After an episode of Game of Thrones last week that was so visually exceptional, this week went on to match it in terms of action, although with lots and lots of talking (not necessarily a bad thing, though). The bar has been set really high this season, and so far I think the show has risen to the occasion, being a lot clearer than last season’s sometimes chaotic storytelling. It’s helped too that we didn’t see everyone in every episode — this week left out Robb, Jon, Stannis and Davos, four very important characters — because with eleven other stories to tell in an hour, there was simply no room. What I really liked about “And Now His Watch Has Ended” though was reflected in the title — this episode was all about the ladies (nearly), and it was very well wrought. Hit the jump for why it burns, burns, burns, the Ring of Fire, the Ring of Fire.
With a few exceptions, the ladies really stole the show this week. The biggest moment came from Dany, of course, who turned the tables on the deal with the Unsullied, taking (as she always says) what was hers by fire and blood (now that’s a good sigil). But Dany is no tyrant — as Jorah has said in the past, what makes her such an exceptional leader is her “gentle heart,” which you forget about while she orders a man to be burned to death (few have ever been more deserving though). But then she frees the slaves, kills all of the slave masters, and walks out of a city in ashes with her army of free men and her dragons while Jorah and Barristan just watch, jaws agape. Badasssssssss! The dragon effects and the filming at sunset where Dany’s blue on the white horse really stood out were also inspired, as was the shot of her standing calmly with the flames to her back. Burn baby burn!
Elsewhere, Arya also showed her boldness (in a much more muted way) by calling the Hound out for murder, so he would have to stand trial in front of the Brotherhood Without Banners, a group of peasant fighters who have no allegiance to any house, but simply seek justice in the wake of the warring families’ destruction. The Hound, not to be mistaken for his brother The Mountain, must still atone for his murder of an innocent boy, even though somehow you have to feel the slightest bit sorry for him. Though the Brothers’ leader Beric Donderrian acknowledges Arya’s bravery, the Hound will have to fight him (“he who is reborn, worshipping the Lord of Light, the One True God!” Sound familiar?) and sadly we won’t see that until next week (which I would have preferred rather than taking some moments with the 3-eyed crow).
As for lords and lights, Jaqen Hagar (R.I.P. your face) mentioned The Red God to Arya when granting her the three kills, and of course Melisandre is a priestess in the service of R’hllor / the Lord of Light (are they one in the same?). Chillingly, Varys told the story of his castration to Tyrion and mentioned the part that continues to haunt him — not the sorcerer nor the loss of his genitalia, but the voice that answered back from the light. Was it real? And what did it mean? Does it have anything to do with the fireball in the sky? Are the forces controlling the fate of Westeros those of good, or vengeful darkness?
Varys had more screen time than maybe ever before, which maybe makes sense for a Master of Whispers in an episode heavy on machinations. He chatted with Tyrion before exacting his revenge on his torturer, then later commiserated with Ros as well as the Queen of Thorns (Lady Olenna), who has more quips than Joffery has creepy crypts to show to Margaery. The Tyrells may not have the most imposing sigil or house motto, but Lady Olenna and her granddaughter represent a new, powerful femininity in Westeros (mirrored by Dany across the Shining Sea). Lady Olenna’s discussion with Varys about Sansa lead Margaery to butter her up in service of the desire to have Sansa wed Loras, for a number of helpful reasons. One, Sansa’s probably the only person left in the Seven Kingdoms who doesn’t realize Loras is gay (she’s sweet, naive, and will go along with it), and of course then the Starks will be powerfully tied to the Tyrells if and when Robb wins his battles. Oh, and it keeps Littlefinger’s dangerous delusions of grandeur at bay. Even the highborn can be pawns in the game.
Margaery showed off some more of her cunning when she feigned interest in Joffery’s morbid death talk, even standing up to him once in a way Sansa could never have done, though finessing it in such a way as to bend him gently to her will. She sets him up to go before the crowds — her work with the people of King’s Landing has not gone unnoticed by the denizens of the capital — they chant her name, and Joffrey sees how beloved she is and therefore, by extension, so is he. Cersei regards all of this as a slip in her power, something Tywin reminds her she never had. Though Cersei, inspired by these strong women, makes a play for her father’s favor, she squanders her opportunity by whining about the Tyrells. Tywin then cuts her down with, “I don’t trust you not because you’re a woman, but because you aren’t as smart as you think you are.” Touché!
Women continued to shake off their shackles in the North, too, with Gilly able to leave with Sam to protect her son and escape the carnage. Two guys we have pretty much never seen lead a rebellion to kill that bastard (I’ll say it!) Craster (finally) which also lead to the similarly gruesome death of old Mormont (sad). In the killing frenzy though, no one’s survival was certain, and it was smart for Sam to run. Things are falling apart with the Night’s Watch, which is a terrifying prospect for all of those south of the Wall who have no idea Winter is actually coming …
Another really superb episode this season, even though I still think that eleven stories are too many for one hour (we spent how much time with Bran and Jojen regarding his dream, a minute?) and it’s caused some stories that are in much later books to skitter really far forward (like Theon’s savior turning out to be a deranged, manipulative torturer). But, in Weiss and Benioff I (once again) trust … George R. R. Martin better start writing, fast.
Episode Rating: A-
Musings and Miscellanea:
— Torture was another theme this week, and no one had it worse than Jaime. But I have a quibble. Brienne saying he was acting “like a woman” was such a weird change from the book. For one thing: Brienne would never! Also, as my friend Kelly pointed out, Jaime is kind of one of the biggest female supporters in the series. In the original text Brienne calls him a coward, which shocks Jaime to his core, waking him up from his doldrums — it’s a word never used on him before. To call him a woman though? I don’t get it.
— Regardless, I loved their bonding scene.
— I kinda liked that there were still discussions to Pod being a sex god. Hilarious.
— The show doesn’t use the word “craven” enough.
— Margaery and Sansa’s scene was so sweet — is this the first time we’ve seen Sansa smile since Season One?! I know Marg is kind of playing her, but on the other hand, I think it’s ultimately to Sansa’s advantage. (Also, so much beauty in one scene!)
— I was really pissed the Hound and Beric didn’t fight in this episode. I was ready!
— The reveal that Dany could understand everything the slaver was saying from Day One was amazing in and of itself. Everything about her scenes was 100% “fuck yeah!” this week.
— There’s been one scene each week that I felt was shoehorned in (appearing without much / any context or explanation or relating to the larger themes), and this week it was Bran.
— Jaime having to carry his hand reminds me of an inversion of Davos proudly carrying his sack of fingers.
— I really love Grenn and Ed – the dialogue this week was really great, and theirs always feels really natural. Yikes at the rest of it, though. R.I.P., Bear.
— Beautiful production design when Joff was showing Marg the tombs. Stunning stuff.
— Surprising that Lady Olenna would throw shade on her house with the, “oh a gold rose? how original” talk.
— And now my screeners have ended, meaning henceforth reviews will come after I’ve watched the show live, followed by Mad Men. Prayer circle …