Previous Game Of Thrones reviews can be found here.
We’re back in Westeros, for an hour that somehow does not include a single major tragedy, and concludes with Arya and the Hound going all Charles Bronson on a pack of torturers and rapists. It’s as happy-go-lucky as the show can get, but of course half of our characters are utterly miserable nonetheless. The Starks are still on the canvas following the Red Wedding, having lost their lands, castle, armies, the heads of all the adult members of the family, and now their ancestral weapon to boot. But they are not so entirely removed from the game as the Lannisters would believe; for starters, they underestimate the number of surviving Stark children by 3. We don’t see Bran or Rickon at all in this episode, but for an episode that begins with Tywin haughtily melting down the blade that symbolized his enemy’s power, it is significant that it ends with Arya reclaiming a sword of her own. Needle may look like a trifle next to the “absurdly large” decapitator that Ned used (and was used on him in turn), but it’s plenty sharp enough for her to draw her first Lannister blood and perhaps scratch one name off her nighttime litany.
Also Sansa, a character whose pathos is rooted in her utter powerlessness, gets a lengthy scene with the drunk she managed to save from Joffrey’s pique in the season 2 premiere. For a show with so many dozens of characters and far-flung storylines to service, it’s safe to assume that any scene that lasts longer than a minute is carefully selected for a specific purpose. I don’t know that I really expect the drunk jester to become a major player in the later seasons, but I do think that the writers felt it was important to remind both us and Sansa at this point that she is still capable of exerting some form of influence from within her gilded cage. She has importance, and whether she realizes it or not, that gives her some degree of power. I don’t expect this season to end with her on the Iron Throne, but I do think that she and her siblings will be important parts of the series ultimate endgame, and ultimately enjoy some form of payback on their many tormentors.
There’s also pseudo-Stark Jon Snow, whose story is still among the least interesting aspects of the series for me, but who I fully expect to be an important character all the way to the end. I’ve never been blown away by Kit Harrington’s performance, but he gets a nice quiet moment reminiscing about Robb, and the potent stew of admiration and resentment and love that make up fraternal relationships. I can’t say that I was riveted by his “trial” scene, as it was obvious that the Watch wasn’t going to execute him now, but it was kind of cool to see Janos Slynt pop up again after so long.
I am more interested in his former pack of Wildlings, who are still waiting on the signal from Mance Rayder to take Castle Black. They meet up with a group of ritualistically scarred cannibals that make Tormund look cuddly by comparison, and I’m immediately eager to see them in action (and eating Janos, preferably). Their arm-on-a-spit can’t hold a candle to the decadent concoctions Mads Mikkelsen is cooking up from peoples over on Hannibal, but it makes an impression nonetheless. For as much as GoT eschews traditional fantasy good vs. evil derring do, there is value to having some straight up heavies around to menace our “heroes”.
Meanwhile, in Essos…they recast Daario, which is a marked improvement, since the original guy is the only casting in three years that I thought was outright bad (he had a modern look and feel that didn’t fit the period setting). I’ll have more to say about it when we see something new over there, I imagine. Right now it’s still blah blah slaves bad blah blah khaleesi pretty blah blah dragons be cray-cray.
Because really, the episode and by inference the season is/will be focused primarily on the ascendant Lannisters. It’s a neat trick the series has pulled, introducing us to the Stark brood at the outset and gradually having their hated, incestuous, duplicitous enemies supplant them as the central protagonists. To the extent that Game Of Thrones has a traditional protagonist, anyhow. While I can look back and see Ned as the central figure of season one, and Tyrion of season two, last year is harder to pin down (perhaps a function of its covering only half a book). But if “Two Swords” is any indication, Jaime just might be the focal point of this season. And I’m down with that, because Nicolaj Coster-Waldau has been fantastic mining the depths of feeling and hidden honor within the sister-fucking, oath-breaking, child-killing, newly-dismembered knight. Also, he’s funny, and as Tyrion has shown, the ability to earn a laugh goes a long way to gaining my affections amidst such grim surroundings.
Jaime has developed into such a complex and oddly sympathetic character, largely by virtue of being dragged through the mud for the last two years. He’s now free again, but his family is buffeting him around to the extent that he probably doesn’t feel that way. Tywin wants to separate him from both the family and his last shreds of honor by renouncing the Kingsguard, Joffrey wants to assert his independence by running his old man down, Cersei isn’t keen on picking up where they left off, and even Brienne is getting in his face about finding a way to keep his word and help Sansa. And no one is above taking cheap shots at his missing hand and impending middle age. Oh, and Oberyn Martell wants to murder him and all the others.
Oberyn makes an immediate impression as the decadent and dangerous new enemy for the Lannisters (who need one, since Stannis is distracted and the Starks are too bloodied and scattered to pursue their vendetta for quite some time). You can sort of feel the show straining in that brothel sequence to find a level of depravity that will impress us, but after everything we’ve seen in the show over the last few years, it’s hard to feel scandalized by finding out the new guy is bisexual. I am impressed with how quickly and effectively they establish the Martells’ grudge with the Lannisters, however, despite their absence from the first 3 years of the show. We’ve heard about the sacking of King’s Landing enough, and what happened to the Targaryen children, that this feels like a reasonably organic development rather than a late-stage retcon. I am curious as to why they chose now to strike, and not at any time in the last year or two when they were more vulnerable, but I can wait for an answer on that. First I want to see Oberyn interact with Jaime, and Cersei, and Olenna, and Varys. And Bronn. The two seem to hit it off right away, and anyone that likes Bronn is worthwhile in my books.
Last but never least we have the Imp himself. Dinklage is always great, but he has not been his best, most interesting self the last half season or so, having shed his devil-may-care charisma for moping and repetitive sniping with Shae. It looks like that will not repeat itself much more, however, as Cersei finding out about her can only mean that she is about to meet a bad, bad fate. Too many people within his own family wish him harm for this season to go well for my favorite character, I’m afraid. It’s gonna be hard out there for an Imp, and only get harder, is my prediction. In the meantime, if they can just give me one scene between him and Jaime next week, that would go a long way to making me satisfied.
So, is it next week yet? Oh, come on!