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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 4, Episode 10 “The Children”

So, wow. That happened.

“The Children” is another episode of Game of Thrones at its worst AND best. Unfortunately, while there was some great stuff in the episode that I really loved, it’s not enough to make up for what I think are some serious, serious problems.

Spoilers under the cut for the episode and for book-related complaints and speculation.

“The Children” picks up right where last week’s episode ended, with Jon Snow leaving the Wall to walk, unarmed, into Mance Rayder’s camp. Mance is, quite understandably, not terribly happy to see Jon, but he is willing to talk. Mance doesn’t want to keep fighting. He insists that his people just want to hide behind the Wall, and he knows that the Night’s Watch doesn’t have the men they need to hold the Wall against his forces. They drink to Ygritte and to Grenn and the giant Mag the Mighty who died in the tunnel under the Wall. Then Jon twitches as if to go for a knife to kill Mance, but before either of them can kill the other they hear war horns.

Mance thinks at first that the Night’s Watch is attacking, but Jon admits that Mance was right when he said they didn’t have the men for it and they walk outside to find that Stannis has arrived with the army he managed to buy with the help of the Iron Bank. The overhead shots of Stannis’s cavalry are truly impressive and lend an epic feel to the scene, although I wish these first ten minutes had been included in last week’s episode to leave more time for some of the other stories that were tackled in this one. The conversation between Mance and Jon and Stannis and Davos is excellently done and could have been left for this episode, but I definitely think the arrival of Stannis’s forces would have been a much more impressive and dramatically satisfying ending to episode nine than Jon walking out the tunnel, which was basically the most anticlimactic cliffhanger they could have done last week.

That said, I mostly loved this sequence. It’s fairly close to how it happened in the book, which is nice to see considering how far the show departed from the source material earlier in the season. Hopefully, this means that they’ll be adhering closer to the books going forward. The only problem I have with this right now is that they still haven’t introduced Dalla and Val, which I suspect means that we won’t be seeing them. I understand, I suppose, that sometimes characters have to be cut, but Val in particular figures pretty prominently in future events at the Wall, and without Dalla there’s no son of Mance’s to switch with Gilly’s baby later on, which will significantly change the future character development of Jon, Sam and Gilly.

In King’s Landing, Cersei is watching while Pycelle and Qyburn examine Gregor Clegane, who is mortally wounded as well as poisoned after his duel with Oberyn Martell. Pycelle claims that there is nothing to be done for the wounded man, but Qyburn seems somewhat more optimistic. After banishing Pycelle from his own laboratory, Cersei encourages Qyburn to save Ser Gregor, even after Qyburn rather creepily warns her that the “process” will “change him”–although Qyburn also assures her (even more creepily) that it won’t weaken him. This is a short, but necessary scene, and it more firmly establishes Cersei’s favor for Qyburn over Pycelle as well as setting up the return of zombie Clegane later on. I’m glad to see it in this episode, although I wish we had gotten a similar scene in episode ten of last season to set up Lady Stoneheart–but I’m getting ahead of myself, and I’ll complain about that (probably at length) later.

Next, we get to see Cersei arguing with her father over her impending marriage to Loras Tyrell. She’s now flatly refusing to do it, and Tywin isn’t in the mood for it. This isn’t a scene from the books, and I’m not really certain what this and the following scene will mean for Cersei and Jaime’s relationship going forward, but I love it. Of course Tywin didn’t believe the rumors about Cersei and Jaime. But Cersei is here to set him straight and to make it very clear that she will destroy every hope Tywin has ever had for his family before she’ll marry again.

Straight from giving a big “fuck you” to her dad, Cersei goes to Jaime to tell him the news. Jaime is still pissed at Cersei for wanting Tyrion to be killed, but he seems to soften towards her as she makes out with him. This all feels a little out of nowhere, considering that Jaime and Cersei’s relationship has been sort of constantly deteriorating ever since he got back to King’s Landing and in light of him raping her in the Sept after Joffrey’s death. I’m also really just not sure what it means. The show has cut out all of Cersei’s infidelities except with Lancel, who we haven’t seen since “Blackwater,” which is really kind of a big deal for events in A Feast for Crows, and it seems like we’re really nowhere near that stuff anymore. It’s not that I can’t see them still doing some version of the Cersei/Margaery AFFC rivalry and the complete estrangement of Cersei and Jaime, but at this point I just don’t see how it’s going to work. In many ways, I like show!Cersei better than book!Cersei, and I’ve never been entirely comfortable with GRRM’s treatment of Cersei in her POV chapters in the books, but it’s getting really hard to predict anything about these storylines where so much is changed and left out.

In Meereen, Daenerys is holding court. which continues to not be as rewarding as she hoped. First, we see her approached by an old man who claims that he was a respected teacher but is now living on the streets since Daenerys “freed” the slaves of Meereen. He asks for her permission to sell himself back to his old master, which Daenerys reluctantly grants. After he leaves happy, the next petitioner approaches weeping and with a small bundle in his arms, which turns out to be his 3-year-old daughter who has been burned alive by Drogon. I expected this to make it into the finale, but I actually didn’t expect to see Daenerys’s imprisonment of Rhaegal and Viserion in this episode unless they made it the final scene of the season. But they put it at the halfway point, which I thought sort of diminished the moment. This is really too bad because this was the first time in ages where I felt any kind of emotional connection to Daenerys, and the door being closed on the dragons, leading to a black screen, would have been an amazing final shot since they didn’t do Lady Stoneheart (which I’m still not ranting about just yet).

Back at the Wall, Maester Aemon is giving a eulogy for the fallen men of the Night’s Watch who are to be burned before they turn into zombies and kill everyone. We get to see both Pyp and Grenn’s faces before they’re set afire, and I’m really pleased that we got this closure. We get a shot of Melisandre creepily eying Jon Snow through the flames before we move along to a great conversation between Jon and Tormund, who’s been patched up by Maester Aemon. I loved everything about the Jon/Tormund talk, and I loved that Jon took Ygritte north of the Wall to burn her by himself, although I thought it strange that she was posed with her shoulder bared kind of sexily. I mean, I know she’s dead, and he’s going to burn her, but I’m kind of confused about how she got into this state of undress after being so sensibly bundled up all the rest of the time. As in the book, I still feel like Ygritte has been fridged so Jon Snow can evolve, but I’ve kind of started to like Jon in the last couple of episodes, and if they stick pretty close to the books his story gets much more interesting from here on out.

Even farther north, Bran and company have reached their destination, which is apparently the set of the 1985 film Legend. As they move toward a suspiciously beautiful tree, skeletons pop out of the ground and attack them. In another pretty major departure from the books, Jojen is killed in the fight with the skeletons before a fairy comes out and rescues the rest of the party with special effects from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Then we finally get to meet the three-eyed raven, who looks–no fucking joke–like Tim the Enchanter.

Elsewhere, Podrick has apparently hobbled the horses wrong, and Brienne is grumpy about it. I love Brienne and Podrick, but the more I see of them together, the less I like the way their dynamic is being portrayed on the show. Brienne was gruff with Podrick in the books, but she was also awkward and unsure really of what to even do with a squire; in the show, she’s just mean. In the books, Brienne comes to like Podrick and ends up teaching him to fight and helps fill in the gaps in his knowledge that were neglected when he was Tyrion’s squire, and we haven’t gotten to see any of that in the show, which is disappointing.

After Brienne is mean to Podrick, they start to continue their journey towards the Eyrie when Brienne comes across Arya, who is practicing her water dancing. This is another enormous change from the books, but there’s some interesting stuff going on in both Brienne’s short exchange with Arya and then her argument with Sandor Clegane when Podrick recognizes him. As soon as Brienne realizes that she’s been talking to Arya Stark, she tells Arya that she was sent by Arya’s mother to look for her and offers to take Arya to safety. Sandor points out that there is no safe place for Arya and says that if Brienne doesn’t know that she’s the wrong person to be looking after Arya. Between Sandor’s calling Arya his traveling companion (rather than prisoner) two episodes ago and his admission here that he’s been looking after her, it seems pretty clear that he’s come to, in his way, care for the girl, which makes what happens next really terribly sad.

Brienne and Sandor get into an actual sword fight, which turns into a brawl, over which one of them will get to continue looking after Arya. This is not even remotely in the books, but it’s definitely cool (if brutal) to watch. It’s not often that we get to see a woman warrior treated so equally as a man in this sort of fantasy story, but Brienne and the Hound are pretty evenly matched. I really appreciated that there was no threat of rape or any sexualized attacks in the scene–just two pretty much the same size people beating the shit out of each other, and Brienne’s gender never feels like a factor that affects the fight at all. In the end, Brienne manages to win, sort of, although Arya has slipped away during the fight.

We leave Brienne and Podrick searching for Arya and return to Arya herself. She makes her way down to where Sandor has fallen, and it’s pretty obvious that he’s horribly injured. Arya watches impassively as he tries to goad her into killing him by reminding her that he killed her friend and talking about how he wished he’d raped her sister. Unfortunately for the Hound, this has basically the opposite effect on Arya, and she quietly takes his money pouch and walks away as he begs her to put him out of his misery. Rory McCann has done some truly fine acting as Sandor Clegane this season, and I am sad to see him go, but I’m glad to see Arya’s journey finally moving along.

Back in King’s Landing, Tyrion is languishing in his prison cell when Jaime shows up to release him. My complaints about this:

  1. Jaime choosing to release Tyrion seems a little at odds with his seeming reconciliation earlier in this episode, although I suppose it does fit in with the idea expressed by Cersei that, ultimately, they choose their family. I suppose that if Cersei finds out that Jaime is responsible for Tyrion’s release, she will see it as even more of a betrayal after that conversation, but I kind of think she would see it as a betrayal regardless, which makes the earlier Jaime/Cersei scene unnecessary. It just seems weird that we’d see Jaime so clearly reigniting his relationship with his sister only to turn around and choose his brother over her twenty minutes later. It feels confusing.
  2. In the books, Jaime uses this opportunity, thinking it may be the last time he sees his brother, to confess to his role in the abuse and banishment of Tyrion’s first wife, Tysha. Jaime lied to Tyrion at the time, saying that Tysha was just a whore he had hired for Tyrion, which is the only reason that Tyrion allowed Tysha to be gang-raped (and participated in said gang rape) and sent away from Casterly Rock. The groundwork for this revelation was even laid all the way back in season one when Tyrion told Bronn and Shae about Tysha, so I don’t understand why they’d skip that here. I don’t like to make excuses for what Tyrion does after this, but this revelation would have made his homicidal rage feel at least a little more justified.
  3. Along with skipping the Tysha revelation, we also don’t get Tyrion telling Jaime about Cersei’s infidelities. This is also huge. I know that in the show we haven’t gotten to see most of it, but I thought for sure that we’d see Tyrion spill the beans to Jaime about Lancel at the very least. In the books, this accounted for a great deal of the further deterioration of Jaime and Cersei’s relationship in AFFC, but without that being known to Jaime on the show, I expect that the pulling away from the relationship will be more one-sided, which pisses me off because I think we’ll see Cersei being painted even more as the villain than she was in the books, with Jaime being shown as her victim. This especially sucks after the rape scene in the Sept, which is of course probably never actually going to be treated as a rape within the show.

After a brotherly hug, Tyrion and Jaime part ways, with Tyrion taking a quick detour through the secret tunnels to the Tower of the Hand and his father’s chambers. In the book, he was guided by Varys because these are supposed to be secret tunnels in the walls of the Tower, but here he seems to know right where he’s going, which doesn’t make a great deal of sense. Apparently he’s not even a little disoriented after sitting for weeks in a jail cell.

When Tyrion enters his father’s chambers, he finds Shae in Tywin’s bed, and she stirs slowly mumbling “my lion” as she thinks Tywin is returning to bed. As soon as Shae realizes that it’s not Tywin, she grabs for a dinner knife to try and protect herself. Tyrion, however, manages to disarm her and strangles her before whispering that he’s sorry. I just want to say fuck this. After all the effort put into crafting Shae on the show as a much fuller character than she was in the books, she doesn’t even get a chance to explain herself. In fact, there’s no actual conversation at all between her and Tyrion in this scene. He just murders her in a fit of rage before grabbing a crossbow and going to find his father in the privy.

I’m so incredibly disappointed with the way this scene played out. I’d hoped that there would be a sort of element of Greek tragedy to Tyrion’s murder of Shae, which I didn’t really feel here, but I’d also hoped that Shae would be given some amount of dignity in the end, and she wasn’t. The way her murder is filmed doesn’t even really focus on her–her terror or anger or whatever she might have felt in that moment. Instead, it’s filmed so that the viewer is supposed to empathize with Tyrion and his pain. There are some very valid criticisms of this scene in the book, but at least when GRRM wrote it it was pretty clear that this was an act of true villainy on Tyrion’s part, and this is reinforced throughout A Dance With Dragons. Here, we seem supposed to see Tyrion’s murder of Shae as regrettable, but not evil and maybe even justified. Because, see? He feels bad about it! Fuck this scene so much.

Then, of course, it’s off to the privy for some father-son time. Tyrion pays lip-service to being upset about Shae, but what he really seems to be upset about is still Tywin’s rejection of him and Tywin’s willingness to have Tyrion executed for a crime that he didn’t commit. Without the reveal of the truth about Tysha, I really feel like something was lost in this scene, which is unfortunate, and I really just didn’t buy Tyrion’s anger over Tywin’s use of the word “whore,” a word that Tyrion himself used to describe Shae when he tried to send her away before Joffrey’s wedding.

Mostly, I just felt like the messaging throughout this entire sequence, from Tyrion and Jaime to Tyrion’s murder of Shae to Tywin’s death, was left terribly muddled by the omission of the truth about Tysha. In some aspects, the scenes were powerful, but they didn’t have nearly the effect on me that the same (-ish) scenes did when I read the book.

After Shae and Tywin are both dead, Tyrion makes his way to Varys, who spirits him down to the docks packed in a crate to be shipped to the Free Cities. As Varys turns to walk back to the Red Keep, alarm bells start ringing and Varys turns and returns to the ship, presumably off to the Free Cities with Tyrion.

The episode ends, interestingly and to my crushing disappointment, with Arya. She’s made her way to a small port town where she tries, unsuccessfully, to find passage to the Wall. On finding out that the ship is returning to Braavos, however, she fishes out the coin that Jaqen H’ghar gave her, which the Braavosi captain immediately recognizes. The final shot of the episode is Arya sailing off to Braavos, then, with ominously grey skies ahead.

Like the ending of episode nine, this felt really anticlimactic. I was really glad that we’ve finally gotten to this part of Arya’s journey, but as an end to the season it lacked punch. Mostly, though, it just wasn’t the ending that I (and apparently every other person who has read the books) was expecting, which was, of course, Lady Stoneheart.

I’m still not even sure how to deal with the possibility, which seems somewhat and increasingly likely, that we won’t be seeing Lady Stoneheart in the show. I expected, or at least hoped, to see Catelyn Stark’s resurrection in the first episode of season four after it didn’t happen in the last episode of season three. When that didn’t happen, but we knew that Brienne would be starting her quest for the Stark girls this season, I felt certain that Lady Stoneheart would be the final scene of episode ten. Even while watching this episode and seeing how wildly Brienne’s path had diverged from her path in the novels, I still thought they’d somehow get around to Lady Stoneheart. Even, sadly, during this final Arya scene I kept feeling like maybe it would happen–I mean, what better way to segue into the reveal of Catelyn’s undeath than showing it right after Arya has lost all hope of ever finding her family and has left the country? But, nope. No Lady Stoneheart.

The decisions made by the Game of Thrones show runners continue to just be absolutely fucking baffling.

Game of Thrones Recap: Season 4, Episode 9 “The Watchers on the Wall”

Last night was another single-setting episode of Game of Thrones a la “Blackwater,” but while “The Watchers on the Wall” crammed a lot of action into its short-for-Game-of-Thrones length (it clocks in at just 49 minutes) I don’t think it’s as successful as “Blackwater” in terms of actual, you know, storytelling. Because it’s basically one huge event, I won’t do my regular lengthy recap. This week, I’ll just do a list of what I loved and what I hated and what I would have liked to see done differently. I’ll also do some predictions at the end of what I’d like to see and what I actually expect to see in next week’s finale, title “The Children.”

As always, spoilers under the cut for the episode and for book-related commentary and speculation.

What I loved:

  • The long shot moving through the battle. The coordination and technical expertise it must have taken to achieve this is truly impressive. Kudos to Neil Marshall for directing this.
  • The fight choreography was excellent.
  • Ygritte’s death, even after all the character assassination she’s been subjected to this season, made me tear up. Jon’s smile when he sees her just about broke my heart.
  • Kit Harington really excelled as the leading man in this episode. I’m not really a Jon Snow fan, and he’s not a big talker, so Harington often just sits around looking pouty with beautiful hair, but this episode proves that he definitely can act.
  • I liked the giants and the mammoth a lot.
  • Sam stuff. It was nice to see Sam being useful throughout the battle. I also rather liked his scenes with Gilly, although I think maybe it’s not a great decision to progress that relationship farther along than it was in the book at this point. I also really liked the scene with Maester Aemon, who doesn’t get nearly enough screen time.
  • The scythe. That thing was brutal, and a hand and forearm dangling from the wall was one of the most gruesome images of the episode.
  • Tormund Giantsbane. Definitely my favorite Wildling character after Ygritte, and I actually had started to suspect he might get killed in this episode. But he’s not. Just captured. Probably we won’t see him again until season 5, but I’m glad we’ll see him again.
  • Grenn’s death. I knew we weren’t going to get Donal Noye at all, but I didn’t really expect Grenn to die in his place. This worked well, and it was suitably heroic and sad.
  • In general, I liked that there really was a sense of real danger in this episode. I never felt like Jon or Sam was going to die, although that could just be because I know that those two characters at least can’t die yet because I’ve read the books. However, I honestly felt throughout the whole battle that death could come for anyone. I think this sense of real danger is something the show has struggled to convey without it turning into heavy-handed foreshadowing, but the deaths of Grenn and Pyp in particular were almost entirely unexpected and therefore shocking and emotionally moving.

What I hated:

  • Sam and Jon moping at the beginning of the episode.
  • Gilly’s return. I love Gilly, and I love Gilly and Sam, but their being reunited this way was just too predictable. I never liked the whole Gilly going to Mole’s Town story to begin with, and it still feels like contrived drama meant to kill time throughout the season. As with the Craster’s storyline, it doesn’t actually add anything to the story, and all the pertinent characters are basically in the same situation before and after.
  • The ending of the episode. I hate this so much. Game of Thrones seldom does true cliffhanger endings, but this is kind of one of them, and it’s the worst. Being a book reader and sort of knowing how this story should go, this is maybe the most frustrating possible ending to this episode. Especially given that the episode is such a short one, I seriously feel cheated by this episode ending. It means that Jon’s conversation with Mance and the arrival of Stannis will both have to happen in next week’s episode, which will already be jam-packed with important stuff. The arrival of Stannis, in particular, should be a hugely epic moment, and it deserves to be the final scene of an episode, but if it’s actually the last scene of the season I will lose my shit.
  • 49 minutes?! This is absurd. With the sheer volume of source material they are working from, every episode should be 56+ minutes long and bursting at the seams with stuff going on. I understand the desire for these huge, penultimate episodes, and I can see how the battle at Castle Black was a tempting sequence to give the same treatment as the Battle of the Blackwater, but it’s pretty much just a battle. I don’t watch Game of Thrones or read ASOIAF for action. I watch/read it for wonderful characters and fascinating stories. I think the show runners are doing the viewers a disservice by focusing on action and cool CGI at the expense of character and  plot. This episode in particular could have been improved by adding an extra 10 minutes of material to it.

Looking forward to next week:

  • We will definitely see Mance. I will be fucking furious if we don’t see Dalla and Val.
  • We will definitely see Bran and company arrive at the creepy tree. I am still feeling sore about the omission of Coldhands from the show, but this is finally when Bran’s story starts to be interesting to me in the books.
  • We will definitely be getting some more of Arya and the Hound. Arya needs to be on a ship to Braavos before the end of the episode, in my opinion. As much as I love Arya and the Hound, I think they’ve put off their parting for long enough.
  • We will definitely see Jaime spring Tyrion from jail.
  • Which means that we should also definitely see Tywin’s death and Shae’s death and Tyrion’s flight across the Narrow Sea.
  • Hopefully we will see Brienne and Podrick. I’ve seen some speculation that they will cross paths with Arya and the Hound, but I hope that’s not the case. The Lady Stoneheart reveal absolutely needs to happen in 4.10, and if it doesn’t I think it will be an enormous failure on the part of the writers/show runners.
  • Judging from the synopsis available of the episode, we will be getting some Daenerys next week. I don’t really know what that will be. Yawn.
  • Honestly, I think 4.10 needs to be a two-hour episode to cover all the material they seem to be trying to shove into it, but I don’t think that will happen. I expect it to be frantically paced and to not give any of the storylines the time/attention/care they deserve. We’ll see.

Game of Thrones Recap: Season 4, Episode 8 “The Mountain and the Viper”

The third episode in a row without a rape scene and maybe the only instance ever of Game of Thrones giving a female character MORE agency than she had in the books, “The Mountain and the Viper” might turn out to be the best episode of this season, and it definitely felt more evenly paced and more consistent in tone and quality than some of the previous episodes.

Spoilers under the cut for the episode and for book-related speculation/criticism.

The episode opens in the Mole’s Town brothel for our weekly dose of contrived drama and character assassination. Also, our obligatory weekly brothel scene, although this one is very light on boobs and is actually focused on women characters. I actually sort of love the we get to see prostitutes being kind of gross here instead of prancing around and contorting themselves in order to satisfy a male gaze. Instead, an unnamed prostitute is belching out “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” (because apparently there are only two songs in all of Westeros) and then mocks her client’s manhood before going off to bully Gilly.

And then the wildlings attack. Ygritte marches through Mole’s Town slaughtering peasants, but when she finds Gilly hiding she doesn’t kill her for some reason. I’m not sure I can even express how furious the character assassination of Ygritte (and to a lesser extent ALL of the wildlings currently south of the Wall) makes me. I feel like Ygritte’s sparing of Gilly is supposed to redeem her somehow in preparation for her death, which will almost certainly occur next week, but it really doesn’t. You can’t send Ygritte on a murderous rampage and then take it all back with one ten second shot.

In the books, the wildlings head pretty much straight to Castle Black after Jon escapes from them, and their objective is to open the gates so the rest of them can pass through because they are fleeing for their lives from the zombies and shit that have woken beyond the Wall. They aren’t particularly noble, but they definitely weren’t evil, either. More importantly, the actions and strategy of the wildlings in the books made sense. In the show, the Thenns have been made into cannibals purely for shock value, and they’ve spent all of season four so far senselessly marauding south of the Wall.

I think I could deal with this, though, if it wasn’t all such an enormous disservice to Ygritte. It’s bad enough that in the books, she basically exists as a catchphrase to be fridged as a source of some of Jon Snow’s extensive and much whined-about man-pain. In the show, however, Ygritte was brought vividly to life by Rose Leslie in seasons two and three, her relationship with Jon Snow was portrayed wonderfully, and Jon’s abandonment of her at the end of last season was absolutely heartbreaking. I originally predicted that we would see Ygritte’s death by episode four of this season at the latest, and I fully expected it to be one of the saddest moments in the show to date. But instead, we’ve gotten a season of Ygritte straight up murdering innocents, which, even if the details of her actions remain unbeknownst to Jon Snow, definitely makes the audience much less sympathetic toward Ygritte. The destruction of any kind feelings the viewer may have for Ygritte means that when her death does finallycome, it will end up being entirely about Jon and his feelings to an even greater degree than the same event was in the book.

After the attack on Mole’s Town, we’re taken immediately to Castle Black to (of course) find out how the men of the Night’s Watch feel about the Mole’s Town massacre. Sam is distraught, believing that Gilly and her son are dead and blaming himself. Grenn is furious and frustrated that there isn’t anything the Night’s Watch can do but wait for the wildlings to arrive at Castle Black. Pyp and Dolorous Edd are optimistic that Gilly might have survived after all. And Jon stops moping long enough to point out that if the wildlings attacked Mole’s Town that means Castle Black is next. I wouldn’t say that I’m looking forward to next week’s episode, but it will be nice to see literally anything actually happen in the Night’s Watch storyline this season. It’s actually sort of incredible just how much screentime these guys have been given without actually moving their story along at all.

In Essos, the Unsullied are bathing in a river while Missandei and some other women are washing clothing upstream. I’m not entirely certain why Missandei is naked while washing clothes, since the other women in the frame all seem to be wearing dresses, but Grey Worm stops bathing to stare at her. When Missandei notices him, she stands, giving Grey Worm and the audience a lovely view of her body before sort of shyly covering up when she realizes that Grey Worm seems to be lusting after her.

Cut to Missandei having her hair braided by Daenerys, who doesn’t even think that the Unsullied are capable of sexual attraction. Daenerys asks if Missandei knows the extent of the cutting performed on the Unsullied, but neither woman knows. Missandei admits, somewhat sadly, to having wondered.

In Daenerys’s throne room, Missandei is approached by Grey Worm, who has come to apologize for ogling her. Missandei asks if he remembers his birth name or being cut, but he doesn’t. She says that she’s sorry for what was done to him, but Grey Worm replies that if it hadn’t happened he would never have met her.

Outside Moat Cailin, Ramsay is giving Theon a sort of pep talk before sending him in to treat with the Iron Islanders who have taken the castle. When Theon arrives, he finds the men sick and dying and demoralized, but their commander, Kenning, isn’t ready to surrender. One of the other men kills him, though, and Theon returns victorious to Ramsay, who promptly has the remaining Ironmen flayed. Alfie Allen continues to be amazing as Theon/Reek, and I think he’s at his finest as he negotiates with the Ironmen here. I know everyone likes to talk about Peter Dinklage for awards, but it will be a criminal oversight if Allen isn’t at least nominated.

At the Eyrie, Petyr Baelish is not impressing the Lords of the Vale as he tries to explain Lysa Arryn’s untimely death away as a suicide. This scene is definitely changed from the book, where the Lords of the Vale are easily mollified by Petyr as he pins Lysa’s death on the singer Marillion. Here, he’s floundering a bit. Lord Royce quite rightly points out how quickly Lady Arryn seemed to die after Petyr’s arrival, and Lady Waynwood neatly manages to prevent Littlefinger from having the opportunity to coach Sansa before they hear her testimony. Littlefinger’s face when Sansa walks meekly in is priceless, but he manages to keep it together as Sansa delivers, entirely on her own initiative, an incredible lie.

This is literally my favorite thing that has ever happened on Game of Thrones. It’s the only time I can think of where the writers have given a female character in the show more agency than she had in the books, and it’s so, so good. In one speech, Sansa reveals her identity to people who have every reason to protect her, preserves Littlefinger’s life and places him in her debt, and establishes firmly and publicly that Petyr Baelish is her uncle by marriage, which should generate a level of scrutiny that can protect her in the future from his unwanted sexual advances. And she did this all on her own, as opposed to being coached by Littlefinger as she was in the book.

After Sansa’s scene, we learn that Littlefinger now intends to take Robin Arryn on a tour of the Vale.

Back in Meereen, Ser Barristan is overseeing the removal of the crucified Masters when he’s approached by a boy with a message. It turns out to be a copy of Jorah’s pardon from King Robert in exchange for spying on Daenerys. Barristan approaches Jorah about it before taking it to Daenerys. Jorah wants to speak with Daenerys is private about it, but Barristan tells him that he’ll never be alone with her again. When Daenerys calls Jorah to the throne room, she refuses his request for privacy and makes him tell her about the pardon and about his spying. She’s so angry and hurt that she can’t even look at him as she banishes him. I’ve never been a fan of Jorah, but this scene was truly heartwrenching. We last see Jorah riding away from Meereen alone.

In the North, Ramsay has returned to his father to deliver the news about Moat Cailin. Roose takes Ramsay to the top of a hill and reminds him of the vastness of the North and Roose’s own new position as Warden of the North. Roose then tells Ramsay that he’s been legitimized, making Ramsay Roose’s heir. We leave them riding toward Winterfell.

Meanwhile, Sansa is in her room sewing when Littlefinger arrives to ask her why she saved him. She suggests that she didn’t know what the Lords of the Vale would do to her if she’d thrown him under the bus. “Better to gamble on the man you know,” he replies, then asks her if she thinks she knows him. “I know what you want,” she answers, which he seems to doubt, but the look she gives him says that she knows much more than he gives her credit for. I can’t stop being totally in love with this Sansa, and I love that she’s able to leave Littlefinger so off-balance.

Outside the Vale, Arya and the Hound are almost to their destination. Arya is unhappy that she didn’t get to at least see Joffrey die, and Sandor is obviously in some discomfort from his no doubt infected bite wound. The conversation they are having now seems much more a conversation between equals than it ever has before, and they seem quite nearly friendly as they approach the gate. When Sandor introduces them, he even, for the first time, calls Arya his traveling companion rather than his prisoner. Unfortunately, they’ve arrived too late. Arya’s explosion of rather mad laughter at the revelation of Lysa’s death three days past is both tragic and hilarious.

Back at the Eyrie, Robin is afraid of his impending journey with his “Uncle Petyr,” and Petyr “reassures” him by pointing out that people can die anywhere–at their dinner tables, in their beds, squatting over their chamber pots. He advises Robin to take charge of his life. Then everything stops because Sansa walks in, seemingly on a sunbeam and very much changed from even just our last sight of her. Gone are the puffy eyes and wan complexion. She’s dyed her hair dark and is wearing a dress apparently made of feathers and she subtly vamps down the stairs in a way that puts Melisandre to shame, giving Littlefinger a look that says that she knows exactly what he wants, at least when it comes to her.

Finally, we’re taken to King’s Landing, where Tyrion is awaiting his trial by combat. Jaime is waiting with him, listening as Tyrion expounds upon his investigation into their simple cousin Orson’s predilection for smashing beetles. I usually love Tyrion speeches, but this one just fell flat for me. I get it, I think, but it just seemed overlong and a little mean-spirited toward poor cousin Orson. The bells ring right a the end of this speech, and it’s time for Tyrion’s fate to be decided.

Oberyn is having a drink before the fight, to Tyrion’s chagrin, and when the Mountain walks out, Ellaria is alarmed at his enormous size. Oberyn is confident that he will win, though, which is a pretty great indicator that this is not going to go well for him. The fight is beautifully choreographed, and Pedro Pascal defines pathos as he becomes increasingly frantic in his efforts to extract a confession (to the rape and murder of Oberyn’s sister, Elia) from the Mountain before killing him. The Mountain’s final burst of strength and his defeat of Oberyn is less shocking than it is simply gruesome, with flying teeth and a truly sickening shot of Oberyn’s shattered head. This is definitely a scene that makes me wish that I was watching the show without having read the books first, because holy shit. Judging from reactions on the internet, poor Ellaria’s reaction was shared by many.

Game of Thrones Recap: Season 4, Episode 7 “Mockingbird”

“Mockingbird” was probably the episode I was most looking forward to this season after “Oathkeeper,” and it didn’t disappoint, at least not in delivering the Sansa scenes that I was expecting. It’s also nice to have another episode where I don’t have to discuss any scenes of horrifying sexual violence, but “Mockingbird” isn’t without its flaws. Like many episodes in this season, this one contains some real greatness as well as some adaptational choices that are just plain strange.

Spoilers under the cut for this episode and for some book-related speculation and criticism.

The episode opens with Jaime berating Tyrion for disrupting his plan to save Tyrion’s life. The specter of Jaime’s rape of Cersei still taints all of these interactions for me, but I still find myself feeling invested in this relationship between brothers. Peter Dinklage and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau have done probably their finest acting together this season, and this scene is sad and desperate and darkly humorous in turns. Tyrion’s belief in his brother’s abilities is so strong that he’s honestly shocked to learn that Jaime’s disability prevents him from standing as Tyrion’s champion in the upcoming trial by combat. Disappointed, Tyrion still has hope that Bronn will defend him in Jaime’s place, and he expects that Cersei will choose one of the Kingsguard as her representative. No such luck, however.

Cut to Cersei watching Gregor Clegane practicing his killing on some prisoners. The new actor playing the Mountain isn’t as terrifying to look at as season one’s Conan Stevens, but he’ll do. My favorite part of this scene was Cersei just casually stepping over the entrails on the ground. The shot looking upward at her and the Mountain, to exaggerate his size, actually felt a little too much to me, but I suppose it gets the point across.

Next, we visit the other Clegane brother, who is still traveling with Arya through the wartorn lands between the Twins and the Eyrie. They come upon a dying man, and we get to hear Arya’s thoughts on nothingness and the dying man’s thoughts on fairness. I love this whole scene so much, as it cuts straight to the meat of the main question posed by Arya and the Hound’s story so far this season. Why do we keep going when everything is so completely terrible and the world is so profoundly unjust? The answer, of course, is that where there’s life, there’s hope, but that mawkish sentiment is suggested here in the darkest of possible terms and is accompanied by the caveat that there are exceptions to that rule. When the Hound kills the dying man after giving him a drink of water, it’s an act of mercy and even kindness, but there’s no gentleness in it.

As Sandor stands, he’s attacked from behind by a man who bites his neck. He manages to break this man’s neck, and when he and Arya turn around, we recognize one of the men who was journeying north with Arya towards the Night’s Watch in season two. He informs the Hound that there’s a price on his head, but also brings news of Joffrey’s death. Arya remembers this guy, though, and tells Sandor that he threatened to rape her. The Hound asks, “Is he on your little list?” to which Arya replies, “He can’t be–I don’t know his name.” Sandor asks the guy his name (Rorge) and Arya promptly kills him.

At the Wall, Alliser Thorne is still busy being a dick to Jon Snow, threatening to have Ghost cooked for dinner if Jon doesn’t lock him up. Jon wants the tunnel through the Wall to be sealed shut, but he’s shut down. Thorne informs Jon that he and Sam will be watching the top of the Wall until the full moon, when they expect Mance Rayder’s army to show up.

I’m so incredibly disappointed with the Night’s Watch storyline this season. Things at the Wall are moving along at an absolutely glacial pace, and it seems at this point like they’re going to collapse the two Wildling attacks that happened in A Storm of Swords into a single enormous event. I’m still pissed that the only time we’ve seen Ygritte this season was when she was murdering peaceful villagers a few episodes ago, and now I’m pretty sure that the tragedy of her death (diminished as it will be by her lack of screen time and new hobby of killing farmers) is going to be upstaged by Stannis’s arrival at the Wall. We haven’t seen Mance at all this season, and Val and Dalla have never been introduced on the show. Instead, we got that ridiculous time-wasting adventure at Craster’s and cannibal Thenns. In the meantime, I pretty much can’t stand to even look at Jon Snow’s pouty face anymore, and judging by the episode titles and descriptions that are currently available, there’s going to be some contrived bullshit danger for Gilly in the next episode and we’re going to have to wait until episode nine before any of the book events for the Night’s Watch make it into this season.

And to add insult to injury, none of the changes made with regard to Jon Snow and the Night’s Watch this season make a lick of sense. The events at the Wall in the second half of A Storm of Swords are some of the best written action sequences in the whole series, and there’s a lot of great material there that they’ve just completely cut from the show. If the writers had kept to their sort of pattern where storylines appear in every other episode, it should have gone like this:

  • Episode 1 or 2: Jon Snow returns and has to deal with Thorne and Slynt putting him on trial for his “desertion.”
  • Episode 3 or 4: The first attack on the Wall, Jon leading the defense, Ygritte’s death.
  • Episode 5 or 6: Jon trying to convince the Night’s Watch of the threat posed by Mance Rayder. Maybe a scene with Mance Rayder regrouping with Tormund or something, introducing a pregnant Dalla and her sister Val.
  • Episode 7 or 8 or 9: The huge battle at the Wall, Stannis’s arrival.
  • Episode 10: Jon’s earliest meetings with Stannis. Possibly the choosing of Jon as the new Lord Commander, although maybe leave that til season five in order to give more time to Sam’s role in these events.

Or something like that.

I’m definitely most upset about Ygritte right now, though. We’re through seven episodes of season four, and not only is she still alive, but we haven’t even seen her but for a couple of minutes back in episode two or three. Her death is a huge emotional moment, for Jon and for readers, but I feel like it’s not being set up that way for viewers of the show. It’s especially disappointing because Ygritte on the show is so much more real and relatable and lifelike than she was in the books, where we only see her through Jon’s point of view chapters. She deserves better than this.

Back in King’s Landing, Bronn finally arrives to speak with Tyrion, but the conversation doesn’t go how Tyrion expected. Bronn’s circumstances have improved markedly since we last saw him. He’s engaged to marry Lady Lollys Stokeworth, which puts him in the way of being a lord if Lollys’s older sister were to die, but he’s come to Tyrion anyway to see if Tyrion can offer him a better deal. Obviously Tyrion can’t, but he appeals to their friendship. Bronn points out, however, that Tyrion has never risked his life for Bronn. They part unhappily, but not in anger, and this scene continues the pattern of Tyrion’s scenes being the best-written and most moving ones of the season so far.

In Meereen, Daario has sneaked in through Daenerys’s bedroom window to bring her some flowers that he claims he swam a mile to get for her. Daenerys is upset about his invasion of her space, but she’s charmed in spite of herself. He’s come, however, to ask her to send him away to fight. His only two talents, he says, are war and women, and since the only woman he wants is Daenerys he wants her to send him to do what he does best. Instead, she tells him to take off his clothes.

I both loved and hated this scene. I loved that Daenerys remains dressed, drinking a glass of wine as she commands Daario to disrobe, but I kind of hate that all we get to see is his ass. On its surface, this scene feels like a flipping of the usual script on this show, where nude women are regularly draped over fully clothed men, but Daario’s nudity is never on display for us in the way that female nudity often is. We only see his backside briefly, and there’s not the normal salacious lingering that we see when the camera focuses on women’s bodies. The shot is short, and the lighting is set to highlight his body rather than expose it, so there’s almost none of the titillation that we experience when we see women’s bodies. It’s not that the scene lacks eroticism–he’s a beautiful man and desirable–it’s just that there’s a coyness to the filming of male nudity that doesn’t exist when we see female nudity on the show.

The very next shot seems to function as a sort of “no homo” aimed at male viewers as we find Melisandre in her bath and talking with Selyse Baratheon. Because obviously, we can’t show a hot dude without balancing it out with some tits. That said, I actually like this scene, as I like all scenes that feature Selyse, who I think is a fascinating character. Selyse has come to talk with Melisandre about Shireen. Stannis wants to bring Shireen north with them, but Selyse wants to leave her at Dragonstone. Melisandre tells Selyse about the tricks she uses to bring men to the Lord of Light, and she flatters Selyse by telling her that she doesn’t need tricks. Selyse looks into the flames as Melisandre tells her that Shireen must go north because their lord needs her.

The morning after Daenerys’s fun with Daario, Jorah comes to talk with her and meets Daario in the hallway. Jorah is all prepared to be upset with Daenerys until she tells him that she’s sent the Second Sons to take back Yunkai. Jorah is thrilled that Daario is leaving, but he’s skeptical of the plan, telling Daenerys that without her there to rule he thinks that the Masters of Yunkai will only retake the city again, to which Daenerys replies that she’s ordered Daario to execute all the Masters. Jorah convinces Daenerys to give the Masters a choice and hurries out to catch Daario before he leaves. I liked this scene until Daenerys’s smug smile at the end.

Elsewhere, Arya is trying to get the Hound to let her sear his wounds shut to prevent infection, but he won’t let her because he hates fire. We finally get to hear the story of how Sandor got his scars, and it’s sad. When he’s done, he lets Arya clean and sew the bites closed, but it’s a pretty nasty looking injury.

At an inn on the Kingsroad, Brienne and Pod have stopped for dinner and a good night’s rest. HOT PIE IS THEIR WAITER, and it’s probably my favorite thing about this whole episode. When Brienne compliments the kidney pie, Hot Pie takes it as an invitation to sit down and talk. When she tells him that they are looking for Sansa Stark, Hot Pie acts all weird and then exits the conversation, but the next morning he comes to see Brienne and Pod as they are preparing their horses and Podrick is pointing out that maybe they shouldn’t be telling folks that they are looking for Sansa. Hot Pie tells them that he doesn’t know anything about Sansa, but he’s seen Arya. Then he does the best thing he could possibly do and gives Brienne a wolf cake to give to Arya if they find her.

In one last Tyrion scene, Oberyn Martell has come to visit. As in the book, we get to hear Oberyn’s story about meeting baby Tyrion and how disappointing that was. Oberyn hates the Lannisters, but he wants justice for his sister and thinks that fighting the Mountain is the way to get it. Oberyn will be Tyrion’s champion in the trial by combat. Finally, a glimmer of hope for Tyrion, for whom nothing good has happened in a long time.

Finally, we get to the part I was most looking forward to. At the Eyrie, Sansa is building a snow Winterfell when Robin Arryn comes out to chat with her. He asks her about her home and then offers to help her add a moon door to her castle. When he knocks over a tower, she gets upset at him for ruining it. When Robin responds by stomping on the rest of it, Sansa slaps him, which sends him running away crying.

Littlefinger sees the slap, but approves rather than condemns Sansa for it. She asks him why he really killed Joffrey, and he gives her a line about punishing him for hurting someone that he loved (Sansa’s mother). Then he talks about how Sansa might have been his child in a better world, tells her that she’s more beautiful than her mother ever was, and kisses her. This is every bit as creepy as it was in the book, and of course (as in the book) Lysa sees the kiss but not the part where Sansa pushes Littlefinger away.

I actually really like the way this turned out on screen. They managed to make Littlefinger clearly a creep and a predator, but they also managed to capture the ambiguity of Sansa’s feelings about his advances. She’s not receptive, but before she pushes him away she’s also not exactly unreceptive, as if, after so long alone and unloved and physically isolated but also being a young girl of an age to be curious about exploring her sexuality, there’s some part of her that is a little bit intrigued enough to play this out for a little while. It’s a fine line to walk, because I wouldn’t want to see his actions come off as anything other than gross and predatory, but I think that this moment is an important one for Sansa because it marks the beginning of an evolution in the way she exists in this world. Cersei told her ages ago that a woman’s best weapon is between her legs, and while I don’t think we’ll see Sansa become a full blown femme fatale anytime soon, I think she’s starting to get an inkling of what that means for her.

When Lysa summons Sansa to the throne room, she’s already got the Moon Door open and ready. After a short, calm talk about what happens to people when they get thrown through the door, Lysa grabs Sansa by the hair and threatens to kill her. Fortunately, Littlefinger shows up in time to save Sansa, soothing Lysa before dropping the bombshell that the only woman he’s ever loved was Catelyn Stark and then pushing Lysa to her death. I’m a little disappointed that they didn’t use “Only Cat” as the line here, but this is almost made up for by a great shot of Sansa, who knows what he’s going to say before he says it. Her look is just priceless, and I can’t wait to see the rest of what happens at the Eyrie. I didn’t see Marillion, so I’m curious to see what story Littlefinger uses to cover up his murder of Lysa.

Game of Thrones Recap: Season 4, Episode 6 “The Laws of Gods and Men”

This is the second episode of Game of Thrones in a row that didn’t have any horrifying rape scenes, so that was nice. There was some stuff in “The Laws of Gods and Men” that I really liked, one very nice surprise, and one sequence that I feel terribly let down by, but it was overall a solid episode I think. At least, it is as solid an episode as I think I can expect to see in this season of, frankly, bizarre choices on the part of the show runners.

As always, spoilers under the cut for the episode and some book-related commentary and speculation.

I wasn’t particularly looking forward to this episode, to be honest, after the first half of the season, but I got excited as soon as I saw Braavos in the opening credits. I wasn’t disappointed.

The episode opens with Stannis and Davos arriving in Braavos, sailing under the Titan of Braavos. I do have some mixed feelings about this as our first glimpse of Braavos in the books was with Arya, but I’m glad to see Stannis and Davos getting a little more to do in the show. I love the audience with the bankers, and I was surprisingly pleased with Mark Gatiss as Tycho Nestoris. The real standout part of this scene, however, is Davos’s speech to try and convince the bankers to support Stannis. We finally get a really good look at Davos’s shortened fingers, and it’s a wonderful speech that conveys Davos’s deep and abiding love and respect for his king as well as Davos’s cleverness and commitment to their cause.

The next scene was a real surprise. We last saw Salladhor Saan (Lucian Msamati) in the first episode of season three when he returned Davos to Dragonstone and then sailed off, presumably abandoning Stannis forever as a lost cause. I honestly had no expectation of ever seeing him again, especially considering the penchant of the show for treating its POC characters as disposable and systematically minimizing/eliminating their roles. But here, Salladhor is, telling some long joke to a pair of prostitutes in a Braavos bathhouse when Daavos shows up to throw gold at him and drag him, rather unwillingly, on some as-yet-unknown journey. I’m so happy about this. If the show is going to veer so wildly from the books, the least they can do is give us some Davos/Salla buddy comedy.

Next up, the show manages to mostly ruin an otherwise excellent and stirring speech by Yara Greyjoy, who is apparently still persisting with her quest to rescue her brother, by cutting it with shots of Ramsay Snow and Miranda banging. Then Yara leads her men into the Dreadfort only to find Theon sleeping in the kennels and so far gone that he’s unwilling to leave with her. We’re then treated to an absurd fight scene when shirtless Ramsay shows up. Yara demands he give her Theon, but instead Ramsay looses his dogs, sending Yara and her remaining men fleeing into the night. “My brother is dead,” Yara intones as the return to their boats.

Can I just say that this was some of the most anticlimactic bullshit I’ve ever seen this show commit to film? I hated the Craster’s Keep/Bran story over the last two weeks for similar reasons, but this probably actually pisses me off more. As with the Craster’s/Bran stuff, there is much more interesting stuff in the source material that they could have utilized, that would have moved the story along at a better pace, and would actually have made sense. The thing is, I can see Jon Snow doing something as stupid and trivial as returning to Craster’s, and I suppose I can see why they would feel that Bran’s story needed a little more action.

This adventure of Yara’s, however, is just silly, and it’s actually a sort of character assassination, or at least making some of her character development out of order. In the books, it’s really not until A Dance With Dragons that we see Asha/Yara having anything approaching the concern for Theon that we see here. Even then, much of her concern is for how their mother would be affected by Theon’s death because Asha Greyjoy is a character who is deeply aware of other women and how they are affected by war and loss–something we haven’t seen any of in Yara so far. Because, obvs, who cares about female characters, right? I feel like this “rescuing Theon” thing is a way of softening and feminizing the character when, in the books, she was ready to let Theon fail on his own merits (or, rather, lack thereof) and she considered herself to be Balon’s only rightful heir.

We ought to be having a Queensmoot by now, but instead we got this boring, anticlimactic, ultimately inconsequential drivel. I imagine Yara’s speech will make for great gif sets on Tumblr, but it doesn’t make any actual difference in the story.

Following the botched rescue attempt, we do get an excellent scene with Theon and Ramsay that actually does move things along a little. Two thoughts, though. One: it pisses me off that the show will film graphic depictions of rape, even using nudity to film rape in a way that seems meant to be titillating to [male] viewers, but they act all demure about showing Theon undressed–not even a butt shot. Two: They could have given us just this scene, without any of the botched rescue stuff, and it would have worked fine to advance this storyline. The Yara time could have been much better spent actually moving along with the events that should be happening in the Iron Islands.

In Essos, Daenerys’s dragons are becoming a (huge and gorgeously CGI’d) menace. When a goatherd comes to tell her that they destroyed his livelihood, she orders that he be repaid three times the value of the goats. This is basically straight from the books, but what happens next isn’t.

Her next petitioner is none other Hizdahr zo Loraq, a major character from the book who seems to be being portrayed quite differently (so far, anyway) on the show. In the books, we first meet Hizdahr when he has come to petition Daenerys for the sixth time to reopen the fighting pits of Meereen. Here, we see a Hizdahr (played by Joel Fry) far younger than the Hizdahr of ADWD (or at least younger than I ever pictured him) who has come to ask that he be allowed to give his father, crucified on Daenerys’s orders, a proper burial.

I like that Hizdahr is being shown as someone with a probably legitimate grievance, although I do wonder about the messaging here, i.e. this idea that maybe there were some “good” Masters who didn’t deserve to be included in Daenerys’s first act of retributive justice as queen. Living in a country where the myth of the “good” slave owner is still alive and well and being used to try and humanize the perpetrators of massive-scale injustices, I worry that it’s an irresponsible narrative to perpetuate in any way, even in a fantasy setting. It could be, however, that the writers are trying to make Hizdahr becoming the Harpy a more sympathetic action, making him a complicated and multifaceted character rather than simply a villainous one. I’m not sure I trust these writers and directors to handle that sort of nuance, however.

I’ve complained a lot in the past about changes made to Daenerys’s storyline, but I’m cautiously optimistic about the way that her rulership of Meereen is being introduced. I think this scene does a good job of showing how self-righteous Daenerys is and how willing she is to abuse her power when it suits her. I feel like we’re seeing how her actions directly lead to the resistance to her rule and later things like the Sons of the Harpy and their acts of terrorism. Mostly, though, I’m just hoping that Daenerys’s time in Meereen sticks fairly close to the book because it’s honestly one of my favorite parts of the entire ASOIAF series. So far, it seems promising, but I’m afraid to really get my hopes up.

The rest of the episode is all King’s Landing, and it’s great.

First, we get to see a Small Council meeting. It’s been a while since we’ve had one of these scenes, which are always some of my favorite bits of writing on the show.

Oberyn is complaining because it’s early and he’s probably hungover. He wants to know what he’s master of now, and Mace Tyrell (who finally gets some lines!) is quick to claim his own position as Master of Ships. Once Tywin shows up, it’s straight to business because they’ve got a trial to go to in the afternoon.

We finally get some much needed Varys time, as he’s been criminally underused so far this season. He starts by telling the rest of the council that Sandor Clegane has been seen in the Riverlands (Tywin orders a bounty for the Hound’s head). Then he moves on to update them all on what Daenerys is up to these days. Cersei dismisses the news of the dragons (“baby dragons” she says) and Varys points out that they are getting bigger ever year, which makes me wonder just how much time is supposed to have passed in the show. In the books, by this point, it was around two and a half years after King Robert showed up at Winterfell, and maybe a year and a half or so after the dragons hatched, but the show’s timeline may be a little different in order to address the problem of all the rapidly aging pubescent actors. I like this, though. It feels important to establish that some rather long period of time has passed. It’s also nice to see Daenerys finally being treated as a serious threat by the leaders in King’s Landing. Tywin isn’t as heavy-handed as Robert was, though, and rather than trying to have Daenerys assassinated, it seems that he plans instead to undermine her by exposing Jorah as a spy. This is something that I’ve been wondering for years how they were going to handle, and I’d even begun to worry that it was going to somehow be cut from the show, so I’m very excited to see this important development being set into motion.

After the council meeting, Varys stands contemplating the Iron Throne when Oberyn comes to chat. They discuss Essos and the merits of travel, and I liked seeing Varys being a little unsettled by Oberyn’s perception in noting that Varys is from Lys. Possibly the most notable thing about this scene, however, is that it establishes Varys as being a confirmed asexual character on a popular show. Maybe now we’ll stop having to hear snide remarks and jokes about his purported interest in little boys.

Elsewhere, Jaime comes to escort Tyrion from his prison cell to the throne room for his trial. Unshaven, with longer hair than we’ve seen him have in the past and wearing a perpetual scowl, fourth season Tyrion is quite changed from the Tyrion of previous scenes of the show. He’s still sarcastic, but he’s clearly bitter and in a very dark place.

When they reach the throne room, Tommen makes a brief statement recusing himself from judging the trial before he leaves the room. Instead, Tywin sits on the Iron Throne (as if born to it, by the way) with Oberyn Martell and Mace Tyrell on either side of him. Tyrion of course denies involvement in Joffrey’s murder, and so the trial commences with a parade of witnesses delivering a litany of damning evidence, mostly concerning Tyrion’s behavior before the royal wedding. Throughout the ordeal, Tyrion is forbidden from speaking in his own defense, responding to the “evidence” presented, or cross examining anyone. Perhaps my favorite part of this scene is the shots of faces in the room when Pycelle refers to Joffrey as “the most noble child the gods ever put on this good earth.”

While this farcical “trial” is going on, Jaime stands around looking increasingly uncomfortable, and during a brief adjournment he goes to his father to beg for Tyrion’s life. Jaime offers to leave the Kingsguard if Tywin will let Tyrion live, and Tywin quickly agrees. It really seems that Tywin never actually intended to have Tyrion executed. He never actually said that was what would happen, and when Jaime makes his offer Tywin has a whole set of terms already prepared as if he’s put a lot of thought into this already. As the trial resumes, Jaime tells Tyrion about Tywin’s agreement, and it seems that they have a plan to get through this.

And then the final witness comes out, and it’s Shae.

Shae’s testimony is devastating. On every level. Tyrion is destroyed by it, from the first moment that he sees her walk to the stand. Shae’s anger and hurt fill the room as she addresses her testimony to Tyrion, for all that she never looks at him except to confirm his identity and to remind him of his own hateful words when they were last together. The story Shae tells is calculated to be as damaging and humiliating for Tyrion as possible, and it may be Sibel Kekilli’s finest bit of acting in her entire run on the show, and the sob in her voice when she finally spoke directly to him just about broke me.

Much has been made of Peter Dinklage’s performance in the last minutes of the episode, and it’s every bit as good as everyone has said. The episode closes with Tyrion demanding a trial by combat and the shocked and outraged reactions of everyone in the room, and it might be my favorite final scene of any episode of the series so far. If nothing else, it’s got me enthusiastically looking forward to the next couple of episodes to see what happens next. A+ use of a cliffhanger ending.

Game of Thrones Recap: Season 4, Episode 5 “First of His Name”

So, the good news this week is that I’m not completely enraged by last night’s episode of Game of Thrones–only a little enraged about the treatment of one character. The bad news is that, unencumbered by the fog of general fury that surrounded the last two episodes for me, I’m finally able to articulate some of my not-rape-related frustrations with this season so far.

As always, spoilers under the cut for this episode and for book-related commentary and speculation.

“First of His Name” gets its titular scene out of the way immediately as it opens with Tommen being crowned king. The more I see of Dean-Charles Chapman, the more I like him in this role. I’m still concerned about how things are going to work as he goes through puberty over the next couple of years, but I do think an older Tommen makes sense and he certainly looks the part.

While Tommen is being crowned, the camera pans around the room, lighting briefly on the faces of those most concerned with the proceedings–his “uncle” Jaime, Cersei, Tywin, and Margaery. While Tommen sits the Iron Throne for the first time, a newly modestly-dressed Margaery (at least ostensibly in mourning for Joffrey) watches from the side of the room and smiles encouragingly at him. Cersei notices this and steps between them, then walks over to talk with Margaery herself. As Cersei strode over to Margaery, I was fully expecting a renewal of the conflict between these two women, but that’s not what happens at all. Instead, Cersei talks to Margaery a little about Joffrey, straight up telling the younger woman that Joffrey would have been her “nightmare” and calling Margaery out when she prevaricates, pointing out, quite rightly, that Margaery knew exactly what Joffrey was.

The conversation next turns to Tommen, and Cersei admits that a mother is not enough help for the boy king–he needs a wife. Cersei asks Margaery if she’s still interested in being queen, and Margaery smoothly lies that she hasn’t even thought about it, saying that she’ll have to talk with her father about it. Cersei replies that she’ll have to talk with her own father as well. Interestingly, it’s Margaery who shows her claws here, reminding Cersei of her upcoming wedding to Loras and subtly mocking Cersei’s age by threatening to call her “mother”. This is actually the one thing I didn’t love about this scene. It seems pretty obvious that Cersei is still not a fan of Margaery, but she sees the wisdom of continuing the alliance with the Tyrells and I suspect prefers the devil she knows over any other. It’s also obvious that Cersei doesn’t buy Margaery’s act for a moment, as attested to by some lovely eye rolling. I feel like Margaery is misstepping here by antagonizing Cersei when she’s finally trying to make nice with her.

In Meereen, Daenerys is having a meeting where she learns what’s been going on in the world while she’s been busy taking the city. Joffrey is dead, Daario and the Second Sons have taken the Meereenese navy, Yunkai has been retaken by its slavers, and Astapor has fallen to a butcher king. With the Meereenese navy at her disposal, Daenerys now has the means to transport her army to Westeros and take King’s Landing, although it’s still uncertain if she’s capable of taking and holding all Seven Kingdoms. Dany sends everyone out of the room but Jorah, to whom she confides that she’s basically having a crisis of confidence. How can she rule the Seven Kingdoms if she can’t control just Slaver’s Bay? This is probably the best acting I’ve seen from Emilia Clarke since season one. and a lot of her performances this season have seemed wooden and weirdly theatrical. It’s certainly the most real and human I’ve seen Dany in a long time, and I actually felt for her all the way up until her “I will rule” bravado.

I’m really curious to see how the show handles Dany’s time in Meereen, and I hope they don’t insert any contrived drama as they have in this season with Jon and Bran’s storylines. What I’m really wondering about the Dany storyline, though, is when is the break with Jorah going to happen? With Barristan already revealed, I’m not sure how they’re going to handle that on the show, but I can’t imagine that Jorah’s exile will be eliminated because it’s incredibly important for Dany’s development. Honestly, this needs to happen soon.

In the Vale of Arryn, Littlefinger and Sansa have arrived, and we get a short speech about how impregnable the Eyrie is. When we actually get to the Eyrie, Lysa and Lord Robert are as creepy as ever, although it looks like she’s finally stopped breastfeeding the boy. I absolutely adore Lysa Arryn in the show, however. Her great show of warmth when she meets Sansa is perfectly deceptive. Her smile as she greets the girl and her grimace when they embrace makes this almost a tragic scene for Sansa, who is so hopeful that she’ll be loved and accepted by her aunt and then so confused by her aunt’s odd behavior.

The best part of the whole Vale of Arryn sequence comes after Sansa and little Lord Robin leave the room. Lysa immediately starts crawling all over Littlefinger, who suffers her attentions the way I suppose any cold, calculating, ambitious, amoral misanthrope might. She’s ready to get married like right now, but he protests that they ought to notify the other lords of the Vale for the ceremony. It’s only when Lysa starts to go on about all the things she’s done for him (poisoning her husband, tricking her sister) that he agrees to the immediate wedding so she’ll shut up.

Meanwhile, Cersei and Tywin are hammering out the details of Tommen’s wedding to Margaery. Tywin also wants to know when Cersei intends to seal the deal with Loras. It’s kind of nice to see a somewhat softer side of Tywin here. He can’t or won’t apologize for Cersei’s marriages, but he does acknowledge that he is aware of and perhaps sympathizes with her feelings on the matter. In this scene we also see him, finally, taking Cersei into his confidence. He tells her that their gold mines have stopped producing, that the crown is in debt, and generally highlights how important it is that she play her part in things. Tywin does, however, refuse to discuss Tyrion’s upcoming trial with Cersei. By this point in the scene, I was very much hoping that it was going to segue into a Tyrion/Tywin scene, and I was very much disappointed when it didn’t.

Arya is reciting her litany of names, which is keeping the Hound awake. She tells him that these are the names of people she plans to kill. As she rolls over to go to sleep, she says that there’s only one name left: his.

Back at the Eyrie, Sansa seems to be bonding with her aunt Lysa over a plate of lemon cakes when things veer swiftly into bizzaro-ville and Lysa jumps straight from reminiscing about her own sister, Catelyn, to jealously accusing Sansa of seducing Littlefinger. Once Sansa is worked into a terrified panic of her own, Lysa switches just as quickly back to comforting aunt, reassuring Sansa that soon Sansa will be a widow and free to marry Robin Arryn. This is a wonderful Sansa scene, really. I’m fairly certain that her almost hysterical reaction to Lysa’s accusations is at least partially feigned, and when Lysa mentions Sansa being Lady of the Vale you can see that Sansa’s eyes are already nearly dry and the wheels in her head are turning. Sansa is very quickly figuring out how to handle and manipulate people, and she’s also definitely picking up on how she fits into the political situation that Littlefinger has created.

On the road north from King’s Landing, Podrick is a terrible rider, and Brienne doesn’t think she needs a squire at all. I’m pretty sure that Brienne and Podrick are going to be my favorite people to watch for the rest of the season.

Elsewhere, the Hound wakes up to find Arya already gone from their campsite. She’s gone to practice her water dancing, which Sandor mocks, goading Arya to stab him. Needle won’t even pierce the Hound’s armor, though, and this earns Arya a backhanded blow that knocks her flat on her back. It’s a harsh lesson that the Hound is trying to impart, and I don’t think that it’s being received the way he intends. He might be trying to make clear the value of “armor and a big fucking sword,” but Arya is learning that she’ll have to figure out creative ways of overcoming these things.

In another invented scene for the show, Cersei and Oberyn talk about Myrcella. Oberyn tells Cersei that Myrcella is safe in Dorne, playing with his own daughters. He assures Cersei that they don’t hurt little girls in Dorne, to which Cersei replies with perhaps my favorite Cersei line in the show so far: “Everywhere in the world they hurt little girls.” It’s sad to see how resigned Cersei has become to her place in the world, which is basically what every Cersei scene in this episode has been about. She’s prepared to accept Margaery for Tommen, she’s prepared to obey her father regarding Loras, and she’s having to deal with the loss of Myrcella. Early in the scene with Oberyn, Cersei asks what use is power if they can’t protect the ones they love. As in the books, Joffrey’s death seems to have broken something inside Cersei, but here it seems to be her heart rather than her mind that broke. I really hope that this is how they continue to portray Cersei in the show instead of the over-the-top cruel, almost cartoonishly evil madness that she suffers from in the books.

Back with Brienne and Pod, Pod has lit a rabbit on fire trying to cook it without skinning it first. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that Pod’s education has been sadly neglected. He can’t ride, can’t cook–most of his time with Tyrion was spent pouring wine. When Brienne asks if he knows anything about combat, he tells her that he did kill a man at the Blackwater. Only after learning about this bit of bravery does Brienne finally let Podrick help her remove her armor, and his look of gratitude and relief is adorable. Have I mentioned yet that I can’t wait to see more of this pair?

Finally, we get to see what’s going on in the North as Jon and his men have arrived at Craster’s. Locke is scouting and finds where Bran is being kept. Jojen is visibly ill, which is not being explained very well, and he’s having a vision of the place they need to go. When Locke returns to the rest of the Night’s Watch, warns them away from the hut that Bran and the Reeds are being kept in, and they plan to attack when it’s dark.

Back at Craster’s, Karl has decided that it’s time to rape Meera because apparently the writers of Game of Thrones have decided that every episode must have at least one act (or at least threat) of sexual violence against women and that no woman on the show is safe from the predation of men. With Meera, it’s particularly upsetting to me, as she’s one of the few female characters in the books who actually never finds herself in this sort of danger. She has to survive in a hostile environment and worry about snow zombies in the books, but she’s never threatened with rape.

If I’m honest, though, I have to admit that this entire returning to Craster’s plot and involving Bran, Hodor, and the Reeds in it just makes no sense to me whatsoever. In the books, Craster’s and the Night’s Watch deserters don’t make another appearance after Sam flees with Gilly, and they aren’t missed. The book’s events at the Wall, between the attack where Ygritte is killed, Jon’s struggle to rally the Night’s Watch to defend against Mance, the battle with Mance Rayder, Stannis’s arrival, and Jon’s election as Lord Commander, provide plenty of material for a season of the show, and even Bran’s road trip starts to get interesting in the books once they make it past the Wall and meet Coldhands. I just hate everything about this entire portion of the show, and what pisses me off the most (after the gratuitous objectification and degradation of women) about it is that it’s eating up a lot of screen time–20 minutes in this episode alone!–that could be put to much better use showing things that actually contribute to the story.

I hate that Meera is threatened with rape. I hate that Locke is anywhere near the Wall/Night’s Watch. I hate that the Night’s Watch guys attack just in time to prevent Meera’s rape. I hate that in a stupid, emotionally manipulative near miss, Bran actually sees Jon and then OF COURSE doesn’t stay to talk with him. I hate that this whole sequence is so long and that so little actually happens.

I did like:

  • that it was one of Craster’s wives who actually killed Karl by stabbing him in the back. Good.
  • that the show seems to be introducing the idea that Bran warging into Hodor is a violation.
  • that the wives refused to return to Castle Black with the Night’s Watch.

Mostly, though, I’m just glad this chapter of the show is over. Because it was awful. And just a baffling set of choices on the part of the show runners.

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.