Here we are at last. A month of waiting, knowing that soon, so very soon, something would happen. But it kept teasing it out, and we kept waiting, hanging on every word. Well, it’s arrived.
The true nature of the world is often disappointing and ugly, and that’s the theme that this episode centres around. Everyone has their idea of how things should work, why they deserve what they think they are owed. The truth is, however, that the universe does not care for what is owed. And if we’ve learnt anything from past series of Game of Thrones, it is that the plot is driven by story not characters, unlike so many other tales. No matter who your favourite character is, or how popular they are with the public, death and and ruin are freely available to all.
Still, it’s immensely satisfying to see those you love to hate getting slapped in the face with their own inadequacies and shame.
Onto the truths then, and the realities that characters wrestled with this week…
Control of the kingdom and King is slipping through Queen Cersei’s fingers with Joffrey falling under Margaery’s spell more and more. Taking this as more of a personal slight than it was probably intended, she confronts her father to deal with “the Tyrell problem”. She is then treated to a prompt dressing-down from Lord Tywin, who deems her to be not as smart as she thinks she is. This must cut deeper you think, especially as it echoes the exact words she used on Tyrion in the first episode of the series. Cersei has always been presented as an ice queen, but the pressure seems to be cracking her shell. The other half of the incestuous siblings, Jaime Lannister, spends much of the episode moping in the dirt. He’s still learning that bad things can happen to rich people as well as anyone else, and a chat with Brienne tells him to suck it up and act like the great man he supposedly is. It’s good to see Jaime’s character being fleshed out more – he’s been little more than a pretty face, a sharp sword and bad manners for most of the other series, so finding out his motivations and demons has been a refreshing change this season.
For some people, it happens to be that even your friends can turn out to be your biggest enemies. Poor Theon, lured back to his captors. He’s done some nasty things for the sake of proving himself an Ironborn man, but the truth is he’s not as strong as he thinks he is, and a breakdown in the tunnel shows just how wrong he is about himself. This makes it all the more brutal when he is betrayed, his mysterious rescuer returning him to torture and imprisonment. For the Night’s Watch, betrayal seemed almost inevitable. The group is filled with murderers, thieves and oath-breakers, and not everyone is as happy with their sentence to the brotherhood as Jon Snow and Sam Tarly were, so how long they would stick to their vows whilst suffering beyond the Wall was an already questionable variable. Some harshly spoken words and a misguided but noble attempt to do good see brothers spilling each others blood in the cold snow.
It’s nice to see Varys getting some spotlight in this episode. Obviously harder to portray in the show than in the books, the Spider is a very tricksy character, holding more cards than you might think. A little exposition regarding his background is very much welcome, and the game of words played with the Lady of Highgarden only gives a glimmer of his huge intelligence and cunning. Varys is one of my favourite characters in the books, so seeing him get a little more screentime is always a bonus in my mind.
Finally, the last truth – House Targaryen is most certainly not dead. The poor Master of the Unsullied must have thought all his gold-plated dreams had come true after being offered one of Dany’s dragons last episode. But it turns out slavery is not good for your health. This is one of my favourite scenes in the book as well, as it sets itself up so well for such a perfect pay-off. It goes on just long enough that you start to consider that she may well be going through with it. You’re already as disgusted with the slavery and the shady dealings as Daenerys must be. So watching everything fall into place is satisfying, and it provides the first of the action sections that have so far been missing in the show.
I’m hoping that the rest of the series can now keep up the pace. It would be a shame for it to slow down, now we are finally free of the reminders and exposition. The pacing seems good though, and the story (as I remember it) should allow for more interesting episodes to continue for a while.