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It is no small feat that Game Of Thrones can so thoroughly telegraph a plot twist and still pull it off with ultimate shocking panache all the same. I’m not talking about last week’s cliffhanger with Jaime Lannister’s sword hand—that was masterful and among the best cuts to black I’ve seen on any TV show in a long time. But that came out of nowhere. Sure, I figured bad things awaited Jaime, but nothing that drastic.
On the other hand, I definitely figured the Unsullied slaver making constant jabs at Daenerys wasn’t long for this world. I never really believed that she would trade a dragon for the army, or even could—as Daenerys notes, dragons aren’t exactly easy for just anyone to take care of. His demise, which closed the episode (Daenerys only appears in the last five minutes), did not shock me. But it did have me jumping off my couch and pumping my fist because every single element of its execution was flawless, awesome, and affirming of Daenerys’ character in a way we haven’t really seen since season one.
I really got a kick out of the specifics of how it unfolded. The reveal that Daenerys spoke the slaver’s language was delicious—not that surprising in retrospect, but not a detail I predicted for whatever reason. It explained her desire to save his translator better—it’s not just a tactical move, there’s an element of compassion too, or at least recognition that she wasn’t remotely in league with her master.
Even better was how the dragon’s freedom was underlined and tied to Daenerys’ identity. She is the mother of dragons, of course, but they also represent her unfettered id, that Targaryen rage we saw in her brother, except much more effective. “A dragon is not a slave,” she tells the slaver before he gets flash-fried; the Unsullied are commanded to butcher their former masters and then join her as free men. The implications are somewhat terrifying.
On the one hand, Daenerys taking the reins and finally getting her hands on some real firepower is just awesome. It’s a lot more fun to see her leading an army and three truly dangerous dragons; this definitely beats futzing around in the desert or talking to a bunch of boring old Qarthians. On the other hand, she now has an ARMY OF ROBOT PSYCHOS who seem happy to obey her every command. It’s a terrifying prospect, even though we love and respect Daenerys, and I’m sure I speak for all of you when I say we embrace her whole anti-slavery stance. It’s also a prospect that can lead to many an intriguing plot direction. I await eagerly.
But that’s a lot of talk about five minutes of what was an insanely satisfying, shocking episode. In any other week, the true standout moment would be the horrifyingly memorable, shocking death of Lord Commander Jeor Mormont, a scene so chaotic I’m still trying to unpack it. His death is the out-of-nowhere punchline to a much more predictable moment, the long-brewing rebellion of the Night’s Watch against Craster, him with all the daughter-wives.
I’m honestly surprised it took this long to happen, and Jeor’s ultimate mistake was definitely trying to brush over Craster’s most depraved behaviors even though everyone knew what was going on. Still, the last thing I expected was him getting stabbed in the back by his own men. James Cosmo has been such a titanic presence on this show, one of the many Game Of Thrones actors who visually just fit right in to his role. I’m glad Jeor didn’t go down easy, and his delayed reaction to the fatal wound made sense to me, but god, I wish he could have taken down a few more traitors with him. The Night’s Watch oath is one of the holier-feeling things on the show; sure, these guys aren’t perfect, but a man’s got to have a code.
Instead, Sam is on the run, trying to rescue poor Gilly and her baby as everything goes to shit at Craster’s. It’s his first truly wise decision in a while, given that Jeor and Jon were all that was really protecting him from a hellish life among his new brothers. And plus, if things go wrong up north, he can always eat Gilly! Just kidding. I know he’s got a big old crush on her.
This was pretty much a flawless episode. One scene that really bothered me was the Pod stuff, which I still can’t really grasp. On the one hand, I’m glad it’s being addressed here because that means the championing of his innate sex skills in the last episode wasn’t some pointless throwaway moment. On the other hand, it still doesn’t really track. Pod is possessed with such great prowess that every one of Petyr’s prostitutes is declaring him the best ever. Sure, his conversation with Ros segues into Sansa eventually, but I’m still waiting to see how this all turns out.
The other scene I could have done without was Theon’s mind-fucking—the guy who rescued him last week just leads him back into the torture chamber for… guess what? More torture! Yaaay! So this was just another mind game on top of everything else? I think I get that Theon is going through hell, guys! Now I’d like to know who his torturers are! I’ve read that this is material that’s not really covered in the books, and there is that feel of a thin thread of info being stretched as far as it can in these early episodes.
Tyrion is a minor presence here but is present for an intriguing, unsurprisingly creepy bit of backstory from Varys, who explains the method of his castration (dark experimentation by a sorcerer) and then, in a true display of force, shows Tyrion that he’s finally obtained his former torturer, locked in a crate, and lord knows what he’s going to do to him. Probably not just talk mellifluously.
But what is it all about? It’s nice for us to know about Varys’ origins, and his hatred of the dark arts lends some shading to his decision to settle in the grittier environs of King’s Landing, oppose Stannis and Melisandre, and place such a high price on the one weapon he could still wield, information. But in telling Tyrion, is he trying to indicate that he’s an ally, or one to be feared? The motivations of the aristocrats, like Tywin and Robb and even Margery, are easy enough to understand. But operators like Petyr and Varys are much more complicated—they are webs of disparate alliances, some stronger than others, and I feel it will take us years to truly unpack their goals.
But Tywin, as always, keeps it real. Cersei comes to make the same overture her brother did: highlighting her strengths, noting her siblings’ weaknesses, and essentially asking for a Lannister promotion. Tywin immediately dresses her down, concentrating on her most obvious weakness—the mess she’s made of her son. Cersei isn’t even good at keeping him in check even though her indulgence is partially what created such a monster. She fears that Margaery understands his psychosis much better than her, which does seem to be true from their scene together this week. But her protestations that Joffrey simply can’t be controlled fall on deaf ears with Tywin. “Perhaps you should try stopping him from doing what he likes,” she snarks. “I will,” Tywin says, and ooh, that’s something I want to see. Sure, Tyrion slapping Joffrey is always worth a chuckle, but god only knows what Tywin’s going to do.
A couple other plot threads get nudged at but leave things wide open for next week, which is fine by me considering how much this episode got done. Olenna and Margaery come to some agreement about protecting Sansa, which leads to Margaery offering her brother’s hand and promising her safety in Highgarden. Perhaps the Tyrells are playing the long game, figuring that peace will need to be made with the Starks one day? And sure, Sansa sure has bad luck with the betrothed (I don’t think Loras will be too interested) but she could certainly do worse, both politically and in terms of protection.
And Arya meets the leader of the Brotherhood Without Banners, the eyepatch-wearing Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer, as far as I know no relation to Natalie). I had to check back with the episode, but indeed, he did appear in season one, tasked with taking down the Mountain by Ned Stark in his brief period ruling as the king’s hand. Man, he would have gotten a lot of stuff done by now, don’t you think? Anyway, Beric’s been making trouble, and seems to have come around to Melisandre’s “one true god” religion. I’ve always seen that as a bad thing because Melisandre’s followers have a hint of “mindless drone” to them, but maybe I shouldn’t judge? Beric has a good head on his shoulders, even though trial by combat with the Hound might remove that.
And God. Jaime and Brienne. Jaime, wearing his severed hand around his neck, a miserable talisman, taunting him by lying next to him all flat and grey after he’s bested by Locke’s men in the mud (even though he’s using his left, he still puts up quite a fight). He tells Brienne he wants to die, and from a character perspective that makes sense—he’s been robbed of what truly made him special. But he still has a little fight left in him and a sympathetic recognition of his humanity from Brienne, who thanks him for sparing her life (the Sapphire Island is actually not too much with the sapphires, it seems). She gets no response. But there’s much more to come in this buddy-cop story. The longer the odds lengthen against these two, the more fun it’s going to be to watch them beat them.
- Ah, Craster died as he lived: weirdly offended about being called on his shit. “You are a bastard. A daughter-fucking Wildling bastard.” Truer words.
- “The girls are usually quite descriptive.” “And what did they say?” “They said he was hard to describe.” What magical genitals is Pod packing under there?
- Cersei wants more done to find Jaime. Tywin says he’s getting it done. “If I would start a war for that lecherous little stump, what do you think I’m doing for my eldest son and heir?”
- “I have a golden rose painted on my chamber pot. As if that makes it smell any better.” Olenna can’t not keep it real.