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Monday, 21 April 2014

Game of Thrones S4E3: Breaker of Chains.


Game of Thrones S4E3: Breaker of Chains.


This post contains spoilers both for this episode of Game of Thrones and for the
A Song of Ice and Fire books.

Trigger warning for discussion of sexual violence.


I try not to talk much about the books on these Game of Thrones review posts. As a rule.

It's a practical thing. As a reader of the books and a watcher of the TV series, I prefer to take each of them on their own merits, because a TV adaptation should not be slavishly loyal to the books. It's also a personal thing, as the ranks of Game of Thrones fans are filled with people for whom having read the books is a rather crude tool with which to self-aggrandise, whether it's by endlessly wailing about how the TV series will never compare, or by teasing spoilers in a manner that is not nearly as coy and subtle as they might like to think.

I'm now going to break that rule.

Twice.

This episode had two changes from the books in particular that I feel should be highlighted – one as an example of a fairly good choice and one that definitely is not. We'll get to those as they come up. This is just an advance warning.

This episode hops around less than the others, focusing on the King's Landing Krew, as they shall now be known, Samwell, Arya, Daenerys and Davos. To the relief of one and all, Bran is not in evidence, and neither is Ramsay, although for almost the exact opposite reasons. Even Jon only gets a brief cameo, in which he stares mournfully at people while they talk about Wildling cannibals.

The King's Landing Krew at the height of their
popularity, just before artistic differences caused
them to attempt to murder each other.

With the exception of Daenerys' sections, this feels very much like a bridging episode, designed to slide the characters from Point A to Point B in such a way that the meat of the plot can resume as soon as possible.

For Samwell, that's a story about Wildling cannibals terrorising villages while he tries to find a safe haven for his Wildling girlfriend, which is mostly set-up for Jon declaring that they need to ride beyond the Wall to kill several mutinous and loose-lipped brothers of the Night's Watch. Sam has never been the most interesting character on Game of Thrones, although he wins points for not being Bran Stark, but he's quite possibly one of the most relateable: He's not a great soldier, he can't telepathically control animals, he's not the scion of multiple great houses – he's a minor noble of no particular skill or talent who attempted to escape a disappointed father by joining the Night's Watch, a place where he's outshone frequently by characters with more natural talent, wolf pets, and strangely perfect hair, but where he eventually manages to thrive because he's loyal, hard-working, and – even if he does screw up sometimes – not evil.

That last is italicised because there aren't all that many characters who that can definitely apply to in Westeros. Even Ned Stark and Daenerys, most honourable people around, have done some bad things. But Sam is wholly good in a wholly normal way, and his presence grounds the world and stops it from becoming caricaturish in how absurdly awful everybody within it is.

We're also given a brief and entertaining glimpse of Davos' reading lessons with Stannis' daughter, an adorable and severe young girl who Davos wryly remarks is truly her father's daughter after she berates him for reading while moving his lips, that leads into a plot point about the Iron Bank of Braavos, hinting at a future alliance between Tywin Lannister's shadowy benefactors and the One True King of Westeros.

Look, I'm being topical.

This is the first of the changes from the books. The Baratheon-Iron Bank alliance comes much later in the books, and Davos' breakthrough at this point is his reading of a discarded letter from the Night's Watch. So why has this been moved earlier? Well, the latter plot point can't happen yet, not without having Stannis vanish from our screens for practically the rest of the fourth series. By shifting the plot points around a little, a major power player can be introduced earlier, Stannis and Davos are given something to do, and we all get to see Mark Gatiss hamming things up several years earlier than we originally suspected.

It's a good change to make, although I'm sure somebody will complain about it.

Its evil twin, the bad change, comes in the adventures of the King's Landing Krew – if you're wondering why I haven't mentioned Arya's plotline yet, it's because there's not much I can say about it, except that both Maisie Williams and Rory McCann are superb actors – who are alternately mourning for and looking for revenge for the death of Good King Joffrey.

Everyone is dealing in their own way. Tywin is scheming and explaining sex to Tommen, for whom the shock of his brother's death has caused him to age about five years in a matter of hours. Tyrion is trying to scheme with very little success. Margaery and Olenna have taken a break from scheming to drink some tea. Sansa is escaping to join Littlefinger's band of pirates, the latter having styled himself as 'Captain Littlefinger of the Jolly Catelyn'.

"Arr, they do call her the She-Wolf of the Seas,
this is totally not just wishful thinking, avast."

The problematic change comes in a scene in the Great Sept of Baelor, where Joffrey's body lies in state. Tywin, having just lectured Tommen on politics and (rather more sternly) the virtues of respecting the laws of time, has retired with the boy to have what will almost certainly be the most awkward birds-and-the-bees conversation ever. Jaime enters, and having ordered everyone else out, proceeds to, er …

Well, I'm not going to beat around the bush, proceeds to violently rape Cersei on the floor of a temple next to the corpse of their son.

In the books, Cersei initiates the sex (and Joffrey is still alive at the time), and while she protests the location as being inappropriate, she is an eager participant in the act itself, and when she thinks back on it later, she doesn't think of it as rape. It's very far removed from what happens in this episode, in which Jaime growls about how she's a hateful woman before throwing her to the ground and really quite brutally assaulting her, while she continuously and tearfully voices her total lack of consent, and he continuously yells that he doesn't care.

This is something the show has done before, as well: In the very first episode, Daenerys is raped by Khal Drogo while she cries, whereas in the books, this is exactly what Daenerys expects, and her realisation that Drogo is completely willing to respect her boundaries and has zero interest in having sex with someone who doesn't consent is the first step in their romance.

In both instances, these changes do not help the plot along at all, in fact they are to its detriment: In Daenerys' case, it colours the whole rest of their romance in the audience's mind, making it rather distasteful. In Cersei and Jaime's case, it serves almost no purpose for Cersei's plot, and only derails Jaime's, which is a story of redemption now rather spoiled by his transformation into a rapist.

It's a bad change, undeniably and completely, and a confusing one – is it there to titillate? Because there was nothing remotely titillating about it. Is it there to shock and to hammer in the grimdarkery of the show? Because you just had a time-manipulating teenage boy being led away from the body of his older brother, that's pretty dark. I am baffled. Answers on a postcard, please.

Like this one from St. Ives. Postcards from Ohio will be burned
on receipt, in accordance with this blog's policy on Ohio.

The only way I can see for the show to deal with it now is to pretend it never happened, and that would be a rather odd thing to do. You screwed up, Benioff and Weiss. You really screwed up.

Oh, it was nice to see Daario again, though. I can't wait to see him and Tommen travelling about in the TARDIS.

But think of the honeymoons, Margaery!


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