Monday, April 28, 2014

Game of Thrones: 4.04 Oathkeeper

Hello everyone, and welcome to week 4 of our Game of Thrones chat! For the first time this season, we're not posting immediately at 10pm following the episode because, well, we're watching the episode at the same time you are. And our time turners have been acting up lately, so we're unable to go back and write the episode in time for the ending. We're going to try our hardest to post every Monday night instead, so you just have to wait 24 hours for our posts... we hope not much longer than that.

This week covered a lot of story lines, and set the Twitterverse on fire for its deviations from the novels. By the looks of it, the White Walkers live in Middle Earth and their leader is Voldemort, and they turn babies into tiny Megaminds. Oh, and they do the ritual inside the tiny Stonehenge set used in This Is Spinal Tap. Or... not. Anyway, let's begin!

Nikki: Let’s start at the very beginning (cue Julie Andrews… on second thought, let’s not cue Julie Andrews…) with my girl Daenerys. As we discussed last week, she has raised a massive army based on loyalty and love and gratitude for freeing slaves. But there’s a new dark side that’s been cast with this week’s outing.

We begin with Grey Worm taking lessons from Missandei on reading or learning English (it wasn’t exactly clear to me what she was teaching) and they begin discussing who they were before Dany freed them. Grey Worm said he was always Unsullied, never anything before that, and Missandei doesn’t accept that, and tells him he needs to remember back to when he was a human being, before that was taken away from him. She remembers her village being burned, reminding me of the child from last week’s episode who watches his village being burned and massacred by the Thenns and wildlings; was she like him? Will he grow up to be a slave?

Grey Worm won’t remember this, because his brain has been washed clean of anything he ever was before the Unsullied, and despite what Missandei says, he doesn’t ever see himself returning to the Summer Isles. “Kill the Masters…” he mutters to himself. And, in an uncomfortable return to his roots, he dresses up as a slave along with other former Unsullieds and they sneak into the tunnels where the slaves of Meereen are discussing whether or not to rise up against their masters, falling heavily on the side of “not.” This scene is made even more intriguing because of the “disguises” that Grey Worm and his fellow soldiers are wearing — they aren’t posing as slaves, but showing the other slaves that they were once just like them, and now, with the weapons they have brought to them, they too can free themselves of the masters. The powerful become so because they convince the weak they are, well, weak, and the vulnerable people never actually look at their numbers and realize hey, there are more of us than there are of them! (Think of high school classroom politics: there are usually about 10 “popular” kids in each grade, and 50 “unpopular” kids… but no one ever actually runs those numbers to realize how preposterous it all is.)

But here’s where it gets interesting. The slaves do rise up and quash the masters while declaring fealty and love to their new Mhysa, Daenerys calls for an eye for an eye, wanting the masters crucified at the same mile markers as they’d crucified their slaves. Ser Barristan Selmy tries to advise her against it, telling her that she should answer injustice with mercy. She defiantly tells him she will answer injustice with justice, and the men are hammered into the posts, with their left hands nailed to the horizontal slab of wood, while their left hands are nailed to their ribcages, just as they’d done to their slaves. Now, instead of 163 slaves, you have countless masters pointing the way to Meereen with their grisly bodies, and Daenerys shows them absolutely no mercy as she stands at the top of the tower of Meereen, just as she showed no mercy to Doreah, her handmaiden, and Xaxos, whom she locked in the vault for eternity back in Qarth. As the sigil of the House of Targaryen waves behind her, we hear the screams of the fallen masters below, echoing up to the Khaleesi like a national anthem.

Translation of what he's saying: "Owwwwwwwwwww!"

Now, while I’m focusing here on the opening of the episode, I saw Twitter explode at 10pm over some major deviations from the book. Am I right in assuming (from what I could gather over there) that the end of the episode, with the white walkers, is actually from future books and not from the third book, Chris?

Christopher:  There were rather a large number of deviations from the novels in this episode. The one thing the Mereen sequence hewed to was the way in which Daenerys’ people entered the city through the sewers. They did that in the novel, too … except there it was Jorah and Barristan leading an actual attack. And they were in the vanguard for reasons I cannot share here for fear of spoilers. Suffice to say, we’re rapidly arriving at a point where the series is making irrevocable changes: the nature of the subjugation of Mereen, the presence of Locke (not a GRRM character) at the Wall, the scenes at Craster’s, Bran’s capture, Margaery’s secret midnight rendezvous with Tommen, and of course the final scene with … a White Walker? It was a Walker who took Craster’s boy to the mini-Stonehenge, but it looked like an entirely different race/species of ice demon who touched the infant and transformed him.

The thing is: unlike other televisual adaptations of novels (Dexter, for example), Game of Thrones has worked in pretty close concert with the writer, from having him on board to write an episode every season, to demanding his notes as a condition of the contract (in case he dies before finishing the series), to generally using him as an invaluable resource. All of which tells me that nothing happens without GRRM signing off on it (officially or otherwise). Which raises an interesting question: is that scene in the mini-Stonehenge at the end of this episode a spoiler? Does it reveal something that we’re going to learn about in The Winds of Winter? Are Weiss and Benioff giving us a glimpse of what we can expect from future novels? Or are they merely inventing something that GRRM leaves implicit?

But to get to the substance of the episode … we must be approaching the mid-point of the season, because tonight’s episode was one of those in which a huge amount of stuff happened, but there was no particular note that resonated—nothing that will have the proverbial water coolers abuzz with discussion (excepting those water coolers populated by people who have read the novels, apparently). Which is not to say this wasn’t a good episode, just that it was one of those bridges we tend to see mid-season that moves the story along without offering any truly OMG moments. I suppose the one thing approaching that in this episode is the sort-of reveal of who actually killed Joffrey. But we’ll come to that later.

After the Mereen sequence, we’re back in King’s Landing … and oh, my, but Jaime has been getting much better fighting with his left hand. Until Bronn again teaches him an abrupt lesson and smacks him across the face with Jaime’s right hand. This was a nicely-crafted scene for a variety of reasons—some of which I cannot mention, because spoilers. But if I can drop hints, their discussion about how Tyrion evaded Lysa’s grasp by demanding the right of trial by combat is something to keep in mind. Bronn reminds Jaime that Bronn only ended up standing for Tyrion because Lysa (or as I suppose we now have to call her, the future Mrs. Littlefinger) asserted that the combat must happen immediately … negating the possibility of waiting for Tyrion’s first choice of champion, his brother. Bronn tells Jaime that Tyrion knew he would have ridden day and night to defend his brother. But now?

Now Jaime is caught between love of his brother and love of his sister. And Tyrion is more than a little embittered by that fact, responding badly to Jaime’s attempts at banter, just as Cersei is more than a little paranoid about the fact that Jaime visited Tyrion. And at no point in that meeting between Jaime and his sister is there a hint, a sense, a reverberation of the fact that he raped her the last time we saw them together. What did you make of that, Nikki?

Nikki: I think, like everyone else watching last night, the moment Jaime entered the room I waited for there to be some comment about the rape. After all, the internet went crazy with the discussion over it last week. Yes, they have a history together, and yes, knowing these two I would presume their sexual relationship is a rather sado-masochistic one, and within the parameters of what they are used to, perhaps, maybe part of their foreplay is for her to say no and him to say yes. But… he did it beside their son’s corpse. The very setting of the rape defines it as rape, whether she was hesitantly welcoming or not. She is at the lowest moment of her life emotionally, her father just reminded her that she will never have power and as long as he can manipulate Tommen the power will be his, she knows that Margaery will have her talons in Tommen in no time (and we all know what Cersei thinks of Margaery), and she believes her younger brother is her son’s murderer. And also, with the exception of standing by her son's corpse, I don't think we've seen her at all this season without a drink in her hand. 

But maybe the writers want us to see it as just another day in Westeros. After all, we’re not screaming about the injustices being done to the Craster daughters right now at Craster’s Keep. And we didn’t even mention what was happening to the innkeeper’s daughter when the Hound and Arya showed up to kill Polliver and his crew. Or how about Sansa just being betrothed to whomever suits Tywin’s fancy? Or Margaery being used as a pawn for the Tyrell family, being married off to unsuitable men just to further their power? Or, you know, Viserys telling his little sister to strip and clean herself in boiling hot water right after he tweaks her nipple and slaps her ass? We swoon over the relationship between Khal Drogo and Daenerys, and overlook the fact that he rapes her on their wedding night (she’s 13 in the books, and on the show is sobbing openly as he has sex with her) and she must take charge of their sexual relationship in order for him to respect her.

There have been many words written about the complicated portrayal of women in GRRM’s novels and on the show. It’s the most positive portrayal of women on TV right now. It’s an incredibly negative and nasty portrayal of women on TV right now. It shows women rising up and being powerful. It shows women as helpless and powerless in the face of a masculine universe.

I think it’s all those things, which is why I could turn this into a giant paper on feminist responses to Game of Thrones and why they are correct and why they are terribly wrong. But I won’t. Because our posts are already too long as it is. :)

Suffice to say, I wasn’t exactly surprised when Jaime walked in and there was no mention of it, because I think Cersei has resigned herself to being a pawn in the masculine Lannister family: aside from whatshername who was stuck on a boat and sent to Dorne, I can’t name another female Lannister. (Come to think of it, I guess technically I can’t even name THAT Lannister. Starts with an M. I’ll think of it.) Cersei is alone in this family, and has always been alone in this family. Her mother died giving birth to Tyrion, and the only comfort and acceptance she’s gotten has been in the incestuous arms of her twin brother. Tyrion loathes her, her father dismisses her, she was married off to a boor of a man… being raped beside her son’s corpse probably feels like a Tuesday to Cersei, not a monumental event that will shatter her psychologically. She lives in a different world than we do. Does that make it right? No. Does it make my love of Jaime and his character more complicated now? Absolutely. Am I happy that Brienne went off and left Jaime behind so we can love Brienne while having to work out our difficult feelings about Jaime separately? YES.

(Myrcella. Her name was Myrcella. Whew.)

I adore Brienne, and have from the beginning. As I said to my husband last night, I’m still in awe over the perfect casting of this woman. “Find me a woman who’s 6-foot-3, very plain-looking, almost unattractive and man-like, and yet very feminine, beautiful in the right light, who can play tough and vulnerable at the same time.” I can only imagine how much the casting director must loathe GRRM at times… and yet, they found the perfect woman. Brienne is tough, but very vulnerable and lost at times; plan and masculine-looking (Pod calling her “Sir” is hilarious) and yet gorgeous — none of us shall forget what she looked like in that hot tub — very tall, and yet one who can be made to look small just by the look on her face. We almost never see her smile, which I’m sure is one of the actress’s tricks; if she did smile, she would probably be beautiful, so she keeps her face very shocked and angry-looking all the time, and it works. As she rode off on her horse with Podrick at her side (what a GREAT duo, I never would have thought of it but can’t wait to see what they do with it), my husband said, “I really hope they have a great storyline for her, because she’s one of the best characters on the show.” Yes she is. Let’s put her in the “GRRM writes amazing female characters” category.

In the scene that you mentioned with Tyrion and Jaime, Tyrion is very quick to defend his wife’s honour, telling Jaime that she couldn’t have killed the king. “Sansa’s not a killer . . . not yet, anyway,” he says. I immediately wondered if that was foreshadowing. We cut to Sansa being over on the ship with Baelish and saying the same thing about her husband, that there’s simply no way he could have done it. I love that the writers on the show have included scenes of Sansa and Littlefinger in every season, as if building up to them ending up on this ship together in the fourth season. What did you think of their conversation, Chris?

Christopher: I loved it. There have been some wonderfully crafted character arcs on this show; one of the best things about the revolution in television these past ten years or so has been its ability to employ its long-form storytelling in the service of developing layered, complex characters who evolve as they suffer life’s indelicacies. And the best shows take their time, so that the Ellis Carver we see in the final episode of The Wire or the Jesse Pinkman at the end of Breaking Bad are utterly different people than they were at the start. We see this most strikingly in Game of Thrones, I’d argue, with Arya; but Sansa’s evolution has been far more subtle and in some ways far more profound. She did not have much to do last season as she languished in King’s Landing, but we see from her conversation with Littlefinger that she has been paying attention.

And you’re absolutely right, Nikki, to observe that we’ve been privy to a handful of strategically placed scenes between Sansa and Littlefinger that, taken individually, don’t amount to much—but by the time Sansa clambers over that ship’s rail, the two of them have established a connection. Or rather, Littlefinger has established a connection with Sansa, who was certainly unaware that anything was happening. Their conversation thus is as much of a reveal as when we first saw Littlefinger again—as Sansa slowly starts to piece things together, we see she’s pretty damn far from the obnoxious child she was in season one.

If this season is teaching us anything about politics in Westeros, it’s that it doesn’t pay to be a capricious or unpredictable king. We see Tywin’s satisfaction at the malleable and decent Tommen, Tyrion wonders if his father is responsible for Joffrey’s death for the sake of stability, and here Littlefinger confesses to orchestrating Joffrey’s death because “he was not a reliable ally.” And … cut to the other half of the conspiracy, in which we see Olenna and Margaery spinning their own plot … though not until Olenna shares a scandalous little secret, namely that she seduced her late husband away from her sister and basically ensnared him by being so spectacular in bed that he was helpless before her (and speaking as someone who first discovered The Avengers and the knee-trembling spectacle of Diana Rigg in a catsuit when I was about Tommen’s age, her claim to have been “very good” rings absolutely true).  Keep in mind, of course, that she hasn’t yet spoken of her late husband with anything other than contempt until this moment: her nostalgia for literally fucking him into submission betrays no pleasure at the memory, just pleasure in remembering how good she was. There is no affection here, just satisfaction at having played the game well … and reminds us that Olenna, like Tywin and Littlefinger, has absolutely no sentimentality for anyone but her inner circle, seeing people as objects to be used as means to an end.

Reflecting back on your earlier comments, Nikki, I’d add that in addition to depicting a neomedieval world in which cruelty and pain are inescapable facts of life, Game of Thrones does something that Rome also did wonderfully—namely, to counterpoise masculine and feminine power. The scheming of Atia and the feud she engages in with Servillia have a lot in common with the behind-the-scenes maneuvering done by Olenna, as well as the nascent conflict with Cersei.

With Joffrey out of the way, they now need to consolidate power by taking control of Tommen—which Olenna knows will be difficult, as Cersei will guard him like Cerberus. Did you catch Margaery stroking her necklace? A nod’s as good as a wink to a blind man, and that read rather loudly as an assertion that Margaery and Olenna are pretty much willing to do whatever the hells they need to get what they want.

Which for the moment, fortunately for Cersei, involves sneaking into Tommen’s bedchamber. Margaery mercifully does not employ her grandmother’s tactic and go all statutory-rapey on Tommen, but proceeds with a little more subtlety. What did you make of that scene, Nikki?

Nikki: Nudge nudge… say no more. First of all, I do have to say I didn’t see Tommen coming. The kid’s been in a handful of scenes and has barely uttered more than a grunt, and I never even noticed him standing there. I was going to say last week that the casting directors were once more brilliant in casting this kid way back in season one before he actually had to do anything spectacular… until I checked this week and discovered that no, he’s actually being played by a new actor this season. That makes a little more sense. But, at the risk of being totally cougary myself, I do have to say they’ve cast a really good-looking guy to play him. I don’t know yet if he has any charisma in the books, but so far the actor is playing him as cautious and smart, yet wide-eyed and quiet. And when Margaery comes into the room to see him and Mr. Pounce joins them on the bed, let’s just say when she leans forward to talk to Tommen, I don’t think Mr. Pounce was the only thing jumping up in that scene. She’s as brilliant as her grandmother when it comes to subtlety and tactics, and just like Grandma Peel (yes, when Olenna made the comment about being really fantastic back in the day, my mind immediately went to Emma Peel in a catsuit, too!), Margaery knows how to use her feminine wiles to get what she wants. I love that she’s able to control Tommen far more than she ever could Joffrey, which not only makes me intrigued for the little “secrets” they’re going to keep from Cersei, but also hopeful that for once, maybe one of her kingly husbands might actually survive the marriage.

Speaking of getting things up, let’s move northward, shall we?  (In case you’re wondering, I’m in a self-imposed contest to come up with the worst segue ever. I’m thinking that one might be a major contender.)

Over at Craster’s Keep, Karl Tanner is holding court, using dialogue from the Al Swearengen School of Emoting. I recently stayed with a couple of friends in the UK and they showed me several episodes of The Thick of It, starring Peter Capaldi as a foul-mouthed governmental director of communications, but in these scenes in this week’s Game of Thrones, Owen from Torchwood makes Capaldi’s character look like a Sunday school teacher. As he drinks wine from Mormont’s skull, he lords over everyone else, encouraging them to fuck the girls to death (subtle, dude) and take what’s theirs. In the background you can see Craster’s daughters in various stages of undress, beatings, and being brutally raped. It’s a horrific scene, made worse when the old woman comes in carrying yet another male heir of Craster. The mother in me cringed at the newborn baby playing the role of the newborn baby, and I remember thinking note to all expecting mothers: do NOT agree to let your newborn baby appear in an episode of Game of Thrones. It never turns out well for the wee bairn.

But THEN… Bran moves into the mind of Summer and sees Ghost (a reunion of direwolves!!) and then the whole lot of them gets caught. And THEN… they beat on Hodor and stab him. I had no idea how much I loved the big lunk until that happened, and then I was furious and frightened that this might be the end of the character. I literally sat up straight on the couch and yelled, “DON’T YOU DARE HURT HODOR!!” When Tanner smacks Bran and jokes that where he came from in Gin Alley, if he’d struck a highborn he would have lost his right hand, I couldn’t help but think please please please let this be foreshadowing. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from Game of Thrones so far, the pricks seem to get theirs in the end. I’m gleeful about what could possibly be awaiting Tanner.

I was shocked when you said that Locke wasn’t in the books, Chris; you did actually say that back when he was lopping off Jaime’s hand, but of course I’d entirely forgotten that you did until you just mentioned it again. So if it’s not in the book, I wonder if we should fear Locke at all, since one would assume Bran’s story wouldn’t be messed with in a big way (i.e. you wouldn’t kill off Bran on the show if he survives in the book)… or would it? With all the divergences from the book that you mention above, it made me think that maybe the Game of Thrones guys are either doing what you said — they know the ending to the books and are now turning things more quickly to that end, knowing they can’t keep the show going for another eight years — or they’re following The Walking Dead’s lead on moving so far away from the books that the readers can no longer predict what’s coming next … to the extent that when something major DID happen this past season that was exactly from the books, it caught everyone — including the readers — off-guard.

My guess is the first, because what has really set GoT apart from so many other adaptations is its fealty to the books, and I would hate for that to be destroyed. But now I also see why the readers would be up in arms: you all choose to read the books because you want to read it from GRRM first, and don’t want the show to spoil it for you, whereas those of us who started on the show watch it first and read later. But if they’re going to jump ahead and include information from future books that haven’t yet been released, they’re taking the choice out of the hands of the reader/viewer and surprising them with spoilers.

Any final words about Locke and those white walkers at the end, Chris?

Christopher: Locke’s current role is puzzling. I understood why they created him initially; in the novels, Jaime’s hand is cut off by a psychotic group of mercenaries called the Bloody Mummers, who had originally worked for the Lannisters, but then switched sides to Roose Bolton. So the series was consistent insofar as Jaime loses his hand to Bolton’s men. But the whole infiltration of the Watch and the capture of Bran are huge deviations from the novels. Assuming they mean for Bran to escape and carry on north, then this is just a little diversion from his main storyline—probably created because Bran’s storyline is otherwise JUST SO DAMN BORING. But Locke seems to be developing into a fairly significant character. I have a few thoughts about how this might play out so that the main storyline is preserved, but I think I’ll keep them to myself for the moment.

Though it is worth pointing out that, to go on this mission, Locke must take the oath. And while he presumably plans to desert and return to Roose Bolton, the penalty for desertion is death. Full stop, no appeal. However much the Night Watch is mocked in the southern regions of Westeros, that law is about as absolute as they come. Would Roose shelter him? If I was Locke, I’d be leery of trusting Roose Bolton with my life…

As for the White Walkers … I suppose it’s possible that we’re getting a glimpse into the books’ mythology, something that won’t necessarily be made explicit in them. Why do the White Walkers demand this horrifying sacrifice? What happens to the babies? Well, now we know—they’re made into more White Walkers (not such a great galloping shock, that).

But I’m not overly concerned with the series deviating in any fundamental way from the books, and not just because the outcry from the fans would be enormous. It makes a certain amount of sense for series like Dexter or The Walking Dead to go off in their own directions: the Dexter novels are discrete, stand-alone stories, and (from what I can glean) the Walking Dead graphic novels could potentially go on forever, as there is no cohesive, overarching story. But A Song of Ice and Fire is building to a specific conclusion (dragons, meet White Walkers; White Walkers, these are Daenerys’ dragons), and the showrunners have in their possession GRRM’s notes and plot outline. I have to assume that the changes they make, however baffling, won’t paint them into a corner. It’s sort of like when J.K. Rowling read the screenplay for The Order of the Phoenix, and asked “What happened to Kreacher?” The writers said they left him out. “Noooo …” said Rowling. “He’s actually kind of important.” So we have a brief little glimpse of the sour house-elf.

Well, that wraps things up for another week! Once again, Nikki, a pleasure. We’ll see everyone here next Monday. In the meantime, as my favourite CBC personality used to say, be cool, stay warm, and be good to the people you love. And strongly encourage your cousin to switch her wedding venue from Westeros to Narnia. Even if she loses the deposit.

Monday, April 21, 2014

You Can Watch Joss Whedon's New Film RIGHT NOW

We interrupt the usual Monday morning water cooler talk about last night's Game of Thrones for an important announcement: Last night Joss Whedon premiered his new film, In Your Eyes, at the Tribeca Film Festival, and then announced that as of this morning, it's available worldwide for digital download for the princely sum of five bucks.

You can see his announcement here, and go here to rent the movie.

I know what I'm doing tonight!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Game of Thrones 4.03: "Breaker of Chains"

Welcome to week 3 of the season 4 reviews by myself and my cohort — Christopher Lockett: Newfie Batman. 

So after the massive dollop of awesome that was the Purple Wedding last week, this week we get the fallout. Before we get started, I actually wanted to point out some behind-the-scenes action. This is the last week where we'll be going live immediately at 10pm, following the episode, because HBO only supplied us with the first three episodes to watch in advance. And interestingly, on our copies of the recordings, there are several scenes that flash "TEMPORARY VFX" over major scenes, because they're still working out post-production on their end. Interestingly, when Chris and I watched the Great Joffrey Assassination of 2014, his face wasn't purple at all. What I posted last week...

... is exactly what we saw. In post-production they turned it into this:

His face is far ghastlier, his eyes more glazed over, there are rivers of blood from both nostrils, not just the one, and, most noticeably, the boy is purple. It was more of a "yellow wedding" on the copy that we saw. (During the actual wedding celebration, there's also a lot of green screen still happening, with green dresses, green hair, etc. that you know will be filled in later with far more lavish things.) So each week, it's as much a treat for Chris and I to rematch and see what they ultimately turn it into as it is for you to watch it for the first time. But now... on to the episode!!

Nikki: And the episode begins with Sansa racing off across the waters, escaping the accusations of the Lannisters for the death of the Little Shit (one week later, STILL GLORIOUS) and her connection to Tyrion, and is placed safely in the hands of…


From one psychopath to another. Now, as we discussed back in our book discussion, Lord Baelish is more sympathetic in the books (we see how Catelyn mocked him and how much he yearned for her love but was physically helpless to fight in any battles to win her hand) but on the show, he’s a scheming bastard who in season 3 arranges for the torture and death of Ros, the prostitute who’d been working for him and who he assumed betrayed him. The last we see of him is having a verbal sparring match with Varys, telling him that he believes chaos is necessary to move ahead. He has already asked Sansa once to join him on his ship, and she refused, and so, we assume, he leaves for the Vale of Arryn…

…when in fact it looks like he just threw down an anchor and tried to come up with a new plan to get Sansa on that ship. And if this means that he is behind Joffrey’s death somehow… woo, that plan was a doozy. In the previous episode, Ser Dontos approaches Sansa with a necklace that he says belonged to his mother and is the only thing of value that he owns. He’s thanking her for saving his life back at the beginning of season 2, when she talked Joffrey out of beheading Dontos and making him the king’s fool instead. But it turns out the necklace was a ruse to get Sansa on-side. Dontos clearly didn’t think he was betraying Sansa or putting her in harm’s way, and was instead saving her from certain death at the hand of the Lannisters (which is probably true). Because of Baelish’s unrequited love for Catelyn, one assumes he’ll keep Sansa safe, not only because she’s the daughter of his great love, but because she looks like Catelyn, and he appears to be partly in love with Sansa, too. But when it comes to Baelish, one should never assume anything. Just like the lovely Ser Dontos never should have assumed he could have done a job for Baelish and gotten out of this alive.

And man, that ship must have been anchored waaaay out in the waters, since it was mid-day when Sansa got into the dinghy, and it appears to be midnight when she gets to the boat.

Were you happy to see Littlefinger again, Chris?

Christopher: I keep thinking to myself, there’s something to be written about the fairly singular pleasure those of us who have read the books have in anticipating key moments as they occur in the series: both in terms of wondering how they will be rendered, whether they’ll be done well or not (and so far, to my mind, there haven’t been any missteps); and in terms of anticipating how you lot who haven’t read the books will respond. When the shadowy man who has helped Sansa onto the ship steps back and we see Littlefinger, I came close to punching the air and saying “Yes!” Not because I didn’t know it would be him, but because the reveal was crafted so beautifully. Knowing that you, Nikki, and thousands of other people who haven’t read the books were having a frisson of shock and surprise was almost as good as experiencing it myself. Or perhaps even better. I’m sure the Germans could come up with a word for the experience.

All of which is by way of saying: yes, I am delighted to see Littlefinger again. Though I did wonder (out loud, in fact) “what that hell’s going on with his voice?” It’s like Littlefinger suddenly remembered he was Irish. And don’t get me wrong—I love hearing Aiden Gillen speak with his natural accent, but it was a bit surprising after hearing him speak in a neutral, clipped mid-Atlantic accent these past three seasons. Also, his voice was hoarser than normal … which I suppose is partly because he was whispering, but it was something of an odd effect. He sounded like Irish Batman.

One of the things I liked about this episode is the way, in the first three scenes, we get a contiguous set of schemes: first Littlefinger, then the Tyrell women, then Tywin staking immediate claim to the mentorship of the new king. Let’s talk about Margaery and Olenna first: this scene is understated but deeply significant, at once touching in the obvious affection Olenna has for her granddaughter but also a wonderful display of the Queen of Thorns’ ruthless pragmatism. A shame, she observes, that Joffrey did not have the courtesy of consummating the marriage before dying. Margaery perhaps can be forgiven for having a moment of despairing cynicism, wondering if she is cursed—but what is interesting is that she seems more concerned (however glibly) that she might herself be somehow deficient, rather than railing in totally justifiable anger at her role as a pawn in the game of thrones. Of course she doesn’t: she has shown herself to be precisely as pragmatic as her grandmother in the matter-of-fact way she dealt with Renly’s sexual preferences, and again in the shrewd way she worked with Joffrey, learning to seduce him not through sex but feigned interest in his enthusiasms. Her momentary despair comes from the fear that Joffrey’s untimely death has upset her family’s ambitions … but Olenna sets her straight, observing that “Your circumstances have improved remarkably.” After all, she points out, the Lannisters need this alliance—they cannot hold the throne without the power of Highgarden, and so will wed Margaery to the new king … who is younger, more malleable, and above all, not a psychopath. “You did wonderful work on Joffrey,” Olnenna compliments her, and adds “The next one should be easier.”

Cut to: the next one! Prince Tommen, standing beside his mother, gazing down at his elder brother’s corpse, complete with those flat stones with creepy eyes painted on them. Poor kid doesn’t look like he knows what to think … I mean, I can only imagine what it would have been like to be Joffrey’s little brother! (We get a somewhat better sense in the novels—for instance, Tommen had a pet fawn, which Joffrey killed and skinned and had made into a vest). On one hand he’s aware of the enormity of the situation, but on the other, he can’t be excessively sorry that the little shit is dead.

Enter Tywin, who proceeds to engage his grandson in a Socratic dialogue about what it takes to be king. What did you think of that scene, Nikki?

Nikki: Irish Batman, hahahahaha!!! I was wondering the same thing about that accent! “Where the hell has Baelish been sailing?!”

You wrote, “Tommen had a pet fawn, which Joffrey killed and skinned and had made into a vest.” Good Christ, he was even worse than I thought. Like many of the fans this week, I’ve been thinking how I would have liked to see Joffrey tormented the same way Theon has been before Joffrey finally kicked the bucket; he was let off too easily. Ugh.

Anyway, Tommen has been such a minor character thus far that I barely remembered he existed, but for the first time we see him step up and be questioned by Tywin, who is calm, pragmatic, and as you say, leads the conversation but requires Tommen to come up with the answers. Throughout this utterly brilliant bit of dialogue, I kept imagining Joffrey answering the same questions:

Tywin: Your brother is dead, do you know what that means?
Joffrey: It means the best man has won, and I AM KING! Bow down before me, Grandfather.
Tywin: What kind of king do you think you’ll be?
Joffrey: The ONLY king, Grandfather, does it matter what kind?! (swagger, looks to the left for confirmation from a guard, smirks, puts his hand on his sword) Now bow down before me.
Tywin: What makes a good king?
Joffrey: I’ll show you what makes a powerful king if you don’t bow down before me RIGHT NOW, Grandfather. How much do you like your head?

Instead, Tommen answers with humility and deep thought. He suggests “holiness” is an important quality. Tywin tells him about a man who was holy, but made a terrible mistake and died. Perhaps “justice.” Definitely important, says Tywin, but the most just king he can recall was killed by an unjust brother. “What about strength?” Tommen asks. For that one, Tywin pulls out Tommen’s own “father,” Robert Baratheon, and tells him how strength didn’t do him much good in the end. What do they all lack? “Wisdom,” Tommen answers wisely, and at home we think, oh my goodness, the Lannisters might actually have a shot under the rule of this kid. For the past three seasons, the Lannisters have been the bad guys, despite the fact both Jaime and Tyrion are two of the most sympathetic characters, and Tywin, despite having evil moments, is a genius. With Cersei and Joffrey in power, the Lannisters were loathsome, the house we were fighting against. And now, with Tommen, that might shift.

As Tywin and Tommen walk out, Tywin puts his hand on Tommen’s arm, a gesture I never saw him make with Joffrey, and one Joffrey never would have welcomed or even allowed. Tommen is wise, and he will listen to his even wiser grandfather.

Jaime enters the room to see Cersei, staring down at Joffrey (and I second your creeped-out feeling on those hand-painted stones for eyes, geeeyaaaah). I must mention that I thought Lena Headey was pretty fantastic in this episode and in the previous. There’s so much love for this little monster because at her heart, she’s a mother who loves her son no matter what. During the Tywin/Tommen scene she just continues to stare at her son’s corpse, with anguish on her face, at one point quietly suggesting this isn’t the time or place for this conversation. And now that Jaime enters the room, he rapes her beside their son’s corpse, an intensely uncomfortable scene. Was that in the books the same way, Chris?

Christopher: No, in the books Cersei was still reluctant, but Jaime didn’t force her. An important difference here between the books and the series is that Jaime doesn’t return in the novel until after Joffrey is killed. In fact, it is in the presence of Joffrey’s corpse that Cersei sees him again for the first time, and that simple difference makes the hasty, uncomfortable sex somewhat more understandable (if still awkward and creepy. Also, in the novel, Cersei is having her period, which makes the scene more than just figuratively messy). I wondered to myself whether this rape scene—because, really, there’s no other way to describe it—was written for the express purpose of denuding our growing sympathy for Jaime. He has gone from being a smug and hateful villain to someone far more sympathetic and thoughtful. Did the writers think he needed to be taken down a notch? Or perhaps Cersei raised a little in our sympathies?

One way or another, I think the scene was a catastrophic misstep, made all the worse by the fact that the bit leading up to it was amazing. I agree with you entirely: Lena Headey was phenomenal here, her grief palpable and no less powerful for the fact that we’re all sitting there shouting at her that her son was a monster (or maybe that was just me). Jaime’s confusion was also poignant, as was his shock when Cersei implores him to kill Tyrion.  

I think part of my problem with this scene is rooted in my problem with Lena Headey as Cersei. As you know, she has long been the one bit of casting that hasn’t worked for me, which is no reflection on Headey’s acting—I think she’s done a superb job. But she plays Cersei as cold and aloof. There is very little sensuality there, very little sense of the pungent sexuality that addles the minds of the men about her. Which wouldn’t be a problem if I had any sense of chemistry between her and Jaime when they’re alone—all of their scenes together, alone, have tended to be him being flirtatious or ardent and her being standoffish. The one time before this we see them having sex—the scene that ends with Bran being thrown from the tower—I did not get the sense that she was into it at all.

By contrast, in this scene, that first moment when they kiss was the first bit of real chemistry I’ve seen between them. For a moment Cersei loses herself—but quickly recalls her grief. Jaime’s anger at being rebuffed, and the expression on his face as he stares at her, is a great little bit of face-acting. You can see the tumult in his mind: his desire for the woman he loves, his jealousy that she is more interested in grieving her son than being with him (which is consonant with the novels: Jaime’s POV chapters make it clear that he’s more or less indifferent to the children he fathered on Cersei—all he wants is her), and his helpless anger at being caught between his love for his sister and his love for his brother. That, I think, is where the “You’re a hateful woman” line comes from, her outsized loathing of Tyrion, but it is also perhaps the realization of a painful truth long suppressed.

But the rape? Frankly, it makes no sense, not unless you’re truly invested in keeping Jaime firmly on the villain side of the equation. I think it would have been a more powerful scene if he had just stalked out after the “hateful” line, with Cersei’s pleas following him.

I have a sneaking suspicion this scene will be fodder for a lot of arguments.

One last word on Tywin’s Socratic lesson with Tommen: I think you’re being somewhat optimistic there, Nikki … yes, Tommen is far more thoughtful and kind than Joffrey, and yes, I think we can look forward to a more equitable kingship under Tommen (always assuming, of course, that the principals here escape GRRM’s capricious death pen); but I saw this scene as Tywin cementing his power. Joffrey was unpredictable; we know his petulance and childishness sat poorly with his grandfather (of the various theories about who the poisoner is circulating on the web, this scene gives weight to those saying it was Tywin, who didn’t like being hand to a sociopathic king). What is the ultimate and more crucial lesson for Tommen? Wisdom is the most important quality for a king. “But what is wisdom?” Tywin asks. “A wise king knows what he knows and what he doesn’t.” Which is to say: listen to your advisers. Which is to say: listen to me. “Your brother was not a wise king,” he tells Tommen. “Your brother was not a good king. Perhaps if he was, he’d still be alive.” This last sentence spoken with a glance over his shoulder at the grieving Cersei as he leads Tommen away. This for me was the crux of the scene: visibly separating Tommen from his mother as he continues to murmur advice in his ear, Tywin silently rebukes his daughter for having been so catastrophically indulgent with Joffrey.

The next scene brings us back to Arya and the Hound, whom we had left at the end of episode one having vanquished a handful of Arya’s foes. Then, we were all delighted by their newfound camaraderie … but in this episode? It strikes me that this episode is, in part, about disillusionment. What did you think of the Hound’s cynical treatment of their host, Nikki?

Nikki: Just as the scene with Jaime and Cersei reverses our sympathies on both of them, so does this scene with the host turn my sympathies against the Hound. And yet, at the same time, cements his place as a guy you don’t mess with. On the one hand, I thought it was a dastardly thing to do, so awful and thoughtless, basically ensuring that they’ll starve even faster than what the Hound assumed was already inevitable. But on the other, I wouldn’t want the Hound to turn into a puppy, and we were on the road to that happening. They need to keep showing his teeth to remind us that he’s dangerous, and I like that about the character a lot. I still love his sarcasm most (when Arya says she wants a map and he growls, “Just point out the next map shop you see and I’ll buy you one” he is utterly brilliant), but I like this sense of danger about him so we never get too comfortable around him. Just as a Hound should be.

Arya is constant in her sense of justice for the weak, and therefore turns on the Hound with furious vengeance, but he instantly puts her in her place, cutting her deep by aligning her with the weak hosts he’d just robbed by telling her the weak end up dead, and adding, “How many Starks do they have to behead before you figure that out?”

Harsh. But important for her to see and understand. By ensuring she never gets too comfortable with things, he also prevents her from ever letting her guard down, which could be the thing that saves her in the end.

Meanwhile, in the North… Sam is worried that Gilly is surrounded by too many men of the Night’s Watch, and therefore relocates her to Molestown, a horrible dump of a town nearby filled with frightening people who loathe anyone or anything that comes from north of the Wall. Yeah… Gilly will be totally safe there. Yikes. As she was trying to settle the baby and turned her back on Sam, my heart broke for him, but I also was terrified. Will she even make it through the night there? Is Sam doing the right thing at all?

And then there’s Tyrion, my favourite. Imprisoned, blamed for the death of his little shit nephew, he meets with Podrick, who tells him Sansa is gone and there’s no one left to vouch for him. Even at his lowest, he still manages to crack a joke, saying that Cersei is the only one he believes is innocent, “which makes this unique as King’s Landing murders go.” Ha!! But even more importantly, he begs Podrick to testify against him if that’s what they’ve asked him to do, because while he wants to be exonerated, and we know he didn’t do it, it would kill him for Pod to be somehow sacrificed in the name of Cersei wanting Tyrion condemned above all others. There’s never a sense of defeat about Tyrion, even as he looks worried about it, as if he knows somehow he’ll get out of this pickle despite his sister wanting his head on a spike. He knows Cersei’s weaknesses, and maybe he’s already putting together a plan of how he can use them. Or, perhaps, he has a better relationship with Tommen than we know at this point, and if, as you say (clearly having a better sense of Tommen/Tywin and their future from the books than we do from the show at this point), Tywin is the one who’s really in charge at King’s Landing, would he really let Cersei kill Tyrion?

Speaking of knowing what’s coming up while reading the books, last season you mentioned that Stannis using the leeches was going to become very important, and in this episode he takes credit for Joffrey’s death and relates it back to that scene. What did you think of all the Stannis/Davos material this week? (And also, did you catch the Monty Python reference when Shireen tells him you can’t pronounce “knight” like “kuh-niggit”? Ha!!)

Christopher: I laughed almost as hard as when the Hound said, in the first episode, “Man’s gotta have a code.” I kind of love that the writers aren’t above tipping their hats to their audience. I also love the fact that, once upon a time, knight was pronounced “kuh-niggit” (or more like “kuh-nict,” actually), and that the Python boys all knew that (Terry Jones is actually a medieval scholar).

The Stannis/Davos scenes were much as their previous scenes have been this season—they feel a little like placeholders, reminding us that they’re there without doing much to advance that story. There was an acknowledgement of that in Stannis’ concern: that if he doesn’t press his suit, he’ll be forgotten. Certainly for the moment he’s doing little besides brooding on his rock while his wife descends further into religious fanaticism. That being said, there seemed to be the suggestion that Davos is about to change the game. The scene with Shireen was interesting, as it unfolded similarly in the novel—except that his epiphany was dramatically different, so I’m not sure what’s happening now, aside from that he seems to be about to take out a loan from the Iron Bank of Braavos … or possibly not. Recall from when Tyrion was Master of Coin last season, and he lamented the sorry state of the throne’s finances to his father? The Iron Throne was in a lot of debt to, among others, the Iron Bank. Perhaps Davos sees an opportunity …

But if I can return for a moment to the Hound and Arya scenes … the Hound is such a great character, in both the series and the novels—and Rory McCann has done a spectacular job in portraying his odd blend of pathos, cruelty, and personal ethics, all sedimented over top of profound, roiling anger. GRRM does a disturbingly good job of depicting out-and-out sociopaths like Joffrey, Viserys, or the Hound’s brother Gregor, but it’s the characters like Sandor Clegane that set these novels apart and add a degree of complexity you don’t find in fantasy that imitates the Tolkien model. He is a distinctly Darwinian character: adaptable but merciless in the face of weakness. He is not wantonly cruel—he leaves the farmer and his daughter alive and unmolested—but unsentimental. He made a cold calculation: sooner or later other bandits would be along to kill the man and his daughter for their silver. If they’re about to lose it anyway, it might as well go in his purse.

Arya’s fury at this seeming betrayal is something of a relief, too. There has been a sense since the two of them paired up that they’re both changing each other, with the Hound becoming more sympathetic and Arya becoming colder and more ruthless. Watching her kill Polliver in the first episode was deeply satisfying, but also disturbing: we’ve watched Arya go from playing at violence with Syrio to becoming a practiced and unflinching killer. It’s good to see that her basic understanding of right and wrong hasn’t changed, though one wonders how much longer it will endure.

Tyrion’s scene was heartbreaking, and it offers a cynical commentary on life in King’s Landing. He knows all too well that he dooms himself in ordering Pod to accept the bribe—but also that his loyal squire would be dead if he did not. In ordering him to save his own life, Tyrion shows more capacity for human compassion than any display of grief on his sister’s part could. He has been an adept player of the game of thrones, but at a certain point he cannot do what his father, sister, Littlefinger, et al do, which is see other people merely as pieces on the board. At a certain point, he is unwilling to sacrifice others for his own sake. Whereas his father capitalizes on events to cement his power, offering Oberyn revenge on the Mountain in exchange for his cooperation and thus solidifying Dorne’s loyalty. “Give it to my father,” says Tyrion, “He never fails to take advantage of a family tragedy.”

Meanwhile, in the North, Tormund’s wildling band, augmented by the terrifying Thenns, descend on a village, killing all but a child they send to Castle Black . Speaking of characters we’ve grown to love behaving viciously, we see Ygritte killing helpless people as efficiently as Alabaster Seal does. What did you think of this spot of pillaging, Nikki?

Nikki: The Thenns are terrifying in a way the wildlings never were. The wildlings were feared, but the Thenns are merciless, and when they kill, they eat the corpses. Now that the wildlings are working with them, they become an unstoppable army, made all the more real when we move to Castle Black and realize that they have 100… against 100,000 of Mance Rayder’s people. AND… they still have rangers up at Craster’s whom they know will tell Rayder that. If Rayder finds out just how unmanned that Wall really is, the south doesn’t stand a chance.

And then there’s Daenerys over at Meereen. Back in episode 1, neither of us was too sure of this new casting of Busted Josh Groban for Daario, but he sort of won me over in this scene, where he goes up against Meereen’s champion in a literal pissing contest. Daenerys once again goes for numbers over seeming power when she targets the slaves, telling them that they could be free to follow her if they just throw off their collars. And then she hurls all the collars at the city — the ones they’d been taking off the mile-marker corpses that they’ve been burying for the past 163 miles. It’s a glorious scene, especially when you see the looks on the faces of the slaves, followed by the realization on the faces of the slave-owners. Ruh-roh. I’ve pledged my allegiance to House Targaryen since season 1, and my loyalty remains unchanged.

We haven’t yet discussed Tywin jockeying for the support of the Dornish by offering Oberyn a seat on the judge’s council at Tyrion’s trial, where he reminds the viewer that he’s trying to unite the Seven Kingdoms against my girl Dany. I’ll leave the final word on this to you, Chris.

Christopher: If Tywin could have witnessed the final scene of this episode and seen Daenerys in action, he’d be a whole lot more anxious about things, I think. Daenerys will be a formidable enemy not because she gains the people’s respect (though she does) or inspires fear, but because she has earned their love. However masterful a strategist Tywin is, he will never be loved—though he’ll do his best to make certain Tommen is.

We haven’t developed a solid sense of Dorne as a place yet—in the novels we learn it is sort of the outlier of the Seven Kingdoms, and has always had a fairly elevated sense of itself (which is why Oberyn’s brother calls himself a “prince” rather than just the Lord of Dorne). Meeting Oberyn and Ellaria certainly evokes the sense of its exoticism. This episode kind of bludgeoned us with the stark contrast by having Tywin walk in on what was essentially a mini-orgy—and reminded us that Tywin is a cool customer, keeping his face utterly impassive while Oberyn flaunts his hedonism. I of course know what will come of this putative alliance, so I’ll just say that for all of Tywin’s shrewd plotting, one wonders if he underestimates the passions of other.

And that is all for this week! Tune in next week, for the further adventures of Chris and Nikki watching television and yakking about it!