Last night’s Game of Thrones whipped through Westeros (and Essos) almost as quickly as Aunt Lysa’s highly unstable mood swings. There’s so much to discuss and analyze — let’s get started, shall we?
The episode commences with a packed throne room, where the High Septon is bestowing blessings on Tommen as he crowns the spare heir of a King. The way Jaime Lannister watches the action makes one think that he wasn’t just participating as Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. That was his son up there, the only son he has left. Was he feeling protective? Anxious? Distant, since his main connection to his three products of incest was his relationship with their mother the queen, who is now estranged from him? I know, these are a lot of questions, but I couldn’t stop noticing the way he was looking at Tommen as he was crowned.
Meanwhile, we see Tommen smile at Margaery Tyrell as the crowd cheers for him. Margaery, heeding the wise words of her grandmother — even though the grand dame is no longer in King’s Landing — smiles back brilliantly and eye-fuc… er…”snuggles him with her eyes” until an imposing looking Cersei steps directly between them to literally C-block the action. It’s all very ominous, especially when she slowly approaches Margaery like a lioness stalking a tender gazelle. We think that there are about to be threats, sharp words, fireworks… something, but no, we see Cersei gently push Margaery’s gown back to reveal black fabric.
“You still mourn for Joffrey.”
“He was my husband.”
“He would’ve been a nightmare… the things he did shocked me.”
This conversation is not the one we expected, but the way it progresses is even more shocking. Cersei brings up the possibility of the Tyrell girl still becoming queen, and advises Margaery to speak with her father about a match with Tommen because Cersei will do the same with Tywin. Margaery misjudges the situation entirely and chirps back with some snark about how she’s not sure whether to call the Queen “sister or mother,” even though Cersei specifically threatened in a previous episode to have her killed if she ever said anything like that again.
Margaery thought Cersei was making common cause with her, when in reality, she was trying to butter up Mace Tyrell through his precious daughter, because he’s one of the judges of Tyrion’s upcoming trial. Margaery, you sweet summer child, you done got played. In this episode, we’ll see Cersei approach and lobby all three of her baby brother’s judges, but I digress.
Next up, we learn that news travels quickly to Daenerys, who discovers that the Usurper’s spawn Joffrey has been murdered at his own wedding. Newly cast “basic bitch Daario” mentions ships, Ser Barristan predicts victory if she heads back to the seven kingdoms right now, and Jorah counsels caution as he puts the brakes on such simplistic battle plans. There’s more. Despite the show setting up Daenerys as this crusading liberator who breaks chains and farts rainbows, we learn that good intentions are no substitute for actual planning and administration. The Yunkai wise masters have retaken the city and sworn revenge against the Mother of Dragons.
It’s starting to take a toll on her, we see her discomfort as she stares out of a screen, dismissing everyone but Jorah to discuss how her liberation of slaver’s bay is not going at all as planned. Wait, was there any planning to begin with? Or was she just meandering through Essos staging slave revolts with no thought to ruling each city afterwards?
“How can i rule seven kingdoms if I can’t control slaver’s bay? Why should anyone trust me?,” she asks Jorah, subdued and defeated. “You’re a Targaryen. You’re the mother of dragons,” he replies, in a bid to reassure her. She makes up her mind at that point, and announces a huge decision: “I will not sail for Westeros, I will do what queens do, I will rule.”
Next up, Lord Petyr Baelish escorts his “niece” Sansa — I mean, “Alayne” — through the Vale to the Bloody Gate which guards the Eyrie. Continuing Sansa’s education in shadiness, Littlefinger points out the archers manning the high passes of the Gate, which stymies foes who are forced to march only three abreast through its narrow stone corridor if they try to storm it or attack the Eyrie. “Know your strengths, use them wisely, and one man can be worth 10,000,” he informs her. Then we’re whisked up to the castle in the sky, where Robin Arryn is enjoying a boob pillow. His mother Lysa looks so happy to see Petyr and Sansa, and Sansa breaks into a heartbreakingly hopeful, tremulous smile.
Lysa calls her “my flesh and blood” and Robin runs up and mounts Littlefinger while the brothel mogul tries not to look annoyed. He even has a present for the little Lord — a crystal falcon in tribute to the Arryn sigil. Robin is pleased with the thoughtful gift for exactly three minutes before he chucks it out the moon door, in a powerful reminder of how spoiled and thoughtless he is. Speaking of “thoughtless,” the way he casually questions Sansa about the barbaric news regarding her mother’s and brother’s fate at the Red Wedding is breathtakingly cruel, and an apt reflection on his mother’s… inability to parent properly.
Lysa is in a hurry to be rid of children so she can get to more adult activities. She dismisses her son and niece before dry humping Littlefinger, who does his best not to look thoroughly repulsed. Next, a bombshell revelation; it was Lysa who poisoned Jon Arryn and wrote that destructive letter to her sister Catelyn Stark accusing the Lannisters of her husband’s murder, thus starting the entire War of Five Kings! Petyr smothers her with a kiss to get her to shut up before she incriminates them for Joffrey’s death, the Red Wedding, global warming, who shot J.R., etc. Lysa responds to his faked ardour by announcing that “They’ll hear me clear across the narrow sea,” when she beds Petyr tonight after their immediate, impromptu wedding. Ick. But that’s exactly what we hear, epic orgasmic histrionics, as poor Sansa awkwardly tries and fails to get any sleep.
Meanwhile, Cersei and Tywin are planning Margaery and Tommen’s upcoming wedding before Cersei humbly seems to submit to her father’s will regarding marrying Loras. Wait — who is this version of Cersei? Oh yes, she’s a vindictive mother singlemindedly pursuing vengeance for her son; after all, Tywin, like Mace Tyrell, is one of the trial judges. Tywin is still smarter than his only daughter, so heads her off immediately: “I know you’re building a strong case against Tyrion, but as a judge I cannot discuss the trial with you.”
He then changes the subject and drops a bombshell deviation from the books; Lannister mines are no longer producing gold, in fact there’s been no new gold mined for three years. Are the Lannisters broke? Or just no longer able to subsidize the iron throne? No matter, Tywin’s point is that they need the Tyrells now more than ever, since they are still flush with coin. As always, Charles Dance is a pleasure to behold as Tywin Lannister.
He’s so imposing that even when the cameras aren’t rolling, the cast and crew treat him with the deference Tywin commands. Bravo, Mr. Dance.
On to Arya’s nightly prayer, now with new additions: the red woman, Beric Dondarrion, and Thoros of Myr. Arya has neither forgotten nor forgiven them for selling Gendry to Melisandre. The Hound mocks her initially, for her litany of “every person in Westeros” but he also adds, “If we come across my brother, maybe we can both cross that name off our lists.” Is there anything better than Arya-Hound scenes? I think not. This beast of a man, who is allegedly ruthless and brutal, is actually quite kind to the sisters Stark. How does Arya repay his continued assistance and protection? By telling him that she only has one name left in her death prayer, and the camera lingers on her face, building tension before she pronounces it definitively: “The Hound.” His eyes open wide.
Back to the Eyrie, where Sansa is enjoying her favorite treat: lemon cakes. Her Aunt Lysa is shoving them down her throat while telling her that her mother Catelyn had such a sweet tooth, she was actually becoming a fat Cat. Sansa is laughing in disbelief but just as quickly she’s terrified by Lysa, whose mood shifts so rapidly I had whiplash.
“[Petyr] feels responsible for you –why?” Lysa demands before pointing out that Catelyn’s original fiance Brandon Stark almost killed Littlefinger in a duel. “And now Petyr is risking his life to save you.”
Poor confused Sansa is in tears but the interrogation actually worsens. Lysa is batshit crazy and she starts clutching her niece’s hands until she’s crushing them.
“Are you pregnant? What have you let Petyr do with your body, your young pretty body?” She demands as Sansa breaks down and babbles about how she’s a virgin, and innocent, and that the only thing Littlefinger does is tell her how stupid she is — which isn’t really true. But Sansa has devoured so much self-loathing that it flows out of her in waves of pain, crashing around her dark auburn hair.
Once she has broken the fragile child of her older sister, crazy Aunt Llysa clutches Sansa to her cursed bosom and unleashes more horror; as soon as Tyrion dies, Sansa will be single and ready to mingle — with Robin Arryn, her son. Sansa’s eyes widen in shock and resignation as that fresh new hell is revealed. Yay. Yet another forced match for the girl who dreamed of her wedding to a tall gallant knight, just like in the songs. Sansa, you are the definition of a sweet summer child and it is painful to watch you bruise and wilt under the thumbs of your tormentors.
On to the open road where squire-extraordinaire Podrick and his Lady Brienne are riding their horses, she expertly, he with tremendous difficulty. Impatient with his hapless attempts to be useful, Brienne tries to get rid of him.
“I swore an oath my lady,” he reminds her. “I am releasing you from that oath, that means you can leave,” she snaps. Her annoyance is palpable and Pod responds dutifully, with no resentment or negativity whatsoever.
Next we see the Hound wake up to a lack of Arya. She’s off practicing the water dance and it’s the first time we can truly enjoy the fruits of her lessons with Syrio Forel. She’s very good with Needle, gracefully leaping, balancing, carving the air. The Hound has no appetite for it, once he finds her. He’s exasperated and in no mood.
“The hell you doing,” he demands.
“Practicing!” Arya chirps.
“What? Ways to die?” he retorts.
Arya informs him that she was trained by the greatest swordsman to ever live, but alas, he was killed. This piques his interest.
“Who by?” the Hound inquires.
“Meryn Trant,” she solemnly answers.
“The greatest swordsman to ever live… killed by Meryn fucking Trant,” he exclaims incredulously. Arya is still very much a child, that’s obvious by her answers. She tries to defend Syrio by explaining that he didn’t have a sword, which is just an opening for Sandor Clegane to mock him mercilessly. After all, how can someone be the greatest swordsman to ever live if they don’t have a sword? Arya hates that she’s being laughed at, and in a scene which echoes the time she tried to prove her mettle and failed in the cave with the Brotherhood Without Banners, she stabs the Hound and makes no progress, thanks to his armor.
She gets lightly backhanded for her efforts and for additional humiliation, Clegane points out the obvious: Trant lived because he had both armor “and a big fucking sword.” Poor Arya. Her loyalty to Braavosi technique and the magical man who taught her to dance is no match for bitter, harsh truths like chainmail and plate.
The next scene takes us to a garden in King’s Landing where Cersei sweetly interrupts Oberyn Martell, who is deep in contemplation as he writes a poem for one of his eight daughters. This is the first mention of the so-called “Sand Snakes,” as all eight of the Red Viper’s children are colloquially known and it was exposition book readers are grateful for, since they are fan favorites. He’s concerned about the one he named after his murdered sister, Princess Elia. Apparently she is difficult, but he shifts focus to the first Elia, reinforcing what his priorities in King’s Landing are, they haven’t changed since he outlined them to Tyrion weeks ago outside that brothel. Even though it’s Cersei’s own father (and his vile henchman “The Mountain”) who raped the first Elia before murdering her violently, Cersei sympathizes with him, asking “What good is power if you cannot protect the ones you love?” It’s a neat trick, she is trying to establish that they are similarly wounded by loss and hamstrung by powerlessness. Oberyn’s reply is quick: “You can avenge them.”
Tyrion has pointed out in the past that one of Cersei’s only redeeming qualities was her love for her children and we see proof of that as she smiles bittersweetly and inquires about Myrcella’s well-being in Dorne. Oberyn assures her that Myrcella is fine, he just saw her playing in the water gardens with two of his own girls, that she was happy and having fun. Cersei wants to believe him, but looks skeptical and resentful simultaneously; her fears for her only girl have not been assuaged. Oberyn then points out that, “You have my word, we don’t hurt little girls in Dorne” and he’s obviously thinking about how his three-year old niece Rhaenys was slaughtered by Lannister men in the siege of King’s Landing. Cersei is not moved by his attempt to differentiate between the relative savagery of King’s Landing and his native Dorne. “Everywhere in the world, they hurt little girls,” she bitterly replies. It’s been said that the showrunners have gone out of their way to “whitewash” or soften how “show Cersei” vs. “book Cersei” comes across and this episode accomplished more of that makeover.
Back to the best squire ever who has just made… er… rabbit flambe. Poor Pod is feeling useless and I’m feeling sad that they removed one of his verbal tics from the book; he is so used to squiring for men, he keeps calling Brienne “Ser” before catching himself and amending it to “My lady.” So in effect he always calls her, “Ser My Lady” in the books of A Song of Ice and Fire, but the show-version of Pod is much more collected (though just as loyal). In the show, she is always his lady. Brienne isn’t similarly charmed, nor is she convinced that he’s capable of anything useful.
She asks if he’s done anything remotely related to combat, expecting a denial or excuse. Instead, Pod quietly admits to killing a man. This gets Brienne’s attention and she asks whom he killed. A member of the Kingsguard, he explains. “He tried to kill Lord Tyrion at the Battle of Blackwater… I pushed a spear through the back of his head.” Oh, Pod, you prodigy. You’ve never been in battle, yet you kill one of the fiercest soldiers in the realm. You’ve never been with a woman, but you delight an entire brothel without trying when you finally get to sample carnal fun. Newly convinced of his skills, Brienne relents from her ceaseless criticism and we see her looking at Pod with new eyes.
Meanwhile, he’s just blissed to be useful, when she finally asks him to help her with her armor. Much like the scenes with Arya and The Hound, it’s a joy to watch Pod and Brienne, a rare bit of sweetness on a show with so much ugliness.
Speaking of ugliness, we end the episode at Craster’s Keep, where another woman is being raped and tormented. We see Locke observing this brutality as a spy for the Night’s Watch and tension builds as he comes across his real quarry: an heir to Winterfell. He’s skilled enough to hide just out of range from Bran’s vision, but the boy sees footsteps and realizes he’s in danger. Bran, you have no idea how much danger you’re in. Locke returns to the Night’s Watch camp and relays what he’s seen, throwing Jon off his brother’s trail by lying and saying that there’s a shack they should avoid, since it contains dogs. Uh, it contains a direwolf named Bran and his three trustiest friends, not some random canines of Craster’s. Locke is so slimy and deceptive, isn’t he? We start to fear for Bran (and get an inkling that once again, a Stark reunion is not going to happen even though two Stark kids are close enough to touch), but I am getting ahead of myself.
I have neglected to tell you about feverish Jojen Reed who is either hallucinating, having visions, or both. “You’re not here, you’re far from here,” Jojen mutters as he sees a vision of a majestic Weirwood rustling. We can see the tree, too. It’s a welcome bit of brightness in an otherwise dark scene. “You’ve seen it, too!” Bran exclaims, in recognition, and Jojen replies, “We’re only here to guide you…” Jojen tries to assure them that this isn’t the end, or at least it isn’t their end and Meera cautiously asks how they’ll know when it’s “the end.” Jojen is cryptic, saying they’ll just know but his hand suddenly catches fire, foreshadowing perhaps the burning of his body to prevent him from becoming a wight North of the Wall.
We don’t have time to parse what else Jojen’s fiery hand might symbolize, because Karl “Fooking” Tanner of “Fooking” Gin Alley comes for Meera and her beautiful brown curls. Bran, Jojen, and Hodor are appalled and terrified of what the former killer-for-hire will do to her and Bran pleads for her safety while Hodor hodors. As Karl exclaims, “You’ve got pretty hair, don’t you?” to a trussed up Meera, who is hanging by her bound hands helplessly, Jojen announces that if Karl lets Meera go, Jojen will help him. He “sees” things, things which haven’t occurred yet, and he offers his special visions to prevent the rape of his sister.
“Have you seen what I’m going to do with your sister, what they’re going to do to her?” Karl asks, maliciously. Jojen caustically replies that he’s seen Karl die tonight and before Karl can do anymore harm, the men of the Night’s Watch show up and attack the mutineers, just like they’ve planned.
I read that Kit Harrington, who plays Jon Snow, was so good in this scene, they didn’t bother using a stuntman and it’s possible to see why they let Kit slash his heart out. Between Game of Thrones and the film Pompeii, the man has had plenty of opportunities to wield a sword, and it’s liberating to watch a good guy seem to win.
We can’t dwell on happiness for too long, though, because this is Game of Thrones, but also because Locke has found his way to Bran and co. Locke stabs Bran in the thigh and prepares to make off with him when Jojen signals with his eyes that Bran should warg Hodor because they’re out of other options. Bran does so, as he’s draped over Locke’s shoulder, and the giant of Winterfell suddenly goes berserk, ripping his chains off and attacking Locke, choking him almost to death before he snaps his neck. The moment when Bran is done with the giant is poignant and disturbing; Hodor reinhabits his own body, looks down at his blood-covered hands and stares helplessly at the dead Locke. Warging him was a violation, an unfair act that pushed Hodor against his natural inclination to be gentle and the whole scene is a powerful one.
Bran had been discarded on the ground and he’s just a few feet from his brother, Jon Snow. He calls out to him and you wonder, is this it? Will two Starks FINALLY meet? After all, Bran hasn’t seen Jon since the very first episode of the show! Jojen is quick to point out that Bran can’t see his brother, lest he end up at Castle Black instead of with the three-eyed raven, which is their true mission. Bran makes the excruciating decision to abandon the potential reunion, telling Hodor, “We need to free Summer and we need to go.”
The last scenes involve Jon Snow fighting Karl “Fooking” Tanner, who is mocking the steward’s training by asking if he learned to fight in a castle, with honor, the implication being that Karl’s dirtier street fighting will prevail. But it’s true, Jon does fight with honor, just like his father did and perhaps that’s why he’s not prepared for Karl to spit a fat glob in his eye, allowing the “Fooking” cutthroat to kick him down and nearly kill him. It looks like Jon Snow’s honor will be the death of him, but then something immensely satisfying happens; one of the women Karl had abused stabs him, buying Jon enough time to save himself and get up. The next thing we see is a sword piercing through Karl’s mouth as people all over the world probably cheered.
The siege is almost over, until the men in black realize that one mutineer must have escaped. It’s Rast who has run, but unfortunately for him, the kennel door is wide open and he becomes a direwolf appetizer. There’s nothing left to do but burn Craster’s Keep to the ground and all the dead with it, which is exactly what one of Craster’s wives advises.
There’s a nice, empowering moment when honorable Jon invites the remaining women back to Castle Black for their own protection, with the promise of work and warmth. But these women have been beaten and raped for decades, they’ve spent their entire lives walking on eggshells while being tortured, first by their blood, then by renegade Watch men. As respectful and chivalrous as Jon’s offer is, they want to decide their own fate for the first time. They say they’ll make their own way and Jon respects their decision.
Next week’s episode looks thrilling. Yara is coming for baby brother Theon, Jaime stands up for baby brother Tyrion (“This isn’t a trial, it’s a farce!”), and Stannis the Mannis makes his way to the Iron Bank of Braavos now that both of his brothers are dead. There’s no way to know what else HBO has up their sleeve but one thing is certain, we here at The Nerds of Color will be ready to live-tweet and recap all the fun, as we do every week. Thank you for reading, little doves. It’s been a pleasure.