Lots of people were looking for retribution this week, and a few of them even got it. Game Of Thrones is a series where it often seems like assholes thrive and in young Sansa’s words “the worst never die,” so getting to see some of the most unpleasant customers get what’s coming to them made for the best and most satisfying episode since “Blackwater”.
In King’s Landing, Tyrion seeks Varys’s help in pursuing revenge against his would-be killers, a pursuit that is complicated by his currently low standing and the fact that he couldn’t simply lay waste to his own family even if he had the means. Varys advises patience, providing as a handy visual aid the trussed up body of the sorcerer who castrated him as a boy, delivered to him in a crate, for a heaping plate of very, very cold revenge. Dinklage and Conleth Hill always play well off each other, but this is a particularly good scene between them, as we get some backstory that had been teased to us for years and provides one of those rare opportunities to revel in a nasty customer (even if we didn’t know he existed prior to the scene) getting what’s coming to him.
But that’s not even Varys’s best scene of the night. Diane Rigg absolutely dominates her screentime, delivering one of the most memorable lines of the series when she muses about what would happen when “the non-existent bumps against the decrepit” (Hill’s exaggerated, practically vaudevillian look to his own crotch at this is as amusing as it is ridiculous). I also particularly liked the her dismissive acknowledgment that Sansa is not particularly interesting in her own right, but has led an interesting life. It’s a spot on assessment, nicely meta without putting any strain on the fourth wall.
Oleanna is the ultimate pragmatist, though, so she quickly gets on board with Varys’s plan to head off Littlefinger’s designs on Sansa, and the northern armies such a union would put within his grasp. It falls to granddaughter Marge to seduce Sansa into agreeing to be her brother’s beard, which doesn’t seem likely to be the most fulfilling marriage for either party but has to be a step up from her current situation all the same. But then seduction appears to be Marge’s primary mode of communication; if watching her put on the pretense of friendliness to Sansa is upsetting, watching her manipulate Joffrey is downright nauseating, as he regales her with giddy descriptions of the sadistic acts and ends of former royalty. It gets even more unsettling when she convinces him to greet the crowd she has managed to turn (at least a bit) in his favor; as disgusting and dangerous as Joffrey is now, one shudders to imagine what he could do with even a speck of political acumen in his tiny, inbred skull.
Cersei is threatened enough by the Tyrell ascendance that she volunteers for her own round of “Charles Dance devastates your entire life and character without looking up from his letter writing” theater. He is every bit as withering in his estimation of her as he was of Tyrion, telling her flat out “I don’t distrust you because you’re a woman, I distrust you because you are not as smart as you think you are,” and blaming her for not controlling Joffrey. This prompts her to dare him to try to bring the kid to heel, which he tantalizingly promises he to do. I don’t see this ending well for the old man, as Joffrey is too big an idiot to realize that how badly he needs people like his grandfather to prop him up. But it should be great to watch.
Another Lannister contemplates revenge in Jaime’s storyline, where he is understandably distraught, as his swordhand was the only thing about him to which the world assigned any value outside of his name. And going way back to the second episode of the series, he opined of Bran’s injuries that “even if he lives, the boy will be a cripple, a grotesque. Give me a quick, clean death any day.” He certainly had other reasons to believe Bran specifically was better off dead, but it seemed to be a genuinely held sentiment. And there is nothing clean about the ongoing abuse he is receiving from his captors.
Jaime professes not to care about revenge, but I don’t think we’ll be stuck for long with a morose, resigned Kingslayer. Brienne gives him a swift verbal kick in the seat, and while she may lack some of the oratory verve of Al Swearengen, the message seems to sink in. These two are more bound together than ever, with her recognition that it was only his intervention that saved her from a nasty fate last episode. It makes me really want to see what happens between them once they are inevitably freed from Locke and his men.
Oh, and what the fuck is going on with Pod? Apparently he really does just have Magicwang. This is too arbitrary a thing for the show to keep returning to for simple comic relief, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how it could possibly pay off.
Anyhow, back to REEEEEEEVENNNGE!!! The Brotherhood Without Banners appear to be a band of merry men intent on making the noble houses of Westeros pay for the collateral damage their squabbling has caused. Which is all well and good, and The Hound certainly deserves execution for the atrocities he’s committed in service to the Crown (including murdering Arya’s friend following her spat with Joffrey), even if the Brotherhood is mostly holding him responsible for things his brother did. But they are also, we learn, devotees of Melisandre’s Lord of Light, which is disconcerting. And does not bode well for Gendry, if they are connected to her, since she’s out looking for Baratheon blood. But he’ll have some entertainment in the meantime, as the Brotherhood’s leader, an errant knight charged with bringing down the Mountain by Ned back in the first season, sentences the Hound to trial by combat against his own self, in what seems a thoroughly questionable decision.
Theon, meanwhile, isn’t even sure who is taking vengeance on him, but an emotional monologue from Alfie Allen indicates that he knows he deserves it on some level. His storyline hasn’t amounted to much so far, to the point where it doesn’t seem like there was much reason not to just kill him off at the end of last season. I think we can presume that the creepy janitor who freed him and recaptured him is Roose Bolton’s bastard, due to a lack of any other viable suspects, but there’s something very off about the whole situation all the same. Did he really need to murder several of his own men to lull Theon into his confidence after he had freed him? If he’s in charge, why does he seem to be hiding that from the other torturers? Was he trying to get information about the Stark boys from Theon, or just messing with his head to make it even worse when he’s strapped back on the rack? When are we going to get some more time with Yara anyway?
But if there is not enough progress with Theon, “And Now His Watch Is Ended” more than makes up for it with explosive developments on the two fronts that have always been the slowest-burning, the action across the sea and north of The Wall. These are the types of developments that you expect to be seen in a season finale (and in fact, made me wonder if they could’ve been packed into last season, which saw very little forward motion in either plot), but there is something exhilarating about seeing them come less than halfway through a season that I know to be covering only one half of the source book. If this is still the set-up…I can’t even imagine what the pay off will be.
This stuff is even more satisfying because, as mentioned earlier , it involves the comeuppance of two of the more one-dimensional black hats on the show. Sure, seeing the Night’s Watch tear itself apart is a bad development, but any sadness at seeing Lord Commander Mormont reach the end of his watch is counterbalanced by getting to see Craster the daughter-fucking, child-murdering shithead get stabbed right in his (shitty) head. It will be interesting to see how Jon Snow’s undercover mission is affected when he learns of the mutiny. Improvising doesn’t seem like a real strength of his, does it?
Finally, Dany does exactly what we all expected her to do, and immediately roasts Mater Hostiledouche alive and frees the slaves of Astapor once he gave her uncontested dominion over an army of fearless, remorseless killers. Well played, Hostiledouche, well played.
I kid, because being predictable doesn’t make the sequence any less awesome. Dany is well on her way to crashing the party in Westeros, and we’re only 4 episodes into the season. I’m sure there will be some speed bumps in her way that will prevent her from making landfall until at least the season finale, but damn if this episode didn’t get the blood pumping and leave me reeling heading into the closing credits. Not that any particular plot point happened, but that it was all happening so quickly. With so many shows that can be described as “slow burning”, the pace is a result of not having a firm enough grasp on their own mythology and longterm plans to know when it’s safe to move things forward. That’s not an issue with Thrones (one of the benefits of having strong source material in place), so it can burn as slowly as it wants before exploding multiple storylines in a single episode.
Is it Sunday yet? Oh, c’mon!