After last week’s masterpiece of tension and shock, it was to be expected that “Game of Thrones” would calm things down a bit. This was a transition episode that moved some plots forward incrementally but mostly served to set up the rest of the season. It’s impossible to check in with everyone in the realm in a single episode, but we zipped all over this week, maybe even a little too much. This episode focused on a series of important one-on-one encounters and reminded us of the pendulum that exists when determining whether a character is a hero or villain.
[Note: At this point I will also direct you to the review written by my colleague, Alyssa Rosenberg on her Act Four blog. Alyssa is a book reader, and between the two of us, we more than have you covered. You'll find more of a play-by-play here, she'll do more of the analysis there. Here's her review: Breaker of chains, breaker of will. We did a video recap, too. Check it out above.]
We open where we left off, with a shot of the late King Joffrey’s disgustingly dead face. Cersei is screaming and Tywin firmly declares that no one is to leave the capital. The search is on for Sansa, but she and her old drunkard/fool friend, Dontos, manage to escape rather quickly and easily through the back alleys of King’s Landing. In the blink of an eye they are merrily rowing gently out to sea, pulling up to a mysterious ship where it’s our old friend, Petyr Baelish aka Littlefinger. “The worst is past,” he assures Sansa as she climbs onto the ship. Dontos then gets an arrow to the face; he’s a dead man. “He was a drunk and a fool and I don’t trust drunk fools,” Littlefinger reasons. He then recites to Sansa the touching tale that Dontos told her when giving her that necklace she wore earlier at the wedding revealing the entire story was fabricated to get her to wear that necklace, on that day. Then he smashes said necklace, showing that it was merely glass and nothing fancy. (And also that it contained some poisonous powder?) “You’re safe now, I promise you that,” he tells Sansa. “You’re safe with me.”
There’s reason to doubt this, as there’s reason to doubt basically every single thing Littlefinger says. That he is somehow involved in Joffrey’s murder isn’t surprising, but it doesn’t exactly shed light on who is ultimately responsible. Littlefinger has always thrived on shifting alliances. He famously betrayed Ned Stark in season 1 (even telling him “I did warn you not to trust me”), brokered the Tyrell/Lannister alliance in season 2 and then sacrificed his one-time favorite prostitute, Ros, to the sadistic Joffrey in season 3. The only person he ever remained devoted to was Catelyn Stark and that devotion has turned into a creepy obsession with young Sansa. He attempted to get her on a boat with him last season and now has succeeded in getting her into his possession on the seas.
After a quick check-in with would-be-Queen Margaery — she’s more queen than she was with Renly, but isn’t really queen since the marriage wasn’t consummated, Lady Olenna tells her — it’s back to the mourning Lannisters. As Joffrey lies in wake, with Cersei standing beside him, Tywin is already focused on the task of getting a new king prepared for the Iron Throne. That new king would be little Tommen Lannister (conveniently recast for season 4 — tough gig for actors on this show; if you don’t get killed off you may get recast). Tywin has a surprisingly light touch when dealing with his grandson, who is as naive you might expect a tween to be. “What kind of king do you think you’ll be?” asks grandpa and Tommen responds, “A good king?” Tywin suggests he has the right temperament for it and then quizzes him on which is the most important quality in a king. After a trio of incorrect guesses and history lessons as to why those guesses were wrong (holiness, justice, strength) Tommen finally lands on wisdom. Tywin confirms this as the correct answer and then basically defines wisdom as “listening to grandpa until you have learned everything there is to learn from him.” With that lesson in ruling over, it’s time for the next lesson: sex education. A king needs a queen to further the family line, after all. Tywin will handle this teachable moment as well — “it’s all relatively straightforward,” he assures Tommen — but the ensuing scene reminds how that really isn’t always the case.
Jaime shoos the guards away and asks for a moment alone with Cersei, who then asks her brother to kill their other brother, Tyrion. Cersei is convinced that Tyrion is responsible for Joffrey’s death and has merely followed through on a previous threat. “Avenge our son!” Cersei demands, but Jaime doesn’t want to kill his brother and would rather see the case go to trial. Jaime has something else on his mind, though. As Cersei sobs and asks Jaime to get revenge, Jaime starts kissing her. It’s been a while since he had some sisterly love, after all. Cersei goes along with it, but then pulls back. “Why have the gods made me love a hateful woman?!” Jaime asks before continuing, now very much against Cersei’s wishes. We are, unfortunately, kind of numb to rape scenes on TV at this point, as they are a go-to device for plot development almost without fail. This one adds some incest and a faint whiff of necrophilia as the attack occurs just below Joffrey’s dead body. Lovely. Jaime Lannister’s character arc took him from unquestioned villain to sympathetic fan favorite over the course of the show, but that momentum is seriously in reverse now.
A similar, but less severe version of the same phenomenon happens with The Hound. He and Arya are still roaming the countryside, planning for the future (The Hound says he’s going to sail the Narrow Sea and become a sellsword) when they are spotted by a farmer and his young daughter, who eventually bring the unlikely pair back to their abode to give them some stew that The Hound slurps up. The farmer recounts the details of the Red Wedding to his visitors, says the whole country’s gone sour and then invites The Hound to stick around until the new moon with the offer of “fair wages for fair work.” What kind of socialist utopia is he trying to start here? The Hound surprisingly agrees and Arya is delighted because after all of this time on the run she wouldn’t mind just a little bit of domestic calm. But too bad. She wakes up to find The Hound has left Mr. Farmer in a world of hurt and is riding off with his silver. Arya is quite angry and calls her traveling companion “the worst s— in the Seven Kingdoms.” The Hound says farmer and daughter Sally will be dead come winter because they can’t protect themselves and that there are plenty of people worse than him, he just understands the way things are. “How many Starks they gotta behead before you figure things out?” he asks Arya.
At the Wall, Sam is … sorry, I just completely and totally lost interest there. Anyway, Sam’s with Gilly and is all, remember that time when I killed the White Walker? What is this the Chris Farley Show? If only. That would be much more entertaining. Sam, who has a little Tommy Boy in him when you think about it, is worried about Gilly being around all the young and horny men of the Night’s Watch so he takes her to Mole’s Town, where she’ll be safer, even though it seems her Baby Sam will now be living in a brothel. Let’s get somewhere more interesting.
To, say, an orgy. Yes, that will do. And if it’s an orgy, you know our favorite swingin’ Prince of Dorne will be there. “When it comes to war, I fight for Dorne. When it comes to love, I choose no sides,” Oberyn says. Tywin walks in on the fun; no word if he’s gathering intel for his upcoming birds and bees (three-eyed crows and manticores?) talk with Tommen. Tywin has some business with Oberyn; he wants him to serve as one of the three judges for Tyrion’s murder trial. The scene is a strong one-on-one, featuring two of the series most intriguing characters. Oberyn still thirsts for revenge against the Lannisters, but most specifically Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane, who he believes raped and murdered his sister, Elia. Tywin categorically denies ordering The Mountain to do so, and said he will arrange for a one-on-one meeting with The Mountain if Oberyn agrees to be a judge. (Tywin and Mace Tyrell will be the others; sure seems like the fix is in.) Tywin also offers Oberyn a spot on the small council and seems to want an alliance. “We are not the Seven Kingdoms until Dorne returns to the fold,” he says, before warning “the Targaryen girl has three dragons” and that she’s going to turn her eyes to Westeros soon. Now define “soon” for me please…
Before we get to Khaleesi, it’s over to Dragonstone, where the One True King of Westeros, Stannis Baratheon is delighting in news of Joffrey’s death. Remember when I put those leeches in the fire? That’s why this happened, he says. You keep telling yourself that, Stanny. But Stannis’s joy is tempered by the fact that this would be the perfect time to stage another attack on King’s Landing and take his rightful place on the Iron Throne, it’s just that he’s got no army. Ser Davos, has been trying to piece one together but he’s got no money to offer any soldiers so he’s only been able to wrangle the sorry collection of House Beesbury, House Musgood and House Hayford, which is not even enough to “raid a pantry,” which is actually a pretty good zinger from the humorless Stannis. “I’m running out of time, Ser Davos, which means you’re running out of time,” he says. As if being threatened with death by Stannis isn’t enough, Princess Shireen then gives Davos a hard time for being late to his reading lesson. It’s hard out there for an Onion Knight. Today’s lesson is about a former First Sword of Braavos, and inspires Ser Davos. He tells Shireen to write a message to the Iron Bank of Braavos, from Stannis Baratheon, the One True King of Westeros.
Back in King’s Landing, Tyrion is, unsurprisingly, having a rough go of it. Loyal squire Podrick comes to visit Tyrion in his cell (which unfortunately also doubles as a restroom) and informs his lord that he’ll stand trial in a fortnight for murdering King Joffrey. Tyrion admits the world’s a better place without the jerk of a king but that he had nothing to do with the murder. Tyrion wants to talk to his wife, but is informed that Sansa has disappeared. She is no assassin and Cersei is the only one Tyrion is sure had nothing to do with it, but it’s clear that whoever did plan the murder wanted Tyrion to take the blame. Tyrion orders Podrick to find Jaime and then to get himself out of King’s Landing before he gets assigned any blame. First Shae, now Podrick; that’s two weeks in a row Tyrion is forced to exile one of his very few confidants. His allies are dwindling.
Also dwindling are the number of serene villagers living just south of the Wall, because the wildlings are straight-up murdering them. Ygritte shoots an arrow into a head and then those charming cannibals, the Thenns, start slashing everyone they can get their blades on. I will say one thing about this scene — at least it happened during daylight. It’s been a very, very darkly-lit episode to this point, even by “Thrones” standards. Lead Thenn finds a terrified kid and does that Keyzer Soze thing where he leaves one person alive to spread word of the terror about to be inflicted.
Finally it’s time to check in on Khaleesi, who is slowly riding a horse, as she does. She approaches another random city; this one is Meereen. The architecture is much more interesting across the Narrow Sea, that is for sure. Probably because of all the slave labor. The city’s fighting champion comes out looking for a fight (and a urinal) and Khaleesi needs someone to take him on. Gray Worm, Ser Barristan Selmy and Ser Jorah Mormont all volunteer but Daenerys just can’t imagine life without any of them if they lost/got killed. So Daario Naharis it is. He decides, rather unconventionally, not to use a horse for this battle and as Meereenian champ comes charging, all it takes is a quick DAGGER!!! thrown at the horse’s eye to knock the warrior from his horse, leaving him as easy prey for Daario to fillet and kill. Then it’s time for Dany to do what she does best — give an inspiring speech. She announces herself to the inhabitants looking over the city wall and says she’s only speaking to the slaves. She went to Astapor and the slaves now stand behind her, free. She went to Yunkai, same thing. Now she’s here. Yes, this storyline feels redundant, is that the point? The episode ends with Dany’s army firing barrels over the city walls; those barrels are filled with the neck shackles the slaves inside the city are wearing. And when the slaves see these, will it inspire them to rise up against their masters and join Dany’s army? And will this same exact scene happen again in another city in a few weeks?
Episode 2: The lion, the rose and the cruelty of Westeros (Act Four review)
Episode 1: Two Swords and even more dangerous stories (Act Four review)