We’re back with the episode exactly where we left the last, down to the same shot: Joffrey laying dead on the ground and Cersei accusing Tyrion. The pace of start is incredibly fast: Cersei also screams for Sansa, Tywin takes up the cry (“NO ONE LEAVES TOWN!”, like a sheriff in some Western) and there’s some general chaos while Dontos spirits Sansa through the alleys of King’s Landing down to the waterfront, rows her out and takes her through the evening mists on a ship hidden there and there’s Littlefinger and he shoots Dontos and hell do I need to catch my breath.
|We're totally gonna pork.|
Sansa’s short scene in the beginning really finishes up the destruction of the notion of romanticism. Not only does she leave the bright surroundings of King’s Landing and the court and splendor, she also gets inside the subterfuge of Littlefinger’s intrigue. Aidan Gillen, not exactly a fan favorite in his depiction of Littlefinger, really commits to overacting in this scene and twirls his evil moustache, crushing the false necklace together with Sansa’s illusions. I think it’s pretty established by now that Gillen’s Littlefinger is different from the books, but I’m really not sure whether setting him up as a major antagonist works, especially not in this clichéd way. Joffrey 2.0, he’s not.
Margaery in the meantime is genuinely appalled by Joffrey’s death, more or less answering the question whether she was in the scheme or not also for book readers, as the show’s Margaery was much more active than her book counterpart. If even she wasn’t in it, then the Margaery from the books isn’t, either. Tyrion, on the other hand, experiences severe disconnect from his book storyline and remembers his brother right before breaking our hearts and sending Podrick away. I have to admit, I was so mentally caught in the book storyline I wouldn’t have noticed if it slipped the screenplay writer’s mind, but it didn’t. I’m really interested in seeing how this will turn out. Will Jaime simply refuse to give testimony? Will he play the Sansa like in the Inn at the Crossroads?
Speaking of Jaime, he also severs himself radically from the books by raping Cersei beside the bar of her dead son. In the books, this sex was consensual, but here it is anything but. Director Alex Graves is of the opinion that Cersei warms up to him during that scene, but even if she does, she’s still raped. Way to go, Jaime. I’m not quite sure what to make of it. We’ll have to wait and see for the coming episodes to decide this, but one thing’s for certain: this ain’t Kansas anymore.
Right before Jaime’s rape, Cersei was in for another wholly unpleasant experience. After her firstborn son died the day before, she now has to suffer through her father’s indignations. While the dead Joffrey lies before her, Tywin lectures Tommen – more on him in a second – on the virtue of a good king. TLDR: Lisssssssten to meeeeeee. To drive the lesson home, Tywin points out the obvious failures of Joffrey and Robert before son/brother and wife/mother. Just in case you forgot that this is the guy who ordered the gang-rape of his son’s wife, he’s back for you. I guess the scene will be overshadowed by Jaime’s sexual assault, but it’s still worth remembering, because the acting is incredibly good on Lena Heady’s part, who doesn’t speak one word, but on whose face a thousand lines worth of dialogue are happening. Tommen meanwhile has, as has been pointed out by many, be replaced by another, significantly older actor. The scene shows you why: he’s becoming an important secondary character, and one thing all Game of Thrones actors have in common is that they can act. And there are few good child actors, so to hell with the age difference, I guess. We accepted the new Daario, we’ll accept the new Tommen as well.
Tywin gets to King’s Landing’s only brothel, where Oberyn Martell finishes what he started when he was first interrupted by the Rains of Castamere, showing that Joffrey’s death hits him really hard. Heh. It’s good to see some male gratuitous nudity for a change as well, and Oberyn’s interactions continue to entertain marvelously.
Meanwhile, on Dragonstone. In a dreary land of rain and sparingly furnished rooms, Stannis Baratheon totally forgot that he learned of the threat of the White Walkers because the climactic battle is still six episodes off, so he once again complains of his meager resources. There were some doubts about the speed of his storyline in season three, and it seems like their well-founded. Somehow, Dragonstone’s plot seems to be going around in circles. This opened up the stage for Davos Seaworth to use the establishment of the Iron Bank of Braavos in previous episodes to have a great idea: borrowing to buy sellswords. It’s nice that he thinks of buying the Golden Company, which establishes them for the TV audience. Perhaps we even see one of their captains when Davos gets to Braavos (where he’s undoubtedly headed)? Perhaps even a guy with red beard?
Arya, on the other hand, gets on quite nicely with the Hound, being the chatty part of their merry band and using her people skills to get them some food. I liked the scene with the trusting farmer. By now, you are in a somewhat paranoid fashion when you see new characters popping up, expecting them to betray someone the next minute. However, in this case, it’s the Hound, who forgot his little Omar impersonation in the last episode and mugs the poor farmer, much to Arya’s outrage. It’s a littlebit odd they forget their horses, by the way – they arrived on horseback and leave on foot.
When the farmer offered “fair wages for fair work” to Sandor, I expected it to be the storyline from the book where he mends fences for several months and is shooed off after, but this isn’t the case. I find this a little strange, since giving Arya and the Hound a place to stay would allow them to develop their relationship a bit and give some much needed glimpses at the plight of Team Smallfolk. However, in the end, it all depends on just how fast the show wants to get the buddy comedy over with and Arya using a certain coin. I’d be alerted if the “Previously”-section shows Jaqen giving her the damn thing.
Meanwhile, on the Wall, Sam struggles to keep Gilly safe. For a survivor of multiple incestuous rapes she’s remarkably oblivious to the threat the Night’s Watch poses, and her disappointment over Sam shoehorning her into Mole’s Town (of all places!) mirrors Shae’s naivety over Tyrion. By the way, the extensive Mole’s Town set allows the notion that some more stuff will happen there, at least a raid by the wildlings and another one or two visits from Sam, perhaps even the Black Brothers.
Mole’s Town is a bad place for another reason: the Thenns and wildlings are continuing to play orc and rage the countryside, killing and eating people left and right. The Thenns engage in wanton brutality, but Ygritte is also not exactly slow in serving out arrows for unsuspecting villagers with a face that shows her disconnect to her earlier psyche. I guess her final scene with Jon will be a bit different from the books in tone.
At first, I thought the violence in the town to be a bit strange, since we now have the imminent threat of a wildling attack set up for three episodes in a row, giving the Night’s Watch ample time to prepare Castle Black, but the writers (and the Thenns) are smarter than me: the idea was to pull the Watch out of Castle Black, something Pyp (remember him?) wants to do asap, but Jon – for the first time suiting up to be a leader, and Kit Harrington really sells the moment – aligns with Alliser Thorne, the guy who wants to kill him, instead of challenging him for the good of the Watch. This of course helps only moments later when Grenn and Dolorous Edd finally return from Craster’s with news of the deserters there. This leads to another sideplot, mirroring Davos’ trip to Braavos: Jon instantly insists on going out and killing them, because he tricked Mance Rayder into overestimating the strength of the Watch, and him capturing the deserters would give away the game. It seems a bit contrived to me because the risk doesn’t exactly outweigh the benefit (there’s no help coming they can know of), and while I get it from a storytelling point of view – we need to delay until the ninth episode for the climactic battle and get all the players in place – the storyline at the Wall still suffers most from the deviations from the books because the replacement plots simply don’t work as well as in other places.
We don’t hear anything from Bran or Theon this week, so it’s up to Essos in what seems to be an established pattern now. It’s either Jon and Danny or the other three (Bran, Theon, Arya), while the rest of the cast is featured in every episode so far. The length of the single sequences (only one of them each) speakes for this theory. Just an observation.
Daenerys finally reaches Meereen, which is just gorgeously set up. The walls are super imposing and the size of the city very well captured (including the great Pyramid). We get the Hero of Meereen, but lacking Belwas (who I still don’t miss one second), Daario is the one taking said hero down. After a hilarious line-up of all characters with names (Grey Worm, Barristan, Jorah) in which they are all refused by Dany, Daario volunteers and goes full Indiana Jones on Meereene’s hero. It seems like after the capture of Yunkai in “The Rains of Castamere” back in season 3, nobody cares about realistic fights in Essos anymore. They’re putting the fantasy back in…you know, fantasy. It was a better sentence when I started to write it. I still don’t like this change because the badassery feels so out of place. After “THIS…IS…YUNKAI!”, we now get Meereen Jones felling enemies without even moving his legs. Well…not my style.
But after that, holy mother of god. Emilia Clarke already made an impression with her “Dracarys” speech back in the fourth episode of last season, but this time, she really knocks it out of the park. I don’t know why, but every time she speaks Valyrian, I get the goose bumps. The creators really outid themselves with this language. It sounds just so good. It’s also very ballsy, Dany not even demanding surrender but instead inciting the slaves to revolt by firing off the broken chains (Breaker of Chains, get it?) over the walls. As the panic in the master’s faces grows, the slaves are looking ominously at them. I’d wager next episode, we see Meereen basically fallen. Saves some budget for later.
Three episodes in the new season, I think we can make some observations on the direction in which certain plots are devolving. The whole King’s Landing plot is remarkably in line with the books so far. All deviations have been minor, and it serves as more or less a clock as to where we are in the Original Time Line (OTL). In contrast, some others have been sped up remarkably. This applies for the Wall and Dragonstone as well as Dany, who only conquers Meereen in the final pages of “A Storm of Swords”. In Dany’s case, the obvious solution is to start introducing material from “A Dance with Dragons”, which we have already seen in the trailers, while Davos/Stannis and Jon/Sam get new side plots to engage with until they can merge back with OTL. I have trust in the Essos storyline working out because attention’s not really there anyway – it just goes on, sometimes better, sometimes worse, but it never really gets in the foreground enough to disturb the major plotlines (yet). The jury’s still out on the other two. Also remarkably sped up is Bran’s storyline, who should just meet the Liddle and get told a little story about the Knight of the Laughing Tree. The same applies.
On the other hand, Arya’s story has been slowed down considerably, I feel, although at that point in the books she’s still roaming the Riverlands. I don’t know where this perception comes from, but I guess it’s because the other Stark plots are so much more advanced than hers, and with all the ground to cover, I can’t exactly see why the writers are taking their sweet time. We’ll see.