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.
Starting at the very end, the fuck was with that closing song? I know it was the Bolton’s song, but it felt really out of place where the National’s version of the Lannister song that closed “Blackwater” did not. Struck a very wrong note for me on what was otherwise another great episode. And I like the Hold Steady.
Because Game Of Thrones’ guiding principle appears to be to never stop sprawling, we get to know several recent additions better this week, in addition to meeting some of the Tullys. Michelle Fairley has another strong, ruminative scene with her uncle Blackfish, but really we learn everything we need to about the new folks in the dryly comic opening scene. Cat’s brother Edmure (played by Tobias Menzies, which means that GoT now employs both Caesar and Brutus from HBO’s Rome) can’t hit his father’s funereal raft with multiple flaming arrows, so Blackfish pushes him aside to brusquely do the job in one shot that in true badass fashion he doesn’t even bother to watch land. It’s almost superfluous when we find out that Edmure has been screwing up Robb’s plans to trap The Mountain with short-sighted forays. After that opening, of course he did.
Another Stark bids goodbye to a loved one (or at least a grudgingly tolerated one) as Hot Pie peels off to pursue his passion for baked goods full time. It’s a surprisingly sweet scene that highlights just how much of a kid she still is, but let’s be honest…Hot Pie is totally going to turn up dead next time the show circles back to this inn (the same one, Arya, notes, where the Hound murdered the butcher’s boy in the second episode), right? The Mountain is going to ride through there looking for his brother or something, and burn the place to the ground.
She still has Gendry with her, at least, though trouble seems to be heading his way as Melisandre leaves Stannis with the stated intention of seeking out Baratheon blood to fuel another shadow baby (the blue shell of Westerosi warfare) with Joffrey or possibly Robb’s name on it. The Dragonstone scene is brief, but at least seems to imply that Davos is not going to be roasted alive in the immediate future, which I think qualifies as good news by the show’s standards. It also provides a service in explaining why the Red Woman can’t just keep firing shadowbabies at all of Stannis’s enemies willy-nilly, while keeping the logic of it sufficiently mystical so as to not rob the magic of all the, you know, magical feeling.
He may need to redirect his heat-seeker by the time he gets it, though, since Mance Rayder has reached the Wall and commenced with a plan to infiltrate Castle Black. His wildling army may be the biggest problem facing the would-be kings of Westeros, unless Jon Snow can pull a John McClane and disrupt the plan from the inside. But does anyone really have much faith in Jon Snow’s abilities without Ghost to bail him out?
The more interesting material north of The Wall is actually centered on Sam, who has defaulted into our primary hero for the Night’s Watch storyline. If you don’t love Sam, don’t worry, he’s no more thrilled about it than we are. Craster singles him out for mockery, and while he doesn’t say anything too different from how his brothers’ have taunted him for in the past, it provokes murderous stares from the strung-out Crows. The Watch may be a motley assemblage of crooks and cast-offs, but they seem to be a real brotherhood to the extent that they jealously guard the right to abuse their members as their own. Having seen his crush giving birth to a doomed baby boy, Sam seems poised to push Craster over the edge, and while the wicked seem to mostly prosper in this series, I don’t see it turning out well for him. He can talk all he wants to about being square with the “real” gods, but he’s due for reminding that two dozen armed men in your home require as much appeasement as even the most demanding of deities.
Due to learn a similar lesson is Master Hostiledouche of Astapor. Dany has decided to use the Unsullied after all, following a convincing case from Jorah that whatever atrocities were committed to create them, the result is a more humane weapon of war than a conventional army, which has to run on the bloodlust (and plain lust) of “ordinary” men. That does not mean that she is cool with slavery, though, or that she’s dumb enough to have missed the insulting manner in which Master Houstiledouche has spat every sentence at her, or that she is willing to part with one of her dragons.
There is a slightly bum note here, in that it makes Jorah look kind of dim for thinking that the Khaleesi would possibly give up one of her “children” to obtain an army she was deeply ambivalent about using in the first place. He was there last year when she braved the House of the Undying to recover them (over his own protests), and should know better than anyone that she would not part with her birthright for anything. It makes Houstiledouche look pretty dumb too, but he is dumb and fuck that guy. He deserves to have his city burnt to the ground the moment he trades 8000 unquestioning warrior slaves for one fire-breathing lizard that probably lacks comprehension of the subtlety of chattel transactions.
Speaking of transactions (and five-star segues!), back in King’s Landing Tyrion is saddled with a dubious promotion to Littlefinger’s former role running the royal treasury, and is both dismayed at what he finds in the whoremonger’s accounts and confounded by the behavior of his employees when they refuse payment for servicing young Podrick. I’m assuming there is some deeper play by Littlefinger at work, if only because I can’t see such an overstuffed show finding several minutes to devote to Tyrion and Bronn putting a deceptive bow on the kid’s present, or to reveal that a minor character like Pod really does have the sort of magic, life-altering wang that (all) rappers attribute to themselves in (all) rap songs (ever).
In any case, it’s a great day for Pod, but a great episode for Tyrion. He may not be happy with his new position, and may in fact be getting set up to somehow take the fall for years of Tywin and Littlefinger’s Ponzi-scheming, but there’s no way a spreadsheet is going to take him down where the combination of Stannis’s fleet, the Hound’s desertion, and Cersei’s assassin couldn’t.
In any case, it say something great about this show that I’m as stoked to see Tyrion sort out the Crown’s finances as I was to see him plan siege defenses, and that just seeing the Small Council gather in a room with Tywin got my heart pumping as much as any battle scene. The silent comedy of the councillors racing to sit as close to the man as possible, followed by Cersei dragging her own seat around to his right hand, followed by Tyrion carefully moving his seat as far away from the old man as possible was wonderful. Along with Pod’s big day and the viking funeral, it made for probably the funniest episode of what is generally a rather humorless show.
It was not all sweetness and light, however, as the material with Brienne and Jaime in captivity takes a quick, very dark turn from their odd couple banter (though it was nice to see her take a turn heckling him) when he points out that she does not hold any value to them as a hostage, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have use for her. He seems to tell her this out of a genuine concern, even as he knows that she will not heed his counsel to let them have what they want rather than getting herself killed resisting. Of course, if he thought she would take the advice, he probably wouldn’t respect her enough to give it.
Jaime has become more and more likeable as we’ve gotten further and further from his attempted child murder, and as he’s been held in such a vulnerable state during his long captivity (it also helps, at least for me, that he’s the only Lannister that shows any regard for Tyrion). And he is only going to be more vulnerable going forward without his swordhand, the one thing that made him remarkable outside his father’s wealth. But then, it wouldn’t be Game Of Thrones if he wasn’t horrifically punished immediately after he performed his first really selfless act.
I loved a lot about this twist, though. It established Locke as a formidable and ruthless antagonist, and gives Jaime interesting new places to develop as a character. It was staged well, leading you to think for a minute that he was going to take out an eye before going for the hand. And it was precisely the type of shocking, brutal development that Game Of Thrones specializes in, and makes me groan every time the credits roll (out of place song or not).
Is it next Sunday yet? Oh, come on!