Tag Archives: GoT S4

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.