After the proverbial climb last week, the current episode provides us with a bit more of character moments, going over lengths with some relationships and strengthening others that didn’t get the attention they deserved until now. It’s a good move to slow it down a bit, since episode 9 and 10 will get the stakes real high again soon enough. It’s fascinating to see just how close the show still is to the books without being literal about it. That’s one of the things I really like about it. They know what to change and what not to.
We don’t have a scene north of the Wall this week, as Sam and Grenn aren’t featured in this episode. Instead, we immediately get back to Jon’s little raiding party, where Tormund teaches Jon about the right sex technique. I guess Jon’s curiosity is well placed, because Tormund looks like a guy I would take sex advice from. Not. There’s also a lot of banter between Jon and Ygritte that is really well acted on both parts and suddenly transforms into earnest when Ygritte implicitly agrees how likely it is they’ll all die. “But first, we live.” The theme was repeated in the episode, just to stick it tightly with the audience.
|Romance at arrowpoint.|
Besides, did you also notice that the Jon scenes stopped to suck? I think it has to do with the Wall. In season 1, the stuff about Jon and Night’s Watch was good, and they were south of the Wall. In season 2 and the first half of season 3, it sucked, and they were north of the Wall. The instant they went south again, the scenes got better. I’m sure there’s a pattern in there. Must be. But seriously, the stuff with Jon and the wildling band took some serious screen time this episode and paid us back for it. We learned a bit more about their culture and about how they are around each other, which will all be important later on, especially regarding Jon’s character development as a guy who understands both worlds.
|Also, Orell, you're dead meat.|
Bran, Osha, Hodor and the Reeds also got a little bit more to do this time. It’s odd how they keep Hodor and Rickon out of sight most of the time, isn’t it? Hodor’s looks were great, by the way. Anyway, Osha clearly isn’t keen about Jojen telling Bran stuff about magic and lunges into an exposition monologue about her husband who died and came back as a wight. Not necessary from a viewer’s standpoint in terms of information value, but it’s good that Bran finally learns about what happens north of the Wall and to have a little more personal motivations for Osha. The following argument about where to go reminded me that in contrast to the books, the official plan for them is still Castle Black – I totally forgot about that, and Osha served as a strong reminder for it. I wonder where this will lead us. I still expect a breakup in the group, with Osha and Rickon marching off somewhere else (Skagos?), but as of now, we can accept it as a given that they won’t go to Castle Black. This is one of the plots that strays far from the books, but still keeps the core tale intact. I love this.
In the place that is totally not the Dreadfort, totally-not-Ramsay continues to torture Theon. I really started wincing the first moment I saw the women tending to Theon, first thinking that one of them was Kyra (non-book readers: don’t bother), but when they started to get him off, I winced all the more. I knew that instant where we were going with this. You must know, it has been a longstanding issue within the community whether or not Theon lost his private parts, since in the books, all the torturing happens off-screen, but since George R. R. Martin wrote this episode himself, I guess we can take it as gospel and answer the question: Theon lost his penis, and the circumstances were really gut-wrenching. Really, this is nothing that even remotely brings you fun or enjoyment watching, but totally-not-Ramsay and Theon make for a hellishly engaging storyline. Alfie Allen continues to bring real acting chops, and I’m…not exactly eager to see but interested in his performance as Reek once Theon is done for.
|I cringe with him.|
With that, we leave the North and come back to the Riverlands, where a bad rain conveniently delays the Stark host on its way to the Freys, so we can set the wedding safely in episode 9 where it belongs. Ignoring the obvious eye-feast of Richard Madden and Oona Chaplin naked, let’s turn right to Talisa’s letter to her mother: anyone else got really suspicious? There’s a theory out there that Talisa is in reality a spy for Tywin Lannister, and I didn’t really give it that much credit until now, but this letter really stank in my eyes. It was also nice to see Robb react a little bit slow on the news of his fatherhood. In not so shiny news, Edmure gets yet another beating, this time by his sister, who reminds him that he is only second-choice, and to Walder Frey of all people. No one cuts the guy any slack. The Blackfish is just happy he can be a shitmouth, as always, but I let it slide – the wet-look from the rain became him too much. Interesting that he’s there, though – who holds Riverrun, if not him?
|Fuck if I care.|
With that, we’re with Arya, who sits sulking on a stone and decided not to speak with the Brotherhood. Beric tries to get her to cheer the fuck up because the one true god commanded it, but Arya’s not bullshitted. Asked what her one true god was, she chillingly answers “death”, pronouncing a major character development that takes place later in the books but really fits in here. Anguy then announces that they want to get at a Lannister raiding party, and Arya, anyway not on good terms with the Brotherhood, decides to bounce after being set off from Riverrun again (little does she knows that no one is present there; the Blackfish went to the Twins as well). Out in the dark, she stumbles into Sandor Clegane who apparently waited for an opportunity like this to get his gold back. Since the gold didn’t come running, he settled for the next best thing. This will create yet another very interesting one-on-one-drama along the lines of Jaime and Brienne and could very well become an audience favorite. Besides the setup, not much is happening, though, so off to Harrenhal.
|No more fires for you.|
There have a last meeting between Jaime and Brienne. Jaime has to break the news of her death sentence to Brienne himself (and leaving her with Locke is one, as both of them are aware in that moment). Both came to a mutual respect, finally, and Brienne is decent enough to recognize it. She calls Jaime “Ser Jaime”, and you can see on his face just how much it means to him, and she takes him by his word when he swears to bring Sansa and Arya back (not knowing that he’ll be unable to do that since the Lannisters don’t have them both). For Jaime, this has become worth more than his hand by now.
|And there he rides, leaving the maid behind.|
But on the road, he gets second thoughts, especially once Qyburn, of whom we now learn that he opened the living to study death in a really well written and acted dialogue with an unbending Jaime, tells him that Locke believes Brienne is worth many sapphires. He forces the party around, back to Harrenhal, just in time to rescue Brienne from the bear pit. Of course, seeing him Locke remembers why he does what he does in the first place and refuses the offer Jaime makes. Stupid, Jaime, stupid. You know that this guy wants to see you suffer as a stand-in for all those fucking lords that fuck the smallfolk all the time. Also, nice line about most of them being dead by winter, because it’s true, and everyone knows it. The rescue scene is well staged and completes Jaime’s transformation for the time being, leaving only emancipation from his sister as a task before he can really become someone else than he was before. And please, don’t ever forget – Jaime committed really evil acts before. He also did great ones, but as Stannis would argue, a good deed doesn’t wash out the bad. Not as easily as that, at least.
|Brienne: 0. Bear: also 0.|
In King’s Landing, Sansa gets a pep-talk with a surprisingly nice Margaery Tyrell who tells her that she has it rather good with Tyrion (a grace for Tyrion that he needn’t deliver all these lines personally). The scene is surprisingly light-hearted, especially when Margaery admits to fucking around like there’s no tomorrow. I guess it’s a nice nod by Martin to the book readers, who still don’t know whether or not Margaery EVER bedded anyone. The Margaery of the show at least makes it abundantly clear, just in case someone misunderstood. With that, we are with Tyrion and Shae. Shae is really angry at Tyrion for again giving in to Tywin and realizes that she is, after all, just a whore who can be discarded at a whim. Tyrion’s present of golden chains is so tactless and awkward that I am strongly inclined to see it as a metaphorical one. I bet you ten lemon-pies to one that we’ll see these chains again.
|Women. Can't with them, can't without them.|
Still in King’s Landing, Joffrey summoned (!) Tywin Lannister to demand being included in the Small Council’s decisions more. The whole exchange is pretty much a pissing contest, and one Tywin wins by a long piss. The whole choreography of the scene is brilliant, with Joffrey sitting in the chair, uncomfortably aware that he legally has nothing in the hand against his grandfather who made a point of it by entering accompanied by two kingsguard. Really well done, Tywin. When he walks up and towers over Joffrey, the power structure becomes perfectly clear. Their banter about Danaerys’ dragons is really nothing more than a diversion here, I guess. It shows us that no one in Westeros is taking it serious. Just like with the Others, eh?
|Who's the brat in the iron chair?|
The last King’s Landing scene is, surprisingly enough, Melisandre and Gendry. Melisandre tells Gendry who his father is, finally (Robert, of course) and flatters the boy telling him he has “king’s blood” and how mighty said blood is, cleverly connecting it with her praise about his strength and warrior skills before. Oh, Gendry, she’s not interested in that. Start taking the blood-part more literal, please. The scene contained a gorgeous shot of the sunken ships, remnants from the battle, but I couldn’t shake the disbelief in the scene as the red priestess sailed past the Red Keep with her red robes and everything. Really, no one takes notice of that woman?
|I half expected the fat guy from Jurassic Park trying to drive him over.|
One closing note: the episode was scripted by George R. R. Martin, so do you care to take my bet that everyone will agree just how great it is and not care at all about diversions from the books as they usually do? Really, that’s the thing that really irks me about the community: the books are taken as gospel, and every departure seems a crime. Of course, only if Martin doesn’t do it, which he does clearly here. So please, people, shut up about it already.