Game of Thrones over the seasons has had to try and balance a large quantity of characters, all of whom who have their own individual story, characteristics and play in the game at hand. When the writers manage to manipulate the fine balance to their benefit, weaving in characters from all of Westeros with ease rather than forcing it for remembrance sake, it’s a great tool to build the world. However, when they don’t manage to find the fine line and the characters are seemingly pushed into the episode for no other reason than to remind the audience that they’re there and important, it can verge on frustrating.
This episode comes this close to being the former and was more than salvageable because of that. There was a discrepancy between the characters that inspired genuine interest—Arya, Bran and the Reeds, Jaime and Brienne and Sansa—to the characters that were albeit, interesting at moments, but generally served no purpose to the plot.
It begins with one the more interesting characters of the episode, Bran, who’s standing tall in his dreams and reliving a moment from the series premiere where his brothers, Jon and Robb, taunted him when he couldn’t shoot his target. They vanish, and a young man appears, telling him he’ll never shoot the three eyed raven, because the raven is him.
Bran wakes with a jolt to find his usual camp including Osha, Hodor and his little brother Rickon, unable to walk and on the run from possible threats after escaping from Theon’s clutches last season. Osha tells him not to speak of his dark magic.
It’s interesting to note just how obvious young Issac Hempstead’s puberty is—those vocal cords are a’crackin.
This is an important episode for Bran because it introduces two new faces (a theme for the episode seems to be new people and their influence on the Stark children). Jojen and Meera Reed, the boy having been the one in his dream. Jojen is played by the wonderful Thomas Brodie Sangster (Love Actually, Nowhere Boy) and he tells Bran that they’ve traveled a long way to find him, and they have a long road to travel still. He shares a common soul with Bran, and tells him that he and him both have the sight and that unlike what Bran believed, it doesn’t just show the future but also the past, and what’s happening at this very moment. He also notes Bran’s ability to warg (share/see from an animal’s mind) and the two are kindred spirits it seems. While nothing on this show can be considered lighthearted, it’s nice to see a Bran smile after a season full of turmoil. As of yet he’s been the most neglected of the Stark children so to see this plot take form is exciting.
The other Stark children are busy as well with Sansa getting to share the best scene of the episode as the Tyrells continue to prove just how undermining and fantastic they are.
Shae and Sansa are sharing another bonding moment when Loras Tyrell beckons Sansa away to dine with Margaery and their Grandmother the Queen of Thorns, Olenna played by the wonderfully scene stealing Dame Dianna Rigg. At first it seems like plain pleasantries with Olenna trading quips and barbs with every being that passes until the three get alone together and the real inquiries come out.
“Tell me the truth about this royal boy, this Joffery”, Olena asks Sansa and Sansa, realizing their true intentions go past familiarities and lemon cakes, freezes, unequipped to handle such situations ever since becoming a hostage of Kings Landing.
The truth: a big word to Sansa and all of the Stark clan. Truth is what got her father killed and her family spread across the continent. It’s what got Ned to be labeled a traitor and a fool, and it’s a word she’s been avoiding ever since. What keeps people alive in this world are their secrets, their masks and their money and strength of arms. Truth has nothing to do with survival.
Sansa flounders for a moment, deciding what do and passing of her usual dribble about how Joffery will be a wonderful husband and a King and how her father and brother are traitors to the cause which makes traitor blood run through her. She’s petrified, until Margaery points it out. And then the façade drops to pure pent up anger: “He’s a monster,” Sansa tells them, after disclosing the moment when Joffery had promised her mercy and had instead given her her father’s head. Sophie Turner is stunning in the scene. It’s easy to pass her off as the uninteresting of the two Stark sisters but when you realize that she’s been fighting for survival as well, with her words not a sword, and watch a range of emotions dance across her face, the interest mounts.
Margaery now knowing the truth visits with Joffery in another meeting as a means of good will. We’ve seen her play the game thus far, and can hopefully assume that some of the kindheartedness was just that, but here she’s ruthless in a silent and docile turn. She’s seducing Joffery in a way that his petulant and mirthless heart will understand: she’s stroking his ego and playing the part of a girl who knows nothing but what her father or suitor will tells her when that couldn’t be further from the truth. She asks him to show off his new bow and then lets him lead her in arming it herself. She asks him if he’d like to see her kill something, if he thinks she can do something as such. He tells her yes and Margaery has successfully gotten him under her thumb.
It’s worth a mention just how great Jack Gleeson is in his role as Joffery. He has truly inhabited one the most despicable characters on television and possibly one of three characters on Game of Thrones that can be called evil without a hint of gray, and he does so wonderfully.
Tyrion is at King’s Landing as well but his singular scene is almost entirely useless. Him and Shae have a discussion about protecting Sansa and Ros, who Tyrion used to be with and that’s that. Sure, it may help add some hindsight and it’s a cute scene which is rare in this show, but it adds little to the plot.
Speaking of useless is the diversion into Robb’s camp which only serves as a reminder of the detriment they’re doing to all three major characters at play there: Catelyn, Robb and Talisa. Robb’s men are beginning to doubt his commitment to the war efforts due to him being so unencumbered with his how besotted he is with Talisa. They’re also angered due to the news that Catelyn’s father has died, sending them to a funeral that many feel to be out of their way.
Robb carries news of Winterfell to his mother, telling her that it’s been burned to the ground, with no word on Bran and Rickon. This day couldn’t get any worse for Catelyn.
He leaves her to grieve as Talisa makes her way into the camp and to her side to set up the most annoying scene of the episode.
It’s no secret that Catelyn isn’t amongst the favorites of the Thrones cast and many would put her on the least favorite list, despite having never committing any heinous crime that would put her there. People don’t like her because she didn’t like Jon Snow (despite her reasoning of him being a reminder of Ned’s unfaithful deed), they don’t like that she released Jaime, although it made sense why a mother would do so. So, in what seems like a means of an apology to the character, the showrunners gave her a monologue as a way to lament her treatment of Jon Snow (two seasons prior now) and blame herself for everything that’s happened.
A bit extreme if you ask me. And more Oona Chaplin, who is capable of fantastic performances (she’s a standout in BBC’s The Hour), is delegated to far too long of a scene where she’s only required to act reactionary.
In a scene that came as a shock, we’re reintroduced to Theon who has been strung up and is being tortured for information on what went on in Winterfell. They’re hard scenes to watch, half due to Alfie Allen’s immense and underrated talents, and half due to the grotesque manner of the content. Once his guards have left a man in the back walks to him, played by Iwan Rheon who many may know from the British show Misfits. He tells them to keep quiet and stay calm, and he’ll come to rescue him later. His character hasn’t been confirmed although there’s been much speculation, but it’s easy to tell that there’s more than meets the eye.
Beyond the Wall, Jon is continuing to prove himself inept at wildling knowledge. He meets his first Warg and doesn’t quite know how to interact with Mance Rayder. With the Night’s Watch, Sam Tarley is falling to his knees, giving up, before his comrades haul him back up to continue their march.
While I always like seeing Jon, the scene is frivolous and as I’ve said, seems only as a means to remind us he’s here, while Sam’s reminds us that the Night Watch is still around and fighting.
Or maybe I’m just annoyed that it took time away from the two most interesting plotlines of the episode: the wilderness gangs.
Jaime and Brienne are headed south to King’s Landing in order to deliver Catelyn daughters back to her safely (unbeknownst to them that Arya is no longer there and closer than they might think) and the two bicker and Jaime goads the whole while. It’s a routine strategy: the odd couple. It works so well in this instance however, especially with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Gwendoline Christie’s fantastic give and take rapport. Rather than feeling stale it’s a refreshing bit of narrative.
Jaime, in a surprisingly heartwarming scene despite the circumstances, teases and taunts Brienne over her love for Renly until she tells him she isn’t one for rumors. Unless they’re about him, he says, before saying that he doesn’t blame her, you can’t help who you love.
And that’s the understatement of the century in his case.
The boiling point takes place when Jaime manages to free himself of his restraints except for the shackles around his wrists and tries to disarm Brienne with one of her swords. The fight is gorgeously shot, as Brienne slowly begins to upend Jaime who’s spent too long without a sword in hand to be up to his old skillset. The fight is over just as a new one begins and House Bolton meets them, in no mood to be forgiving.
The other gang of wanderers is Arya, Gendry and Hot Pie. Gendry is complaining about Arya’s three deaths that she chose, saying that if she’d put more thought into the matter she could have ideally ended the war.
Of course it’s not that simple.
They’re met on the road by the Brotherhood Without Banners, rebels who are trying to protect the roads and are brought in for a meal after a tense standoff.
While eating, Arya almost gets into a fight with the mysterious man—who we learn is named Thoras—and then manages to leave free of charge, until a man is brought in as prisoner. The bag is off, and it’s the Hound—who you may remember ran away from King’s Landing last season after the threat of fire became too much for him. He’s unaffected here, until he sees Arya and recognizes her and brings her true identity to the company.
Nothing revolutionary happened in these scenes with Jaime or Arya and co. but Waldau and Maisie Williams bring such confidence and ease to their roles that they’re enjoyable to watch. They’re interesting and dynamic characters who deserve more time.
This was an exposition-heavy episode and almost more than the premiere seemed, as if the pieces were being set before the game actually began. New faces are now introduced, adding their allegiance, knowledge or threat to our regulars. All of the old characters have been reintroduced and now, it’s all about taking a step forward, now that all of the pieces, soldiers, knights, Kings and Queens, and pawns are in place.
Not an exciting episode, but it sets up numerous potentially exciting plots and, personally, I can’t wait.