, but slowly grows more obviously impatient with the proceedings; Varys can’t quite keep an appalled expression from his face.

The only person who seems as amused by the show (besides a handful of sycophants in the audience) is Cersei, who watches the whole event with a smug, indulgent smile. “Mother of madness,” indeed—it’s as if she’s the only person watching who hasn’t realized what a monster, and a childish one at that, her precious Joffrey is. She’s even delighted and amused when Joffrey is so convulsed with laughter that he spits wine.

And then … well, the entire confrontation between Joffrey and Tyrion plays out almost exactly as it does in the novel, and if possible, it is even tenser. I’ve got to hand it to GRRM: you know something bad is going down from the moment Tyrion verbally smacks Joffrey down, but you assume it’s going to happen to Tyrion … that he’ll be driven past whatever reserves of patience and calm he has to say or do something that will be unforgivable. It’s one thing to smack Joffrey when he’s still just a prince, with only the Hound and the horses in the stable as witnesses. It would be something else entirely to cuss out the king, or worse, strike him in front of hundreds of witnesses at his own wedding. And I honestly thought, the first time I read it, that that would be Tyrion’s downfall.

Instead, it’s Joffrey’s. But also Tyrion’s, as the distraught Cersei—showing herself as unreasoning at her son’s death as she was blind to her son’s life—points the finger at him.

But as delightful as it is to dance on the little shit’s grave, I suppose we should address the other two key parts of this episode: the ongoing saga of Lady Melissandre’s purgation of nonblievers in Stannis’ household, and Bran’s evolving talents as a skinchanger and seer. What did you make of the Stannis bits, Nikki? That scene does not, to the best of my memory, appear in the novels.

Nikki: You mean something ELSE happened in this episode? I’ll have to consult my notes… why yes, you’re right. I wanted to note first the sheer beauty of the production of the wedding scene: from the fire eaters and jugglers to the music and the banners; from the gorgeous dresses and hairstyles to the setting (I believe they actually filmed this scene in Croatia), once again the production values and set design of this show just send it soaring above everything else on television. And you commented on the direction of this scene, which is so true: Joffrey’s antics with the little people dancing about in their silly costumes is one thing, but far more important are the reactions to those around him, and I think the look on Varys’s face is the most telling of all. He’s the spider, the one who flits from side to side, knowing exactly what to do or say that will keep him alive, but still performing his little Machiavellian machinations behind the scenes.

Other reactions to the pantomime:

Varys is the one who has arranged for Shae’s comfortable life across the sea; it just took Tyrion to be cruel enough to get her on the boat (another terrible moment in this episode that is overshadowed by the ending). Tyrion certainly looks devastated when Joffrey chops the book to bits, but much of his moroseness can be chalked up to the fact that he’s just overheard Cersei consulting with Tywin, and he knows what he has to do. He finally found someone who was able to look past his physical stature to love the man, and he has to give her up. “You’re a whore! Sansa is fit to bear my children, and you are not.” Watch the body language in this scene; he stutters and stammers his way through his speech, and is unable to look Shae in the eye as he does so. What he’s doing is saving her life, but he’s destroying her soul — and part of his own — in doing so.

But now… to Dragonstone! “Lord of Light protect us, for the night is dark and full of terrors!” As we know, his wife is more of an acolyte and devoted follower of the Lord of Light than is Stannis, and when we first arrive at Dragonstone in season 4, it’s to see Selyse’s own brother being burned at the stake as a heretic. While most sisters would be horrified, begging Melisandre to reconsider, Selyse is so filled with the spirit of the Lord of Light that her face is glowing, and she looks like she’s on the verge of ecstacy. “Did you see? Their souls. It was their souls. Our Lord took them, did you see?” Stannis turns in disgust and walks away. I don’t think he saw what Selyse saw. Davos catches up to him to remind him what a travesty this is, that Stannis’s own father had worshipped the Seven Gods, and he was turning his back on his own tradition. Stannis just bluntly states that he’d told his brother-in-law to tear down his idols, and he’d refused. There’s very little conviction in Stannis’s voice; he believes in the Lord of Light — he definitely saw something come out of Melisandre back in the second season — but the Lord did him no favours at Blackwater, and there is doubt on his face. If he keeps killing the soldiers who don’t believe in Melisandre’s religion, he won’t have any left.

“Did you see, Ser Davos? They’re with our Lord now, their sins all burnt away. Did you see?” says Selyse, still beside herself with joy. “I’m sure they’re more than grateful, my queen,” Davos responds with fake sincerity, to the chagrin of Melisandre.

It’s interesting how the rituals to worship the Lord of Light always seem to happen in the dark.

Later, Melisandre goes to see Stannis’s daughter, and she’s gentle and kind, and tells Shireen that she doesn’t believe in a heaven and a hell, just a heaven. The only hell, she says, is the one we live in now. It’s rather difficult to disagree with her on that one.

I’m fascinated by the religion on the show (and as I’ve said before, it’s explained much better in the books) simply because in our world, so much of the turmoil, war, and hardship seems to stem from clashes of religious beliefs, far more than territory or personal grievances. Each group seems to worship someone different in Westeros, and while it rarely comes up as a topic of warfare, when it comes to Stannis, the religion and his devotion to Melisandre (which is stronger than his devotion to the Lord of Light) has been helping him make decisions. There’s an uneasy look on his face, however, that he’s not so sure about the results of those decisions so far…

One quieter aspect of religion on the show is the weirwood, the white trees with red leaves and sap that the Starks have always turned to in times of sorrow. What did you make of the Bran scene in this episode, Chris?

Christopher: Frankly, the Bran scene was a bit of a relief. For so long he’s been carried and dragged northward, with Jojen and Meera telling him how important he is, but with only a few exceptions—mostly when he sees through his direwolf’s eyes—we haven’t really had much evidence that this is in fact the case … instead, we’ve been treated to a rather tedious and uneventful journey north. It is a welcome change to have such a vivid scene in which we see through Summer’s eyes as he brings down a kill, and be about as irritated as Bran to be yanked out of it. Jojen reiterates a point (I think) he’s made before: that it is dangerous to spend too much time in your animal’s mind, for the longer you’re in there the more tenuous your grasp on your own humanity. His little speech does a good job in reminding us of the temptation for Bran: to be able not only to walk, not only to run, but to hunt, and be the master of the forest … “It must be glorious,” Jojen acknowledges, and for crippled Bran, who suffers the daily humiliation of having to be carried everywhere, it must be like a drug. But one that is, as Meera warns, just as addictive and even more dangerous.

It is not, apparently, just Summer who offers Bran oracular sight, however—the weirwood he touches gives him a series of visions more vivid than any he has yet experienced: he has visions of the past (his father polishing Ice in the Godswood, the tombs beneath Winterfell, himself falling from the tower); he sees his three-eyed crow; he sees the massive shadow of a dragon over King’s Landing; and he has the same vision Daenerys did in the House of the Undying, of a roofless and snow-filled throne room in King’s Landing. And repeated several times is the image of a great weirwood, with the whispered words “Look for me beneath the tree.”

It’s the first time since the assassin attempted to kill the sleeping Bran that any part of his storyline has given me chills. Any final thoughts, Nikki?

Nikki: I, too, got chills, and it was a thrill to see Ned Stark again, even if it was just a flash of his face from some piece of stock footage. I still miss him…

I’m definitely excited about next week’s episode, and the fall-out of Joffrey’s murder. Tyrion is clearly in for a world of hurt, Tommen suddenly has a new and huge responsibility, and I hope Sansa’s able to get away before the Lannisters capture her. Until then!!

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Game of Thrones 4.01: Two Swords

Hello and welcome to season 4 of Game of Thrones! As always, I'm joined by my brother-in-arms, Christopher Lockett, a dear friend who was talking about George RR Martin and the Song of Ice and Fire series before anyone else I know. We're thrilled to be able to bring you the first three weeks immediately following the episodes. I'm actually on a plane flying over the Atlantic right now, and this has been posted in advance. We hope you enjoy!! And... cue the 23-minute theme song!

Nikki: Valyrian steel, murdered families, brothel visits, a Lannister hand nailed to a table, backstabbing, arguing, and a little shit of a king. 

Why, Game of Thrones must be back!!

I’m going to start with the one-handed knight himself, Jaime Lannister. The Kingslayer is back, and now owns a sword forged with Valyrian steel... Ned’s Valyrian steel, by the way. You would think Cersei would be falling at his feet in relief, that Tywin would finally have the beloved son at home and be holding a parade, and that Joffrey would be honoured to once again have his father uncle in the Kingsguard.

But it turns out, when you return to King’s Landing as damaged goods, your past deeds don’t mean shit. Ol’ Leftie is no longer the Great Kingslayer of old. Tywin tries to remove him from the Kingsguard, telling him instead to return to Casterly Rock and rule in his name. When Jaime is shocked at the suggestion, Tywin doesn’t mince words in telling Jaime that he’s a cripple, that he’s less of a man, that he can’t possibly properly protect the king, and that he’d basically receive an Honourable Discharge from His Highness The Little Shit. But Jaime pleads that his only wish is to serve, something that makes Tywin visibly sneer in disgust. He waves him away with the back of his hand, telling him to just take the damn sword, adding his biting goodbye: “A one-handed man with no family needs all the help he can get.”

Cersei spurns him, insipidly telling him, “You took too long,” when he told her what he did to fight his way back to her side. After her 45-second summary of The Series So Far, she pulls away from him like he’s some disgusting creature, whines that she’s had to live all alone all this time while being terrorized by her father, brother, and horrible son, and that he wasn’t there to save her. And then to return missing an appendage? He might as well slap her in the face. He’s no longer whole, and she doesn’t want him to touch her.

And finally, the little shit. Joffrey lords around the room, and Jaime doesn’t betray any surprise that his “nephew” has become even more insufferable than he’d been when Jaime left (Jaime probably saw it coming). As Jaime remains calm throughout the scene, constantly bowing to Joffrey’s insults and never failing to call him, “Your Grace,” Joffrey gets crueler and crueler. Jaime apologizes for not having been around, joking that he’d been a little busy. “Yeah, busy getting captured,” spits back Joffrey, immediately turning to the other guard for backup that he is simply HIGH-larious. Joffrey prances about the room, finally landing on a book that contains all the great deeds of the knights of King’s Landing. He flips through the pages with a purpose, posturing as he reads out the great deeds of Jaime’s predecessors with mock solemnity and awe. And then he gets to Jaime’s page, which is only half-filled, with a blank page beside it. He pretends to be shocked. “Someone forgot to write down all your good deeds!” “There’s still time,” whispers Jaime, with rage simmering just below the surface. “Is there? For a 40-year-old knight with one hand? How can you protect me with that?” “I use my left hand now, Your Grace. Makes for more of a contest.”

Jaime Lannister left King’s Landing as the great hope of the Lannister clan: he was the Kingslayer, Cersei’s lover, unknowing father of a king, unbeatable in battle, admired by all. He returns to a disappointed father, a disgusted lover, and a sneering king. He’s less than a man, worthless and a disappointment to everyone; his brains and brawn mean nothing to anyone because his body is damaged.

In other words, he’s become Tyrion.

Jaime is calm and measured in two of the scenes, doing a good job of suppressing his heartbreak with Tywin and keeping his head down and voice quiet around Joffrey. With Cersei he’s far more emotional and hurt, as if her rejection hurts him far more than the others. As he slams the book of knights closed after Joffrey leaves, we can see these comments are getting to him. Will it turn him against his family?

Later, with Brienne, she reminds him of his oath to protect the Stark children, or, in the immediate case, Sansa. He doesn’t know where Arya is, but Brienne tells him he must do everything in his power to keep Sansa safe. He argues that he can’t exactly steal her away from his own brother and whisk her off somewhere else to “keep her safe,” but she won’t listen, causing the two of them to banter back and forth like the days of old. “Are you sure we’re not related?” he says to her, clearly annoyed. “Ever since I’ve returned every Lannister I’ve seen has been a terrible pain in my ass. Maybe you’re a Lannister, too. You’ve got the hair for it… but not the looks.”

Brienne: [glare]

As an aside, I was a little surprised to hear Joffrey say that Jaime was a 40-year-old man. I remember back in season 1 being surprised to discover that Cersei was in her early 30s, so her age might have been mentioned at some point for me to have assumed her to be that young, and Jaime is her twin. Perhaps they’re simply changing the age at this point in the show because it’s less likely to believe you’re washed up at 32 than that you’d be washed up at 40. And now, being 40, I shall crawl away and cry.

This episode featured two new people: Prince Oberyn and his paramour, Ellaria, played by the gorgeous Indira Varma from Rome and Luther. What did you think of their portrayal here, Chris?

Christopher: I’m quite delighted with Oberyn and Ellaria. When I saw pictures of Pedro Pascal, the actor playing Oberyn, I wasn’t convinced—he looked at first glance to be too slight and a little too pretty to be playing the Red Viper of Dorne, who is described in the novel as somewhat more ruggedly handsome. But I have no complaints about how Pascal is playing him … he brings a dangerous calm to the character, a sense of the threat always simmering behind flat eyes. The confrontation with the Lannister men (not in the novel) was very well done, and conveyed precisely how dangerous—and how impulsive—he is. One of the things clearly communicated about Oberyn in the novel is that he is hot-headed, given to acting without thinking and doing it with no warning whatsoever. That’s obviously at play here, but it’s balanced by a cold deliberation and precision.

As for Indira Varma … well, I’m happy to watch her in anything, as she is not only mind-numbingly beautiful but is also an extraordinarily talented actor. But as Ellaria Sand? That is one of the best pieces of casting I’ve seen on this show so far (and that’s saying a lot). Though I think it’s worth mentioning—Lucius Vorenus, John Luther, and now Oberyn Martell? Isn’t she starting to get typecast as a woman drawn to mercurial, dangerous men?

With the arrival of Oberyn and Ellaria, we’re getting introduced to more of Westeros’ fraught and bloody history. Part of that history was recounted in the conversation between Tyrion and Oberyn, but it bears repeating: Rhaegar Targaryen was wed in a dynastic marriage to Elia Martell of Dorne, Oberyn’s sister. She had two children with him, but Rhaegar was in love with someone else (Lyanna Stark, sister of the lamented Eddard). It was in part Rhaegar’s ostensible abduction of Lyanna that drove Robert Baratheon (who was engaged to her) to rebel. When the Lannister forces sacked King’s Landing, Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane, brother to the Hound, raped and killed Elia and killed her two children. Since that day, the rage and desire for revenge has simmered in Dorne … and now the hot-headed Oberyn has come to King’s Landing with vengeance on his mind. This should turn out well.

Speaking of volatile creatures … oh, how Daenerys’ dragons have grown! They’re getting quite massive. And dangerous. I love the opening bit where we find Dany reclining on a rock with Drogon’s head in her lap, purring like a giant kitten. For a few moments we get to enjoy an entirely maternal moment: the Mother of Dragons looks here like a mother indeed, until her other children returns and, like this dickish older brother he is, Drogon steals their food. And when Daenerys attempts to play peacemaker … well, it’s all fun and games when her dragons scare the crap out of her enemies, but it’s another thing entirely when they turn on mom. “They’re dragons, Khaleesi,” Ser Jorah observes. “They can never be tamed. Not even by their mother.”

Um. OK, I think I might have noticed a slight flaw in Daenerys’ plan.

We’re also introduced in this episode to the newest incarnation of Daario Naharis. The impossibly handsome, cleft-chinned Adonis from last season has been recast with … Sonny, the heroin-addicted musician from Treme. I think I’m going to have to wait and see on this particular choice. It’s not that I don’t like Michiel Huisman as an actor (I loathed Sonny, but that spoke to the actor’s talent), but he is almost the antithesis of how I imagined Daario based on his description in the novel. The previous Daario also did not conform to the novel’s depiction, but he was at least more overtly handsome and smugly arrogant. Huisman has the swagger, but not the looks—and certainly, he’s far too scruffy to even remotely resemble the piratical mercenary we first meet in A Storm of Swords, who is described as having flamboyantly dyed hair and beard, clad in colourful silks, and twin swords whose pommels are shaped like women in wanton poses. (Full disclosure: in my dream casting of this series before HBO picked it up, I always imagined Daario played by Joseph Fiennes).

His apparent rivalry with Grey Worm is an invention of the show, and makes very little sense in terms of his character—Daario would never consider a eunuch (and a former slave at that) either his peer or his rival. And I don’t buy Grey Worm rising to Daario’s goads. Aside from the obvious joke about the pointlessness of dick-measuring, Daario would be as little concern to Grey Worm as vice versa. It makes for a fun little scene, but I just don’t buy it. And I found Daario’s flirtation with Dany far less convincing than last season’s … I didn’t care for Daario much last season either, but there was a more tangible chemistry. But I will withhold further judgment until I can wait and see.

What did you think of Sonny’s reincarnation as a swaggering sellsword, Nikki?

Nikki: It definitely took me by surprise, and made me confused; I tend to avoid Hollywood talk and didn’t know that Daario had been recast (after watching this episode, I looked it up and it would appear Ed Skrein, who originally played him, and who might have been the most beautiful man on the show, has been cast as the younger Jason Statham for the Transporter films and he left GoT to follow that opportunity. And, not having watched Treme in a while but instead more recently watching its far soapier network cousin, Nashville, my immediate response to my husband was, “Uh… what the hell is LIAM doing on Game of Thrones?!” And that accent? Terrible. Which is suprising, because he pulls off a great American accent in Nashville and Treme and rarely betrays that he’s actually Dutch, but he can’t seem to quite find the accent he’s looking for here. British? Northern British? South African? Perhaps that’s just growing pains, and he’ll be more comfortable with it in the scenes to come. If there’s one thing actors can get away with on Game of Thrones, it’s having strange accents. I say go with the Dutch, since Daario could pretty much have any accent; I’m not sure why they told him to try on British instead.

I thought he was intriguing and slightly dangerous and I didn’t know whether or not I could trust him when he was being played by Skein. I’m not sure Huisman can play him with that same enigmatic quality, but again, I guess time will tell.

What did intrigue me was the scene where he showed Daenerys the plants, explaining that when she enters Meereen (which you see in the opening credits for the first time), she’ll need to know the plants of the area, and the rivers, and the people. He shows her three plants, and that one is dull but makes an excellent tea, and the other strange and beautiful, also making a good tea. But the third one is the most beautiful and strange-looking of the three, and is poisonous. Like Dany’s dragons, she’s learning that things aren’t always as they seem. As you said, when Drogon turned and screamed at her before flying away, my heart sank: if you can’t tame the dragons, you can’t make them necessarily work for you. And without the dragons, Daenerys just lost her main source of strength. (I’m still rooting for her, though!)

I am happy to say that now that I’ve read the first book, I understand the whole Rhaegar thing so much more: before, it was something mentioned offhandedly all the time, but its true significance kept getting lost on me. Now I realize just how heinous the Mountain was, and what Rhaegar had to suffer through before he was killed, and also why Dany’s claim to the throne is such a strong one. But also how complicated Rhaegar’s situation was, and that he’s not exactly the good guy, either.

Speaking of complicated characters, let’s talk about Tyrion. I loved the scene of him with Sansa, as she sat at the table in her abject misery, thinking about what had been done to Robb and her mother and her sister-in-law that she’d never even met. The world has become hopeless to Sansa: she’s an orphan, her eldest brother is dead, as far as she knows Bran and Rickon were hanged and burned at Winterfell, and Arya is probably dead too. And she never had a particularly soft spot for Jon Snow, so I doubt he even enters her mind at this point. As far as she’s concerned, she’s all alone, and it won’t be long before the Lannisters have their way with her, too.

Tyrion happens to be one of those Lannisters, but he’s someone who’s been the butt end of every Lannister joke since he was born, so he sympathizes and identifies with Sansa and her pain. He creates a beautiful eulogy for Catelyn, telling Sansa, “Your mother, I admired her. She wanted me executed… but I admired her.” His words are very powerful, as he remembers how much Catelyn loved her children, and wouldn’t want Sansa to starve herself to death the way she is right now. But to Sansa’s mind, what point is there to eat and go on living? At least if she starves herself her death is in her own hands. As she gets up and tells Tyrion that she’ll be in the godswood because it’s the only place where nobody tries to talk to her, you can see the misery on his face. He actually cares about Sansa. He’s not in love with her — he’s still very much in love with Shae, which is why he pushes her away in this episode and seems terrified that she’s in his room — but he does care for her very much. But Sansa is not in the mood to be comforted by a Lannister, and we can hardly blame her.

Hm… of the three Lannister children, two of them are sympathetic to the Starks and want to protect the family from further harm. Unfortunately, Tywin, Cersei, and Joffrey are a more powerful triumvirate. But for how much longer?

Another person mourning the results of the Red Wedding is Jon Snow, who tells Sam how much he looked up to, and sometimes even hated, Robb for being so good at everything, prompting Sam to say that’s how he often feels about Jon. And then Jon must go before the Night’s Watch tribunal to answer for his connections to the wildlings… or “free folk” as he accidentally calls them. What did you think of this scene, Chris?

Christopher: What I liked about this scene was what I liked about Jaime’s successive humiliations: the show does a good job of taking what comprises pages and pages and pages in the novel(s) and compressing it into a few relatively short but deeply poignant sequences. Jon Snow’s interrogation at the hands of his old nemesis Allister Thorne and the newly-arrived Janos Slynt (whom you’ll recall was the treacherous captain of the city watch in King’s Landing, whom Tyrion sent to the Wall) is somewhat more protracted in the novel. What we lose in its abbreviation is Jon Snow’s initial humiliation when Slynt arrives, as he is thrown into a cell and forced to endure a host of sneering accusations. We get the gist of them in this brief scene, whose brevity is both a blessing (we don’t have to endure endless interrogation) and a curse (we lose some of the depth of feeling). There are also some chronological inconsistencies between the show and novel, but in the interests of not spoiling plot points I’ll wait to expound on them in a later post.

The scene between Jon and Sam is original to the show: though it certainly articulates feelings one suspects Sam has about Jon, Sam is never quite so bold in the novels. It was a nice moment, however … a pause before Jon faces the music, and a useful reflection on fraternal relationships (considering that Sam is now Jon’s brother in a way Robb never could have been).

Meanwhile, while Jon is having to atone for the fact that he slept with a wildling girl, the wildling girl in question is having to deal with accusations herself—even as she is obviously in the midst of plotting her revenge, fletching what appears to be an overabundance of arrows. Toramund’s question, “Do you plan on killing all the crows yourself?” has an obvious, if unvoiced, answer: “Just one … but I plan to make absolutely certain he’s dead this time.” Toramund’s accusation, “If that boy’s still walking, it’s because you let him go” is too true, and must rankle Ygritte’s wildling heart. There’s a cruel symmetry to Jon and Ygritte’s respective situations: they are both absolutely loyal to their people, yet in crucial ways they both betrayed them. But whatever the sanctity of Jon Snow’s vows, it is difficult not to see Ygritte as the wronged one in this equation—if only for purely emotional reasons.

Besides Ygritte’s enormous stockpile of arrows, things look bleak for Castle Black as we meet the reinforcements Mance Rayder has sent south of the Wall: Thenns, who in the novel are an entirely different breed of wildlings. The scene when they arrive does a good job of encapsulating the tribal divisions in Mance Rayder’s army, and reminds us of what he told Jon Snow last season: that the only reason he could actually get the wildlings to work in concert was their fear of the White Walkers. That doesn’t obviate their internecine conflicts and hatred—it just gives them a common enemy. Toramund is suddenly no longer the scariest wildling in the room, and the very question of Jon Snow’s betrayal, which he was berating Ygritte over a moment ago, becomes his own reason for being defensive. “I answer to Mance,” he growls when the leader of the Thenns challenges him on the same point. The newcomers appear as monsters from a nightmare, bearing tribal scars, contempt for weakness (which one would not have thought to seen in Toramund, or to have seen him get defensive about) … and a sack full of dismembered Night Watch brothers, which they proceed to spit and roast in preference to whatever game Toramund’s people were cooking.


What did you think of that scene, Nikki? And is it just me, or when you say “the Thenns,” does it sound like you’re referring to a one-hit 90s band?

Nikki: LOL!! I thought the Thenns were terrifying, which had a lot to do with the dark, one-note, foreboding music that played as they first walked into the canyon where the wildlings were sitting. (I just wanted to add that I loved watching Ygritte make the arrows, especially when she’d carefully slice the edges of the feathers.) But it also had a lot to do with their leader Styr, played by Yuri Kolokolnikov. I had to look him up, because he’s so mesmerizing I wanted to know what else I’d seen him in, but apparently this is his first English-speaking role. Was anyone else thinking Roy Batty from Blade Runner? Because I certainly was. But much scarier. I’m guessing the Thenns tattoo themselves by carving shapes into their skulls and then letting them heal? I second your [shudder] and raise you a [geeyaaaaahhh].

Of course, the scariest person in this episode was probably The Hound, and quite honestly, I’d love to see an Odd Couple–type show starring Arya and the Hound, just for their banter. (Of course, only after they’ve developed the Brienne and Jaime Hour.) They are hilarious, with Arya complaining about his stench to mocking him about his skewed morals.
Hound: “I’m not a thief.”
Arya: “You’re fine with murdering little boys but thieving is beneath you.”
Hound: “Man’s gotta have a code.”

I do hope I wasn’t the only one who was disappointed that the Hound wasn’t whistling “The Farmer in the Dell” while walking up to the inn immediately following this scene.

And what a scene it is. Arya and the Hound first peer in from the bushes, and he’s happy to just sit and watch and wait until the time is right. Unfortunately, when Arya spots Needle and the man who’d taken it from her, she changes his plans. Quick recap: Polliver is the guy who looks like Eddie from Nurse Jackie, who was working under the Lannisters when they attacked Yoren and then marched them to Harrenhal (that’s when Arya and Gendry, along with the others, were put in the pen and then pulled out one by one and tortured with rats inside buckets on their heads). He took Needle and killed Lommy, that little curly-headed kid who was with Arya. He’d been wounded when they attacked, and because they weren’t about to carry a kid back to Harrenhal, Polliver walked up to Lommy and pushed the sword up through his throat.

And now, Arya does the same to him. It’s a great scene, first with the Hound and Arya bickering in the bushes:
Arya: “He killed Lommy.”
Hound: “What the fuck’s a Lommy?”
Arya: “He was my friend. Polliver stole my sword and put it right through his neck… He’s still got it, my sword. Needle.”
Hound (sneeringly): “Needle. ’Course you named your sword.”
Arya: “Lots of people name their swords.”
Hound: “Lots of cunts.”

OK, so maybe the Odd Couple sitcom wouldn’t work on ABC.

When Arya runs to the inn, the Hound tries to stop her, but it’s too late. So he plays it cool, goes in, becomes belligerent, slurping rudely at his beer and demanding two chickens to eat, until the place goes nuts. And in the midst of the melee, with the Hound killing and maiming anyone who comes near, Arya manages to get Needle and return the favour that Polliver had given to Lommy. It’s a great moment, but also a shocking one — if you think of where Arya was just a few short months ago, she never would have been able to kill someone in cold blood like that. But now, not only does she do it, she enjoys it. The half smile that she gives as she looks down on him speaks volumes. Arya was never innocent, but we realize that she’s become ruthless when she has to be. Which she’s going to have to be if she’ll survive all of this. Both Maisie Williams and Rory McCann shine in this scene; they’re such fantastic actors. In this episode you see mutual loathing become mutual respect.

I think we’ve actually covered everyone at this point! Bran doesn’t appear in this episode, nor does Theon. Perhaps we’ll see them next week, along with what is probably going to be the Little Shit’s wedding. Is it too much to ask that he trips while coming back down the aisle and accidentally falls on someone’s sword? Because, other than being a truly awesome moment, it would certainly save Margaery from what will no doubt be the worst night of her life.

Any final thoughts?

Christopher: It was very wise of the writers to end this episode with Arya and the Hound … much of the rest was Red-Wedding reaction and Lannister angst (albeit very well done) and setup for what was to come in terms of the wildlings and the Wall. It was satisfying to conclude with a wee bit of the ultra-violence, no? I second your thoughts on the general awesomeness of Maisie Williams and Rory McCann—I was particularly taken with the way McCann plays the Hound’s studied hostility to his brother’s men. As you observed, he does not want to go into that inn … but when Arya effectively gives him no choice, he plays it with the cool menace of a man who holds his antagonists in utter contempt. The scene plays out almost precisely as it does in the novel, but with one crucial difference—something I will not mention here, because spoilers.

Well, that brings us to a close! It has been a long year waiting, and there’s always the worry that the new season will disappoint. But in the words of Syrio Forel: not today.