Game of Thrones – 24

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“And Now His Watch is Ended”

This week Game of Thrones offers up yet more of what we’ve come to expect from it with startling regularity: brutality, brilliant dialogue, new characters, amazing actors, lots of gore and an hour that feels like ten minutes.  It also offers us the usual frustration at not being able to spend more time with each thread of the story.

As usual, this episode is a mix of old and new – some things line-for-line from the book, some wholly new to the adaptation.  There was certainly plenty of note happening – this was easily the most action-packed episode yet – but the first thing to make note of it is that is was the first time this season that the amazing Conleth Hill has gotten to really sink his teeth into the role of Varys.  It seems fitting for an episode so focused on betrayal and revenge that Varys should play a central role, and Hill as usual blows the doors off.

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In a show full of larger-than-life characters and great performances, Varys is still exceptional.  He epitomizes the moral ambiguity at the heart of the story, and we got a look at him interacting with many potential allies this week – Olenna, Ros and of course, his frequent dance partner Tyrion.  We finally get to hear the story of how he was mutilated – told word-for-word from the book (and beautifully so by Hill) but with an addition that’s completely original to the series, and one I’m not sure I like.  Varys professes to be trying to help Sansa, though it seems clear that his main goal is to thwart Littlefinger – the man he says would “See the Kingdom in flames if he could be King of the ashes.”

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Let’s move on to Theon, because there’s a whole lot going on here that novel readers have no more idea about than new viewers.  It seemed all along that something very strange was going on with the boy who “rescued” him, but Theon was hardly in a positon to be choosy.  I actually found his speech in the tunnels rather moving – especially when he says his “real father lost his head at King’s Landing”, and that he “had a choice to make – and chose wrong.”  Oddly enough I always felt sorry for Theon in the books, even after what he did to those orphan boys and I knew he didn’t deserve it.  But if I’m right about who that mysterious boy is

I wonder why these added scenes with Theon have been inserted at all – because it would place us pretty much right back where we would be if none of them had been added at all.  Isn’t there enough going on with the rest of the cast – we get about three minutes of Bran and the Reeds every other week – that we don’t need extra threads inserted that aren’t existent in the novels?

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Speaking of how crowded the story is, we meet yet another critical character this week, the Lightning Lord, Baric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer).  If I sound like a broken record I apologize, but Dormer is yet another astonishing actor in this cast – not one of its biggest names, but the impact he makes in his short appearance as Dondarrion is stunning.  Dormer as Dondarrion commands the screen like a young Richard Burton, and immediately launches into a grinning war of words with The Hound, Sandor Clegane.  Clegane makes a heartfelt defense of his conduct – of sorts, anyway – and makes it quite clear he won’t idly sit by and have the crimes of his brother tied around his neck like a dismembered hand.  The Lightning Lord is a follower of the Lord of Light, and he sentences The Hound to a trial by combat – with himself as the opponent.

Apart from the machinations revolving around Sansa, we see yet more evidence that Marjaery has fully twisted Joffrey around her little finger.  This, of course, has brought Cersei to full panic – and she goes running to her father, who’s his typical warm and loving self.  I could watch Charles Dance for the full hour every week and never get tired of him, and he promptly puts Cersei in her place with the same words she used against Tyrion: “You’re not nearly as smart as you think you are.”  Meanwhile Jaime is in full self-pity mode, and Brienne takes it upon herself to remind him that he’s merely had a taste of what the common people live with as their daily bread – misfortune.  Yet she also knows he saved her from being raped, with a lie which brought him no personal gain whatsoever.  Their relationship is one of the strangest and most compelling of any in the web of relationships in GoT.

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The big headlines, though, will certainly be what happened at the extremes of the setting.  In the North, the surviving members of the Nights Watch – chafing under Craster’s brutal treatment – have splintered, and Rast leads a mutiny against both Mormont and their vile host.  The old bear is betrayed, and pays with his life – but not before very nearly throttling the life from Rast before his own drains from him.  Sam manages to flee with Gilly and her son, but…

Finally we have Danerys, who gets what’s probably her pivotal moment of the entire series to date.  She’s full of tricks, our Dany – the first of which being that she speaks perfect Valyrian.  And she has a rather cruel surprise in store for Kraznys: she keeps her end of the deal, then turns around and order her new slaves to slay every overlord in the city.  Dany then frees all of the Unsullied, offering them a chance to flee or serve her as free men – and not a single chooses the former, as Jorah and Ser Barristan look on proudly.  The Targeryen girl now has her army, and three growing dragons to boot.  It’s a mismatched bunch – a collection of spare parts, traitors, freed slaves and forgotten mythical beasts – but the nature of the game is certainly changed by it.

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  1. M

    Bran's scene did feel a little trite – unless it was used to commemorate Jaime's past sin. But I don't think it was that necessary.

    I think the writers needed to write in the Theon material to drudge up on screen empathy for what he'll likely be going through later on and generally reduce later confusion for viewers.
    It was refreshing to see his repentance displayed so earnestly here, abruptly followed by one of the biggest dick moves of the series. It was fantastic at showcasing the twisted cruelty of his 'no-name' captor. Thrilling stuff.

    I think Sam would have undoubtedly been caught in the crossfire with the way they set it up here.
    I wouldn't have stuck around in that crowded slaughter house either. Having said that they also omitted a certain "Sam the Slayer" scene it seems. I won't say anymore.

    I don't recall Varys being so tightly intertwined in the game of thorns, but it sure made for some pleasant on screen parings.

    It was nice to have a break from Jon Snow.

  2. T

    I agree about Theon. I think it is a lot better for the viewers and for drama to actually show was happens to him during the time when he isn't in the books. It is a good story line in my opinion and one that was pretty glossed over in the book by just telling but not showing.

  3. A

    I agree with the "spoiler" you wrote up there, because in the previous episode, the person he kills calls him a ******* which was a huge clue in and of itself.

    Not sure about Sam getting in the thick of things like in the book, though. Producers/writers went for consistency than fidelity and this time it works.

    The Daenerys scene was so delicious and full of win. This GIF on another site wins the Internet:

    Easily the best episode so far, but I think since the third book was the best of the entire series, we're in line for a couple more contenders of the "best episode of season" award.

  4. J

    Daenerys' scene was completely epic. Aside from the fact that I could tell she knew the language from a mile away, as well as the fact that a dragon can't be owned, and that she was going to turn on him the moment she had all the power in that little realm, because he's a bastard.

    Having the slaves get personal revenge on the masters was pure brilliance though. The owner going up in flames was great as well, and all of the soldiers stamping their spears in unison with the music in the background, perfect.

    She now has an army that trusts, respects and will fight for her. When she goes to take the throne it won't be with slaves, it'll be with a real army, the people will see that and rally. It's hard for me to imagine anyone disrespecting the Khaleesi, except the pigheads who believe themselves more powerful & commanding than her.

    I haven't read the books, but if she doesn't take the throne, I'll be severely disappointed.

  5. h

    Fully agreed. Epic development, epic execution. It completely justifies her comments the previous episode to her Westerosi advisers about not butting in to matters they don't understand (both from a strategic and linguistic side) and weakening her position. But now all are proud.

    This fuels my comments last week about Daenerys' moral fiber, as evidenced in her penchant for noble sacrifice. Her naivete is also significantly diminished in my eyes.

    Itching to see more of Stannis.

  6. d

    The attempt to rehabilitate Jaime I think falls flat. His lie to save Brienne from rape not only does benefit him, by providing amusement, by thwarting his new captors, by ingratiating himself to Brienne, which may become important later– but also costs him nothing, as it is likely his fate has little or nothing to do with whether his lie is believed or not. Redemption that costs nothing is worthless.

  7. I read that situation quite differently – I think he found a core of decency in him that pushed him to do it. He was taking a risk by potentially angering his captors, and also by placing a higher value on Brienne's life he's making himself less indispensable.

    Well – the nice thing about Jaime is he's very hard to read. I still don't have a handle on the guy.

  8. k

    Oh, I almost thought you had a pun there…

  9. Gak, a cruel one and quite unintentional I assure you…

  10. e

    So Dany now has a big loyal devoted army. Wonder how she'll manage to feed them all plus what's left of her Dothrakis andd three fast-growing dragons without resorting to pillaging the cities and territories on her way back to Westeros… yikes.

    Good episode for sure. Bran seems to be close to remembering how he ended up a cripple, while Sansa is breaking my heart every time she sems to smile full of trust at someone. She's really too transparent for her own good.
    Hat off to Margy and her grandma, they seem to have mastered the art of courtly intrigue&manipultion while still looking amiable (well, Olenna can afford being more sarcastic thanks to a lifetime of experience I guess XD), witty and even sympathetic. I'm finding myself anticipating more scenes with them week after week.

    Who's Theon? Possibly the most miserable in the cast atm. In an episode such as this filled with great scenes his own little confession brimming with heartfelt regret in the tunnel was borderline moving.

    Wonder what's Varys gonna do with the old magician…

    Tywin is magnificent as usual. And his fatherly mindset is especially close to someone I know. Ouch.
    Anyway, good luck trying to tame your grandson you old lion. Unlike your children he seems quite immune to your charms and just not interested in begging for your love attention or consideration… or – heaven forbid – respect.

    Sam and cowardice: the way things happened on screen I think Sam just went for pragmatism. He sucks at combat and the situation was soon going out of hand, provided he survived the brawl who know what was gonna happen to the women. Hence he just went for both the quickest and the relatively safe course of action in order to save Gilly and the baby.
    Sure given how things seem to have gone in the books I woud have liked they rather had stuck to the source and give him a chance to show he can be brave and loyal :,).

    Gotta love Brienne. Her mix of naivete and country(well, island)girl street smart is fascinating.

  11. C

    I have a random question, was the sorcerer in the box supposed to be the burnt sorcerer from Dany's tower scene last season? I haven't read the books yet but from what I could see on the screen I thought it might be one and the same… Just wondering. :) Thanks Enzo for your great coverage, per usual!

  12. It's not in the books, but my assumption is that it was the sorcerer who mutilated Varys as a child. That seemed to be what he was implying, and it more or less makes sense.

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