Game of Thrones is on! And they just took off where they stopped last week. Instead of pondering questions of power and freedom, however, we get a ladies’ night in Westeros. The episode firmly centers around the female characters of the series, and there’s a whole bunch of strong scenes in there, with the weakest scenes being pointedly those without women in it. But let’s do it in the usual way and go through the plot points character by character.
While we’re at it, let’s start with the most contested deviation from the books yet: Catelyn’s great monologue about Jon Snow. To say I was surprised about what she had to say – that she prayed for him to live out of guilt, promised to the gods to make Eddard accept him as a Stark and, more importantly, accept him herself just to forego the promise – would be an understatement, but once I overcame my initial being startled, I actually liked the change. I feel that it gives Catelyn some more depth, since her being cruel to him and feeling guilty about it just breaks up the stern-mother-image enough to make her interesting as a character, and Michelle Fairley really delivered that performance. So, I’m fine with that.
What I didn’t understand but don’t want to judge until I’ve seen whether the decision pays off is the news that Bran and Rickon couldn’t be found in the ruins of Winterfell. Why does Ramsay give out such a message? First, the two charred bodies of two boys were swinging around in Winterfell for the world to see, and there were some twenty Ironmen who could prove the story (I guess they killed them all a bit too quick, but what do I know?). It seems to fall a bit flat, but that problem is with Robb this episode. He just fails to interest me in his storyline. I can’t put my finger on just why this is, but it is that way. Only in his conversation with lord Karstark every bell ringed for alarm in my head. Robb, look at what your two trusted advisors are! The one’s a cold-blooded bastard who brings bad messages with both hands, and the other lives only to go down fighting and killing as many Lannisters as he can. You should get away from them a.s.a.p. In other news, I rather like the idea that Edmure Tully and Riverrun are not as important as they are in the books. Karstark dismisses their fighting strength as so little that the way doesn’t pay off, which says a lot. Interesting to see how that whole plot will play out.
Let’s jump to the other members of the family. We’re back with Bran. Fuck, did Isaac Hempstead-Wright grow big! He has changed in that year, becoming a youth instead of being a boy. It’s really startling, but I guess I will accommodate myself with it soon enough. He has a really nice dream, and I liked to see Robb and Jon with him there, but let’s not kid ourselves, the main thing about him this episode is the arrival of the Reeds and the healthy injection of mystery they bring with them. Jojen directly enters Bran’s dreams, which comes off as a good shortcut from the meandering in the books, and Meera’s introduction is great, as well as the characterization of her protecting her baby brother. It’s really well done how Osha tries to shame Jojen for relying on a girl for protection, while she protects Bran, and how cheerfully Meera sets her joy and natural loyalty for her brother against all the death and carnage surrounding them. It’s also astonishing just how much information and new characters this episode dumps on the viewers: Jojen Reed. Meera Reed. Howland Reed. Dreams that come true. Connection between Howland and Eddard during the freaking rebellion. And all of this in about 30 seconds of dialogue! Must be hell for non-book-readers.
|I really thought "Who's this guy?" the first second. Man, he grew.|
The aforementioned Jon Snow, on the other hand, just gets a very short exposition scene in which Mance tells him just what a badass he is and how he united the tribes, again reinforcing the theme that “the Others are real and dangerous!” that the show takes great pain to enforce. However, the budget restrictions prove to be a real problem here. I’m still a bit grumpy about just how cheap the Night’s Watch came off the attack on the Fist. Surely, they talked about 200 dead crows, but we never saw anything of it, and the survivors of the Watch that prod along to the Wall are the exact twenty extras we have seen throughout season 2, so I can’t suspend disbelief at what the show is trying to tell me, just like with Drogo’s “huge khalasaar” of about 30 people in season 1. It doesn’t help that the scene is short as hell, but we get introduced to Orell, who controls beasts, and reinforces the idea that there are wargs, so we don’t rely on Bran alone for that plot.
Theon, in the meantime, faces a crueler fate: he is imprisoned at some undisclosed location (*cough* Dreadfort *cough*) and tortured by some guys who clearly don’t want to get anything off him. They don’t pose any real questions, he doesn’t know where he is, he doesn’t know who imprisoned him. But I really would say that whoever it is (*cough* Ramsay *cough*) has twentysome Ironmen skinned and impaled somewhere. One of them would be called Dagmer. Poor Theon. You’re a prick, but you don’t deserve what is to come. Interestingly, a servant says he’s sent by Yara to get him out. Yeah, sure. Believe that, Theon. At first, I thought they transformed Kyra into a male for some reason and just played out the flashback from “A Dance with Dragons”, but it might just be that the guy is, in reality, Ramsay himself. Will be…not exactly fun to watch, but…eh…interesting? No real words for this kind of stuff. Engaging, perhaps.
|Come here and I show you "engaging"!|
In the Riverlands, we meet Arya for the first time this season. She instantly stumbles into the Brotherhood without Banners, which seems to have cut Tom O’Sevens and merged his character with Thoros of Myr, who now is a cheerful and happy outlaw/knight/sorcerer/whatever. And in what’s a recurring theme of the episode, Arya protects her two friends and is recognized as the leader, despite handsome Joe Dempsie being in evidence. Interesting that the Brotherhood really was prepared to let them go until the captured Hound shows up. It’s surprising that all this happens that early in the story, and I guess they will make the Hound-Arya-setup a bit more than in the books, which is fine by me because everyone they pair Maisie Williams with is fine by me.
Also in the Riverlands, Brienne and Jaime are making their slow way towards King’s Landing. Jaime’s bound at the wrists and constantly teases Brienne into letting her guard slip. Him taking a piss right in front of her to her great annoyance is just so much Jaime, and when they start talking about Renly and love, oh boy! Obviously, Coster-Waldau really dug in the source-material, since he delivers in just a few muscle movements in the face what George R. R. Martin needed whole pages for. Not only does Jaime make clear for the viewers just where Brienne did come from again and what happened in season 1, he gave a nice insight into his soul and relationship with Cersei, not to mention the troubled relation he has with his own past. The resentful “You’re only interested in rumors when they concern me” is just so good, it’s really promising in regards to some bath in Harrenhal. Looking forward to that scene. They then come across the farmer, and Jaime suggests that he recognized him and tries to seduce Brienne into killing him. As we learn later, he’s right, but there’s no way to know whether Jaime was just playing with her again or not, and he makes no effort to clear the fact. His arrogance is getting the better of him here. If he would have been more clear with her and stopped to be all wise-ass around her all the time, she might actually listen.
|My name is Brienne, and I kick ass.|
In other news, we already get the fight between the two of them. They changed the location to a bridge instead of a stream, and I really liked the setup. These actors are so great! Jaime explaining just why the bridge is dangerous combined with some excellent camera-work made the crossing over the bridge just so exciting. And that’s before they drew swords! The duel is staged really well. Although there can be no question as to how the duel will end (come on, no one expects one of them to die), there was a tension in it, and we see just how good the two are. It’s a small deviation from the source material that Brienne is so superior, but Jaime’s bound and Brienne armored, and he’s weaker. Really nice, the thing about the two swords, too. And then, the farmer is back, and with him some men of Bolton’s, led by, one assumes, the mysterious Locke. Seems like they really skipped the Brave Companions, which, given the ton of characters introduced in this episode alone, is a wise decision and will make Bolton a littlebit more pronounced than his muffled role in “A Storm of Swords”, where you get him only in retrospect.
And quick as that, we’re in King’s Landing, where three other characters are running around. First we get a littlebit of Tyrion, who wields Chekov’s gun telling Shae again just how dangerous King’s Landing is and that she really shouldn’t come to him. They also have some nice but ultimately meaningless banter about Tyrion fucking other women, and including some foreshadowing of a later marriage. But in the end, it seems like they’re mainly giving Tyrion some facetime because he’s the most popular character.
Stuff gets a lot more meaty with Joffrey and Cersei. Cersei tries to be the scheming bitch as she envisions herself, but Joffrey cuts her off brusquely, short only of slapping her across the mouth. I’m not quite sure where they are getting with Cersei, but same as Catelyn, they are making a major deviation from the books. Cersei is a pitiful creature in this season, a development that started with “The North remembers”, where Joffrey killed the bastards instead of Cersei. Perhaps that will even change her role in the Purple Wedding, but all of that remains to be seen.
Sansa, in the meantime, gets an invitation by the Queen of Thorns, the favorite woman we’ve been waiting for. After shortly admiring Loras Tyrell without getting some love returned (no wonder, he’s gay and lost his lover), she meets Lady Tyrell and Margaery. Olenna owns the scene, and her actress really does a great job, and not to diminish this work but…these lines really are made to make the viewers hoot and cheer, so she has an easy job with it. The discussion comes off as a streamlined version from the books and works well even without Butterbumps and the Bair and the Maiden Fair. Sansa throws herself into the roses pretty quickly, but what choice does she have? Littlefinger is a creep, and Joffrey is a bastard. And wasn’t that great when Sansa finally mutterd her “He’s a monster”-line and the two women just looked at each other? Book readers will know what both of them thought in that moment.
Joffrey is really a bastard, isn’t he? The way he chases away the tailor shows some major problems with humility, but how great is his scene with Margaery? After getting the information just what he is from Sansa, Margaery really pulls off a surprise and plunges headlong into it. Meeting Joff with his crossbow, she all but moans when she eroticizes it. That scene is creepy. Jack Gleeson again delivers a great performance as Joffrey when he displays his nervousness around a forceful woman, and it’s almost pitiful how he gets played by Margaery. The way she makes him hot with the idea of her being anal fucked and her killing something displays some balls by the writers, to say the least. Margaery really got much more personality than in the books, and she really profits from it.
And like this, we reach the end. We didn’t see anything of Danaerys this episode, which is all for the good since we got enough characters and places already. Can’t wait for next week!