EPISODE RATING: 9/10 | IMPORTANCE IN SERIES ARC: 10/10
“Your legacy is a lie”
All men must serve - Tyrion Lannister, Jon Snow, Stannis Baratheon and Jaime Lannister all served. We got great visuals, shocking twists and a radical change in Westeros’s power balance, in the best episode of the season. In an episode mostly about the men of Game of Thrones, we saw Stannis taking Westeros from the North downwards, Tywin shot on the shitter, Tyrion conducting an act of brazen vengeance, Jon Snow stalling long enough to save the Night’s Watch, and Jaime, the incestuous raper, salvaging some decency in freeing the only nobleman in Kings Landing. Elsewhere, we caught up with Bran’s fantastical adventures, Cersei’s refusal to marry, Daenerys struggling to rule, a nasty end for the Hound and Arya finally on her way to the late Syrio Forel’s homeland. For a story-by-story recap and analysis, dive in.
The invisible hand of destiny was heavy in this episode, with a step-change in many lives. This step-change was defined variously by freedom from Tywin’s tyranny, leaving Westeros, invading Westeros, and of course, death. Arya and Tyrion left Westeros, Stannis, Davos and Melisandre took their place and Jojen, Tywin and Shae left the world entirely. Well, the show must go on.
This episode feels like the best of the season, but I suspect it’s not because of its own inherent quality, but because it was the payoff in a long, unbalanced season. It provided the rebalancing needed after the bad guys won battle after battle. The episode itself had all of GoT’s classic qualities: the brooding calm, the tragic stories, the adrenaline-junkie action and the sudden paroxysms of violence. Some of the individual parts don’t always add up (like Hound v Brienne), but history has shown those insane events coming out of nowhere, so why not on the screen? Sometimes a storyteller’s bravest gambit is to put something inexplicable on the page. Why are Cersei and Jaime attracted to each other? Why did Catelyn release Jaime when she had him? Who knows. Who cares. In this game of Thrones, you win or you die. All else is pantomime. And such glorious pantomime.
What this episode also did was show small, personal stories like Arya’s and big stories like the Night’s Watch, and how the two can intermingle, vis-à-vis Tyrion. His personal tragedy resulted in the transformation of Westeros’s power balance and unlike other shows with a final reckoning, this really feels earned. We've seen Tyrion humiliated by his own family, Ned Stark’s beheading, the Red Wedding and Oberyn’s death, but then in balance, Joffrey & Tywin are dead, Daenerys is alive and Stannis is about to sort everyone out. Anyway, let’s look at the individual storylines!
Castle Black/The North/Stannis Baratheon
Jon Snow: “I know he’s the King…my father died for him.”
Well, well…George RR Martin, you old dog, you. And here with all my ideas about Oberyn and Daenerys teaming up, with white walkers forcing wildlings and Night’s Watch to work together, etc etc, I thought if I threw enough crazy ideas around, one of them would hit. Suddenly STANNIS BARATHEON SHOWS UP BEYOND THE WALL! Bravo. Now I think about it, it makes perfect sense: it’s the least guarded part of Westeros and if you can’t win starting with Kings Landing, take over everything else. The North would fight for a Stark or a Baratheon, and we’ll see if Littlefinger was serious about the Arryns, Baratheons and Starks riding together, since we could have a union of Jon
Snow Stark, Stannis Baratheon and,
um, Robin Arryn (you at the back, stop laughing).
Does this see Jon Snow become Stannis’s Lieutenant (after the Onion Knight, of course)? I suspect not – although the temptation to rebuild Winterfell must be strong, he needs to rebuild the Night’s Watch. Also, I dread to think what passed between him and Melisandre, staring through the fire…that lady is just trouble. Anyway, Ser Davos is the damn best Knight around! If it hadn’t been for his moxy / chutzpah, Stannis would be eating grass in Dragonstone. So what next? Stannis lends a few soldiers to the Night’s Watch and moves onto the Boltons? Capturing the North proper would be a massive coup for Stannis, particularly given the events in Kings Landing.
Mance Rayder: “…all the same, we don’t kneel”
On Mance Rayder: it’s hard to imagine, but he almost looks statesmanlike (maybe because it’s Ciarán Hinds). There seems to be a certain old world charm to Rayder, rather than the vulgar comportment of a wildling King. He almost seemed disappointed in Jon Snow. Too bad. Loyalty is a double-edged sword.
“You’ll never be a kneeler”
Duty is indeed the death of love. You know nothing, Jon Snow.
TYWIN & TYRION
"...you refused to die. I respect that. Even admire it. You fight for what’s yours!"
|What are you going to do with THAT?!|
One of my favourite scenes of Games of Thrones since the beginning has been Tywin’s scenes with Arya in S2. It was here that I realised that GoT/A Song of Ice & Fire had ‘gears’: it could do 5th gear stuff like warfare, but it could also do 1st gear stuff like Tywin just generally talking about himself to Arya. One particular exchange has always stuck in my head and it’s worth repeating (from www.imdb.com/character/ch0242185/quotes)
Tywin Lannister: This'll be my last war...win or lose.
Arya Stark: Have you ever lost before?
Tywin Lannister: “You think I'd be in my position if I'd lost a war? And this is the one I'll be remembered for. "The War of Five Kings," they're calling it. My legacy will be determined in the coming months. You know what "legacy" means? It's what you pass down to your children, and your children's children. It's what remains of you when you're gone. Harren the Black thought this castle would be his legacy. Greatest fortress ever built. Tallest towers, the strongest walls. The Great Hall had thirty-five hearths. Thirty-five, can you imagine? Look at it now. A blasted ruin.”
That one exchange said more about Tywin than the subsequent 1.5 seasons did (not coherently, anyway). It said that he was not Master and Commander of his destiny, he was fighting somebody else’s war, again. It also said that, despite being the man who helped bring down the Mad King, his entire life’s work would rest on this new war. Consequently, he became obsessed with his family: regardless of what happens in the war, he wanted to leave behind a secure and powerful family. In these moments, I saw him not as evil (say, like Walder Frey, Ramsay Bolton or the Mountain) but simply pragmatic. He did what was required.
Remember the Red Wedding? Upon questioning by Tyrion, he replied: would you rather I warred with the Starks, leading to 50,000+ deaths, or 5 deaths that killed the rebellion dead cold? [I believe the Stark army was destroyed anyway so not quite]. His logic was unassailable. I would’ve preferred the characterisation to stay like this, portraying him almost as a tragic anti-hero, but alas, his actions across the last 2 seasons have been thoroughly detestable and he officially crossed into the evil camp by trying to kill Tyrion (you don’t think we believed you, did you, Tywin?!). So when Tywin met his end whilst defaecating, it was a complex character being unceremoniously dumped (thank you, thank you) out of the show.
CERSEI & TYWIN
Cersei: “I’m not interested in hearing any more of your smug stories about the time you won. This isn’t going to be one of those times!”
Oh, Cersei…you are at once a loathsome, loving, complex creature. As usual, Cersei was at the centre of Kings Landing, partaking in conversations with Jaime, Tywin and Pycelle. Game of Thrones, like many medieval stories, has a particular obsession with what goes in or comes out of a woman’s vagina. Yes, I’m being a bit sensationalist, but let’s see: the bombshell to bring down House Lannister is apparently not the ultimately senseless murders of half the Stark family, the killing of babies or people starving in Kings Landing, but the fact that the Queen Regent is having sex with her brother.
Men have always coveted women’s bodies (in Lord Varys’s words, “a collection of profitable holes”) because, tragically, women’s bodies are “of great consequence”. The ability to create life is an unrivalled power, particularly in a world where bloodlines determine everything. So Cersei finally standing up to Tywin and essentially making him go “ew” was a landmark moment for her, even if ultimately moot.
CERSEI & PYCELLE
Grand Maester Pycelle: “his curiosity was deemed dangerous and unnatural”
The first image was a brilliantly disgusting visual. So Cersei’s finally had it with Pycelle – I still think he must’ve touched her when she was a child, which is why she snapped so vigorously at him when he was hitting on a girl, in the episode where Joffrey dies. I can’t imagine him staying intact very long if this had come out, so it seems unlikely. I hope Tywin doesn’t find out that Cersei sacked him…oh wait. Never mind! Anyway, as I hoped, (episode 7 review) Oberyn tried to poison the Mountain to ensure his death whether Oberyn lived or not. However, this Dr. Mengele of Westeros seems intent on bringing him back stronger than ever…
CERSEI & JAIME
Cersei: “I love my brother…I love my lover…people will whisper and tell jokes, let them, they’re so small I don’t even see them. I only see what matters.”
Let’s talk about Jaime for a minute – having spent so long being sandwiched between Tywin, Cersei abnd Tyrion, he finally took care of two of those problems in one go. You know the Lannisters are a broken family when Jaime Lannister is the one you feel sorry for. Gazing through his entry in Westeros’s Wiki, he must’ve thought “well, I’m already the Kingslayer, how could things possibly get worse?” In the meantime, Jaime and Cersei are free to continue their incest, while they still have Kings Landing, which can’t be long, surely. There is a small part of my brain that thinks that Jaime planned for Tyrion to happen upon Tywin’s room and maybe even placed a crossbow there…we may never know.
Oh, and Varys? Is he on the boat to the Free Cities as well? Poor guy. Oh well, back home it is!
Cersei’s insistence that Tyrion “killed” their mother would be very childish, if it wasn’t quite so malevolent. But atleast this time, there can be no doubt: he definitely killed their father. Although this time Cersei might be happier.
Tyrion’s story is instructive of what happens when you take a good man and strip him of his position, love and dignity. In the end I’m not surprised at what he did, although I’m surprised that a Kingslayer is housed so close to royal quarters. In reality it would be outsourced to a company working 100 miles away, right? But anyway, Tyrion got his chance and he took it. However, the appearance of Shae was a trademark George RR Martin gutpunch – I had NOT seen that coming (well, it didn’t seem significant). Until he saw Sahe, I'm not sure Tyrion intended to kill Tywin (handy having a crossbow lying around), but the sight of Shae really pushed him overboard. This is again Game of Thrones at its finest: taking a small-scale story and giving it repercussions on the national stage. Watch Peter Dinklage's face in the 'toilet' scene: there is literally nothing left in Tyrion's life. Nothing.
Also, I look forward to hearing songs about Tywin on the toilet next season (GoT doesn’t play gently with deceased people, like the incident with Robb Stark’s head).
Speaking of repercussions, let’s chart the chain of events that precipitated in Tywin’s death: Littlefinger kills Jon Arryn, Ned Stark comes to Winterfell, Robert Baratheon dies, Ned Stark tells Stannis that Joffrey is illegitimate, Joffrey becomes King anyway with Tyrion as Hand of the King, someone tries to kill Tyrion at Battle Blackwater Bay but he’s saved by Podrick, Tyrion is implicated in Joffrey’s murder, trialled, Oberyn fails to win the duel and the night before his execution, is released by Jaime, to kill Tywin. Phew.
Essos / the Targaryen girl
"The young may rejoice in the new world you have built for them, but for those of us too old to change, there is only fear and squalor"
Poor old Daenerys is still having to deal with ordinary peoples’ troubles, learning that freedom is sometimes a curse. Oh well, you can't please everyone all the time. Her solution to slavery is short term contracts, although Selmy thinks it’ll be like slavery. She’s really been bogged down, but surely with the fall of Tywin, this is her best chance to bear down on Kings Landing? I’m aware that the timelines are out of sync with the book, but what the hell!
Unfortunately, her main weapons are decommissioned for now, following a horrific burning of a child. Daenerys is paying for not cracking down hard on them after the livestock issue a few episodes ago. The scene with the burnt child was genuinely horrific and affecting and the actor was horrendously effective. I think this was easily the most powerful scene in the whole episode, acting as a shadowing of the kind of brutality towards children that is happening in conflicts like Syria and elsewhere in real life. In real life, it's not the teenage dragons who do the killing.
Anyway, back to the show: the image of her having to lock up the dragons (her children) was also heartbreaking – ironically, she is the breaker of chains. Compare and contrast with Tywin’s children: atleast the dragons aren’t screwing each other. I hope.
On another note, Tyrion, Arya and Daenerys will be in Essos in season 5. By my reckoning, Braavos is barely 1,000 miles from Meereen. This could be EPIC.
Way up North
“He died so you can find what you have lost…you’ll never walk again, but you will fly”
We now come to the Lord of the Rings section of Game of Thrones, replete with zombie Knights, fireball-throwing ‘Children’, warging and prophesying. At first, I was dismayed at this sequence, but on second viewing I understand: this is GoT’s sop to the fans angered by the Red Wedding and Oberyn’s death. It’s fast, kinetic, pure fantasy and for my money, superbly executed. Game of Thrones can shift pretty quickly from 1st gear to 5th gear and this episode again shows how: we saw lots of talky bits in Kings Landing and the North, and suddenly we’re in the middle of a massive fight scene with zombies and fireballs. It’s a bit ‘by-the-numbers’ but atleast Benioff & Weiss are aware that they owe the fans unadulterated fun.
But then this was also about plot. We got to see a “Child of the Forest” for the first time, but even more so that Mr. More-Tree-Than-Man had been watching Bran, Hodor et al since the “beginning” and that Jojen had known he would die all along. Although none of this is fresh in the fantasy canon, it adds more value in Game of Thrones than in most films or TV shows. So is the whole of Westeros subject to people like him? Is he basically ‘God’? Will this relate to Melisandre somehow? Did he see things like the Red Wedding? Or is all this just a hallucination caused by some mushrooms we haven't seen? It’s all just so barmy…here’s my face when I saw this originally:
Arya Stark, the Hound, Brienne of Tarth & Podrick Payne
“Her aunt in the Eyrie’s dead. Her mother’s dead. Her father’s dead. Her brother’s dead. Winterfell is a pile of rubble. There’s no safety, you dumb bitch. If you don’t know that by now, you’re the wrong one to watch over her.”
Brienne wasn’t kidding when she said she’s not a lady. But then neither is the Hound. What I did find a bit odd is that he almost WANTED to die, unless that’s just his fatalism shining through. For now, I’m going to assume the Hound is dead, although we don’t actually see him die. Nonetheless, he went out with some dignity, a very particular GoT type of dignity: as far as I can tell, he had nobody to ‘sell’ Arya to, but he protected her from the (perceived) Lannister threat anyway.
I wondered initially why the Hound didn’t ask himself why the Lannisters would send some a squire and a WOMAN to go get Arya [of course, Brienne subsequently clarified this matter for the Hound]. But again, the invisible hand of fate was present – we somehow knew there was nowhere for this storyline to go, but more importantly nowhere more for the Hound to go. Westeros had become pointlessly ruthless and barbaric, and instead of revelling in it, he became tired of it. As the final shot of this sequence shows, the last year or so had softened him up, but hardened Arya.
Speaking of whom, despite having two strong characters trying to protect her, Arya's more adrift than ever. So does she become a real assassin in Braavos, come back to Westeros and tick off her kill list? People on her list seem to die without her help, so a few years away might make the list redundant.
Oh, also, Podrick lost some horses.
P.S. Come back in a week for a summary of season 4, with gifs and the like!
Boobs of thrones: Nope.
Violence of thrones: Lots of indiscriminate killing North of the Wall, two arrows in the chest in the “privy”, a whore’s garrotting, lots of dead zombies, a multiply-stabbed Jojen, a probably dead beaten, stabbed and fallen Hound and worst of all, a burnt child.