As you know if you’ve been reading these posts, I try not to dwell too extensively on the differences between the HBO version and the book version of Game of Thrones. And of course, to avoid discussing things that haven’t happened yet in the TV version. But the big event of this episode pretty much demands to be talked about for how it differs from the way it was presented by Martin, and of course, it happened in this episode so it’s not a spoiler in and of itself. So you’ll have to bear with me – and if you comment, please do so without referring directly to future events that may be impacted by it.
I refer of course to the rape scene in the Sept at King’s Landing. In a nutshell, I’m a bit aghast that Benioff and Weiss seem to have undone much of three seasons worth of character development for Jaime Lannister in one fell swoop. In short, Jaime most certainly did not rape Cersei in the books – they did have an encounter in that incredibly inappropriate setting, but it was strictly consensual. And an important point is tied in with another change from the books, which is that this encounter is the first time Jaime and Cersei have seen each other since his freedom from captivity. In the TV version, Jaime has been back for a while and Cersei has, in effect, broken up with him as she told him he “took too long” in returning – stamping what happened in the sept that much more surely as rape.
I don’t know what to make of this, really. Weiss and Benioff have made some big changes and some have turned out better than I expected, but it’s hard to remember one nearly so intrinsic to an important character arc. I’m just as much in the dark as anyone when it comes to Jaime now – I have no idea where the character is headed, but it’s hard to imagine the showrunners don’t have something very different in mind from the books.
There was all sorts of action going on in that sept this week, including yet another memorable scene with Tywin (who had two of them). I’ve raved about this incredible cast over and over and they deserve every one, but Charles Dance may just delivering the most incredible performance of the bunch – what a fucking presence this man has. Here we see him taking the opportunity of a meeting across Joffrey’s body (this ep was either the easiest or hardest work Jack Gleeson has ever done) to test his grandson Tommen’s mettle and give him a firm reminder of who’s really in charge. It’s a fascinating moment as Tywin grills Tommen on what it takes to make a good King – piety? Holiness? Strength? Tywin has a good answer for every one – and finally nudges the boy towards “wisdom”. As in, the wisdom to listen to what his advisors (read: Tywin) are telling him.
If you’re in the market for suspects in Joffrey’s murder (and you didn’t figure it out based on the hints in last week’s episode) this ep gives you plenty of grist for the mill, and there’s no denying that Tywin’s life is going to be easier with a King Tommen than a King Joffrey. Young (though not so young as he should be, as HBO have switched to a too-old actor – Dean Charles Chapman – to play him this season) and malleable, Tommen also has the virtue of not being a psychopath.
No longer a suspect is Littlefinger – but only because he as much as admits to Sansa that he was involved. Littlefinger never acts alone, of course, and poor Ser Dontos Hollard – who got an arrow in the brain for his trouble – was no more than a willing dupe. He’d just smuggled Sansa to a ship where Littlefinger was waiting for her, casting that much more suspicion on Tyrion, who’s languishing in a cell awaiting trial. His only visitor so far is Podrick, who smuggles in a bit of food and a quill and paper, and informs his master than he’s been approached with an offer of a knighthood if he’ll testify against Tyrion. This is a rather powerful scene, as it really shows off Pod’s intense loyalty and the fact that Tyrion is actually deserving of it. For his part Tyrion asks to see his brother (Bronn isn’t allowed in) and seems intent on playing amateur detective from inside his prison. “The only one I’m sure didn’t do it is Cersei” he says, “which makes it unique among murders at King’s Landing.”
There are a few scenes with the good guys in this episode, in fact, though Tywin’s other glamor moment hardly qualifies. It’s a cracker, though, as he barges on on Prince Oberyn mid-orgy and proceeds to do a bit of bare-knuckle negotiating on the spot. As Tyrion says, the death of a relative is not an opportunity Tywin is going to pass up, and he sees this as a chance to bring Dorne into the fold as a much-needed hedge against the Targaryen girl with the three dragons who’s out there somewhere. One senses that Tywin never remotely believes Oberyn had anything to do with Joffrey’s death – he’s merely firing a shot across his bow. These are a formidable pair, these two, and there’s not an ounce of give in either one of them.
Elsewhere, Arya gets a harsh reminder not to grow too comfortable with The Hound. “There’s a lot worse than me.” he growls at her after robbing a father and daughter of their silver, and it’s surely true (look no farther than inside the Clegane family) – but make no mistake, The Hound is a hard man indeed. Up North, the wildings are seen ransacking a small village, leaving only a terrorized young boy to bear witness to the Crows at Castle Black. As for venturing forth to protect villagers, even Jon takes a practical view that it’s unwise – but when word comes that the turncoats are ensconced at Crastor’s Keep, Jon urges that a party go forth and slay them at once – because they can put the lie to what Jon told Mance Rayder about the strength of the force at The Wall. And at Storms End Stannis is growing increasingly impatient with Davos and desperate to press his claim now that Joffrey is dead, but Davos has no answers – that is, until he visits Shireen for a reading lesson (always among the most heartwarming scenes in this bleak and dark series) and gets a flash of inspiration on how to turn Stannis’ fortunes around (literally).
Finally, there’s Danerys – who occupies her by-now almost traditional place as the closer of the episode. I don’t think much of her arc even in the books and it’s been changed more drastically in practical terms than anyone else’s, but it does provide grandiosity and spectacle. Here, she’s marching on the slave city of Meereen, which sounds out its champion to take on hers in single combat. It’s Dario who ends up fighting for her – and no matter what she says to justify it, you know Barristan and especially Jorah aren’t thrilled – and he literally wins the pissing contest. The real message, though, isn’t in golden showers but in what the Unsullied fire over the city walls with their catapults – the chains of the slaves freed in Astapor and Yunkai. There’s not a lot of interpretation needed here, and it’s not because Dany is such a hand at foreign languages…