I’ve had a pretty good idea of where this season was going to end for a while, with a couple of backup possibilities. But with the ever-increasing array of changes this adaptation was making I was really starting to doubt myself. Now, we have an episode that was far more closely aligned with the book than the last few have been, and I’m back to being about 99% sure where the stopping point is going to be. Of course when you make changes and then go back to being faithful to the books later on, you end up with inconsistencies – plot holes that have to be patched with bungee gum and texture surprise, and characters behaving in ways that don’t really make sense. We did see some of that this week and we’ll surely see more, but it feels good to have an episode that tacks close to the wind for a change.
It’s in the Far East that things have probably changed beyond the possibility of going back to the books. Danerys and her storyline have always interested me least of all the major threads – in the books and in the TV both – so perhaps it’s not a bad sign that George Martin & Alan Taylor have decided to veer off in a big way from the books, in recognition of the fact that her plot was the series’ weak link. When Tyrion said Danerys was “the least of our worries”, it held a double-meaning for me, because that’s sort of the problem with her character – one of them, anyway. She’s so far removed from the rest of the story that events surrounding her have no visible effect on any other thread, with a few very rare exceptions.
Speaking of Tyrion and Varys, I loved their two scenes together this week. The Spider has been out of sight far too often this season, even by his standards. Conleth Hill absolutely owns the role, and he and Tyrion have a unique sort of relationship in that they sort of understand each other – and there are very few others that understand either one of them. Add Bronn to the mix and you have surefire entertainment, that’s for damn sure. That “I wish we could speak as one intelligent man to another”, “I wish we could too, My Lord” exchange between The Spider and The Imp is one of the best in the series. We also got to see Davos really show the earthy wit that makes him quietly one of the best characters in GoT, in his best exchange with Stannis yet.
In looking back over the episode, it’s scenes like that which stand out, because there was comparatively little action to speak of. It was mostly about learning new information and setting up the grand finale of the season. Much of the exposition was at Winterfell, where we really have it spelled out for us just how pointless Theon’s attack on the castle was. It was interesting seeing a little affection towards him from his sister – more than in the books – but ultimately, all she could do is tell him his trophy wasn’t worth dying for. While fighting for the Ironborn, he was thinking like a Stark – what use is an inland castle to a seafaring army, much less to the most hated man in the North? At Winterfell we also learn what many of you surely suspected – Bran and Rickon are alive, and the poor lads hung from the gates were the orphan boys Bran ordered sent to help the farmer (that twist was TV-original). Maester Luwin has put two and two together at last, and finds the boys hiding with Hodor and Osha.
One element I didn’t especially care for was the return of sexposition, this time in the case of Robb and Talisa-Sue. Honestly – was there any reason in the world that scene had to end the way it did? A kiss alone would have been enough of a betrayal of Robb’s promise to the Freys. Cersei is certainly correct when she tells her brother that it’s the cock that gets men in trouble, and Robb is living proof. Of course Robb is pretty vulnerable at the moment, his own mother having betrayed him by freeing The Kingslayer and sending him off with Brienne in a gambit to win freedom for her daughters. If it’s hormones that get Robb in trouble, it’s maternal instinct that betrays Cat. We see this theme of Starks getting into trouble for admirable impulses playing out all over Wsesteros and beyond. For Ned it was honor – for Robb love, for Cat maternal love. And for Jon, mercy – his reward for having spared Ygritte the death of Quorin’s party and the capture of the Halfhand himself. They’re taken into the camp of Rattleshirt (Edward Dogliani), where Ygritte returns the favor Jon did by sparing her and Quorin urges Jon not to let the deaths he caused be in vain.
There’s a definite sense of transition in the air. Stannis is about to arrive at Winterfell. Tywin marches on King’s Landing, and Arya shows her cleverness (“Unname me”) in forcing Jaqen to allow her to escape Harrenhal (there’s not much future in working for The Mountain) with Hot Pie and Gendry. Sam and his brothers make a very interesting discovery North of the Wall. Seeds planted, all of them, with the fruits to come in the next few weeks and seasons beyond. I’m excited to see some of the my favorite characters finally starting to come into focus – some of them ones I’d never have guessed would end up being favorites. And it’s going to be very interesting to see the TV viewers react to the events in the next two episodes.