If you’ve seen the bit in The Wire where a quotation appears at the start of the episode that ties up its thematic business into a neat bundle, you’ll be au fait with GoT doing something similar, where a statement is dramatically foregrounded, like “Do you want to lead? Then learn how to follow,” or “You can’t tame a wild thing. Wild creatures have their own rules, their own reasons, and you’ll never know them,” or, this week, “The more people you love, the weaker you are.”
Because it’s Game of Thrones, these can all be taken as Machiavellian chapters on how to wield power, provided you’re trying to wield power somewhere that has dragons and wizards. More often than not GoT really does seem to have something significant to say about the nature of leadership, the benefits of self-reliance and the occasional necessity of employing force, and sometimes there’s a shadowbaby-sassin. Didn’t think of that one, Niccolo.
Anyway, the show is picking up speed and its component scenes are doing likewise, albeit in an episode that features a high concentration of talking about each other’s feelings: the Hound, Jamie, Cersei, Ygritte, and Tywin all get chunky scenes to explore their motivations, and the amount of satisfying fleshing-out of characters in ways hitherto unseen is just good television. As usual, we’re darting around Westeros and beyond at an alarming rate of knots, so let’s just talk about the particularly memorable stuff and leave our sundry thoughts to a more succinct end-note format.
Tywin and Arya. Yes. Just yes. It’s great to see a Lannister who has all his eggs in the correct basket, a man who not only could be king but would probably do a damn sight better job of it, who’s not afraid to be cruel but also knows when to stop. The surrogate father/potential murder victim dynamic in these scenes is fantastic, and the gradual rolling back of Arya’s assumed identity is played perfectly for tension. There’s a real glint in Arya’s eyes when she recalls the Targaryen women burning Harrenhal on dragonback, and the acting-within-acting is a fun bit of politics-in-training for her. Watching the scene again, it’s possible to see this as an advanced form of Syrio Forel’s classes in season one.
Cersei is finally becoming a fully-formed character. Aside from her one brief chat with Robert in the early days, we’ve only really seen the front she presents in court: bullish, cold and struggling to remain in control. Her scene with Sansa is a callback to that scene, in which she shows not only an understanding of her own role but an empathy for the position in which the princess is trapped. She is actively try to give Sansa her own kind of emotional armour for the future she faces, fully aware of how horrifying it could be. Later, talking to Tyrion, she openly wonders whether Joffrey’s madness is divine punishment for her relationship with Jamie, and the tension when Tyrion tries to comfort her and she tries to face the possibility that life would be better with her son dead is heartbreaking. Cersei has long been established as finding her strength in who she loves: primarily her children. The idea that she might have to top one of them is – almost – unconscionable. Also: plot-thickening!
Jamie. Holy goddamn shit. Just an incredible scene. And his exchange with Cat and Brienne is pure gold. Jamie is someone who will do anything to secure his freedom, and his points about Ned, vows and honour are worth remembering. Also worth noting that we still don’t know who Jon’s mother is, which will hopefully result in a spin off series starring Josh Radnor as Ned Mosby. Anyway, that point about vows: how can you make one vow to your king and one to your family if one will force you to break the other? In actual fact it gives you total freedom to chose: given that no vow is worth more than any other, you are free to select the one that gives you the greatest reward. So is Jamie, who murdered the super-noble Lannister cousin Ser Alton in a failed bid for freedom (or convoluted suicide attempt, given the repercussions of also murdering a Karstark), really without honour? He has stayed true to his (nuclear) family, arguably more so than the saintly Eddard Stark.
The episode starts and ends with Theon and his pursuit of Bran, Rickon, Osha and Hodor, who are the new Scooby gang now that Sam and Grenn are out of the picture. Anyway, Theon is quickly showing his ability to be Ironborn, which seems to be ‘chose to do the most dickish thing imaginable at any given moment then get your sister to bail you out.’ The last shot is of two burned children: we know it’s almost certainly not Bran and Rickon, but the Winterfellas don’t, and the two orphans sent out to the farm a couple weeks back – Chekov’s urchins – are still dead and mutilated. Theon has already done a sloppy job murdering Rodrik Cassel, but that doesn’t give him half as much whathaveidone face as killing two innocent children, so his moral compass is still ticking, however quietly. Despite his best efforts Theon is right down there with Jon Snow as the dumbest character on the show. He’s gone from being somewhat listened to by Robb to being completely dismissed by his father to being totally manipulated by Dagmer Cleftjaw. What choice does he have? Theon, like Jamie, has found himself bound by conflicting vows, but unlike the Kingslayer is in no way self-reliant. And yet he is the king of the castle and Jamie is in prison. How long either of those things will remain true is up for debate.
– Quarthian politics is weird and holy crap I guess magic is real for reals in Westeros: how long before the regular folks know it? So far majjikks have only happened in secret places.
– Jorah is adorbs if somewhat Ned Stark-ian in his approach to politics; Danaerys has kinda been chumped in a bad way.
– You know nothing Jon Snow.
– Brienne is a total badass.
– The Hound is a scary dude but it’s nice to hear for sure that he’s one of the good guys.
– Robb is in his own little romcom with the prettiest amputator in town.
– Who is the masked lady? How does she know Jorah?
I’m pretty chuffed with this episode all round: a whole show’s worth of talking and learning and growing as a family, and not one word felt wasted. Three more shows this season, and Stannis’ ships are only four days away with a kind wind. I am slightly giddy.