(This Game Of Thrones post is written from the point of view of someone who has not read the books the series is based on. As such, spoilers are strictly forbidden. Any spoilers in comments will be deleted on sight. If you see spoilers, please mark them as best you can and email toddvdw at gmail dot com or contact Todd on Twitter at tvoti, and he’ll take care of them as soon as possible. Remember: Discussions of things that were different in the books or confirmations of things that won’t happen count as spoilers, too. Have you read the books and want to discuss what’s coming? That’s what our experts reviews are for.)
It’s hard not to watch these first two episodes of Game Of Thrones’ third season and just get exhausted. There are so many characters to check in with and so many new ones being thrown at us. Everyone’s trudging around from place to place, only a vague destination in mind, barely a horse between them to cover any distance. “Dark Wings, Dark Words” spent a lot of time with characters on the run and in hiding, staying off the beaten path to avoid detection, and as a result, it’s a very tense hour that on the surface lacks forward momentum, although I’m sure it’s tipping many a larger plot into motion.
We’re mostly seeing characters there wasn’t time for last week, and there’s a lot more time spent up north, with no time spent across the sea. (I guess we’ll hear more from Barristan Selmy next time.) There’s only a brief glimpse of Jon after last week, but it’s an important one since it solidifies the concept of a “warg,” which his brother Bran certainly is—someone who can see through the eyes of animals. This particular fellow is played by Mackenzie Crook (Gareth from the UK Office) and his appearance gives Ygritte another chance to make fun of Jon for not knowing about something. That’s getting a little old, lady.
But we spend plenty of time with our favorite warg, little Bran, who is not so little anymore. Isaac Hempstead-Wright had to start growing up sometime, so he doesn’t have quite his beautiful boyish face anymore, but no matter, I can suspend my disbelief. Bran is still on the run with Hodor, brother Rickon, and the immensely useful Osha, although I don’t even really remember what they’re supposed to be heading toward. Just away from the burning wreck of Winterfell, I suppose. Anyway, Osha’s very useful with a blade, but we’re two seasons deep, and it’s time to start figuring out just what is up with Bran. He’s been having these crazy crow dreams pretty much since the start of the show, and I’d like a little progress on that front.
So in comes Jojen (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and his sister Meera (Ellie Kendrick), two northern kids who are a bit grimier than Bran, although their father was apparently an old ally of Ned’s. Jojen is presented as very savvy and possessing the same possibly psychic powers of Bran, but there’s another thing he has in common with his new friend—he’s a bit of a weakling, letting his more-capable sister Meera handle the weapons. Osha tries to dig at him about this, but Meera is very chipper about their arrangement, one that somewhat mirrors Bran and Osha’s (or, in a happier world, Bran and Arya’s), although Bran is in much worse shape than Jojen.
There’s not much else going on yet, but Jojen does identify the three-eyed crow as Bran himself, saying he’s seeing things going on in the past, the present, and possibly the future (we even hear a snippet of Ned’s voice in one of the dreams). Typical seer stuff—too vague to box the writers into a corner, and expansive enough to leave all kinds of creepy dreams and visions open to us in the future. Bran is the character whose ultimate agenda is the most shrouded in mystery, but at least I’m glad he has a friend his age now.
While Bran is a fugitive on the run, Arya remains in worse shape, barely out of the frying pan before she’s right back in the fire. Gendry and Hot Pie are (quite reasonably) complaining that she should have had Jaqen kill someone like Joffrey with his magic assassin powers, even though they owe their lives to her quick thinking, and quickly they run into a whole host of misfits—the Brotherhood Without Banners, whom we heard plenty about last season. They’re some sort of band of rebellious rascals who were making trouble for Tywin and the Mountain up north and are led by Thoros, played by Paul Kaye (an English comedian of fair renown, especially when I was growing up there in the mid-90s). He’s nice and shifty, though—seemingly friendly, not entirely trustworthy, and probably the nicest sort Arya has met on her journey so far, but not above shaming her swordsmanship skills when she challenges him.
A lot of this season is obviously going to be about whom to trust. Every character has been so badly burned by whatever alliances they’ve tried to make and seen honorable souls like Ned put on the chopping block for playing by the old rules. No sooner does Arya go along with the Brotherhood than they bring in another captive, the Hound (I’ve missed him!), who immediately recognizes her, and then her goose is cooked. Or is it? Put it this way, I don’t see her getting to Riverrun anytime soon.
Sansa is in an even more delicate, frightening position, even though her cage is gilded. She’s free of Joffrey’s immediate, horrible attention but still far too frightened to do much of anything, and her scene with the Tyrell women (Margaery and her grandmother Olenna, played by British icon Diana Rigg) is probably the most fascinating to watch this week, because we really don’t know whom to trust there. Olenna keeps it plenty real, dissing her dumb son (Margaery’s dad) for his political gamesmanship and Renly for his peacocking, then imperiously demanding cheese from terrified-looking waiters. Margaery keeps up the sweet innocent act, but we know there’s more to her than this. She’s not just being forced into this marriage as part of a political alliance. As she told Petyr, she wants to be the Queen, and she’s not above dealing with Joffrey to win her prize.
But that doesn’t make Margaery evil, either—just smart. It’s why she’s the most fascinating character to watch so far this season. She’s not dementedly evil like Joffrey, she doesn’t have Cersei’s cold, jealous streak, and she is not a gleeful operator like Petyr or Varys (where is he, by the way?). Her motives are somewhat craven, but you also get the sense that she won’t just toss Sansa under the bus for saying Joffrey’s a monster (which they really have to drag out of her). Now, she might do that if she had to, but in a world of game-players Margaery is another, specific breed. Combined with Olenna, it’s clear the Tyrells will be quite formidable. Still, it's stomach-churning to watch her play up to Joffrey’s lame crossbow display, although there is some satisfaction in seeing her mind games work on a whole other level compared to Cersei (who ham-fistedly tries to plant seeds of doubt against Margaery earlier on).
While Margaery’s scheming is the most intriguing to watch, the continuing adventures of Jaime and Brienne are probably the most fun because they are just the oddest couple and the show knows it. It’s impossible to imagine now, but you just know these two are going to be buddies (at the very least) by the time this trip is over. The formula simply demands it! She’s a pious, well-meaning, stiff lady. He’s a nasty, privileged, nihilistic dude. They both like to kill things with swords, although for very different reasons. Brienne is all about honor, from start to finish—apart from love of Renly, it’s hard to tell what else motivates her. Jaime is all about vanity, and his swordsmanship is the ultimate example of that. Every time he beats a dude or kills a dude, he’s verifying that he’s better than anyone else, which is just grand.
At the same time, Jaime is kind of like the Comedian in Watchmen. (Have I made that comparison before? Apologies if I have.) He cares little for honor, for the Lannister name, for anything except for kicking ass and having sex with his sister (which he hasn’t been able to do for quite a while at this point). In a society very bound by codes and protocol, he’s kind of a breath of fresh air in how utterly disinterested he is about it. I especially loved him in season one where you could tell all he wanted to do was throw down with Ned and everyone else and settle all his disputes that way. He’s not a man made for peacetime.
Jaime is due a rude awakening, and it’s going to be fun watching it happen. Step one comes here, where he manages to free himself and grab a sword from Brienne but is handily beaten by her in a duel on a bridge. Now, of course, he’s fighting in a fairly diminished state, and Brienne has already proven herself quite the warrior, but it’s obviously a crushing moment for him, followed up by the unfortunate appearance of Noah Taylor, who I’m sure only brings trouble with him. Noah Taylor always signifies trouble.
I can’t leave before mentioning the character in the biggest trouble of all, though—poor old Theon. He’s being tortured by… someone, in horrible, crucifying detail, while being asked for information he obviously doesn’t have. His tormentors want to know why he captured Winterfell and left it in ruin, and Theon will happily tell them whatever he thinks they want to hear, but we know the truth—daddy issues, plain and simple. Poor guy. I hope next week Alfie Allen spends at least a little time off the rack.
- Jaime works in some nice digs at Renly’s homosexuality. “It’s a shame the throne isn’t made out of cocks. They would never have gotten him off it.”
- But he follows that up with a message of supreme tolerance. “I don’t blame him, and I don’t blame you either. You don’t get to choose who you love.” It’s a lovely line, even if its colored by the fact that it’s delivered by someone who loves committing incest.
- Olenna reacts to Sansa’s news about Joffrey a little underwhelmingly. “He’s a monster.” “Oh, that's a pity.”
- Margaery confesses to Joffrey that Renly once proposed “something that sounded very painful and couldn’t possibly result in children.” Joffrey says he’s considered banning such “perversions” in Westeros, in case you didn’t hate him enough.
- Man, the Hound is the most colloquial character in Game Of Thrones. “Thoros? The fuck you doing here?” He has the most crossover potential to The Wire.