Well hello again, old friends, and welcome once again to the great Game of Thrones co-blog between myself and the talented and beautiful Nikki Stafford. As always, we will be posting our impressions, critiques, and interpretations of each episode after it airs, and as always we’ll be simulblogging™ on this humble blog of mine, and on Nikki’s far more widely read blog Nik at Nite.
So after a long year, and (appropriately, I suppose) even longer winter, here we are again—season four! When we last left Westeros, the ruin of the Stark clan had shocked everyone with the notorious Red Wedding; Jon Snow was limping back to Castle Black full of arrows courtesy of his erstwhile wildling lover Ygritte; Jaime Lannister was finally returning to King’s Landing, minus one sword hand; Sansa and Tyrion were unhappily married; the Jaime-Brienne buddy comedy was in the process of being superseded by the Arya-Hound version; and Bran was slowly, slowly making his way north.
So where are we now? I cede the stage to Nikki to start us off.
Nikki: Valyrian steel, murdered families, brothel visits, a Lannister hand nailed to a table, backstabbing, arguing, and a little shit of a king.
Why, Game of Thrones must be back!!
I’m going to start with the one-handed knight himself, Jaime Lannister. The Kingslayer is back, and now owns a sword forged with Valyrian steel… Ned’s Valyrian steel, by the way. You would think Cersei would be falling at his feet in relief, that Tywin would finally have the beloved son at home and be holding a parade, and that Joffrey would be honoured to once again have his father uncle in the Kingsguard.
But it turns out, when you return to King’s Landing as damaged goods, your past deeds don’t mean shit. Ol’ Leftie is no longer the Great Kingslayer of old. Tywin tries to remove him from the Kingsguard, telling him instead to return to Casterly Rock and rule in his name. When Jaime is shocked at the suggestion, Tywin doesn’t mince words in telling Jaime that he’s a cripple, that he’s less of a man, that he can’t possibly properly protect the king, and that he’d basically receive an Honourable Discharge from His Highness The Little Shit. But Jaime pleads that his only wish is to serve, something that makes Tywin visibly sneer in disgust. He waves him away with the back of his hand, telling him to just take the damn sword, adding his biting goodbye: “A one-handed man with no family needs all the help he can get.”
Cersei spurns him, insipidly telling him, “You took too long,” when he told her what he did to fight his way back to her side. After her 45-second summary of The Series So Far, she pulls away from him like he’s some disgusting creature, whines that she’s had to live all alone all this time while being terrorized by her father, brother, and horrible son, and that he wasn’t there to save her. And then to return missing an appendage? He might as well slap her in the face. He’s no longer whole, and she doesn’t want him to touch her.
And finally, the little shit. Joffrey lords around the room, and Jaime doesn’t betray any surprise that his “nephew” has become even more insufferable than he’d been when Jaime left (Jaime probably saw it coming). As Jaime remains calm throughout the scene, constantly bowing to Joffrey’s insults and never failing to call him, “Your Grace,” Joffrey gets crueler and crueler. Jaime apologizes for not having been around, joking that he’d been a little busy. “Yeah, busy getting captured,” spits back Joffrey, immediately turning to the other guard for backup that he is simply HIGH-larious. Joffrey prances about the room, finally landing on a book that contains all the great deeds of the knights of King’s Landing. He flips through the pages with a purpose, posturing as he reads out the great deeds of Jaime’s predecessors with mock solemnity and awe. And then he gets to Jaime’s page, which is only half-filled, with a blank page beside it. He pretends to be shocked. “Someone forgot to write down all your good deeds!” “There’s still time,” whispers Jaime, with rage simmering just below the surface. “Is there? For a 40-year-old knight with one hand? How can you protect me with that?” “I use my left hand now, Your Grace. Makes for more of a contest.”
Jaime Lannister left King’s Landing as the great hope of the Lannister clan: he was the Kingslayer, Cersei’s lover, unknowing father of a king, unbeatable in battle, admired by all. He returns to a disappointed father, a disgusted lover, and a sneering king. He’s less than a man, worthless and a disappointment to everyone; his brains and brawn mean nothing to anyone because his body is damaged.
In other words, he’s become Tyrion.
Jaime is calm and measured in two of the scenes, doing a good job of suppressing his heartbreak with Tywin and keeping his head down and voice quiet around Joffrey. With Cersei he’s far more emotional and hurt, as if her rejection hurts him far more than the others. As he slams the book of knights closed after Joffrey leaves, we can see these comments are getting to him. Will it turn him against his family?
Later, with Brienne, she reminds him of his oath to protect the Stark children, or, in the immediate case, Sansa. He doesn’t know where Arya is, but Brienne tells him he must do everything in his power to keep Sansa safe. He argues that he can’t exactly steal her away from his own brother and whisk her off somewhere else to “keep her safe,” but she won’t listen, causing the two of them to banter back and forth like the days of old. “Are you sure we’re not related?” he says to her, clearly annoyed. “Ever since I’ve returned every Lannister I’ve seen has been a terrible pain in my ass. Maybe you’re a Lannister, too. You’ve got the hair for it… but not the looks.”
As an aside, I was a little surprised to hear Joffrey say that Jaime was a 40-year-old man. I remember back in season 1 being surprised to discover that Cersei was in her early 30s, so her age might have been mentioned at some point for me to have assumed her to be that young, and Jaime is her twin. Perhaps they’re simply changing the age at this point in the show because it’s less likely to believe you’re washed up at 32 than that you’d be washed up at 40. And now, being 40, I shall crawl away and cry.
This episode featured two new people: Prince Oberyn and his paramour, Ellaria, played by the gorgeous Indira Varma from Rome and Luther. What did you think of their portrayal here, Chris?
Christopher: I’m quite delighted with Oberyn and Ellaria. When I saw pictures of Pedro Pascal, the actor playing Oberyn, I wasn’t convinced—he looked at first glance to be too slight and a little too pretty to be playing the Red Viper of Dorne, who is described in the novel as somewhat more ruggedly handsome. But I have no complaints about how Pascal is playing him … he brings a dangerous calm to the character, a sense of the threat always simmering behind flat eyes. The confrontation with the Lannister men (not in the novel) was very well done, and conveyed precisely how dangerous—and how impulsive—he is. One of the things clearly communicated about Oberyn in the novel is that he is hot-headed, given to acting without thinking and doing it with no warning whatsoever. That’s obviously at play here, but it’s balanced by a cold deliberation and precision.
As for Indira Varma … well, I’m happy to watch her in anything, as she is not only mind-numbingly beautiful but is also an extraordinarily talented actor. But as Ellaria Sand? That is one of the best pieces of casting I’ve seen on this show so far (and that’s saying a lot). Though I think it’s worth mentioning—Lucius Vorenus, John Luther, and now Oberyn Martell? Isn’t she starting to get typecast as a woman drawn to mercurial, dangerous men?
With the arrival of Oberyn and Ellaria, we’re getting introduced to more of Westeros’ fraught and bloody history. Part of that history was recounted in the conversation between Tyrion and Oberyn, but it bears repeating: Rhaegar Targaryen was wed in a dynastic marriage to Elia Martell of Dorne, Oberyn’s sister. She had two children with him, but Rhaegar was in love with someone else (Lyanna Stark, sister of the lamented Eddard). It was in part Rhaegar’s ostensible abduction of Lyanna that drove Robert Baratheon (who was engaged to her) to rebel. When the Lannister forces sacked King’s Landing, Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane, brother to the Hound, raped and killed Elia and killed her two children. Since that day, the rage and desire for revenge has simmered in Dorne … and now the hot-headed Oberyn has come to King’s Landing with vengeance on his mind. This should turn out well.
Speaking of volatile creatures … oh, how Daenerys’ dragons have grown! They’re getting quite massive. And dangerous. I love the opening bit where we find Dany reclining on a rock with Drogon’s head in her lap, purring like a giant kitten. For a few moments we get to enjoy an entirely maternal moment: the Mother of Dragons looks here like a mother indeed, until her other children returns and, like this dickish older brother he is, Drogon steals their food. And when Daenerys attempts to play peacemaker … well, it’s all fun and games when her dragons scare the crap out of her enemies, but it’s another thing entirely when they turn on mom. “They’re dragons, Khaleesi,” Ser Jorah observes. “They can never be tamed. Not even by their mother.”
Um. OK, I think I might have noticed a slight flaw in Daenerys’ plan.
We’re also introduced in this episode to the newest incarnation of Daario Naharis. The impossibly handsome, cleft-chinned Adonis from last season has been recast with … Sonny, the heroin-addicted musician from Treme. I think I’m going to have to wait and see on this particular choice. It’s not that I don’t like Michiel Huisman as an actor (I loathed Sonny, but that spoke to the actor’s talent), but he is almost the antithesis of how I imagined Daario based on his description in the novel. The previous Daario also did not conform to the novel’s depiction, but he was at least more overtly handsome and smugly arrogant. Huisman has the swagger, but not the looks—and certainly, he’s far too scruffy to even remotely resemble the piratical mercenary we first meet in A Storm of Swords, who is described as having flamboyantly dyed hair and beard, clad in colourful silks, and twin swords whose pommels are shaped like women in wanton poses. (Full disclosure: in my dream casting of this series before HBO picked it up, I always imagined Daario played by Joseph Fiennes).
His apparent rivalry with Grey Worm is an invention of the show, and makes very little sense in terms of his character—Daario would never consider a eunuch (and a former slave at that) either his peer or his rival. And I don’t buy Grey Worm rising to Daario’s goads. Aside from the obvious joke about the pointlessness of dick-measuring, Daario would be as little concern to Grey Worm as vice versa. It makes for a fun little scene, but I just don’t buy it. And I found Daario’s flirtation with Dany far less convincing than last season’s … I didn’t care for Daario much last season either, but there was a more tangible chemistry. But I will withhold further judgment until I can wait and see.
What did you think of Sonny’s reincarnation as a swaggering sellsword, Nikki?
Nikki: It definitely took me by surprise, and made me confused; I tend to avoid Hollywood talk and didn’t know that Daario had been recast (after watching this episode, I looked it up and it would appear Ed Skrein, who originally played him, and who might have been the most beautiful man on the show, has been cast as the younger Jason Statham for the Transporter films and he left GoT to follow that opportunity. And, not having watched Treme in a while but instead more recently watching its far soapier network cousin, Nashville, my immediate response to my husband was, “Uh… what the hell is LIAM doing on Game of Thrones?!” And that accent? Terrible. Which is suprising, because he pulls off a great American accent in Nashville and Treme and rarely betrays that he’s actually Dutch, but he can’t seem to quite find the accent he’s looking for here. British? Northern British? South African? Perhaps that’s just growing pains, and he’ll be more comfortable with it in the scenes to come. If there’s one thing actors can get away with on Game of Thrones, it’s having strange accents. I say go with the Dutch, since Daario could pretty much have any accent; I’m not sure why they told him to try on British instead.
I thought he was intriguing and slightly dangerous and I didn’t know whether or not I could trust him when he was being played by Skrein. I’m not sure Huisman can play him with that same enigmatic quality, but again, I guess time will tell.
What did intrigue me was the scene where he showed Daenerys the plants, explaining that when she enters Meereen (which you see in the opening credits for the first time), she’ll need to know the plants of the area, and the rivers, and the people. He shows her three plants, and that one is dull but makes an excellent tea, and the other strange and beautiful, also making a good tea. But the third one is the most beautiful and strange-looking of the three, and is poisonous. Like Dany’s dragons, she’s learning that things aren’t always as they seem. As you said, when Drogon turned and screamed at her before flying away, my heart sank: if you can’t tame the dragons, you can’t make them necessarily work for you. And without the dragons, Daenerys just lost her main source of strength. (I’m still rooting for her, though!)
I am happy to say that now that I’ve read the first book, I understand the whole Rhaegar thing so much more: before, it was something mentioned offhandedly all the time, but its true significance kept getting lost on me. Now I realize just how heinous the Mountain was, and what Rhaegar had to suffer through before he was killed, and also why Dany’s claim to the throne is such a strong one. But also how complicated Rhaegar’s situation was, and that he’s not exactly the good guy, either.
Speaking of complicated characters, let’s talk about Tyrion. I loved the scene of him with Sansa, as she sat at the table in her abject misery, thinking about what had been done to Robb and her mother and her sister-in-law that she’d never even met. The world has become hopeless to Sansa: she’s an orphan, her eldest brother is dead, as far as she knows Bran and Rickon were hanged and burned at Winterfell, and Arya is probably dead too. And she never had a particularly soft spot for Jon Snow, so I doubt he even enters her mind at this point. As far as she’s concerned, she’s all alone, and it won’t be long before the Lannisters have their way with her, too.
Tyrion happens to be one of those Lannisters, but he’s someone who’s been the butt end of every Lannister joke since he was born, so he sympathizes and identifies with Sansa and her pain. He creates a beautiful eulogy for Catelyn, telling Sansa, “Your mother, I admired her. She wanted me executed… but I admired her.” His words are very powerful, as he remembers how much Catelyn loved her children, and wouldn’t want Sansa to starve herself to death the way she is right now. But to Sansa’s mind, what point is there to eat and go on living? At least if she starves herself her death is in her own hands. As she gets up and tells Tyrion that she’ll be in the godswood because it’s the only place where nobody tries to talk to her, you can see the misery on his face. He actually cares about Sansa. He’s not in love with her — he’s still very much in love with Shae, which is why he pushes her away in this episode and seems terrified that she’s in his room — but he does care for her very much. But Sansa is not in the mood to be comforted by a Lannister, and we can hardly blame her.
Hm… of the three Lannister children, two of them are sympathetic to the Starks and want to protect the family from further harm. Unfortunately, Tywin, Cersei, and Joffrey are a more powerful triumvirate. But for how much longer?
Another person mourning the results of the Red Wedding is Jon Snow, who tells Sam how much he looked up to, and sometimes even hated, Robb for being so good at everything, prompting Sam to say that’s how he often feels about Jon. And then Jon must go before the Night’s Watch tribunal to answer for his connections to the wildlings… or “free folk” as he accidentally calls them. What did you think of this scene, Chris?
Christopher: What I liked about this scene was what I liked about Jaime’s successive humiliations: the show does a good job of taking what comprises pages and pages and pages in the novel(s) and compressing it into a few relatively short but deeply poignant sequences. Jon Snow’s interrogation at the hands of his old nemesis Allister Thorne and the newly-arrived Janos Slynt (whom you’ll recall was the treacherous captain of the city watch in King’s Landing, whom Tyrion sent to the Wall) is somewhat more protracted in the novel. What we lose in its abbreviation is Jon Snow’s initial humiliation when Slynt arrives, as he is thrown into a cell and forced to endure a host of sneering accusations. We get the gist of them in this brief scene, whose brevity is both a blessing (we don’t have to endure endless interrogation) and a curse (we lose some of the depth of feeling). There are also some chronological inconsistencies between the show and novel, but in the interests of not spoiling plot points I’ll wait to expound on them in a later post.
The scene between Jon and Sam is original to the show: though it certainly articulates feelings one suspects Sam has about Jon, Sam is never quite so bold in the novels. It was a nice moment, however … a pause before Jon faces the music, and a useful reflection on fraternal relationships (considering that Sam is now Jon’s brother in a way Robb never could have been).
Meanwhile, while Jon is having to atone for the fact that he slept with a wildling girl, the wildling girl in question is having to deal with accusations herself—even as she is obviously in the midst of plotting her revenge, fletching what appears to be an overabundance of arrows. Toramund’s question, “Do you plan on killing all the crows yourself?” has an obvious, if unvoiced, answer: “Just one … but I plan to make absolutely certain he’s dead this time.” Toramund’s accusation, “If that boy’s still walking, it’s because you let him go” is too true, and must rankle Ygritte’s wildling heart. There’s a cruel symmetry to Jon and Ygritte’s respective situations: they are both absolutely loyal to their people, yet in crucial ways they both betrayed them. But whatever the sanctity of Jon Snow’s vows, it is difficult not to see Ygritte as the wronged one in this equation—if only for purely emotional reasons.
Besides Ygritte’s enormous stockpile of arrows, things look bleak for Castle Black as we meet the reinforcements Mance Rayder has sent south of the Wall: Thenns, who in the novel are an entirely different breed of wildlings. The scene when they arrive does a good job of encapsulating the tribal divisions in Mance Rayder’s army, and reminds us of what he told Jon Snow last season: that the only reason he could actually get the wildlings to work in concert was their fear of the White Walkers. That doesn’t obviate their internecine conflicts and hatred—it just gives them a common enemy. Toramund is suddenly no longer the scariest wildling in the room, and the very question of Jon Snow’s betrayal, which he was berating Ygritte over a moment ago, becomes his own reason for being defensive. “I answer to Mance,” he growls when the leader of the Thenns challenges him on the same point. The newcomers appear as monsters from a nightmare, bearing tribal scars, contempt for weakness (which one would not have thought to seen in Toramund, or to have seen him get defensive about) … and a sack full of dismembered Night Watch brothers, which they proceed to spit and roast in preference to whatever game Toramund’s people were cooking.
What did you think of that scene, Nikki? And is it just me, or when you say “the Thenns,” does it sound like you’re referring to a one-hit 90s band?
Nikki: LOL!! I thought the Thenns were terrifying, which had a lot to do with the dark, one-note, foreboding music that played as they first walked into the canyon where the wildlings were sitting. (I just wanted to add that I loved watching Ygritte make the arrows, especially when she’d carefully slice the edges of the feathers.) But it also had a lot to do with their leader Styr, played by Yuri Kolokolnikov. I had to look him up, because he’s so mesmerizing I wanted to know what else I’d seen him in, but apparently this is his first English-speaking role. Was anyone else thinking Roy Batty from Blade Runner? Because I certainly was. But much scarier. I’m guessing the Thenns tattoo themselves by carving shapes into their skulls and then letting them heal? I second your [shudder] and raise you a [geeyaaaaahhh].
Of course, the scariest person in this episode was probably The Hound, and quite honestly, I’d love to see an Odd Couple–type show starring Arya and the Hound, just for their banter. (Of course, only after they’ve developed the Brienne and Jaime Hour.) They are hilarious, with Arya complaining about his stench to mocking him about his skewed morals.
Hound: “I’m not a thief.”
Arya: “You’re fine with murdering little boys but thieving is beneath you.”
Hound: “Man’s gotta have a code.”
I do hope I wasn’t the only one who was disappointed that the Hound wasn’t whistling “The Farmer in the Dell” while walking up to the inn immediately following this scene.
And what a scene it is. Arya and the Hound first peer in from the bushes, and he’s happy to just sit and watch and wait until the time is right. Unfortunately, when Arya spots Needle and the man who’d taken it from her, she changes his plans. Quick recap: Polliver is the guy who looks like Eddie from Nurse Jackie, who was working under the Lannisters when they attacked Yoren and then marched them to Harrenhal (that’s when Arya and Gendry, along with the others, were put in the pen and then pulled out one by one and tortured with rats inside buckets on their heads). He took Needle and killed Lommy, that little curly-headed kid who was with Arya. He’d been wounded when they attacked, and because they weren’t about to carry a kid back to Harrenhal, Polliver walked up to Lommy and pushed the sword up through his throat.
And now, Arya does the same to him. It’s a great scene, first with the Hound and Arya bickering in the bushes:
Arya: “He killed Lommy.”
Hound: “What the fuck’s a Lommy?”
Arya: “He was my friend. Polliver stole my sword and put it right through his neck… He’s still got it, my sword. Needle.”
Hound (sneeringly): “Needle. ’Course you named your sword.”
Arya: “Lots of people name their swords.”
Hound: “Lots of cunts.”
OK, so maybe the Odd Couple sitcom wouldn’t work on ABC.
When Arya runs to the inn, the Hound tries to stop her, but it’s too late. So he plays it cool, goes in, becomes belligerent, slurping rudely at his beer and demanding two chickens to eat, until the place goes nuts. And in the midst of the melee, with the Hound killing and maiming anyone who comes near, Arya manages to get Needle and return the favour that Polliver had given to Lommy. It’s a great moment, but also a shocking one — if you think of where Arya was just a few short months ago, she never would have been able to kill someone in cold blood like that. But now, not only does she do it, she enjoys it. The half smile that she gives as she looks down on him speaks volumes. Arya was never innocent, but we realize that she’s become ruthless when she has to be. Which she’s going to have to be if she’ll survive all of this. Both Maisie Williams and Rory McCann shine in this scene; they’re such fantastic actors. In this episode you see mutual loathing become mutual respect.
I think we’ve actually covered everyone at this point! Bran doesn’t appear in this episode, nor does Theon. Perhaps we’ll see them next week, along with what is probably going to be the Little Shit’s wedding. Is it too much to ask that he trips while coming back down the aisle and accidentally falls on someone’s sword? Because, other than being a truly awesome moment, it would certainly save Margaery from what will no doubt be the worst night of her life.
Any final thoughts?
Christopher: It was very wise of the writers to end this episode with Arya and the Hound … much of the rest was Red-Wedding reaction and Lannister angst (albeit very well done) and setup for what was to come in terms of the wildlings and the Wall. It was satisfying to conclude with a wee bit of the ultra-violence, no? I second your thoughts on the general awesomeness of Maisie Williams and Rory McCann—I was particularly taken with the way McCann plays the Hound’s studied hostility to his brother’s men. As you observed, he does not want to go into that inn … but when Arya effectively gives him no choice, he plays it with the cool menace of a man who holds his antagonists in utter contempt. The scene plays out almost precisely as it does in the novel, but with one crucial difference—something I will not mention here, because spoilers.
Well, that brings us to a close! It has been a long year waiting, and there’s always the worry that the new season will disappoint. But in the words of Syrio Forel: not today.