In a funny sort of way, I wonder if Game of Thrones is starting to boil down to liking an episode based on personal preferences for characters and storylines. In any given week, it’s not all that far off from a 50-50 split – and it’s only getting worse from here.
What’s that, more characters? Yes, and here’s the rub, televiewers – most of them are damned interesting too. That’s the blessing and the curse of George R.R. Martin, especially when it comes to a one-hour TV program. I really wisg GoT were two hours long, because it would be much easier to keep us invested in the storylines that way. Danerys? Stannis? Who were they, again?
I’ll be honest, I liked this episode better than the premiere last week (though with this show it never gets worse than pretty damn good) because I’m a bit more emotionally invested with this set of characters. It was great to see Bran and Arya – puberty’s hand has been busy there – and get our first visit with the oddest of GoT’s odd couples, The Kingslayer and Brienne of Tarth. And as I find Dany and her thread the least compelling of any of the major ones – though it’s obviously of critical importance – it doesn’t bother me to see it get a rare week off.
Let’s start with Brandon, as that’s where the episode did. His journey North continues as he flees towards The Wall and his half-brother Jon. Bran continues to have his odd dreams, but in addition to dancing with wolves (as one) and three-eyed crows, he’s got a new visitor in his sleeping visions – Jojen Reed (Thomas Sangster). He and his sister Meera (Ellie Kendrick) were introduced in a radically different fashion in the books, but the net result seems about the same. As the episode reveals, they’re the children of Stark bannerman Howland Reed, who saved Ned’s life during the Greyjoy rebellion.
I don’t need to go into too much detail now, but the Reeds – especially Jojen – are crucial characters in Bran’s arc, as well as being exceptionally interesting in their own right. I was skeptical of Sangster for Jojen – he really is too old – but I completely bought his performance here. You may remember him as the little drummer in Love, Actually and while he’s certainly aged enough to make me feel really old, he captures Jojen’s elfish charm better than I thought he possibly could. Kendrick doesn’t have as much to do here – in truth, Jojen is the flashier character in any event – but physically at least she seems right for the part.
As for Arya, she makes some new friends too – and runs into an old one. As she, Gendry and Hot Pie flee from Harrenhal they encounter members of the Brotherhood Without Banners (cannot say more just yet), specifically Thoros of Myr (Paul Kaye, just right) and the archer Anguy (Philip McGinley). Thoros gives the cocky Arya quite a lesson in just how far she has to go to be taken seriously as a threat before some of his men arrive with a new prisoner; no less than The Hound himself. This, understandably, proves quite a problem for Arya, whose efforts to escape before he recognizes her prove fruitless.
And then there’s Jaime and Brienne. Of all the characters in the novels, Jaime may just be the one I’d call the most surprising – not because the things we think we know about him are false, but because there’s so much about him we would never have guessed. I could watch Jamie and Brienne banter all day – it’s priceless (for example, he telling she was “too much man” for Renley) – but the fun is cut short when Brienne’s decision not to kill a passerby they meet in the woods (despite Jaime’s advice) leads to their capture by a group of soliders carrying the flayed man banner of House Bolton.
There’s one more major new face this week, and it’s yet another memorable one – Margaery’s grandmother Olenna, played by no less than the titanic star of stage and screen, Diana Rigg. Olenna is a hoot, a constant stream of opinionated bile directed mostly at the men in her life, and she’s keen to grill Sansa for as much information about the man Margery is about to marry as she can. Sansa is understandably cautious, but let’s be honest – she’s a bit of a simple little thing, really, and no match for the wiles of Olenna (and Margaery is no slouch, either). And one suspects she’s been dying to tell someone what kind of monster Joffrey is, in any case. No, Margaery seems like a much better match for him, and there’s quite a memorable scene between them where his attempt to intimidate her finds him soon enough wrapped around her dainty finger.
Among the other threads, two notes: first, in Mance Rayder’s army we see a warg – someone who can see through the eyes of animals – which is exactly what Jojen calls Bran (and himself). And there’s a scene, sure to be controversial, where Cat (her father has just died, by the way, and Robb controversially diverts half his army to attend the funeral) tells
Mary Sue Talisa about an incident where Jon came down with the pox after she’d prayed he’d die. This is TV-original, and while I thought the scene was pretty solid in its own right, I’m curious to see what role – if any – its insertion has in the direction of that thread.