So much to talk about with this week’s Stark and Lannister-centric episode. We learn that schemers gotta scheme, there’s nothing more dangerous then a bored dwarf, and the remaining Starks (even the female ones) are equipped with balls the size of grapefuits.
Find out why after the break.
We start in a scary place. Moss covered statues glimmer in dim firelight. We see an urchin sweeping, cloaked in shadow and as the camera pulls closer we realize it’s Arya. Jaqen sits by a pool, and hands a cup of water to a sickly looking man. They exchange a quiet “Valor Morhulis” and the men goes off to accept the gift of death. Arya is impatient to begin her training, and since she has never seen The Karate Kid, she has no idea that her weeks of broomwork are all part of it. As is the visit later from a fellow student, who beats her with switch, demanding she answer who she is.
The correct answer is “no one.” But we find that Arya can’t truthfully answer that until she rids herself of all the things that make her Arya Stark. She finally sees this and dumps her belongs into the Bravosi sea. All except Needle. Masie Williams does a great job in this scene, her face a map etched with tension and grief as she remembers her father’s final gift. Ultimately, she buries Needle in a seawall, hoping she can reclaim him when she becomes who she is supposed to be.
Arya isn’t the only Stark ready for a transformation. Sansa and Petyr have entered the North and look down upon the ruins of Moat Callion. Sansa is learning the game, and quickly discovers Baelish’s talk of marriage proposals was for her, to a Bolton. For a few moments the old Sansa returns, she gives into emotion and swears she will have no part of it. Baelish, however introduces one of the two prevalent themes in tonight’s episode: “There’s no justice in the world, unless you make it.”
He steps away to let Sansa make up her mind, and she does. Her tear-filled face transforms into a cold mask that promises vengeance. Later, when she returns to Winterfell she is welcomed home by a servant who informs her, “The North remembers.” I’m not sure if the suddenly charming Ramsay Bolton knows what he’s getting into here!
Our sort-of-Stark, Jon Snow, is quickly learning how to rule as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. His first order of business is denying Stannis’ offer to Stark-ify him, make him Warden of the North, and help rid Winterfell of the Boltons. Stannis is pissed, lamenting the stubborn Stark honor, but as Davos points out to Jon privately, he admires the young bastard too.
Later, Jon gets to display more Lordliness, as he makes appointments. Showing great political savvy, he names his biggest adversary, Ser Alistar the Chief Ranger position. Even more brilliant, he gives Janos Slynt the impossible task of rebuilding Eastwatch. He even seems to smile slightly when Slynt erupts in anger, refusing the task and signing his own death warrant.
This was a great scene. As they drag Slynt to the chopping block you catch echoes of Ned in Season One sentencing the deserters, and Rob dealing with the rebellious Karstarks. Slynt relents at the end, and pleads for mercy. Jon hesitates only for a moment, then removes the coward’s head before a silent crowd and an approving Stannis. I hope this works out better for Jon then it did for Rob (and for that matter for Dany in last week’s episode.)
Over in Kings Landing, our jealous Queen Mother seethes at the sound of the people singing the praises of Margaery as they head towards yet another royal wedding. This one ends much better, with the energetic young Tommen and his sexy new queen consummating quite a few times. It’s interesting that this additional year has somewhat reduced the ick factor we felt when Margaery set out to seduce Tommen last season (in the infamous Ser Pouncis Interruptus episode). I am curious about exactly how old Tommen is supposed to be in the show. Ironically, if he’s thirteen (as he appears) he’s about the age Joffrey was supposed to be in the book.
I love how quickly and expertly Margaery acts to set her plans in motion. Planting the seeds in Tommen’s head to send his mother away; not by saying it outright, but by playing to the boy’s sense of responsibility to his mother. And it works, because the next day, Tommen starts talking to Cersei about how much happier she would be back at Casterly Rock.
This, of course, gets Cersei’s hair up and she’s moved to speak to the new queen. She interrupts a Princess Posse gossip party (apparently discussing Tommen’s bedroom exuberance); and in a fabulous scene right out of Medieval Mean Girls we see exactly where Cersei stands in this Tywin-less world. The two speak in the most charming of voices, using words as sweet as confections, but hiding bitter poison. My personal favorite was when Margaery asks her mother-in-law whether her appropriate new title is “Queen Mother or Dowager Queen.” That lady knows how to place a knife.
This, or course, drives Cersei to find new allies, and when the lusty High Septon of the Church is set upon by the resurgent “sparrow” cult in a brothel, she rolls the dice and goes all in with the fundamentalists. She approaches the High Sparrow, wonderfully played by Jonathan Price, and listens to him talk about the importance of piety. To his surprise, she reveals that she too is a believer, and has jailed the High Septon for his crimes. It’s interesting to see Cersei adopt this new pious mask, not because she’s doing it cynically, but because she doesn’t seem to know her own reputation.
Our littlest Lannister has a reputation too, and even though he’s a thousand miles away, he’s still held prisoner in his sumptuous coach en route to Meereen. The Imp is stir-crazy and inclined to give in to his impish behavior. He manages to convince the ever-cautious Spider that he can become like every other drunken dwarf in the city. We soon find that when Tyrion Lannister is concerned, that’s impossible.
During their travels through the city, they discover that a cult of personality has grown up around Dany, with a priestess of R’hllor sermonizing about the Queen of the Dragons and whores in the brothels engaging in some interesting blond-wigged cosplay. Brothels now attended by the grief-stricken Jorah Mormont, drinking off the Khaleesi’s rejection and perhaps finding some solace in her false embrace.
When Tyrion decides to engage the services of another prostitute, we get a short wonderful exchange as the suddenly unwilling Tyrion’s eyes widen when the whore’s question of “you’re shy?” becomes “you’re Shae.” With just those two words, we see the anguish and guilt the finest Lannister feels over his murder of the woman he loved. Our episode ends when Tyrion escapes Varys’ watchful gaze and is kidnapped by Jorah, who promises to take him to meet the queen.
Brienne and Pod do some bonding. We learn a little bit about Brienne and Podrick’s past, plus some great post-mortem character development about Renly Baratheon (he was a really nice guy). More importantly, we learn the second theme we’ve seen running through the episode: “There’s nothing worse than not protecting the people you love.” Finally, we learn that the honorable Brienne remembers the shadow that murdered Renly bore Stannis’ face, and she apparently is more than willing to heed Littlefinger’s advice to Sansa and avenge him. I love this storyline because of its absence from the books. I have a feeling I know where I’m going, and if I’m right it’s going to be awesome!
Another storyline not in the books is the betrothal of Ramsey and Sansa. And the two main players who set this in motion don’t seem entirely at ease with the other. Loved watching Roose Bolton and Petyr Baelish circling each other on the wall, not sure how much to trust, but knowing each is dependent on another.
I’d be remiss not to mention Maester Qyburn in his laboratory of horrors. Last week we learned he apparently had good uses for dwarf heads. Exactly who was that gargantuan, restless figure thrashing under that sheet?
I don’t think we’ll get that answer soon, but next week it looks like we get Sand Snakes. Can’t wait!