Reviewed By: Jack Dawson
I feel like the alternate title to this episode could’ve been ‘Unexpected Payoff’. There’s a lot that happens in this episode, and it feels like a lot of things that were just hyped up last season come full circle. But it also feels like there are a couple of other long term stories that are being set up with no guarantee of satisfying resolution.
Also, Tyrion and Varys continue to bitch at one another, which should feel like wasted time ala Arya and the Hound, but instead comes across as fantastic.
After a solid First Episode, we finally get to see Arya again, whose age isn’t quite as distracting as Brandon Stark’s, but gets pretty close. After two seasons of traipsing around Westeros and doing not much fo anything, she finally gets to do something interesting, get turned away from a house.
Well it’s more exciting than that, and we get to see that she has nothing left but the House of Black and White. And the return of an old face is a welcome addition as well, it’ll be nice for Arya to have something interesting to do this season.
Meanwhile, we return to the theme of Cersei’s life going to shit, With the imminent threat of her daughter’s violent death at the hands of a particularly ticked off Ellaria Sands. So Jaimie begins one of many road trip plots in this show, seems like half of this show is spent with characters travelling to a big event or city. But he recruits Brom on the way who is in a marriage that might be genuinely sweet or might be a cynical power grab. Cersei actually shows some real political savvy in this segment, especially when she shuts down most of the small council using only passive aggressive put downs, though a Lannister relative takes note of her negligent qualities as a Mother.
I will also say that Jaimie travelling to Dorne ensures that the ‘Absolute Worst Thing Ever’ from last season has even less chance of happening again.
We actually see Ellaria Sand, who is so ticked off by her Partner’s head being squashed like a rotten watermelon that she decides that sending back Mycella piece by piece to Cersei would be a good start to the day. Oberyn’s brother Doran is visibly angry at Oberyn’s fate, as one would be after all of one’s siblings met their ends at the hands of one family, but he’s decided for a more patient route that doesn’t involve perpetuating a cycle of revenge. But Ellaria’s own veiled threat towards Doran is an interesting set up for a later episode, presuming it doesn’t go the same way of Asha Greyjoy’s mission to save her little brother.
And meanwhile Daenerys continues to see the results of her terrible decisions, which is actually really nice to see. It’s a common criticism of Daenerys that she gets away with way too many mistakes and bouts of idiocy while more interesting and endearing characters get the axe for lesser mistakes. She’s also a prime example of the cultural insensitivity and self-righteousness that often colours debates about social activism and different social values, which goes largely unchallenged in the books. But here, she faces real consequences for her mistakes, and has her self-righteous brand of justice neatly deconstructed by a comparison to her desperately homicidal Father. It’s a neat sequence, and it’s nice to see Daenery’s face the consequences fo her actions so she can better overcome them later.
I suppose this is as good a place as any to talk about Tyrion and Varys, and I’m hesitant to say whether it qorks. It’s one of my favourite parts of the episode, but I wonder whether it’s really any more exciting than the endless wanderings of Arya and the Hound last season. One could argue that it helps us to understand the characters and gives Tyrion some room to grow, but there might be a more dynamic way to achieve this.
But ultimately, I’m not complaining. I’d happily take an entire season of Varys and Tyrion on the road together. We’ll see if I still think that by the series end.
And finally we come to two storylines were huge events happen surprisingly early, Brienne of Tarth’s search for Sansa and Jon Snow’s rise in the ranks.
Brienne and Pod come across Sansa and Littlefinger in the same tavern, in the mother of all coincidences. Sansa rightly rebukes the weird Knight who’s just showed up out of nowhere, but Brienne will not be dissuaded. This plot thread feels like the least competent here, and I’m not sure where they can go with this.
And we finally get what we’ve been waiting for at the Wall.
Shireen expanding her night classes for literacy.
Well not that, though Shireen as an English Teacher is adorable, but we get to see Jon Snow rise in the ranks of the Nights Watch, though it really does feel very rushed. At the same time, I’m hesitant to ask for more time to set this up, especially since this plot development will have some really interesting implications for later episodes. All in all, The Wall has gotten a lot more interesting with Stannis and Company there, and Stannis and Company have become a lot more interesting with some established causes and characters to bounce off of.
This show really has become a balancing act, and it seems that the further the show deviates from the book, the further it has to fall. But things are actually happening this season, and the shape of an endgame is definitely emerging.
And maybe a few travelling montages aren’t so unwelcome, especially when their participants are so damn interesting.