Game of Thrones Recap: Season 4, Episode 4 “Oathkeeper”

Before this season even started, “Oathkeeper” was probably the episode that I was most looking forward to. The title of the episode refers to an important development in the Brienne/Jaime storyline, which is one of my favorite stories in the books. Unfortunately, after last week’s episode, Jaime’s rape of Cersei, and the subsequent revelations that the writers and director of the episode didn’t even consider there to have been a “real” rape, I found myself much less excited and faced with the prospect of being expected to have positive feelings about Jaime immediately following his having done something unconscionable.

So, going into “Oathkeeper,” I was already feeling disillusioned about the show in general and specifically concerned with what happened last week. The good news, I suppose, is that “Oathkeeper” contains some really excellent scenes, and the Jaime/Brienne scenes turned out beautifully (although I would have enjoyed them more if not for last week’s events). The bad news is that the show is continuing to take some important stories farther and farther off the rails in a way that completely changes it from the source material and, frankly, doesn’t really make a lot of sense. This episode also continues this season’s trend of ratcheting up the violence–specifically the violence against women–in a way that is especially disappointing to see in one of the few episodes of the show directed by a woman (Michelle MacLaren).

As always, spoilers (for the episode and possibly for books three through five) under the cut. And again, this week, trigger warning for discussion of rape and sexualized violence.

“Oathkeeper” opens in an interesting and, given the show’s general disregard for its POC characters, unexpected place, with Missandei and Grey Worm talking about their experiences as slaves taken from their homes as children while Missandei is teaching Grey Worm the language of Westeros. From a practical standpoint, this scene gives me hope that Grey Worm will be getting a larger role in the show as we continue through the series, as his learning the Westerosi language will make for fewer subtitles and, hopefully, more lines for the character. Aside from that, there’s quite a lot going on here outside of that more purely practical consideration.

It was suggested earlier in the season that Grey Worm was romantically interested in Missandei, and this scene expands upon that idea. There’s one moment where Grey Worm’s hand twitches, as if he’d like to reach out and comfort Missandei when she talks about the destruction of her home and her abduction, and it’s a beautifully subtle gesture that suggests a deep sympathy and gentleness in Grey Worm as well as his sexual attraction to Missandei. Missandei recoils slightly from Grey Worm’s movement, but her startled manner when Daenerys and Barristan interrupt their lesson seems to betray her own attraction to Grey Worm, although it could be simply self-consciousness at having witnesses to the emotionally intimate moment they were just having.

A Grey Worm/Missandei romance would definitely be a major change from the books, but I think it’s something that I would like to see explored on the show–as long as it’s treated with seriousness and respect, which I’m not certain the writers of this show are capable of. I worry that it will be explored but that Grey Worm’s status as a eunuch will be treated as a weird fetish or taboo for shock value rather than as a situation that simply requires a creative and open-minded solution for the prospective lovers.

My last thoughts on this scene are regarding the culture of slavery that is being described here. On the one hand, I like that they are giving screen time to these marginalized characters in order to discuss their feelings and experiences, but it feels possibly problematic on several levels. Missandei describes being abducted violently from her home by slavers and Grey Worm can’t remember a time before he was Unsullied, both experiences suggesting a system of chattel slavery that is consistent with the practice of slavery in the Americas, where Africans were often abducted and removed forcefully to new lives across the ocean where they and their children were slaves in perpetuity. I feel like, while this definitely provides the audience with a sense of visceral horror and outrage over slavery in general, it also ignores and oversimplifies the type of slavery that George R.R. Martin details in A Song of Ice and Fire, which is much more complex than that.

This isn’t to say that there is some gray area not being represented, where the slavery of Essos is somehow not horrific or something, but it seems as if there’s an effort being made to flatten the story of it and to force the representation of the slaves’ experiences into the familiar narrative of race-based chattel slavery as practiced by white Europeans. This seems to me to be profoundly dishonest and reductive, especially when, in the show, most of the slave masters in Essos have also been shown as people of color. In the real world and actual history, this sort of slavery was a unique invention of Europeans and founded in white supremacy, so it seems a bit slanderous to create this sort of fictional representation of slavery where people of color are both the perpetrators and victims and where a white woman comes to rescue them and teach them the value of freedom.

From this profoundly personal and intimate scene between Grey Worm and Missandei, we’re taken to the sewers of Meereen, where Grey Worm is leading a force of Unsullied into the city, disguised as slaves. In the city, and in keeping with my above point, we find the Meereenese slaves debating the merits and wisdom of rebelling against their masters when Grey Worm and company show up with weapons and a pep talk.

I actually sort of hate this trope in the series, that “no one can give you freedom; you have to take it.” The discussion that was happening before Grey Worm entered the room actually seems quite sensible to me. Some of the slaves of Meereen want to rebel, but they lack both military training and armaments to do so and it’s pointed out, quite rightly in my opinion, that without either weapons or training (or both) any rebellion is probably doomed to fail. It’s only when Grey Worm delivers weapons and the support and expertise of those Unsullied who have infiltrated the city that the slaves of Meereen are able to truly choose rebellion. Grey Worm has literally, by giving them the tools they lacked, provided the slaves with a choice, a freedom, that they didn’t have before. It’s easy to say that, well, they could have rebelled anyway, and, sure, they could have. But it’s even pointed out in this scene that they have rebelled before. Unsuccessfully. Because they lacked the basic means to do so effectively. The whole, “no one can give you freedom” thing is a great piece of rhetoric, but it’s patently absurd. The weapons that Grey Worm brings into Meereen are freedom, and what they allow the slaves to seize is power and control–which they then promptly turn over to Daenerys, calling her “Mhysa” and giving her all the credit for having rescued them, even though we’ve only just been treated to a speech about the importance of self-determination and taking freedom for themselves. It’s one of those things that makes for a good speech but doesn’t make a lick of sense if you think about it for even five minutes.

Meereen falls with barely a whimper, and the first thing Daenerys does is nail 163 of the city’s Great Masters to posts as justice for the children who lined her path to the city. Barristan points out that sometimes “it’s better to answer injustice with mercy,” to which Daenerys replies, “I will answer injustice with justice.” It’s a great line out of context, but here it seems only to highlight Daenerys’s inflexibility and self-righteousness–and her own potential for brutality. The final shot of Daenerys, standing atop one of Meereen’s pyramids, with the Targaryen dragon banner flying behind her, is actually quite chilling.

In King’s Landing, Jaime and Bronn continue their sparring with swords and words. Jaime seems to be improving until Bronn grabs his golden hand and hits him across the face with it. Bronn reminds Jaime of his responsibility to his brother after assuring Jaime that Tyrion didn’t kill Joffrey.

And so Jaime finally goes to visit Tyrion in prison, and it’s an excellent scene. Favorite line: “[Sansa]’s not a killer. Not yet.”

It’s really upsetting, though, that two such excellent Jaime scenes, in a Jaime-heavy episode, are so marred by his completely unaddressed rape of Cersei in last week’s episode. If you can pretend that didn’t happen, this is probably Jaime’s best episode in the whole show. If not, you’ll just end up feeling vaguely pissed off about it all like I did.

From Tyrion’s prison in King’s Landing to Sansa’s cell-like cabin on Littlefinger’s ship. We learn that they are on their way to the Eyrie, where Littlefinger is engaged to marry Sansa’s aunt, Lysa. I love everything about this scene. I love the visual parallels between Tyrion’s actual prison cell and Sansa’s cabin. I love the mirrored sentiments when Sansa, like Tyrion, is certain that her spouse was not responsible for Joffrey’s murder. I love that it’s clear that Sansa is nurturing a healthy distrust for Littlefinger. I love that it’s equally clear that Sansa is learning, that she’s taking in and remembering and understanding all the information that she’s being given. This scene feels like the most important scene in the show so far for Sansa’s character development. She’s one of my favorite characters in both the books and the show, so it’s really important to me that her story is done right. If this is the level of writing and acting we can expect for Sansa’s storyline, I’m very excited to see what happens next.

Back in King’s Landing, Olenna Tyrell is preparing to leave the city, much to Margaery’s dismay, but not before proving herself once again one of the most interesting and delightful characters on the show with a story about how she stole her sister’s intended husband followed by straight up admitting that she was the one who killed Joffrey. Margaery, apparently, had no idea. Olenna’s parting advice to her granddaughter is to secure a place in Prince Tommen’s affections while Cersei is distracted.

At the Wall, Jon Snow is training with some of the other men, but Alliser Thorne interrupts to point out that Jon is a steward, not a ranger. The most important thing we see here, however, is that Locke has made it to the Wall, where he’s apparently posing as a recruit. We also find out, via Janos Slynt, that Jon’s request in the last episode to go deal with the mutineers at Craster’s was denied, and Slynt advises Thorne to reconsider the request in the hope that Jon will be killed and so won’t be a threat when the Night’s Watch gets around to choosing a new Lord Commander.

Cersei, meanwhile, is drinking. She’s summoned Jaime to inquire about who is protecting Tommen. She also wants to give Jaime a hard time about his vow to Catelyn Stark and his visit to Tyrion. She’s angry at Jaime, over Catelyn, over Brienne, and over his relationship with Tyrion, and she’s unpleasant to him, but there’s no mention whatsoever of last week’s rape. Even in the books, Cersei’s declining sanity and increasing paranoia after Joffrey’s death and her sabotage of every relationship in her life seemed portrayed in a way that, even in Cersei’s POV chapters in A Feast for Crows, was terribly unfair to the character. This scene, written and filmed in such a way as to make Cersei seem unreasonable and Jaime seem victimized, is incredibly shitty after Jaime’s rape of Cersei last week, especially when the rape isn’t acknowledged or discussed in any way. It’s about what I expected of this show, but it’s still disappointing to have been right about it.

Margaery, taking her grandmother’s advice, manages to sneak past the Kingsguard posted outside Tommen’s room so she can visit with her prospective child husband. This scene is sweet, but also a little unsettling. I was happy to see Tommen’s cat, Ser Pounce, though. It’s a little strange seeing a Tommen so much older than Tommen in the books, who was about seven. The boy playing him now is fourteen, but I think this kid plays a bit younger. I’m a little concerned about how scenes between him and Natalie Dormer (who is my age) will play out as he ages over the next year or so, though. In the books, Margaery (only about 16 herself, whereas Dormer is in her early 30s) is almost motherly toward Tommen, but I feel like that dynamic changes dramatically with a Tommen who is old enough to start being sexually interested in a beautiful woman even if he’s not old enough to be an object of sexual interest to a woman. Even though Dormer herself can pass for a younger woman, maybe early-20s, I sort of feel like that may make things even weirder as Tommen goes through puberty. I’m not sure if this is a real criticism of the show, and I don’t really know what they could or should have done differently (aside from casting a younger Margaery, but I love Natalie Dormer in this role). It’s mostly just an observation on the weirdness of it, and some mild concern about this portrayal when we live in a society that routinely dismisses and minimizes the negative effects of predatory behavior of older women towards teenage boys. I suppose it’s just another way in which I don’t trust the writers of this show to do things right.

Elsewhere, Brienne is reading Jaime’s entry in the White Book, which is is disappointingly short and empty of achievements. “There’s still room left,” Jaime says with a meaningful glance at the Valyrian steel sword Tywin gave him in the first episode of the season. He gives the sword to Brienne, telling her that it’s reforged from Ned Starks sword and that she will use it to defend Ned Stark’s daughter. He also gives her a beautiful suit of armor to wear on her quest to find Sansa. “I’ll find her,” Brienne vows, “for Lady Catelyn and for you.” Watching this scene was perhaps the first time I felt really and truly enraged about the rape scene in “Breaker of Chains.” This is one of my favorite (maybe my number one favorite) scenes in the entire ASOIAF series, and it’s really perfectly done here, so it makes me furious that it’s tainted for me by Jaime now being a fucking rapist in the show. It’s such a wonderful twist on the ordinary fantasy tropes about knights and quests for honor and so on, and it’s such an important thing for Brienne’s character, and I’m just fucking livid that I can’t enjoy it the way that I would really like to be able to.

This extends into the next scene, where Jaime presents his last gift to Brienne–a squire. I love Podrick, and he did the thing where he calls Brienne “Ser” and then “M’lady.” I’m very much looking forward to seeing the Brienne and Podrick road trip. Finally, Brienne names the sword “Oathkeeper,” and Jaime looks like he wants to either cry or kiss her, but he does neither, although he does watch Brienne ride away until she’s out of sight. I want to love this, but again, Jaime is a fucking rapist, which makes it really hard for me to feel good things about him, and I’m still furious that this is the case.

Back at the Wall, Sam is feeling guilty about leaving Gilly in Mole’s Town. With wildlings raiding south of the Wall, he now worries that she’s no safer there, after all. It bothers me that we don’t get to see Gilly at all during any of this. It’s an obvious instance of a woman being used as a plot device for the development of a male character. We don’t know how Gilly is doing, how she’s getting along in Mole’s Town after being abandoned there, or how she feels about anything, but we sure do get to hear about how much the situation is bothering Sam. In this scene, we also learn that, unlike in the book where Sam was sworn to secrecy, in the show Sam has told Jon Snow all about meeting Bran. This is a huge change, and I don’t like it one bit. Locke shows up conveniently in time to hear “Bran” and “Craster’s” before telling Jon that Thorne wants to see him.

Thorne has decided to allow Jon’s foray to Craster’s, but he won’t order any men to go, putting Jon in the position of having to try and get volunteers. To Thorne’s surprise and discomfort, Jon gets quite a few men to join him in rooting out the deserters. I hate the long, drawn out dramatic music in this scene, which is completely invented for the show.

I just don’t like the changes that have been made to Jon’s story this season at all. We’re four episodes in, and we haven’t seen Mance, we’ve only seen Ygritte once, the Thenns have been turned into cannibals, the wildlings haven’t come near Castle Black, Sam’s character development has basically stalled, and Stannis is still at Dragonstone. The deserters at Craster’s don’t matter at all, so I don’t understand why the writers even wanted to revisit them. It’s just a lot of pointless delaying of the things that ought to be happening at the Wall: the wildling attack and Ygritte’s death, Jon’s rallying of the forces there to defend against Mance Rayder, and the huge battle at Castle Black where Stannis shows up to save the day. At this point, it doesn’t even feel like we’re making any meaningful progress toward these events, the first of which I had originally predicted would happen by this point in the season. ASOIAF is an enormous, complex series, and with only ten hours of programming per season, I’m simply baffled that the writers seem to be wasting time with pointless, boring shit that doesn’t have anything to do with the books.

In preparation for the imminent battle at Craster’s, we also get subjected to a scene of what Karl, Rast and the other deserters have been up to since we last saw them, and it’s fucking terrible. Karl is drinking wine from Jeor Mormont’s skull, shouting about fucking Craster’s wives till they’re dead, while Craster’s obviously abused wives are being raped in the background (and foreground). This is the single most disgusting scene I’ve ever seen on this show. Like with Arya and the Hound in the season opener, the rape of women is here treated as part of the scenery. The difference, though, is that while in that earlier episode we only saw a woman being man-handled and heard her crying out in distress, here we see women in various states of undress, bruised and bloody, and actually, currently being raped.

I’m actually surprised there hasn’t been more outcry about this in the blogosphere, because it’s so egregiously awful. Obviously, the show has really been ratcheting up the violence this season, especially the violence against women, but this scene was just beyond the pale. Making the rape of women into scenery is bad enough, but by filming it wish so much nudity they’ve made it so that it mirrors the atmosphere of brothel scenes in King’s Landing, where women’s naked bodies are also used as scenery for the titillation of the audience. It sexualizes the horrific violence that the women are experiencing without ever focusing on their feelings or emotions, and so it becomes incredibly and sickeningly objectifying.

While this is going on, one of the older women brings in a baby that is Craster’s last child, and it’s a son. Disturbingly, we then hear the remaining wives begin to chant for the boy to be given to the “gods” (the white walkers). This is profoundly unsettling, and it has a really unpleasant side effect of making these women seem creepy and inhuman, weird religious fanatics calling for the sacrifice of an infant. This also seems to contradict what we’ve seen of them earlier in the show, when some of them helped Gilly and her son to escape with Sam. Why would these women, who seem unquestioningly ready to sacrifice a male child, have helped Gilly then? And doesn’t this also contribute to portraying Gilly as an exceptional woman who inexplicably resisted the apparent brainwashing that her mother, aunts, and sisters must have been subjected to in order to become what we see here? It doesn’t even make sense.

Karl gives the baby to Rast and sends him out to dispose of the child and feed “the beast,” which turns out to be Jon Snow’s wolf, Ghost. Rast taunts Ghost by pouring a canteen of water on the ground in front of him. Then we hear crows calling, like we did before Sam and Gilly were found by the white walker last season, and the water Rast poured on the ground freezes in a way that implies magic. Rast gets freaked out and runs back to the keep.

Elsewhere in the woods, Bran, the Reeds, and Hodor are sitting around a fire when they hear a baby crying. Bran wargs into Summer to go investigate, but Summer gets caught in a trap, which means they have to go find him. While lurking around outside the keep, of course they get caught. Karl, of course, realizes how weird it is that some teenagers and a disabled giant are hanging around north of the Wall, so he starts torturing them to find out who they are. This of course means that we get to see him being super gross to Meera, because no female character on this show is safe from the threat of sexual violence.

Like the rest of what’s going on at the Wall and with the Night’s Watch, this is absolutely nothing like the way things happened in the book. Also like the rest, this doesn’t make even a tiny bit of sense. If Bran and company were going North from the Nightfort, without a map to know where any settlements are, how did they even get to Craster’s Keep? Why would Karl and the deserters have Ghost, who wasn’t even at Craster’s in the first place? Why on earth would Bran give his real name? And so quickly? Karl talks about having highborn hostages, but how does he intend to ransom them from north of the Wall? And why would he think that someone highborn wandering north of the Wall would even be able to be ransomed? It’s not like highborn kids just go traipsing north of the Wall for fun.

I suppose this means that next week, we’ll get some kind of intended-to-be-epic rescue, but I’m really having a hard time even caring about this extremely different-from-the-book storyline. I had no desire to revisit Craster’s. I certainly could have done without revisiting it in this manner. And I’d rather be seeing Bran and company meeting Coldhands and actually making progress on their journey than dealing with this extremely contrived and nonsensical danger.

Finally, the episode ends with Craster’s last son being carried off by a white walker. The zombie horse in this scene is superb, but there’s not much else good to say about this reveal of how the white walkers are created. I mean, okay, but why reveal this now? Or at all? It’s, again, not something we’ve seen so far in the source material, and I’m not sure it’s even relevant. The interesting thing about the white walkers isn’t where they come from; it’s the threat that they pose to the Seven Kingdoms. This doesn’t even really answer the question of where they come from. Craster was maybe in his 60s or 70s, but the white walkers have been around for thousands of years. They can’t all have been made from Craster’s sons, so what is even the point of showing this except maybe to try and make it seem necessary for us to be revisiting Craster’s Keep? It’s absurd, and I hate it.

Game of Thrones Recap: Season 4, Episode 3 “Breaker of Chains”

“Breaker of Chains” has some scenes that are certainly among my favorite scenes ever written for the show, some interesting departures from the source material, two different brothel scenes, and one of the most fucked up and infuriating scenes I’ve ever been subjected to by this series. Seriously, I’m fucking furious about it–not to mention appalled and confused and just blown away that this is a choice that the writers and directors made.

On to the recap, though. As always, spoilers below the cut for both the episode and possibly books three through five of A Song of Ice and Fire.

Trigger warning, as well, for discussion of rape.

The episode opens where last week’s episode ended, with Cersei’s rage as she calls for Tyrion, and then Sansa, to be seized. Sansa, however, is fleeing with Dontos through the city, and they make it to a small boat without incident, although we can hear bells ringing furiously throughout their flight down the streets of King’s Landing. It’s late afternoon as Joffrey is choking out his last, and I love the way that Sansa seems at first to be escaping off into the sunset with Dontos. However, by the time they reach the small boat that takes them to a bigger ship, it’s slightly past sunset and they are heading east with what remains of the light behind them. Visually, this works perfectly and subtly to convey that Sansa’s apparent rescue is not as perfect or fortuitous as it seems.

By the time Sansa and Dontos reach the larger ship, it’s fully dark and they’ve been enveloped in some downright ominous and foreboding mists, and when Dontos hands Sansa up the ladder and she’s caught in a slightly too-intimate embrace by none other than Petyr Baelish it becomes clear that Sansa has only escaped to a different sort of danger than she’s just fled from. I love Aidan Gillan as Littlefinger, and he’s delightfully creepy here as always. Every moment of this scene is wonderfully executed, from Dontos’s “reward” to Sansa’s soft remembrance that “we’re all liars here” to Petyr’s assurances Sansa that she’s “safe” with him. I’ve seen some complaints from book readers that Dontos’s death didn’t have the impact in the show that it did in the book, but I disagree. I think the decision to omit the majority of Sansa’s meetings with Dontos in the godswood is a good one, from an adaptive standpoint, and the show is improved by the streamlining of this story, which would have made for a lot of very dull and repetitive scenes if they’d tried to include it as it happened in the books. I’m very much looking forward to the continuance of Sansa’s education with Littlefinger.

Back in King’s Landing, Margaery is quite understandably full of mixed feelings following the death of her second husband. Fortunately, she has a loving grandmother to help her make sense of it all. My one complaint about this scene is Margaery’s assertion that Joffrey was “happiest torturing animals.” It feels very minimizing of Joffrey’s actual depravity and comes close to making no sense at all as we’ve actually never seen Joffrey torturing animals. He’s tortured people quite a lot–Sansa, Ros and her coworker, Tyrion, Dontos, Jaime, his own mother–both physically and emotionally, but the only time we’ve seen Joffrey hurt an animal was when he uses Widow’s Wail to slice open the dove-filled pie at the wedding feast and he didn’t seem to take any particularly special glee in it. Rather, he seemed then to not even notice the harm he’d just caused because he was far more focused on tormenting Tyrion and Sansa. It just seems like a strange way for Joffrey to be described. It’s very “telling” rather than “showing,” and I’m not sure why the writers would feel the need to tell us this sort of information after Joffrey’s death when his character was so well-established beforehand.

In the Sept of Baelor, Cersei and Prince Tommen are knelt in silent contemplation next to Joffrey’s prepared corpse when Tywin comes to speak with Tommen, and I love everything about this conversation. In the guise of a lesson for Tommen on the responsibilities of kingship, Tywin delivers an unambiguous message to the grieving Cersei. It’s clear that Tywin blames her for Joffrey’s unsuitability to the role of king, and by extension places the blame for Joffrey’s death pretty squarely on Cersei’s shoulders as well. It’s also abundantly clear that Tywin intends to remove Tommen from his mother’s influence and immediately. Lena Headey turns in an amazing performance throughout Tywin’s speech, wordlessly giving us every bit of the grief and shame and fear and frustrated rage that Cersei must be feeling as her father kidnaps her son in front of her and delivers some scathing criticism of her parenting. As Tywin and Tommen walk out of the dark sept into the bright sunshine of the new day, it’s obvious that Cersei (and Jaime, who has just come to join her in the sept) are no longer part of the future that Tywin envisions for his family.

Jaime sends the High Septon and his attendants away so that he can be alone with Cersei, who reiterates her accusations against Tyrion and begs Jaime to avenge Joffrey by killing Tyrion. Jaime refuses, insisting that a trial will get to the truth of the matter, which angers Cersei, who believes that Tyrion will only “squirm his way free if given a chance.” Cersei begs Jaime to just kill Tyrion and begins to cry. When Jaime embraces her comfortingly, Cersei kisses him passionately, but then recoils either in anger with his refusal to kill Tyrion or out of her lingering disgust with Jaime’s disability (or possibly both). Either way, what happens next is chilling.

“You’re a hateful woman,” Jaime pronounces and asks, “Why have the gods made me love a hateful woman?” He grabs Cersei by the hair, twists her around, and proceeds to rape her right next to the bier on which Joffrey’s body rests. “I don’t care,” he repeats as she struggles, cries, and begs him to stop.

This is incredibly fucked up. So fucked up that I hardly know where to begin with discussing it.

In A Storm of Swords, Jaime doesn’t make it back to King’s Landing until after Joffrey’s death, and the encounter next to Joffrey’s corpse is Jaime’s first interaction with Cersei. They haven’t set eyes on each other in over a year, and he returns to find her overcome with grief. In the text, Jaime is also forceful with her, but it seems clear that it’s out of passion and relief to be home, and while Cersei is initially resistant and doesn’t want to fuck in the Sept, she also responds eagerly to Jaime’s advances. I wouldn’t say that the scene in the book represents anything resembling a healthy dynamic, but I wouldn’t call it rape and I even think that some readers’ claims of it being “questionable consent” are exaggerating Cersei’s resistance and minimizing her enjoyment of the encounter and her relief at having her brother returned to her. HOWEVER, in the book, Cersei does almost immediately (almost as soon as he climbs off of her) begin the rejection of Jaime that we’ve already seen some of in the show.

I think the out of order portrayal of these events is what makes last night’s scene in the Sept impossible for me to interpret as anything other than rape.

In the ASOS scene, Cersei’s protests to Jaime’s advances are almost entirely about their location and the propriety and wisdom of having sex where they might be discovered while their father is in town, but she quickly responds with passion and even joy to the actual sex because she is so happy that her brother has returned during what is probably her darkest time and most dire need of him in the books so far. It’s only when Jaime proposes marriage and suggests abandoning any royal ambitions that Cersei recoils as she realizes that his time away has changed him in some profound way that both confuses and frightens her–probably because it threatens to make worthless all of her scheming and sacrifices and years of suffering marriage to Robert Baratheon right as it’s finally paying off. It’s only after this encounter in the Sept that we start to see the twins’ relationship unravel, and it’s mostly because Cersei’s ambitions are more important to her than Jaime’s love. Indeed, Cersei in the books comes to mistrust Jaime and eventually sends him away from the capital.

In the show, we’ve already seen a great deal of the deterioration of the Jaime/Cersei relationship. Cersei has refused to have sex with Jaime since he’s been back in King’s Landing. She’s disgusted by his stump, she’s resentful (albeit unreasonably) that he was away for so long, and even jealous of Brienne. She’s also spent over a year without him, during which time she’s had to learn to do without his support and companionship, and I think Cersei has come to feel that the only person she can truly rely upon is herself. When they finally make it to the Sept, Joffrey is dead, Jaime was unable to protect or save him, and he doesn’t share Cersei’s conviction that Tyrion is the killer.

It’s incredibly important to Cersei that Jaime always be on her side, as it reinforces her belief that they are one person in two bodies. As long as they were together and of one mind, Cersei believed in their incestuous relationship, but their time apart has left them both irrevocably changed and they’ve done little but quarrel since Jaime’s return. In terms of what we have seen in the show so far, I think this scene in the Sept played out in probably the only way it could have–outside of Jaime, you know, taking “no” for an answer and respecting Cersei’s basic humanity.

The questions regarding this scene, then, are these:

  1. Should the scene have been included at all?
  2. What is the scene actually communicating? What was it intended to communicate?
  3. Is it in character for Jaime, at this point in his journey on the show, to rape his sister?
  4. What could have, or should have, been done differently by the writers and director?

I’ll take these one at a time.

Should the scene have been included? I don’t know. It’s an important moment in the book, as it acts as a reintroduction of Jaime and Cersei to each other and also immediately establishes the basis for the fracturing of their relationship. In the show, as I’ve said, most of this work has already been done. Certainly, being raped by Jaime would seem likely to (and here I’m limited to speculation) drive a final wedge between the siblings. If Cersei recognizes it as rape, I can’t imagine her forgiving Jaime, and I could see this contributing to the circumstances that make her send him away from King’s Landing later on. However, if it’s not recognized as rape in the show (which would be terrible in every way) and is instead portrayed as some kind of weird moment of closeness between the twins, I think it will harm the narrative–mostly because the majority of viewers seem to consider the scene a rape scene. As far as whether or not rape should be portrayed at all, I tend to be of the opinion that there are good and bad ways to do it. Unfortunately, we just don’t know yet if this portrayal is correct or not, and while we wait until future episodes to find out, a lot of analysis of the scene is going to be based on comparisons to the scene in ASOS, which is substantially different from what occurred in the show.

I think this is a situation where it’s also important to examine what the intent of the writers, actors, and director was in crafting this scene the way they did. What did they want to communicate here, and what did they actually communicate? With the exception of some truly terrifying comments from viewers who don’t seem to actually know what rape is or understand why it’s wrong, most people seem to have read the scene as a rape. However, remarks on the scene from Alex Graves, the director, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who plays Jaime, seem to indicate that they intended the scene to be disturbing, but perhaps a little more ambiguous than it came across. While both men at times used the word rape, and neither objected to that characterization of the scene, they also both insisted that it’s somehow more complex than that.

Sadly, I feel like this is basically some Rape Culture 101 stuff here. They filmed a rape scene, and most viewers agree that what we watched last night was indisputably rape and were appalled by the brutality of it. The director and the male actor in the scene, on the other hand, don’t seem to be so sure about what exactly they created. Meanwhile, there is a small but vocal contingent of fans who seemed to find the scene sexually titillating, not rape at all (because Cersei “really wanted it”), and/or a fitting punishment for Cersei, who many sickos seem to think deserves whatever she gets. The saddest part about this is that by insisting on an intent of ambiguity, while creating a scene that any reasonable person would agree is not ambiguous at all, Graves and Coster-Waldau are supporting the opinions of all these people who seem to be confused about what rape is and why (or in some cases whether) it’s wrong. By insisting on that intent, they are creating a confusing message about rape in general, which becomes part of what is being communicated by the scene. It’s a worrisome situation, and a glance through the comments section of anything written so far about the episode is enough to make most women’s blood run cold at the thought that some of these commenters are writing from anywhere but prison.

Which of course leads back to the first question: Should this scene have been included at all? If the writers, director, and actors are not committed to presenting rape in a responsible manner, then probably not. And part of portraying rape in a responsible manner, to me, means being very certain about what you are communicating and being willing to clarify that in no uncertain terms if your message is misunderstood.

If the Sept scene is intended to be a rape, then it’s important that it’s understood to be bad. It’s important that it’s understood that Cersei didn’t “really want it” and that she didn’t “deserve it.” It’s important that it’s treated seriously, and it’s important that those involved in the creation of the scene be able to talk about it seriously. So far, I’m unconvinced that this is the case.

If the scene was intended to be somewhat ambiguous (but definitely not rape), as the book scene was, then it’s a failure on every single level, and I don’t think we should even entertain this interpretation of it. While the creators’ intent matters, we are under no obligation to treat such a spectacular failure as a success.

Aside from the politics of rape and discussion of the advisability of portraying a rape scene at all, I feel like I have to deal with the fact that the creators of the show did decide to include a rape scene and that they presented it the way they did. So what does this mean for Jaime’s character?

Some reviewers consider Jaime’s rape of Cersei to be blatant character assassination, while others seem to see it as a culmination of Jaime’s weeks of frustration (both sexual and emotional) since his return to King’s Landing. I think I actually fall sort of in the middle here.

Jaime’s storyline throughout season three of the show seemed to be about redemption and his desire to be seen truly for what he is–a flawed, but in many ways deeply ethical man with a strong personal code of honor. This is much at odds with what we saw of Jaime in season one, when he threw Bran Stark from a tower and viciously attacked Ned Stark in King’s Landing, but we also learn that Jaime’s greatest supposed sin, that of kingslaying, is almost certainly entirely justified. The attempted murder of Bran can be understood (though not excused) as due to his desire to protect Cersei, their relationship, and their children. Jaime’s attack on Ned Stark can be somewhat justified as retaliation for Catelyn’s imprisonment and threatening of Tyrion, and Jaime refuses to kill Ned when Ned is injured, preferring to fight an equal rather than murder a helpless man, which is consistent with an internal code of behavior. In season three, we got to see the growth of understanding and even a sort of friendship between Jaime and Brienne, and Jaime has the opportunity for actual heroics. The loss of Jaime’s hand was a direct result of his intervening to save Brienne from being raped, and he returns to Harrenhal to rescue her from the same, even if he does find her instead fighting a bear with a wooden sword. We also learn in the course of the show that, while Jaime has engaged in an incestuous relationship with his sister, he’s never been with another woman at all, which would presumably mean that he’s never engaged in the sort of weaponized rape that so many other martial types in the world of Westeros practice (or any other sort of rape).

All of this may seem to make Jaime Lannister seem a very unlikely rapist, but is that actually the case? Certainly, Jaime has felt rejected by Cersei since his return to King’s Landing. He’s also lost his sword hand, the part of him that is most central to his identity and manhood. After insisting to his father, in the first episode of the season, that he was still capable of serving in the Kingsguard one-handed, by this third episode, Joffrey is dead and Jaime was unable to protect him. Jaime’s grief, such as it is, for Joffrey must also necessarily remain private so as to avoid fueling any suspicions about the parentage of Cersei’s children. In the Sept, then, we see Jaime reaching out to Cersei for comfort, as she is the only person with whom he can share the pain he’s feeling. Cersei is also seeking comfort, but not the sort (sexual) that Jaime desires. She wants revenge of a type that he’s both incapable of due to his new disability and unwilling to provide because he’s unconvinced of Tyrion’s guilt. When he refuses to offer her what she needs, she also refuses to give him what he wants from her.

And so he takes it by force, but not before calling her hateful in a way that makes it feel as if he knows that what he is doing is rape and makes it seem punitive–for her coldness, for her contribution to his current crisis of identity, for her refusal to choose him over her own political ambitions, for her hatred of Tyrion (whom Jaime loves). In short, for everything and nothing. Like most, if not all, rape, Jaime’s rape of Cersei is entirely about Jaime and his feelings of inadequacy and disempowerment. Indeed, he’s seemingly incapable of sensing or empathizing with Cersei’s own feelings of disempowerment (remember, their father intends to force Cersei to marry again and has literally just walked out of the room with her younger son after making it clear that Cersei is to have no more hand in the raising of the boy). While both Jaime and Cersei may be feeling disempowered, Jaime still has the power to force himself sexually upon Cersei, completing her complete degradation at the hands of the men of her family–bartered away by her father twice over, her son murdered (she believes) by her brother Tyrion, and now raped by her once-beloved twin. Jaime may feel powerless, but we see Cersei in this episode at indisputably her lowest point so far. In any case, I think that a compelling case can be made that, under the circumstances in which we find the characters in this episode, Jaime would be capable of raping his sister, to punish her, to assert his own authority, and to try and recapture in a very twisted way something of the relationship that seems to be slipping farther and farther away.

A lot of the complaints that Jaime’s rape of Cersei is out of character seem to be based on the notion that his character arc has been one of redemption. I question, though, in a show like Game of Thrones, and in the ASOIAF source material, where ordinary fantasy tropes are subverted, challenged, and upended over and over again, can we even reliably consider this to be the case? Before this episode, it could already be said that Jaime’s status as a fan favorite character was out of proportion to his actual merits. In the midst of all the warm, fuzzy moments and wonderful character development going on, one could almost forget that Jaime is still the guy who tried to murder a child in the first episode of the series. Should we as viewers ever even allow him to be redeemed? I’d argue that we should not and that, like all characters in this series, Jaime is a mix of good and bad parts, a complex character whose actions are explicable and ripe for deep analysis even when they are abhorrent. I’d argue that the reading of Jaime’s character development as a redemption arc is shallow and simplistic, perhaps even naive, and that those who feel betrayed by the show for “destroying” that character development are maybe not paying close enough attention.

All this said, however, I remain deeply skeptical of the inclusion of this scene, and given the past history of the show and the way that it handles rape and the treatment of women I have little hope that I will be happy with the way this plays out over the rest of the season. What could they have done differently? They could have a) created a sex scene for Jaime and Cersei in episode one of the season that followed the spirit of the ASOS scene, which would have made their estrangement more firmly established by this point in the show so that they could have written a similar scene in the Sept but without the rape, perhaps with the siblings simply parting ways in anger, or b) minimized Jaime and Cersei’s contact prior to the wedding, with just a short scene or two of them being happy to be together again, filmed the scene in the Sept more faithfully to what was described in ASOS, and proceeded with the collapse of the Jaime/Cersei relationship from there. Since we can’t go back in time, I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see what happens with Jaime and Cersei over the coming weeks.

From Jaime and Cersei in the Sept, we cut to another troubled relationship. Arya and the Hound are working their way toward the Vale of Arryn, and Arya isn’t even sure they’re going the right direction. I think we’re actually starting to see her get attached to Sandor in a weird way as he’s become a bizarre and unpleasant source of stability in her world. No matter how nasty to each other they are, Arya no longer seems so bent on murdering the Hound, and he’s proven that he’s not going to abandon her and that he’s committed, in his way, to keeping her as safe as it’s possible for her to be these days.

They’re watering their horses when they encounter the man and his daughter whose land they have stopped on. I was almost astounded to hear the lie that Sandor is her father trip so naturally from Arya’s tongue. The change in their relationship by this point is truly striking, and definitely has a familial feel to it–at least the sort of dysfunctional familial feel that one can expect in Game of Thrones.

Arya’s fledgling affection for her companion makes his betrayal of her faith in him truly heartbreaking. After spending the night with the kind farmer and his daughter, Arya is woken by the daughter’s scream and runs out to find that Sandor has robbed the man. “You said you weren’t a thief!” Arya screams at Sandor, who replies that the man and his daughter will be dead by winter anyway. This feels like the beginning of the end of the alliance between Arya and the Hound, which is sad, but necessary for Arya to move on to the next stage in her journey, which I expect will happen by mid-season.

At Castle Black, the very diminished Night’s Watch is assessing their strength after the grievous losses of last season. We finally hear the first “Sam the Slayer,” mockingly, from Alliser Thorne, and then we see Sam complaining to Gilly that no one believes him about killing the White Walker. I’m still really disappointed in Sam’s character development on the show, but I was glad to at least see this mentioned.

The big event for Sam in this episode, though, was his removal of Gilly from Castle Black to Mole’s Town. I’m honestly confused by this development. It’s not something that happens in the book, where Mole’s Town is largely known for being home to the brothel that services members of the Night’s Watch. And yet this is where Sam, concerned for Gilly’s safety at Castle Black, deposits her and her baby on the condition that she only cook and clean and provide childcare for the whores. I really don’t understand in what universe Sam thinks this is going to be an improvement in Gilly’s circumstances, and the whole thing seems, frankly, contrived by the writers to try and insert some extra drama and as a way to extend the Night’s Watch storyline for longer in the season. It feels like a weird choice, and it’s frustrating since I’d like to see Sam and Jon’s stories move along a little faster.

Meanwhile, speaking of stories that seem to be being senselessly dragged out, Stannis and Davos are still at Dragonstone. With the agreement between Stannis, Davos, and Melisandre at the end of last season, I expected them to be well on their way to the North by this time. Instead, Davos has still been working to win petty lords to Stannis’s cause while Melisandre burns people and Stannis pouts and grumbles. Here, the news of Joffrey’s death has convinced Stannis of the value of Melisandre’s magic with the leeches and he complains again about Davos having freed Gendry. Davos points out that it’s soldiers who win wars, not magic, and suggests hiring a sellsword company, to which Stannis objects because they have no ready money to pay with.

We’re then treated to a lovely scene with Davos and Shireen, who has been tutoring Davos in reading. Davos delivers some humorous remarks about the distinction between pirates and smugglers and the finer points of bad behavior, and then Shireen says something that gives Davos the idea of approaching the Iron Bank of Braavos to solve Stannis’s lack of gold problem.

In this episode’s obligatory brothel scene, we find Oberyn Martell and Ellaria Sand enjoying a rather sexy fivesome at Littlefinger’s place, which is apparently the only brothel in town, when Tywin Lannister shows up to ruin their fun. I make light of it, but this conversation between Tywin and Oberyn is great and really solidifies “Breaker of Chains” as Tywin’s episode. Oberyn succeeds in ruffling Tywin a little by offering him a seat on the very mussed (and probably full of sex juices) bed, but after that Tywin is clearly in control of the conversation. Tywin asks Oberyn to serve as the third judge in Tyrion’s trial and offers him both a seat on the Small Council and justice for his murdered sister. It’s an offer that Oberyn really can’t refuse at this point. I also liked that this conversation makes it clear that Tywin, of all the Lannisters, is at least aware of and wary of Daenerys and her dragons.

In the (surprisingly well-lit) dungeons of King’s Landing, Tyrion is visited by his squire, Podrick Payne, who is full of bad news. Tyrion learns that Sansa has vanished, Varys is testifying on Cersei’s behalf, Bronn is prohibited from visiting, and the line-up of judges for the trial is not favorable. Even Podrick has been approached with an offer of knighthood if only he testifies against Tyrion in court. Tyrion asks Podrick to send him Jaime and then orders Podrick to leave King’s Landing.

Back in the North, the combined force of wildlings led by Tormund and Styr is busy attacking a village in an attempt to draw out the Night’s Watch and weaken the forces left on the Wall. Styr even sends a little boy to the Wall with a message intended to goad the Night’s Watch into action. Like the scenes with Sam and Gilly in Mole’s Town, this seems like an attempt to expand the story of what’s going on with the Night’s Watch, and I don’t really understand why this is happening. My concern about these story lines going into this season was that it was going to be a struggle to cover all the material that is actually in the books in the time available, so it just doesn’t make sense to me that the writers would want to unnecessarily complicate things. It’s not an improvement on the books.

Also, the characterization of the Thenns on the show as cannibals and monsters bothers me more and more as time goes by. It ratchets up the violence level of the show, but it also makes the wildlings seem much less sympathetic than they were in the books.

In this episode as well, I was really disappointed to see Ygritte participating so wholeheartedly in the atrocities being committed. Knowing what is going to happen to her later on, I can’t help but feel like we’re being encouraged to think as badly as possible of her in preparation for future events, and it pisses me off. Judging from the number of comments I saw today where people were wishing death and rape on Ygritte, even if this isn’t the goal of the writers, it’s what they’re achieving.

At the Wall, some of the brothers are in favor of riding out to meet the wildling forces, but Alliser Thorne isn’t foolish enough to rise to the bait set by Styr and company. He even calls upon Jon Snow, albeit mockingly, for support, and Jon supports the determination to remain at the Wall and conserve their strength as there are only about a hundred men left at Castle Black.

Their numbers increase by two with the return of Grenn and Dolorous Edd from Craster’s Keep, where Karl and the other mutineers have set up house. Now Jon insists that they must ride out to kill the men at Craster’s, not for justice, but for practical reasons: Jon told Mance Rayder that Castle Black held a thousand men, and he doesn’t want Mance to find out the truth from the men still north of the Wall. Probably this means that we’re going to see a small ranging and a battle at Craster’s in the next episode or two. Again, this is not how things happened in the book, and I’m annoyed and confused by the changes.

Finally, we end the episode outside the walls of Meereen with Daenerys and her army. The Meereenese send out a champion and Daenerys agrees to allow Daario to stand as her own champion in single combat against the champion of Meereen. The discussion of who is actually going to fight was straight out of the book, but I think it worked far better on the page then in the show, where it felt a little too scripted and theatrical to feel natural. The fight itself was anticlimactic, as Daario defeated the Meereenese champion in about ten seconds. However, Daario’s wink at Dany marked the first time that I really bought this new actor in the role.

After the single combat, Daenerys gives a great speech in Valyrian and uses catapults to sling barrels over the city walls. When the barrels smash open, we see that they are filled with the shackles and collars of all the slaves that Dany has already freed, and the episode ends with the slaves of Meereen looking thoughtfully at all the broken shackles and collars while the leaders of the city probably shit their robes. I know that Dany’s story on the show has been and continues to be a pretty shameless exploitation of (rather than, as in the books, fairly critical of) the white savior trope, but it worked here to be a really compelling scene with which to end the episode.

Earlier today, I compared this episode to “The Climb” from season three, in which a disturbing scene of senseless and sexualized violence really tainted the whole episode for me. After doing a lot of reading and thinking (and writing) on “Breaker of Chains,” I don’t think it’s that bad. I’m going to be watching the show like a hawk for the rest of this season, though, and I’ll definitely be paying especially close attention to how things unfold between Jaime and Cersei over the next few weeks. I’m hoping to be pleasantly surprised, but I’m not holding my breath.

Game of Thrones Recap: Season 4, Episode 2 “The Lion and the Rose”

George R.R. Martin’s episodes are always a treat, and “The Lion and the Rose” is probably the best one yet. In this episode, we catch up with the characters that we didn’t see in the first episode of the season–a handful of strong scenes with the Boltons, Stannis, and Bran–and then the last half of the episode is dedicated to the exquisitely adapted royal wedding between Joffrey and Margaery.

Spoilers for the episode (and some spoiler-y for ADWD speculations) under the cut.

The episode opens with Ramsay Snow hunting a girl named Tansy. He’s accompanied by a girl named Miranda, who is also armed with a bow, while Theon (now Reek) struggles to keep up. Miranda and Tansy appear to be the girls who helped Ramsay torture Theon in season three. I’m not really sure how I feel about this scene. It introduces a habit that Ramsay is described as having in the books–he hunts women and if they give him a good chase he names his dogs after them. What I question, however, is the inclusion of this Miranda woman in this pastime.

Miranda isn’t a character from the books, although she shares a name with a woman that Sansa meets much later, and I’m a little intrigued by the importance that her inclusion in this scene seems to suggest for her. My guess, at this point, is that Miranda may turn out to be the girl that the Boltons try to pass off as Arya Stark later on, probably near the end of this season. In the books, the girl they name Arya and marry to Ramsay is Jeyne Poole, the daughter of Winterfell’s steward. She’s provided by Littlefinger, and is then abused by Ramsay until Theon flees with her from Winterfell, which is an enormous event in Theon’s storyline. However, I can’t imagine that we will be seeing Jeyne Poole in the show since she was never introduced at all and I don’t think there would be a way to introduce her this late in the game that would make any sense.

If Miranda is to become “Arya,” though, this opening scene is kind of genius. It establishes Ramsay’s fickleness and abusiveness. If he’s turned on Tansy, he could easily turn abusive toward Miranda, thus necessitating her rescue by Theon later on. I’ve already predicted that we’ll see the Ramsay/Fake Arya wedding this year, and if Miranda is going to become Arya that feels like a bit of a confirmation of my prediction. The only flaw (or at least the largest one) with this theory is that Miranda is being established as a thoroughly unsympathetic character. I guess we’ll see as the season progresses.

In King’s Landing, Jaime and Tyrion are having breakfast. When Jaime complains of being unable to fight left-handed, Tyrion offers to set him up with Bronn. We then get to see the first of these training sessions. I’m really pleased with this development, as it probably means that we will continue to see quite a bit of Bronn in the future. With the elimination of Lollys and the Stokeworths from the tv series, I’d been starting to wonder what they were going to do with Bronn this season, and his becoming Jaime’s right hand man (pun very much intended) would be a great use for a character that has become a fan favorite. My guess is that Bronn will fill the role on the show that Ilyn Payne did in the books, which means we should get to enjoy his presence through at least season five.

Back at the Dreadfort, Roose Bolton arrives with his new wife, Walda Frey. I’m so excited that we get to see her, and while I was disappointed that we only got to meet her in this episode, I’d love to see Walda’s role expanded for the show. Her shy little smile when Ramsay greets her in such a charming manner suggests a whole realm of possibilities for exploring how she deals with her husband and his son. I also really enjoyed seeing Iwan Rheon just owning the role of Ramsay. I think he plays it a bit differently than Ramsay is described in the books, but he really shines in his first scene with Michael McElhatton as Roose.

Roose is upset at Ramsay’s treatment of Theon, who should have been a valuable hostage. Theon has been reduced to a sad, quivering ruin of a man, and it’s sad to see just how low he’s sunk under Ramsay’s ministrations. Theon reveals to Roose that the Stark boys are alive, and this valuable piece of information leaves Ramsay somewhat redeemed in his father’s eyes. Roose sends Locke to hunt for Bran and Rickon, and then he orders Ramsay and Theon to Moat Cailin to take it back from the Iron Islanders who hold it.

Back in King’s Landing, Varys warns Tyrion that Cersei and Tywin know about Shae. Tyrion wants Varys to lie for him, but Varys refuses and instead offers to help him get Shae away from King’s Landing.

At the wedding breakfast, we get our first glimpse of Mace Tyrell. Cersei points Shae out to Tywin, who tells her to have Shae brought to the Tower of the Hand before the wedding. Tyrion gives Joffrey a book, The Lives of Four Kings, and Joffrey manages to receive it graciously for about a minute. The next gift is the second of the two Valyrian steel swords that Tywin had made from Ned Stark’s Ice, and Joffrey promptly uses the sword to chop Tyrion’s book to pieces. I wish they had managed to work in a line explaining that the book was one of only four remaining copies, which would highlight Joffrey’s ignorance and disdain for education, but instead we go straight to the naming of the sword. Joffrey settles on Widow’s Wail, and it comes off as just as absurd and foolish as it was in the book, but overall I felt like this whole scene felt a bit rushed and didn’t have quite the impact that it did in the book.

Right after the wedding breakfast, Tyrion calls Shae to his and Sansa’s quarters where he proceeds to just destroy her. She thinks he’s summoned her for an assignation, but he wants to send her away. He’s arranged for her to travel by ship to Pentos, but she doesn’t want to go. When he says that he needs to be faithful to Sansa, she points out that he and Sansa don’t want each other and accuses him of being a coward and afraid of his father. He responds by telling her that she’s a whore, that he can’t be in love with her, that she’s not fit to be a mother to his children. Bronn comes in to escort the now weeping Shae to her ship, and she slaps Bronn and flees the room, leaving Tyrion behind feeling terrible.

As much as this scene made my heart hurt for Shae, I’m really pleased that this is the direction that the show decided to go with this storyline. My biggest source of apprehension about this season was with regard to Shae and my worry about the likelihood of her impending character assassination. At the end of season three and even in the first episode of season four, they seemed to be setting Shae up to betray Tyrion out of jealousy over his relationship with Sansa, but this episode neatly side-stepped that by having Tyrion hurt Shae very directly in an emotionally brutal way that should put viewers very much on Shae’s side. After dedicating so much time on the show to developing Shae’s character and making us believe in her genuine love for Tyrion, I feel like it’s necessary to set up the tragedy of what happens to Shae as an actual tragedy, and I think that this episode has successfully done that.

Meanwhile, on Dragonstone, Melisandre is burning some people, including Queen Selyse’s own brother. Davos isn’t happy about this, but we only get to see him for a moment before we are treated to a dinner with Stannis, Selyse and Melisandre that might rival Lannister family dinners for sheer awkwardness. I actually love this dinner scene because we get to learn more about Selyse and her relationship with Stannis. It becomes evident that Selyse is not insane, as she somewhat appeared to be in season three with the fetus jars. Instead, she’s a zealot, a true believe in Melisandre’s religion. She’s also a neglected and abused wife, whose husband has rejected her and rejects her even in this scene, and rather cruelly. Tara Fitzgerald does an incredible job of conveying both a deep sadness and a sort of desperation in Selyse, and I’m very glad to see this character getting more screentime.

Before we leave Dragonstone, we also get a wonderful scene between Melisandre and Shireen, who share’s Davos’s discomfort with the rites of R’hllor.

Beyond the Wall, Bran has been riding inside Summer’s mind when Meera wakes him up so he can eat real food. We learn a little more about Bran’s magic and some of the negative consequences of being a warg. Then they come across a weirwood in the forest. When Bran touches the tree, he has a series of flashing visions of the past and future while a disembodied voice tells him to “look for me in the North.” Afterwards, Bran says he knows where they have to go. I’m really starting to think that we aren’t going to see Coldhands on the show, which is a huge disappointment, but it does seem possible that we’re going to see Bran’s story move along faster than I anticipated, which can only be a good thing since Bran’s road trip is one of the most boring parts of the books until A Dance With Dragons.

The last almost twenty-five minutes of the episode is taken up by Joffrey and Margaery’s wedding and reception, and it’s pretty much everything I could have hoped for:

  • Margaery’s wedding dress is stunning. I love the thorn details on the roses worked into the design.
  • The kiss in the sept is fairytale perfect-looking.
  • I cherish every scene with Tywin and Olenna, and their conversation about the expense of the wedding is excellent. I loved the possibly/probably foreshadowing advice that Olenna gives Tywin about enjoying something before he dies, and her dismissal of Mace is a great way to reiterate who is really in charge of House Tyrell.
  • This conversation also sets us up for interactions with the Iron Bank of Braavos later on, which is important.
  • Everything is garishly red and gold at the wedding feast, and there are acrobats and fire-eaters and music and it’s wonderfully over-the-top.
  • Bronn assures Tyrion that Shae is safely on a ship to Pentos.
  • Podrick gawking at the scantily-clad acrobat was a nice piece of humor.
  • Olenna fixes Sansa’s hair. Sansa is wearing the necklace that Dontos gave her and it looks like Olenna removes and palms one of the stones, which is a great nod to us book readers who pay attention to that sort of thing.
  • “The Rains of Castamere” is such a terribly inappropriate song for a wedding celebration.
  • New Tommen is cute. Not as chubby as described in the books, and obviously not as young, but definitely softer and sweeter looking that Joffrey.
  • Loras flirting with Oberyn is nice.
  • I love the conversation when Jaime warns Loras off of Cersei. It’s nice to see a bit of the old Jaime, and it’s nice to see Loras stand up for himself a bit and remind us that he’s not just a pretty face.
  • Brienne comes to offer her well-wishes to the royal couple and bows instead of curtsying. Cersei takes this opportunity to mock Brienne, and it’s obvious in this moment where Joffrey gets his social graces from.
  • Cersei then chases Brienne down, ostensibly to thank her for returning Jaime to the capital, but really to warn Brienne off her brother as Jaime warned Loras. Brienne’s inability to deny to Cersei that she loves Jaime is a little heartbreaking.
  • Then Cersei rescues some poor girl from Pycelle in a moment that won’t make a ton of sense to people who haven’t read the books, but is important because it further establishes Cersei’s partiality to Qyburn.
  • Oberyn and Ellaria meet Tywin and Cersei, and it’s great. Some exposition about Prince Doran is slyly worked in here, and Oberyn reminds us again that Princess Myrcella is a hostage in Dorne.
  • Then Joffrey brings out a troupe of dwarf performers who act out the War of Five Kings. This makes much better sense for the show than a direct adaptation of the book, where there are two dwarfs who ride a dog and a pig. I’m also very hopeful that we will get to see Penny in season five of the show, as one of the dwarf performers kept their face covered throughout the scene.
  • Joffrey’s death is suitably dramatic, and feels like it must have been shocking for anyone who didn’t know it was coming. The bloody phlegm and burst blood vessels in his eyes were a nice and gruesome touch.
  • Dontos takes Sansa away while Joffrey is choking out his last breaths, so I guess we’ll find out next week where they are going.
  • Cersei’s grief and rage are captured perfectly by Lena Headey. She manages to remind us that, as awful as Joffrey was, he was someone’s child and she loved him, even if no one else did. It can’t quite make the scene tragic or make us feel bad for Joffrey, but it’s powerful nonetheless.

Game of Thrones Recap: Season 4, Episode 1 “The Two Swords”

I’ll be posting recaps of each episode in season four the Monday after they air. If you’d like to follow the series, I’ll be tagging them “GoT S4 Recap” and you can see the full series of posts here.

This is probably my favorite season-opening episode of Game of Thrones to date. Like the season two and three openers, “Two Swords” feels a little slow, functioning both as a recap of the previous season’s events and an introduction to season four. The episode also marks D.B. Weiss’s first time directing, and he’s done a superb job, from the first transition to the opening titles to the final shot of devastation in the Riverlands.

My biggest complaint about this episode is that one enormous thing that I wanted to see happen didn’t, but this isn’t truly a complaint about what did happen, which was almost without exception excellent.

Full recap, with spoilers, under the cut.

The episode starts with Tywin Lannister pulling Ned Stark’s greatsword, Ice, from a sheath made of a wolf pelt while “The Rains of Castamere” plays quietly and somewhat ominously (but also maybe triumphantly) in the background. The sword is broken and melted down, then poured into a cast for two new blades, and we see Tywin take the wolf pelt sheath and throw it into a fire. It’s a scene just packed with symbolism and meaning, and there’s no dialogue at all–just beautifully shot imagery and a perfect piece of music. It’s absolutely not what I wanted to see as the opening scene of the season, but it’s such a wonderful scene that I can’t complain. It’s a great way to really convey the most important event of season three–the fall of the Starks and the rise of the Lannisters–and the colors of the forge and the tune of “The Rains of Castamere” transition deftly into the opening credits.

Over the course of season three, we saw several changes to the opening credits sequence, and they’ve changed again for the start of the fourth season. Primarily, the world has (slightly, anyway) contracted again. Riverrun and the Twins are gone from the game board at the moment, being replaced with the Dreadfort in the North (although they’re still including the smoking ruins of Winterfell). Across the Narrow Sea, Astapor and Yunkai have given way to Meereen, which will be Daenerys’s next target.

Straight from the credits, we return to King’s Landing, where Tywin has given one of the new Valyrian steel swords to Jaime. Tywin also wants Jaime to quit the Kingsguard and return to Casterly Rock to take his place as ruler of the Lannister family’s lands. Jaime, however, will have none of this. He intends to remain in the Kingsguard, reminding his father that the Kingsguard serves for life, and Tywin promptly disowns him. Tywin does let Jaime keep the sword, though, stating acidly that “a one-handed man with no family needs all the help he can get.”

Meanwhile, Tyrion, Bronn and Podrick are on the road outside King’s Landing, waiting for a contingent of wedding guests to arrive from the far southern kingdom of Dorne. One thing I noticed immediately was that this scene has been scaled down considerably for the show from what is described in the book, which is a little disappointing although I suppose it makes sense to film this scene as cheaply as possible and save the budget for big battles and so on. Nonetheless, I feel like this scene was so diminished that it unfortunately downplays the importance of the arrival of Prince Oberyn, who, it turns out, isn’t even with the main company of Dornishmen. I did like that they included Podrick’s listing off of the various sigils of the Dornish houses; I can’t imagine that they will be important later, but it helps to create a more fully realised world for the show and it’s something that readers of the books will appreciate.

Of course Prince Oberyn is at Littlefinger’s brothel, along with his lover, Ellaria Sand, and they’re introduced in the middle of picking out a prostitute. Now, in general I’m not a fan of the brothel at all, but I’m pretty sure that this scene is the best use of this set so far. Some reviewers considered this to be “sexposition,” but I think it’s something a step above that. Yes, we get to see some boobs, but the insights that we’re given here into Oberyn, his character, and his relationship with Ellaria are valuable ones that I think this scene worked well to convey without stepping over the line to being gross. Mostly, I was just pleased to see Oberyn’s canonical bisexuality confirmed on the show. Game of Thrones has never shied away from including homosexuality, so I had no reason to think that they would erase this side of Oberyn and Ellaria’s relationship, but it’s still nice to see in a genre show.

Before Oberyn and Ellaria get to the good part of their brothel experience, Oberyn hears someone singing “The Rains of Castamere” in the next room. And so we get to see that Oberyn is dangerous as well as sexy. He’s just stabbed one of the offending Lannisters through the wrist when Tyrion, Bronn and Podrick show up. There’s a great moment between Oberyn and Bronn here as introductions are made, and then Oberyn and Tyrion walk outside to have a talk. This conversation might be the most important piece of exposition in the episode, with Oberyn talking about his sister Elia, Rhaegar Targaryen, and the reason why Oberyn hates the Lannisters so much. Also, “Lannisters aren’t the only ones who pay their debts” was a great line.

Next up, we travel across the Narrow Sea to see what Daenerys is up to. She’s sitting on a rock with Drogon’s head in her lap while Viserion and Rhaegal fly above them. All of the dragons have grown considerably, but Drogon, now around the size of a large horse, is by far the largest of the three. The dragons are also getting wilder and more dangerous as they grow, which is never more evident than when Drogon turns and snaps at Daenerys when she tries to calm him when he gets aggressive over a bit of food. It’s quickly becoming apparent that these animals are not pets and can’t be truly tamed, even by their mother.

From here, this Daenerys segment goes swiftly downhill. She and her army are making their way toward Meereen, and Daario and Grey Worm are holding up the whole process while they have some pointless competition going to determine which of them gets to ride next to Dany on the way to the city. I will say that the new actor playing Daario looks much better than the old one ever did, but I’m so far unimpressed with him. The only potentially interesting thing happening with this group is Grey Worm’s apparent infatuation with Missandei. I like the idea of the show exploring a romance between these two characters, but I’m skeptical that this is actually what we’re going to see over the course of the season.

Back in King’s Landing, Sansa is not dealing well with the deaths of her mother and brother. She’s not sleeping or eating, and she looks pale and red-eyed still, weeks after the Red Wedding. The most striking change in Sansa, however, is that everything she says seems to now be tinged with an undercurrent of frustrated rage. Tyrion is at a loss as to how to help her. Although he seems to sincerely want to do something, there’s really nothing he could possibly do for his young wife, who just wants to be left alone. Sansa finally gets fed up with his solicitousness and goes to the godswood, but not before informing him, “I don’t pray anymore. It’s the only place I can go where people don’t talk to me.”

Tyrion returns to his rooms, where he finds Shae waiting to pounce on him. He, on the other hand, isn’t in the mood and rejects her advances. Shae accuses him of wanting her to leave, and while Tyrion doesn’t know what she’s talking about when she accuses him of trying to pay her off with the diamonds that Varys once offered her he also isn’t able to give her the assurance that she wants that he still wants her. Shae rages a little over this and stalks out of the room. Unbeknownst to either of them, the entire exchange is overheard by Sansa’s other maid.

Elsewhere in the Red Keep, Qyburn is fitting Jaime with a new golden hand that Cersei has had commissioned for him. I like that the show is already setting up the intimacy between Cersei and Qyburn, who will become a much more important character later on. After Qyburn leaves, Jaime points out Cersei’s increased drinking, prompting Cersei to explain that she’s been under a lot of stress. The writers worked in a reminder here that Myrcella was sent to Dorne, but I doubt this means we’ll get to see her this season. Jaime tries to seduce Cersei, but it turns out that she’s really, and rather unreasonably, angry with him for what she seems to feel is his abandonment of her. “You took too long,” Cersei insists, when Jaime points out that he’s done nothing but try to get back to her, and it’s obvious that their relationship has been irrevocably changed.

In the North, Ygritte and Tormund are waiting for word from Mance Rayder about the impending attack on the Wall. In short order, a group of Thenns arrive, led by Styr, the Magnar of Thenn. Tormund “fucking hate[s] Thenns” and we immediately see why. Styr is a man of few words, huge and covered with terrifying scars. After answering Tormund’s questions with grunts, Styr does manage to wax eloquent about the quality of meat south of the Wall and we see that the Thenns have brought dinner with them: crow meat.

At the Wall, Jon is grieving for his brother Robb. I like this conversation between Sam and Jon an awful lot, although I missed seeing (or even hearing about) Gilly. Jon also has to explain himself to Alliser Thorne, who is acting Lord Commander, Alliser’s new toady Janos Slynt, and Maester Aemon. Thorne and Slynt would like to have Jon executed for breaking his vows, and they don’t believe him that Mance Rayder is planning on attacking in force, but Maester Aemon intercedes.

After this, it’s back to King’s Landing again, where Olenna Tyrell is trying to find just the right jewels for her grandaughter to get married in. This scene turns into something wonderful when Brienne shows up, hoping to speak with Margaery. I love how enthusiastic Olenna is about Brienne, and I love how Olenna’s approval so quickly helps to put Brienne at ease in what is clearly an uncomfortable situation for her.

There is a truly, hilariously awful statue of Joffrey with his foot on top of a dead wolf in the garden.

Our first scene of Joffrey in season four is him being simply terrible to Jaime, who is trying to work out arrangements for security at the upcoming royal wedding. Joffrey flips through the Kingsguard’s Book of Brothers to point out that Jaime’s entry is woefully short compared to some of the other legendary knights contained in its pages. This scene is interesting to me because it’s invented for the show, but what it communicates is something that occurred with Jaime in a room by himself in the book. Here, Joffrey voices what in the book was only in Jaime’s head. It’s a good way to include, in spirit, anyway, some part of that internal monologue. It also gives us the only scene we’ve gotten in the show so far where Jaime and Joffrey interact with each other, which means that Jaime will have a sense of what Joffrey is going forward.

We go back again to Dany on the road to Meereen, where Daario is shamelessly flirting with her. He brings her a blue rose, which will feel meaningful to book readers, but otherwise I found this scene profoundly uninteresting. New Daario is definitely better looking than old Daario, but I’m really not feeling any chemistry between him and Daenerys. This might be because I never understood Daario’s appeal to Dany in the books, either, to be honest. After this brief interlude, Dany gets back to the front of the column to find that the Meereenese leaders have marked the road to the city–with the bodies of dead slave children at every mile marker. Barristan and Jorah would have them removed, but Daenerys insists on seeing them all before they are buried. The Meereenese may have thought to dissuade Dany from coming to their city, but this only deepens her resolve.

Again back to King’s Landing, where Jaime and Brienne are watching Sansa from an overlook above the Godswood. I love all interactions between Jaime and Brienne and this is no different, as Brienne urges Jaime to remember his oath to Catelyn Stark to protect her daughters.

Down in the godswood, Sansa is being followed by Ser Dontos, the drunken knight she saved at Joffrey’s nameday tournament. He gives her the gift of a necklace with purple stones that he claims is an old family heirloom. I’m a little disappointed that we haven’t gotten to see more of Sansa and Dontos in the godswood, but I think it would have made for terribly boring television if they’d tried to include it the way that it happened in the book. This scene was alright, and it gets Sansa the amethyst necklace (though in the book it was a hair net), which is really what matters.

The episode closes with Arya and the Hound, who are making their way towards the Vale of Arryn, where Sandor hopes to sell Arya to her aunt Lysa. Arya is bemoaning her lack of a horse of her own when they come upon an inn with several horses outside. They’re hiding in the woods, scouting the place out, when out walks someone Arya recognizes: Polliver, who took her sword, Needle, and killed Lommy. Arya is determined to get her sword back, and heads to the inn before Sandor can stop her. Inside the inn, Polliver recognizes the Hound and comes over to brag about how he and his men have been pillaging, raping, and torturing their way through the countryside. While this is going on, there’s essentially a rape taking place in the background, which actually pissed me off because it felt so unnecessary and gross. I don’t quite understand why they felt the need to overlay Polliver’s accounts of torture and pillaging over the sounds of an actual woman in horrible distress. It’s deeply unsettling and not in a good way.

Long story short, Sandor picks a fight with Polliver, and while Sandor fights the rest of the men, Arya manages to retrieve Needle and kill Polliver herself.

The final shot of the episode is Arya and the Hound riding off into what looks like basically a smoldering wasteland, and I both like it and think it’s a little over the top. It’s an incredibly dark and bleak ending to this season opener, but I think it works.

Watched: Game of Thrones Season 3, Episode 10 “Mhysa”

This was a bit of a weird episode for me. On the one hand, only two of the things that I really wanted to see in it happened. On the other hand, most of the episode was really satisfying. At the same time, there was one scene that I (and a lot of other people) just absolutely hated, and it was bad enough to almost ruin the episode.

**Spoilers under the cut.**

The episode opens with more Red Wedding chaos at the Twins. Arya wakes up just in time to see her brother’s desecrated body being paraded through the continuing carnage before Sandor grabs a Frey banner and rides off into the night. I shouldn’t have been, but I was, a little surprised to see the infamous RobbWind brought to life for the show. In

A Storm of Swords

, it’s not clear whether this is a real event that happened or whether the story is part of the already-growing legend of the Red Wedding. It also just broke my heart that it was something that Arya actually sees in the show. Poor, poor Arya.

Later in the episode, Sandor and Arya come upon a group of Frey men who are laughing and joking about the Red Wedding and bragging about their part in it. Arya steals the Hound’s knife, approaches the men as a child asking for food, and then attacks and kills one of them when their guard is down. Sandor steps in to kill the others before they can retaliate. Arya is so obviously

not okay

right now.

It’s interesting to see how Sandor Clegane functions as another in a series of surrogate father figures for Arya. Ned Stark tried to shelter Arya, only somewhat reluctantly letting her take lessons from Syrio Forel. Syrio introduced Arya to a philosophy of fighting and warfare and then sacrificed himself to save her. Yoren gave Arya the idea of the litany of names she recites–people she someday plans to kill. Jaqen H’ghar killed for Arya and gave her the coin that will help her find the next part of her destiny. Beric and Thoros were kind to Arya, in their way, but viewed her as a pawn, much the same way that most highborn men view daughters.

Sandor, however, treats Arya more as an equal than anything else. He’s not forthcoming, but, when asked, he doesn’t mince words about his motives for capturing her when she flees the Brotherhood Without Banners. When she says he’s the worst, he doesn’t defend himself, but rather just points out how narrow her view of the world is. He doesn’t argue with her or make excuses or beg her forgiveness when she threatens to kill him. Indeed, he respects her anger and never tries to invalidate her feelings.

In “Mhysa” we see another illustrative example of how the relationship between Arya and Sandor works. Sandor knocked her over the head to save her at the end of “The Rains of Castamere,” showing that he feels some obligation or compulsion to protect Arya even though, at this point, there is basically no way that she has any value to him since everyone who might have paid a ransom or reward for her is dead. However, in this episode, the first shot of Sandor and Arya that we get seems to linger meaningfully on Sandor’s failure (or possibly refusal) to protect Arya from the sight of Robb Stark’s desecrated corpse being paraded through the ongoing battle. Later, when Arya kills the Frey man, Sandor simply asks her if that was the first man she’s killed and then advises her to tell him first the next time she’s planning on doing something like that. A simplistic reading of the Arya/Sandor relationship (and the Sansa/Sandor relationship) would be that this man, who lost his own innocence at such a young age, is drawn to the innocence in the Stark girls and wants to protect it. However, I think it’s more accurate to say that Sandor wants to make the Stark girls’ loss of innocence easier rather than to actually prevent it. It’s as if he sees himself less as a protector than as a guide.

Speaking of Sansa, we’re next transported to King’s Landing where she’s walking through the gardens with Tyrion (and Shae behind them). Tyrion and Sansa have a rare bonding moment over their mutual outcast status, and Sansa suggests a prank they could play on the men who just laughed at them. It’s a rare moment between this pair that shows that maybe they really could develop, if not a romance, at least a friendship. It’s nice to see Sansa get even a moment to be herself since most of her time in King’s Landing has been spent under a mask of courtesy just hoping to stay alive and not be raped. The moment is a little ruined, however, when Podrick Payne arrives to tell Tyrion that there is a small council meeting he needs to attend.

At the small council meeting, Joffrey is gleeful upon hearing about the Red Wedding, and he wants to have Robb Stark’s head served to Sansa at the upcoming King’s Landing wedding. Tyrion will have none of that, telling Joffrey that Sansa is no longer his to torment. This, of course, prompts a royal tantrum from Joffrey which only works to elicit threats from Tyrion. Tywin, in his way, sides with his son, at which point Joffrey insults Tywin to his face. The faces of the small council and the moment of silence as they wait to see how Tywin responds are one of many excellent moments in this episode. Tywin responds by sending the king to bed, which effectively puts an end to the meeting.

When the others leave, Tywin asks Tyrion to stay behind for a lecture of familial duty. Tyrion doesn’t receive this very well, and he asks Tywin when he ever did anything that wasn’t in his own best interests. To which Tywin, who is kind of awful, responds that he didn’t drown Tyrion when he was born. It’s a sad moment for Tyrion, who has always known that his father resented him but maybe did not know that his father actually wanted him dead.

By the time Tyrion returns to the rooms he shares with Sansa, Sansa has found out about Robb and Catelyn’s deaths and whatever fragile accord she and Tyrion had been forging is, predictably, shattered.

Bran, Hodor, and the Reeds have reached the Nightfort, where Bran tells his companions the story of the Rat Cook–a cook at the Nightfort who was punished for violating guest rights by being turned into a giant white rat who, like all punished souls, roams the Nightfort forever in torment.

The story of the Rat Cook suggests a sort of cosmic justice for crimes like those committed by Walder Frey at the Twins, but we break from Bran’s company directly to Walder Frey and Roose Bolton gloating over their victory while servants try to scrub blood from the floors. Roose Boltom complains of Robb’s arrogance and failure to listen to the advice of older and wiser men, which suggests that when viewed from a different angle the Young Wolf’s death is a different sort of justice. As tragic and horrifying as the Red Wedding was, Robb Stark had made choices that were getting men killed. He took advantage of the honor of his bannermen and betrayed them all, leading them in a way that could have gotten them annihilated in the war with the Lannisters. In the end, Robb’s personal charisma and battle prowess weren’t enough to win him a kingdom. Sensible men prefer peace and stability, not wars fought in service of personal quarrels, but Robb arrogantly believed that he could use his bannermen for his own ends and against their own better judgment.

Also in this scene we learn what actually happened at Winterfell, and we learn the identity of Theon Greyjoy’s torturer. Readers of the books weren’t surprised to learn that it’s Ramsay Snow, Roose Bolton’s bastard son. On that note, we get to a scene of the aforementioned Ramsay, who is eating a fat sausage while Theon begs to be die. Ramsay, of course, will not oblige Theon in this matter. Instead, Ramsay decides to rename Theon as “Reek,” a name for fitting to Theon’s current status, and beats Theon into submission. I haven’t loved a lot of the Theon/Ramsay scenes this season, and a couple of them were really just gratuitous torture porn, but this scene worked for me. It’s also one of the scenes that I was hoping to see in this episode, and I was relieved to finally have Ramsay’s identity settled. Now I’m just curious to see what they do with this pair in season four.

Back at the Nightfort, scary sounds wake Bran and the Reeds up, but it’s just Sam and Gilly. Sam almost immediately recognizes Bran as Jon’s brother and tries to convince them to come to Castle Black instead of going past the Wall. However, Jojen implies that Bran may be able to stop the zombie apocalypse, so Sam arms the Reeds and Hodor with dragonglass and sends them on their way. I’m a little disappointed that we haven’t seen Coldhands, although it’s possible that he will meet Bran and the Reeds when they emerge from the Wall in season four. I’m also not sure how I feel about Jojen’s implication that Bran might be some kind of magic hero that can stop the white walkers. The books imply that Bran has a part to play in the global events that are going on, but not so specifically as Jojen does here. It raises the stakes for Bran’s story and imbues the character with importance that he hasn’t had so far in the novels, but I’m still just not particularly interested in Bran’s journey. Time will tell, I suppose.

In the Iron Islands, Balon and Yara receive a box with Theon’s penis in it (am I the only one surprised by the lack of “dick in a box” jokes since this scene aired?) and a letter from Ramsay Snow, who says that if they don’t comply with his demands he’ll keep sending them pieces of Theon. Balon looks unhappy, but he’s prepared to let Theon die. Yara, however, isn’t going to let her little brother get killed, and she outlines her plan to mount a rescue mission. This is a bit of a departure from Yara/Asha’s storyline in the books, but I like it. I also loved the shot of her in her armor striding purposefully around looking tough and capable.

At Dragonstone, Davos and Gendry bond over growing up in Fleabottom, and we learn a little more about Davos’s history. Later, we get a scene of Davos reading letters with Shireen (who preciously tells him that her books are much more interesting) when bells start ringing. Davos rushes to Stannis to find out what the bells are about only to be told about the Red Wedding, which success Melisandre attributes to her leeches, and that Stannis has decided to allow Gendry to be sacrificed. There’s an excellent, if heavy-handed, shot that positions Davos and Melisandre as the angel and devil (respectively) on Stannis’s shoulders, but Stannis is determined to sacrifice the boy against Davos’s protests.

Davos then rushes to smuggle Gendry out of Dragonstone, putting him on a boat that should get him to King’s Landing if he doesn’t fall out and drown. Stannis is predictably angry about Davos’s duplicity and is ready to have Davos executed when Davos suggests another plan. They’re going to go north to aid the Night’s Watch and secure the kingdom. Even Melisandre agrees with this plan and she intercedes with Stannis to save Davos’s life. Stannis’s little laugh at this rare accord between his two most valued advisers is one of my favorite moments in the episode, although the brilliance of the setting sun lighting the shot seemed a little over-the-top dramatic to me.

Back in King’s Landing, Varys approaches Shae and we get another scene of people bonding over shared humble backgrounds. I like that Shae gets to be a little more complex in the show than she was in the books. Her love of Sansa as well as her jealousy over Tyrion’s affections are compelling motivating forces that make show!Shae much more interesting than the more pragmatic and mercenary Shae of the novels. Varys, however, wants Shae to leave King’s Landing and is willing to pay her handsomely to do so. He thinks she is a distraction for Tyrion, who he contends is one of only a few people capable of doing real good in Westeros. Needless to say, Shae doesn’t take this well and she refuses to leave.

Tyrion, meanwhile, is getting very drunk with Podrick Payne when Cersei comes to talk with him. Cersei advises Tyrion to give Sansa a child as soon as possible and recounts how her own children were what kept her from killing herself, giving her purpose and joy in her life. I love these sort of conversations between Tyrion and Cersei because I get the feeling that these are the times when we see Cersei as her most authentic self. She’s able to be honest with Tyrion in a way that I don’t think she is even with Jaime because Tyrion isn’t blind to Cersei’s faults the way Jaime seems to be.

Back in the North, Ygritte catches up to Jon Snow, who is on his way back to Castle Black. Jon makes an enormous ass of himself, insisting, childlike, that he “[has] to go home now.” Ygritte, who dared to hope that she might be Jon’s home, is devastated. Even with her bow trained on him, Jon doesn’t think Ygritte will hurt him, prompting another reiteration of “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” Through her tears (and with a delicately quivering lower lip in another excellent performance by Rose Leslie), Ygritte manages to hit Jon with several arrows as he rides away.

At Castle Black, Sam has brought Gilly to meet Maester Aemon. Gilly has decided to name her son Sam, which is adorable. After Sam gives an impassioned speech about his interpretation of his vows to include Wildlings, Aemon determines that Gilly can stay as a guest of the Night’s Watch for the time being. Then, Aemon immediately puts Sam to work writing the letters to be sent out to all the lords in Westeros warning them of the danger coming from beyond the Wall.

Jaime and Brienne have reached King’s Landing, where Jaime is no longer recognizable as himself. Brienne’s small sort of smile of encouragement and sympathy was lovely and sad. Jaime, of course, goes straight to find Cersei who, for once, is speechless, although we’ll have to wait until next season to find out if she’s speechless with joy or dismay.

Finally, outside Yunkai Daenerys and friends are waiting outside the city apprehensively. Then the gates open and now-freed slaves start streaming out. When the crowd has gathered, they start yelling “mhysa,” which means “mother” in old Ghiscari, at which point Dany decides to walk amongst her new people, who lift her up worshipfully. While dragons fly in circles overhead, we get a wide shot showing the thousands of people in Dany’s army and the mass of freed people from Yunkai. Then the credits start.

I have never been so disappointed with the ending of any episode of this show. All the way up to the last five minutes I was enjoying the episode, but the Dany scene that gives the episode its name is truly terrible on basically every level. The scene of the uniformly brown freed people practically worshiping the whitest white lady in the world should seriously make everyone uncomfortable. Because it’s gross and racist. In addition to being heavy-handed, cliche, and just plain cheesy. It’s not even laughably bad because it’s obvious that the writers and directors took this scene very seriously and really, really thought that it would be an emotional high point for viewers. In three seasons of this show, there have been a lot of sour points for me, but this just absolutely takes the cake for being disgustingly racist as well as just plain lazy and unimaginative.

Watched: Game of Thrones Season 3, Episode 9 “The Rains of Castamere”

Hoo boy, this episode. “The Rains of Castamere” contains one of the most controversial events in A Song of Ice and Fire, but it also has some of the finest scenes of exposition that I can remember in the show to date.

**Spoilers under the cut.**

  • The Twins are in the opening credits. I don’t remember seeing them there before (previously it was just Riverrun, I think.)
  • The ominous shot of the Bolton token on Robb’s map was a nice touch.
  • Robb and Catelyn have a sort of reconciliation when Robb asks Catelyn for advice regarding his (frankly, terrible) plan to attack Casterly Rock.
  • Next up, the Stark party is arriving at the Twins. They eat Walder Frey’s bread and salt, and Robb offers a really asinine apology to a parade of rather plain Frey girls. Walder Frey calls Robb out, though, while also being particularly vile to Talisa. This scene, for me, is where the substitution of Talisa for Jeyne is most grating. Book!Robb deflowers Jeyne Westerling, and this creates a real crisis of honor for him. Does he marry Jeyne to preserve her honor or does he keep his promise to Walder Frey? Show!Robb, we are told, fell in love with Talisa and just couldn’t help but marry her. He makes a conscious and willful choice to prioritize his own feelings over doing the honorable (and responsible) thing and preserving the Frey alliance. I don’t see how there would be any way for Show!Robb to apologize that wouldn’t make him sound like an asshole. I was happy to see Walder Frey mock Robb’s so-called “honor” here.
  • Tobias Menzies doesn’t get many lines as Edmure, but he makes the best faces. I’m honestly impressed with how much he’s able to communicate with his looks. Also, there is at least one laugh-out-loud funny Edmure face per episode, which is good.
  • “The wine will flow red…” Well, something will flow red.
  • Daario has a plan for how to get Daenerys’ army into Yunkai. Jorah hates it, but Grey Worm trusts Daario (inexplicably) and Dany gives them the go-ahead. I was surprised that the sacking of Yunkai was in this episode since the next episode title, “Mhysa,” seems to indicate a Dany-centric episode. There’s still a little more of this story to be told in the last episode, but I was hoping for a more epic battle scene next week. I guess we’ll see.
  • Sam and Gilly arrive at the Wall in the first of several excellent exposition scenes in this episode. Sam tells Gilly about the Nightfort, one of the abandoned castles along the Wall, and he says that there is a secret passage into the castle that will allow them to get through and travel to Castle Black. He read it in a book, which prompts Gilly to say he’s “like a magician” and elicits a proud smile from Sam, who I don’t think is used to being useful and competent. I’ve loved this whole storyline so far, but I do hope this doesn’t mean the show is going to skip Coldhands.
  • Arya and the Hound are still working their way toward the Twins, and they commandeer some old guy’s cart of salt pork. When Sandor goes to kill the old man, Arya begs him not to, to which the Hound replies, “You’re very kind. Someday it’s going to get you killed.” Arya then proceeds to bludgeon the old guy one more time to make sure he stays knocked out. The look on the Hound’s face is priceless. I guess Arya’s not that kind.
  • Bran, Rickon, Osha, and Reeds are getting closer to the Wall. In the second great piece of exposition in the episode, we learn that the land they’re now traveling through is called the Gift. It’s the land for 50 miles south of the Wall, given to the Night’s Watch in perpetuity to help support them. Unfortunately, we also learn that it’s mostly abandoned because Wildlings raid so often that the diminished Night’s Watch couldn’t protect the people who lived there. Even Rickon has a line in this scene, and it’s adorable.
  • Jon and the Wildlings are also in the Gift, where they are about to steal some horses from a man who breeds and sells them to the Night’s Watch. Jon begs Tormund not to kill the old man, but Tormund is eager to draw the attention of the Night’s Watch so they can fight. However, Jon manages to make enough noise to alert the horses so the man can escape.
  • Arya is getting more and more anxious the closer she and Sandor get to the Twins. She proves all over again in this short scene that she isn’t all that kind at all. We’re really starting to see the toll her experiences are taking on her. Sandor seems to be only somewhat frightened of this fierce, hard girl, but I think he mostly just pities her.
  • Bran and company are trying to figure out how to get past the Wall, and they continue to deliver valuable exposition that feels natural and not like a lecture on the history of Westeros. We learn that only three of the nineteen castles along the Wall are occupied and that the others have had their gates sealed with stone and ice. We also learn more about how the Wildlings manage to come south. Hodor starts freaking out about the storm just as Osha and the Reeds see Wildlings ride up outside, and Bran has to warg into Hodor in order to calm him down.
  • Orell hears Hodor, but is momentarily distracted when they capture the horse breeder.
  • Jojen wants Bran to warg into Summer and attack the Wildlings. Bran doesn’t know how to do it on purpose, but he figures it out after all.
  • Jon can’t bring himself to kill the horse breeder, so Ygritte does. A fight ensues between Jon and the Wildlings. Summer and Shaggydog join the fight. Jon kills Orell, who wargs into his eagle at the last moment and then the fakest eagle ever attacks Jon’s face. Jon manages to escape on a horse, leaving an angry and heartbroken Ygritte behind. Rose Leslie did an incredible job of conveying Ygritte’s sense of betrayal here.
  • Back at Yunkai, Daario gets himself, Jorah, and Grey Worm into the city where they fight with the guards in kind of a great battle scene.
  • Edmure is apprehensive as he watches his bride walk towards him all covered in a heavy veil. Tobias Menzies and Michelle Fairley communicate so much with their looks in this scene, it’s really impressive. Edmure’s look of relief when the veil is removed and Roslin Frey turns out to be extremely young and very pretty and Catelyn’s encouraging and proud smile to her brother made this scene work. My only nitpick here is that they say “the Stranger” in their wedding vows. I thought that worshipers of the Seven didn’t say the Stranger ever because the Stranger is a god of death and it’s unlucky or something. People who haven’t read the books would never know the difference, but it bugged me a little.
  • Bran says that he saw Jon Snow through Summer’s eyes, and we learn a little more about what it means to be a warg. Jojen says and Osha confirms that Bran’s ability to warg into another human is unique. Bran realises that he has to go with Jojen and Meera north of the Wall, so he sends Rickon away with Osha. This scene actually made me teary. It’s been almost a joke that Rickon hasn’t gotten much to do on screen this season, but his desire to stay and protect Bran is sweet and sad enough to make up for his previous lack of screentime.
  • Daenerys is getting anxious back at her camp. She doesn’t know how long it’s supposed to take to sack a city. Jorah and Grey Worm come back covered in blood to tell her that they’ve been victorious. Jorah’s face when Dany asks about Daario is, I think, supposed to be sad, but I found it comical. (How do you say “friend-zoned” in Valyrian?) Daario comes back a moment later, and he lays the banner of Yunkai at Dany’s feet.
  • The rest of the episode is dedicated to the wedding feast, which at first seems to be going well. We get to hear Roose Bolton’s story about how he got a fat wife. Brynden Tully goes to take a piss, which I think is what is going to save him from what comes later. Robb and Talisa are even being cute. Talisa’s look of alarm/horror at the bedding tradition is probably the moment that I have liked her best. Cat tells Roose that Ned forbade the bedding at their own wedding–because obviously the writers of this show want to keep making us fall in love with these characters right up to the very end. In that same vein, Robb and Talisa are talking baby names, and Robb actually tears up when Talisa talks about a baby Ned Stark.
  • And that’s about when the musicians start playing “The Rains of Castamere” and Catelyn knows that something is very, very wrong.
  • Cut to Grey Wind whining and trying to escape the kennel.
  • Sandor and Arya have arrived, only to be told that the feast is over. The Hound has an idea of what is going on, but Arya has already run off.
  • Cat still knows something bad is about to happen. Roose Bolton gives her a look and she pulls up his sleeve to find that he’s wearing chainmail.
  • All hell proceeds to break loose.
  • Talisa gets stabbed in the belly, which is horrifying. However, it’s not nearly as bad as some people made it out to be. To hear some people talk on Twitter, the Freys practically cut Fetus Stark out and kicked it around on the floor, but that is not the case.
  • Robb gets about half a dozen crossbow bolts in the chest, and Cat gets one in the back.
  • Walder Frey is just grinning like crazy while people’s throats are getting cut all over the place. I felt like the pure chaos of the scene was portrayed well.
  • Arya is trying to sneak in when she sees a bunch of Stark guards and Grey Wind get killed. The Hound clubs her over the head and carries her off into the night.
  • Back in the dining hall, Catelyn grabs Lady Frey as a hostage so she can make one last, desperate plea for her son’s life only to find out that Walder Frey doesn’t care about his wife at all.
  • Robb has crawled to Talisa’s body, but he stands up, only to get a dagger through the heart from Roose Bolton, who also sends regards from the Lannisters.
  • Catelyn’s face just empties of all hope as she screams in agony. She cuts Lady Frey’s throat; then her own throat is cut and that’s the end of the episode.

I guess I should talk about the Red Wedding and how it made me feel, but mostly I just feel relieved to have that part of the show over with. It’s been mildly amusing to see the reactions of people who somehow just had no idea that it was coming, but I honestly just don’t see how that’s even possible.

Robb Stark is a character that was basically doomed from the start, and he’s made pretty much every mistake he could possibly make if he really wanted to be a king. The Red Wedding is, not justice exactly, but the sort of natural result of Robb’s mistakes–as well as his hubris. As recently as the beginning of this very episode Robb was making plans to sacrifice the lives of someone else’s army in waging a campaign that is risky and not even particularly strategically sound. Robb Stark fails over and over again as a leader because he prioritizes his own feelings–his love for Talisa, his desire for vengeance on the Lannisters–over his responsibilities to his bannermen and his fledgling kingdom. Over and over we are shown that Robb doesn’t value or respect his supporters, so I don’t understand why people were surprised at Roose Bolton’s betrayal and Walder Frey’s bloody revenge.

Watched: Game of Thrones Season 3, Episode 8 “Second Sons”

Opinions on the internet about “Second Sons” seem to indicate that this is either the best or worst episode of the season so far. I’m honestly a little confused as to why opinions are so polarized about what I think was a solid, if somewhat slow, episode that narrowed its focus to just a handful of plots, all of which were advanced by what we saw here.

The previous episodes in season 3 have often had a somewhat hectic, frantic pace as the writers tried to cover as much ground as possible in each episode, but there have still been times where it felt as if, although a lot was happening on screen, none of the stories were really advancing very much. “Second Sons” has longer scenes, a slower, more deliberate, pace and less action, but for me it felt like a more thoughtful and thorough examination of the episode’s themes than some of this season’s previous episodes, which struggled to do each plot justice and sometimes had inconsistent tones that undermined thematic messaging.

**Spoilers under the cut.**

  • The episode opens with Arya advancing toward the sleeping Sandor Clegane, large rock in hand and planning to bash his brains out. When she realizes the Hound is awake, Arya is unable to actually kill him and they ride on toward wherever he is taking her. Which turns out to be the Twins. Sandor hopes to arrive in time to collect a ransom for Arya at her uncle Edmure’s wedding.
  • This opening scene is one of my favorite of the season so far, and my second favorite scene in this episode. Sandor Clegane is one of my favorite characters in the books, and the exchange he has here with Arya works well to establish his character on the show. Arya’s experience of the world is, honestly, still pretty limited, and Sandor’s response when she tells him, “There’s no one worse than you,” highlights just how innocent Arya actually is. The Hound has no illusions of himself as an upright or particularly moral man, and he’s done terrible things, but he’s not a monster. More to the point, he knows men who are monsters. His brother Gregor is one, and Joffrey was another, and while Sandor’s flight from King’s Landing and the Battle of the Blackwater was at least half based on the sheer, visceral terror he felt at the sight of the wildfire, I think that it also represents Sandor’s rejection of the entire system of kings and lords and knights and armies. So here, in this scene with Arya as they look out over picturesque countryside, Sandor is trying, in his way, to be a better man, and he’s looking for recognition of that. I don’t think Arya can give him what he wants, no more than Sansa ever could, but this speech is about Sandor’s self-affirmation as much as it’s about teaching an innocent young girl the ways of the world.
  • The first of the three main plots of this episode finds us with Daenerys and her men spying on the camp of a mercenary group called the Second Sons. She summons the leaders of this mercenary band to her own camp to find out if she can buy them away from their Yunkai’i masters, at which point we meet the thoroughly disgusting Mero, his second-in-command Prendahl na Ghezn, and Daario Naharis. Mero is a truly obnoxious piece of work who, without much real malice, has his misogyny on full display as he suggests that Dany is a whore, sniffs in the grossest way possible at Missandei (whose face is priceless), and asks Dany to show him her cunt. Prendahl barely says a word. And Daario…
  • Casting Ed Skrein as Daario Naharis is, I think, the biggest missed opportunity this show has had to cast a person of color in a prominent role. It’s a character whose race is never explicitly described in the books–all we know is that he has blue eyes, which could be an indicator of him being white if, you know, tons of PoC didn’t have blue eyes. Or if it really even mattered that much. The show has never been particular about casting any character exactly as described in the books, and the books’ descriptions of Daario gave the casting director pretty much carte blanche to choose whoever they wanted. Daario’s flamboyant fashion and distinctive weapons are far more important than his blue eyes, and the costumers failed entirely in creating everything except the naked lady swords. So instead of a handsome, charismatic sellsword who I could believe Daenerys might fall in love with, we got an ugly white dude in generic-looking armor wearing what looks like one of Cersei Lannister’s season one wigs. I don’t consider this a case of white-washing, but it is an example of defaulting to white in the absence of the writer explicitly describing a character’s race. The fantasy genre has always been very white, especially in European history-inspired worlds and I can deal with most of Westeros being white folk, but it’s pure racist laziness to cast major characters from the primarily PoC-inhabited Essos as white. Even if we accept that Essos has many multicultural populations and a lot of expatriates from Westeros, this casting choice is still a missed opportunity at best and a deliberate exclusion of PoC at worst.
  • On the bright side, we finally get another scene of Dany and Missandei interacting with each other. Missandei speaks 19 languages, and I laughed when she criticized Dany’s Dothraki. I really, really want this relationship to be developed more than it has been, and the moment here is cut far too short by Daario showing up to gift Dany the severed heads of Mero (good riddance!) and Prendahl.
  • I honestly just have a lot of mixed feelings about show!Dany at this point. On the one hand, she’s fucking terrible. She’s arrogant and smug and imperialistic and I don’t like the feeling I get that I, as a woman, am supposed to find these traits in Dany admirable or empowering. On the other hand, she’s fucking terrible, just increasingly unlikable, and if things go the way on the show that they do in the books this shit is not going to work out very well for Dany at all. Which in the books I read as criticism and subversion of white savior tropes. So it could be just too early to really judge the show, as things don’t really get hard for book!Dany until A Dance With Dragons. On the third hand, Dany has definitely evolved and grown as a character over the course of three seasons of the show. We’ve seen her go from a scared young girl sold into marriage to a man who raped her to a woman who has lost a husband and son, who has learned to own her sexuality, and who has become comfortable (maybe too comfortable) in her roles as both warlord and woman. Her self-assurance was palpable in “Second Sons” as she steps out of her bath to approach Daario, and it interestingly recalls the scene in season one when Dany steps into a scalding bath in order to wash away her brother’s unwanted touch. In the first season scene, we saw Daenerys at her most disempowered, doing something that for any other woman would be an act of significant self-harm, but here we see her as a woman who is confident in her waxing power to the point of being unafraid to stand nude before a man who just moments before held a knife to Missandei’s throat.
  • Elsewhere, Melisandre and Gendry have arrived at Dragonstone. Stannis is clearly uncomfortable with Melisandre’s plans to sacrifice Gendry, so he goes to see Davos. The relationship between Stannis and Davos is one of my favorites in the books, and it’s been handled really well on the show. We see here just how much Stannis relies on Davos for advice and friendship, and we find out why Stannis believes in Melisandre and her god. Davos is still unconvinced, so we are treated to a scene where Melisandre seduces Gendry only to tie him down and drop leeches down his pants. Stannis drops the leeches into a fire, naming his enemies (Robb Stark, Balon Greyjoy, and Joffrey Baratheon) one by one. I’m curious to find out what it takes for Davos to be convinced that the Lord of Light is real.
  • The biggest event of this episode turns out to be the most awkward and sad wedding in the history of forever. Sansa and Tyrion are finally getting married and basically everyone except Sansa and Loras uses this as an opportunity to act like assholes.
  • Tyrion shows up to talk to Sansa before the wedding and says a bunch of stuff about how he know’s how she feels. He doesn’t. Obviously. I feel a little bad for him because I think he’s genuinely trying to be reassuring by pointing out the advantages of her new station as a married woman. However, he ends up coming off as insensitive and a little too cavalier about the whole thing.
  • Joffrey uses the ceremony as an opportunity to humiliate both Sansa and Tyrion. Then, at the reception, Joffrey basically promises to rape Sansa, making it very clear that her marriage does not protect her the way Tyrion seems to think it does.
  • Margaery tries to be sisterly with Cersei, which prompts Cersei to tell us the story of the Reynes of Castamere. And then threaten to have Margaery killed.
  • Olenna sits openly mocking an unhappy Loras and Margaery about the confused relationships they’re about to marry into.
  • Tyrion gets wasted drunk and makes scene after humiliating scene while Sansa has to sit next to him and try not to cry or stab anyone.
  • Loras tries to make nice with Cersei, who is in rare form tonight, and get’s completely shut down.
  • Tywin makes it a point to have a go at Tyrion about his advanced state of inebriation and how that might affect his ability to consummate this marriage.
  • Shae stares daggers at Tyrion the whole time.
  • My only problem with the entire wedding sequence here is that they had Sansa kneel for Tyrion where, in the books, her refusal to do so was a wonderful example of her retaining her pride and self-respect in the face of months of abuse that have culminated in forced marriage into the family of her abusers. In the book, I was able to spare some sympathy for Tyrion’s humiliation here, but the way the show handled this left all of my feelings for Sansa. Tyrion might be unhappy, but, realistically, this marriage is largely beneficial to him no matter how much he might feel bad about it. Sansa gains nothing, not even basic security or protection against rape, and she has to deal with the mortification caused by Tyrion’s behavior at the feast to boot. I wish they had preserved her refusal to kneel, because no embarrassment she could have caused Tyrion would equal what he does to her.
  • The bedroom scene was handled well and managed to convey all the sadness and shame and frustration Tyrion and Sansa must be feeling with rather little dialogue. Sophie Turner deserves an award for her looks alone. She communicates an incredible amount of information without saying a word, as does Peter Dinklage who clearly telegraphs Tyrion’s struggle between his fear of Tywin, his sense of duty, his desire for Sansa, and his desire to not be a rapist. There’s just so much going on here, and it’s one of the rare times that I’ve felt this show handled a complex sexual situation with grace, subtlety and taste.
  • The episode is capped with a Sam and Gilly scene that starts off sweet and ends with an event that I’ve been waiting all season for. This pair, with baby in tow, is still on the run back to the Wall when they decide to stop for the night at an abandoned cabin in a terrifying forest. They talk about baby names, and Sam still can’t build a fire. Sam is called outside by the increasingly loud sounds of ravens in the tree next to the cabin, and he heads out with his sword and a torch to see what’s going on. A white walker has come for the baby, and Sam finds a shred of bravery to attack the monster, which instantly shatters Sam’s sword (with a somewhat cheesy special effect) and throws him out of the way. As the white walker advances on Gilly, Sam remembers the dragonglass knife he’s carrying and stabs the creature in the back. The white walker turns to ice and shatters, an effect that is definitely cool enough to make up for the kind of cheesy sword shattering. Sam and Gilly run off into the night, followed be a flock of screaming ravens. The dragonglass dagger, however–the one weapon we now know will defeat the white walkers–is left behind. Oh, Sam.

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