Game of Thrones.
… God damn, I'm going to have to write about the books again in this post. Luckily, I'll have to do so in a much briefer and much more positive fashion.
This is a much more focused episode than the last three, which is fitting, given that we're nearly at the halfway point of series four and if it hadn't overcome its 'we need to get every viewpoint firmly established' pains by now, that would be a considerable problem.
One interesting thing this episode does which, I think, hasn't been done before, is to split its viewpoints up by half. The first half focuses mostly on Jaime, Daenerys, and Margaery, with a brief glance in at Sansa, while the second half shifts focus onto Bran and the Night's Watch mutineers. Jon has viewpoint scenes too, sprinkled throughout the episode but ultimately tying in most strongly to the second half.
Predictably, the baffling and derailing rape scene of the previous episode doesn't come up at all in Jaime's sections. Instead, he seems to have sprung back to his redemption storyline like a kind of narrative elastic band – even in his scene with Cersei, it doesn't come up at all. In fact, their interactions are barely changed since the episode before last, leaving a confusing moment where you're left wondering if last episode happened or if Tommen has used his burgeoning time control powers to remove it from history.
|"Are you going to keep making that jo - ..."|
"YES, TOMMEN, YES, I AM."
If I'm being honest, as much as I liked Jaime's scenes a lot, and it's quite striking to see him having become this steady, soft-spoken, ultimately good man after being introduced to him as a child-defenestrating smug snake in the first series, I'm not sure what their point was. They didn't seem to much advance the plot, bar for his scenes with Brienne where he gave her his sword and sent her to protect Sansa – who direly needs protecting at this point, given that she's with Littlefinger – and it's a little jarring, given that only last episode we saw him pin his sister to the ground and violently sexually assault her.
Seeing Gwendoline Christie again as Brienne is, as always, a joy. She has a quality I have previously only ascribed to Idris Elba, to grab your attention and drag it towards herself in every scene, so that when you think back on it all you can really remember is her, and that the person she was talking to had hair … maybe? You think they had more than one limb? But you're not sure? But you know that they were definitely saying words to Gwendoline Christie? Possibly in French?
|"I think they were human ... ? They might have been wearing clothes?"|
Although speaking of Sansa and a need to protect her, I adored her scene with Littlefinger. It was the only scene in the episode for either of them, in a dingy ship's cabin, but it displayed Sansa showing a Tyrion-oid ability to match wits with Littlefinger – better than Tyrion-oid, even, because while Tyrion has never shown an ability to understand Littlefinger, Sansa seems to have him all figured out.
Sansa surmises pretty quickly that Littlefinger killed Joffrey, and when Littlefinger points out that he wasn't at the wedding, they run through possibilities for his accomplice. Sansa rules out Dontos straight away, knowing that Littlefinger would never have trusted him with that task. He suggests Tyrion, and she quickly shoots that down too.
The conversation shifts to Littlefinger's motive, with Sansa pointing out that the Lannisters are his allies. When Littlefinger gives a speech about how if everybody finds your actions confusing, nobody can predict what you'll do – and once again, Sansa calls him out on his bull, and forces him to admit that Joffrey was an unstable ally, and that he has new allies who wanted Joffrey out of the picture. We don't see for sure if Sansa realises that said allies are the Tyrells, but the implication is that she does.
It's a great, tense scene, and it shows what people have been saying about Sansa for a while: While she's been being used as a pawn in other people's political games, she's been learning from them, and she's become a force of court intrigue in her own right.
Margaery, meanwhile, sets herself about seducing Tommen, who is sweet and a perfect gentleman, but clearly so in her thrall that he'll do anything for her by the end of their short, chaste meeting.
|"BY THE NAME OF THE SEVEN, WHO OVEREXCITED TOMMEN?"|
Daenerys doesn't get nearly as many scenes as Jaime, but her scenes actually advance the plot a lot better. In the space of maybe four scenes, we see her arm a slave rebellion and take the city of Meereen, before having one-hundred-and-sixty-three of the city Masters crucified. So, really, more of a normal day's work for Daenerys Targaryen, but it's tying up a plot thread and laying the groundwork for future episodes.
Less enthralling is Bran, who in this episode gets absorbed into Jon Snow's storyline. As Jon is given permission to travel North and kill the Night's Watch mutineers (by Acting Lord Commander Evilbeard, who wants Jon dead so that his popularity and pretty hair won't pose a risk to Evilbeard's designs on running the Watch), Bran is captured by said mutineers, led by Burn Gorman hamming things up while drinking out of a skull.
Gorman's focus scene is long. Too long, given that he spends most of his time ranting insanely and screaming profanity. It does establish him as an unstable, volatile person, though, giving him access to an exclusively club with Ramsay Bolton as its president and Joffrey Baratheon lately as its secretary.
Like a fool, Bran gives away his identity to them, because it's not as if Starks are in high demand or anything.
If you're wondering why the first half of this episode has gotten about eight-hundred words written about it and the second half has about nine so far, it's because there's not a huge amount I can say. It does move the plot along – we are now heading rapidly towards a confrontation between Jon and Burn Gorman's character Karl, where Karl holds pretty much all the cards, possibly inside Jeor Mormont's skull, and we can see the beginnings of a schism in the Watch forming, between those who would rather follow the man with years of experience and those who would rather follow the man with the nice hair.
|Oh, stop it, you know full well that's the only reason they|
follow you, Snow.
I mentioned that I'd have to talk about the books at some point, and the very final scene, which I loved, is what I meant. In it, we see a White Walker on a horse passing through a very intimidating, very evil looking place beneath the Northern Lights, which I can only assume is the Land of Always Winter, the area far, far to the North of the Wall where the White Walkers hail from.
He's carrying Craster's last child, which Karl earlier sent to be sacrificed to them. Placing it down on an altar of ice, another White Walker approaches, touching the child. Their eyes turn all blue, like the Walkers themselves.
It's a beautiful, tense scene, and the highlight of the episode. It's not, to my knowledge, in the books – we've not seen the Land of Always Winter yet. So is it a scene from an as-yet-unreleased book, which we know the Game of Thrones producers have notes for? Is it an entirely original creation? Is the child becoming a Walker, or some kind of servant to them?
|Seriously, this place is gorgeous. I would build a summer home here.|
Either way, it's an amazing scene, and I want to see more of the Land of Always Winter. That place is atmospheric, man.