Programming Note: These reviews will be written from the perspective of someone who has not read the books. So we’re not going to mention the books, at all, and would ask that the comments don’t either. Thanks to all you literate mofos in advance. Also it means I’m going to misspell some names.
“Dark Wings, Dark Words” is another highly scattered but highly entertaining installment of HBO’s current magnum opus. This week we have to do without anything at all relating to the Dany or Stannis storylines, and even with significant goings-on in King’s Landing, there’s no sign of Tywin, Bron or any of the Small Council. And only one scene with Tyrion, because apparently that is the minimum amount of Dinklage the FDA will allow for public consumption in a single serving of Game Of Thrones.
We also only took a brief stop beyond the wall this week, without much that could be mistaken for narrative progression (and alas, no FUCKING GIANTS). Sam is still a liability, and Jon is still marching with the Wildlings, still finding new things to not know things about. This time it’s wargs, people who can possess animals. Gareth from The Office is one, as is young Brandon Stark.
Well, maybe not so young anymore. It’s a bit awkward that Bran’s voice has changed overnight (in story time), but such are the realities of making television, I suppose. We’ve known or suspected that he had such abilities for some time, so the bigger development on this front is the appearance of Jojen and Meera Reed, young siblings possessed of preternatural composure and in Jojen’s case, The Sight. I don’t know what’s in store for these new characters, but I worry for their safety once he’s taught Bran a little about how to warg it up; narratively speaking, how much use is there for two seers in one storyline? Bran and Rickon have never grabbed me too much as characters, so I hope that the new kids stick around and continue breathing some life and intrigue into that plotline.
All the Starks are on the move as well, and some of the funnest parts of the episode involve Arya, Gendry, and the roly poly they cart around with them encountering the Brotherhood Without Banners. We heard a fair amount about the Brotherhood last year, but hadn’t seen them, and I like them a good deal already. Anyone who gave Tywin and The Mountain so much trouble is obviously doing something right, and they have personality and style, particularly the archer that threatened the fat boy with a move that would’ve felt right at home in an episode of Justified, and brought the Hound in to blow Arya’s cover.
I am glad to have The Hound in the mix again, though I’m a little confused as to his current position. He seems on almost friendly terms with the Brotherhood’s leader, but given their enmity of his House and their masters, I doubt they’ll just be sending him on his way. Which is great, because I want to see Arya and the Hound interact for at least a few episodes. He is on her official shit list for standing by while her father was killed, but he’s a fugitive too now and would actually make a natural progression in her string of martial mentors, from the largely academic exercises with her “dancing master” to the murderous but courteous and professional Jaquen, to this hulking beast who just likes killing because it’s what he’s good at. Of course, he’d say that was all it really was for the other guys anyway, whatever artsy terms they used to dress it up. And The Hound’s sentiment can be awfully hard to read, so who knows if any warm feelings he had for her sister that will carry over.
Speaking of the sister, Sansa gets some of the best scenes of the episode, although that’s mainly down to Diane Rigg’s straight-shootin’ Tyrell matriarch Olenna. She makes an immediate impression, disarming Sansa by running down her own family and appealing to her inherent Stark-ness, which compels the poor girl to honesty when every sensible cell in a person’s body should be screaming at them to just keep their mouth shut. It’s not even that I think the Tyrells mean her any particular harm, I’m just dead certain they will sell her out the very second there’s anything to be gained from it.
The Tyrells make the biggest impressions of the episode, as the old lady is clearly a force to be reckoned with, and no wilting flower to judge by her drier-than-burnt toast reaction to the news that Joffrey is, to put it lightly, a monster. It’s hard not to love the old broad right away, and as much as I’d like to see some of the badass warriors the show has accumulated face off against each other, right now the clash I’m most eager to see is the epic snipe-off sure to ensure when she meets Varys. Her granddaughter, meanwhile, gets the most unsettling scene, as she quickly adapts her seduction attempts with Joffrey to his particular lusts, which are less sexual and more sadistic. I like Marge, I think, but she has very quickly revealed herself to be a serious contender for most dangerous person in King’s Landing, no mean feat with the likes of Tywin, Bron and Cersei slinking about.
Meanwhile,….somewhere, Theon is being tortured, by…someone. There’s not much else to say about this since we’re as in the dark as he is about the where and who and why of it, but I have a suspicion that the guy claiming to have been sent by his sister to help him is really just there to add a psychological element to his torment by dangling hope in front of him. But whatever the motivation, it’s not like he didn’t earn a few thumbscrews and what have you. You can just go ahead and rot there for a bit, Theon, and your sister can come save you once we’re completely sure there isn’t something else we’d rather be watching her do.
But the episode, in contrast to the last one, saves the best for last, with the latest installment of Jaime and Brienne’s odd couple road show. I love this stuff, as Gwendolyn Christie and Nicolaj Coster-Waldau have a mismatched chemistry that brings a completely different tone to their scenes than the rest of the show, in the best way possible. Plus it gives us a chance to see two of those badasses I was talking about throw down, a treat we had been denied since Jaime and Ned dueled early in season 1. Jaime is not at his best, of course, being manacled and having spent a good portion of his time lately lashed to a post and shitting in his pants. But it’s a great bit of fight choreography anyway with some nice character shading with how she is all business while he can’t stop needling her even when he’s losing.
In a way, they both lose the fight, as before Brienne can re-secure her prisoner, they are found by a hunting party of House Bolton, Robb’s most ruthless bannermen, who were tipped off by a passerby that Brienne was not ruthless enough to murder just in case he went and did exactly that. This is bad news for both their plans. But good news for me, because it will keep them on the road together a bit longer, preserving what is currently my favorite dynamic on the show.
Is it next Sunday yet? Oh, come on!