I’m not sure why George R.R. Martin chose this week to pen his annual episode, as outside of the thrilling final sequence, it’s very much a moving-pieces-into-place installment with little in the way of real story meat. But uneventful Game Of Thrones is still pretty great Game Of Thrones, at least to me.
Starting with the bad part, though, Theon…yikes. There was no point in the T&A session where it wasn’t clear the this was just a different type of torment and that the Horn-y Toad would be interrupting at some point to start cutting him up again. My gripe with this stuff so far has been that we keep coming back to it without any new developments or information coming to light. I guess I should have been careful what I wished for, though, since despite not carrying any great love of Theon, there is pretty much no context in which I can enjoy a castration scene. Having Varys describe his gelding at several decades remove (and with retribution at hand) is one thing, but witnessing it firsthand is much more disconcerting, as disturbing a scene as the show has served up since Joffrey decided he didn’t like his birthday present. That scene too cut away without showing us anything graphic, but was all the more disturbing for walking us right up to the line and leaving the worst to our imaginations.
Okay, shaking that off, let’s also check in with Bran, who is…still camping without learning any useful information about his visions. I thought the Reed siblings had potential to be interesting at first, but Jojen is on the verge of becoming that most tedious sort of character, the “I know more than you about the mysterious goings-on that are driving the story than you do, and I’d totally tell you if I could, but Mystery…” guy (alternately known as “every single character introduced after the pilot of Lost” guy). The scene is still worth it, though, for providing Natalie Tena a meaty monologue and especially for the long, thoughtful pause before Hodor gives before he answers her indignant line of questioning with his signature catch-phrase.
Bran’s little sister does a better job of treading water, at least. Sure, Arya has just been bouncing from hostage situation to hostage situation for a long time now, but having the Hound to bounce off is very promising. And I liked the little note that she has not forgotten her old dancing master’s theology lessons.
Plus she’s about to be an aunty! I think we’re all pretty much in agreement that things looks far too happy with Robb and Talisa for something horrible not to be on the horizon. Making plans for foreign honeymoons and introducing the in-laws to the little hard-headed Starkling just has to be a portent of impending doom, right? A lot of folks on the boards have been predicting Robb as this season’s major casualty since the beginning. I’m still not sure I see it, if only because there’s no one else ready to continue the war in his place and ending it would bring a giant portion of the narrative crashing down. Which only makes prospects for his queen look even more grim.
Jon Snow’s romantic bliss is similarly doomed, but he knows it. Which may be the biggest revelation of the episode: Jon actually does know something! Specifically, he knows the history of the North, which strongly suggests that Mance’s army will rapidly unravel once they get past the Wall. Gareth the warg tries to drop some knowledge on our bastard about the opportunistic nature of human relationships, but we’ve been able to see that waving banners and banging drums does actually work to instill discipline in fighting men. Sure, alliances between houses fall apart due to disagreements and decapitations between their lords, but how many rank and file soldiers have we seen abandon their masters when shit goes down? The wildlings fiercely independent nature does seem likely limit their long term effectiveness as a military force; as Robert explained to us back in the first season, one closed fist is a more effective weapon than five individual fingers.
Contrast that with the nearly featureless Unsullied, a closed fist if ever there was one. These guys don’t need a drumbeat to march in unison, and as a result their mistress is as secure in her power as we’ve ever seen, downright haughty while making sweeping demands of the slavers of Yunkai. In her confidence she is becoming more or a crusader than a conqueror, intentionally picking a fight that won’t get her any closer to the Iron Throne. But she’s got her army and dragons (and a surprising FX budget for a scene that doesn’t strictly require using them so heavily), so why not kick back and talk shit to the lords of this city? It’s not like there’s a character within 1000 miles that is well developed enough to constitute a real threat to her. The guy mumbles something about having friends he’s going to call, but Dany’s already handed the warlocks of Qarth their asses once, and who else could it be? The remnants of Drogo’s old khalessar? What could even be a threat to her dragons?
But the best parts of the episode, as has been the case all year, revolve around the Lannisters. Tyrion’s scenes with Shae have become a drag, but put him with Bronn even briefly and you have still have automatic awesomeness. I’m sure the Imp will get his mojo back at some point, but sooner would be better than later.
Tywin’s mojo, on the other hand, is still in full effect. He extends his Family Devastation Tour to his grandchildren, strolling into the Red Keep to tell “his grace” that his own time is more valuable than the king’s, which is certainly true, and that Dany’s dragons are of no concern to them, which is more questionable. It’s a terrifically staged scene, with Charles Dance bringing his full authoritative weight to bear without raising his voice the slightest tic or making the smallest gesture, beyond climbing a couple stairs. The old man dominates the exchange, but given how the little prick bristles at it, it does little to allay my fears of what he’ll do when grandpa oversteps in front of an audience. As with the Robb situation, everything coming up Tywin for the whole season seems like it has to bode ill.
But the funnest parts of the episode involve my new favorite Lannister, Jaime. Yeah, he’s a sisterfucking child-killer, but he’s just such a dashing sisterfucking child-killer. We’ve been steadily exposed to the more heroic side of the character all year, and this week he gets a full blown Han Solo moment, leaping into a pit where Brienne is fighting a GODDAMN FULL GROWN GRIZZLY BEAR with a wooden stick. This is all the sweeter since Game Of Thrones doesn’t generally go in for this kind of straightforward fantasy derring-do. Would it have been even sweeter if he had ended the whole thing by shoving Locke into the bear pit himself? Oh, don’t be greedy, you pricks. Brienne fought off a bear with a wooden stick! And now her and Jaime are hitting the road together, hopefully to exchange flirtatious banter and stuff bananas in the tailpipes of Stannis’s siege engines and maybe they adopt a chimpanzee to be their servant, but he’s a cheeky little bugger and is always getting into their wineskins?
Is it next Sunday yet? Oh, come on!