This week's chapter, "What Was Dead May Never Die," includes a couple of sword-clashing fight scenes and some delicious skullduggery, but also an intriguing through-line involving the varieties of power, particularly female power - and ironically, Danearys isn't even on this one.
Catelyn Stark, for instance, serves as her son's envoy to Renly Baratheon, who's certainly a more likeable conteder to the throne than Joffrey or Stannis. When dissed by one of Renly's men, Catelyn snaps "My son is fighting a war, not playing at one" and though she may not hold power, she speaks with authority.
When Catelyn arrives at Renly's camp, she sees a makeshift tourney in progress, and a mystery knight beats Renly's champion (and boyfriend) Ser Loras. The skilled, imposing warrior removes her helm and turns out to be a woman, Brienne of Tarth (played by Gwendoline Christie in "Game of Thrones'" second-best bit of casting, next to Peter Dinklage). Big, strong and hard-featured (but not as unpleasant-looking as the books imply she is), Brienne requests to be part of Renly's personal guard as her prize. She seems to disdain her aristocratic lineage - I'm no lady" - and shows Renly the kind of loyalty that Davos shows Stannis (although we don't see Dragonstone this week). With her fighting prowess, Brienne would be a hero if she were a man, but is instead an outcast.
We also meet Renly's new bride Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer), who wears cleavage-baring gowns, serves as Renly's beard and seals an alliance between Renly's forces and those of Highgarden. Renly would rather get it on with Loras, but Loras knows that the would-be king needs to demonstrate his marital duties to forestall gossip in camp. Margaery comes to Renly's tent, and when he admires her dress, she immediately slips it off her shoulder. Margaery totally knows the score about Renly's orientation and seems unfazed by his inability to perform: "Do you want my brother to come in and help? Or I could turn over and you could pretend I'm him." She reminds Renly that if he had a royal heir, his claim to the throne would be strengthened. Despite her chipmunk-cheeked youth, Margaery could grow up to be the brains behind the throne, like Cersei.
Meanwhile, on the Iron Islands, Theon confronts his sister over last week's deception as a slatternly wench. She shrugs that he should've recognized her, and they glower at each other with renewed sibling rivalry. Dad strides in, having resolved to attack the North, and gives them their marching sailing orders: Yara will lead 30 ships to a major fort, while Theon will take one ship to bedevil some fishermen. The aggrieved Theon points out that Balon gave him to the Starks as a hostage, and gets under his dad's skin. Later, Theon commits himself to the Iron Islands' cause, burning a conciliatory letter to Robb Stark and submitting to a briny baptism.
In King's Landing, Sansa suffers through a royal meal with the Lannisters, and Cersei insists she show proper deference to Princess Myrcella, who seems nice enough. Perhaps the most powerless person at court, Sansa merely parrots what Cersei wants, but this week, she gets to boss around her new handmaiden. The servant proves so inexperienced, Sansa probably thinks her presence is another insult. She's no maiden, however, but Tyrion's mistress Shae, who longs to see more of King's Landing beyond her room, and balks at the idea of being a scullery maid in the palace. The handmaiden job mollifies Shae and possibly gives sympathetic Tyrion a chance to keep tabs on Sansa.
Tyrion also plays a little stratagem involving a strategic marriage involving Princess Myrcella. In three different conversations, fluidly edited to resemble a single one, Tyrion informs Pycelle, Varys and Littlefinger that he plans to marry Myrcella to three separate but equally powerful Houses. "The Queen mustn't know," he informs them, and they all promise to keep quiet. When Cersei shows up, outraged that Tyrion would marry Myrcella off to Dorne, he knows that Pycelle gave him up. So Tyrion, with Bronn and one of his Stonecrow flunkies, barges in on Pycelle and a prostitute. Tyrion: "Cut off his manhood and feed it to the goats." Stonecrow guy: "There are no goats, half-man." Tyrion: "Well, make do!" Tyrion accuses Pycelle of conspiring against the previous Hands of the King and sends him off to a cell. Sharing a post-scheme bottle of wine, Varys praises Tyrion's skills as a sneak.
Beyond the wall, Craster tosses a dazed Jon Snow into the hall and kicks out the Night's Watch. Lord Commander Mormont puts Jon Snow in a time-out, and Jon objects, pointing out Craster's sacrifices of his male issue. Mormont indicates that he knew of the practice, but that the Night's Watch needs allies like Mormont, however unsavory. Jon reveals that he saw what might have been a White Walker. Mormont: "Whatever it was, I daresay you'll see it again."
Next morning, the Night's Watch pack up to leave the Westeros equivalent to "Big Love." Samwell gives pregnant Gilly a keepsake - the only thing he has of his mother. She objects that he shouldn't give it away, and Sam replies, "I'm not giving it away, I'm giving it to you." How much is Gilly intentionally manipulating Samwell?
We pay a quick visit to Winterfell with a POV shot that begins in a courtyard (larger and marginally less squalid than Craster's), past Hodor (Hodor!) through the hall, up the stairs and right into Bran's face. Bran awakens to find his direwolf Summer staring him in the face, like a housecat ready for breakfast. Bran asks Maester Luwin if he could be literally seeing through Summer's eyes. Luwin admits to studying magic as a kid, in the tones of someone recounting a youthful indiscretion. Maester declares that magic has gone from the world, but the audience knows better. I like the idea that magic really was gone, but the recent events, particularly the hatching of the dragons, is bringing it back.
This week, Arya goes from having little power to even less, but still shapes the course of the action. Initially, the Night's Watch recruits are all dozing in some kind of modest hall (and you know it's gotta be stinky in there). Arya asks Yoren about how he can sleep, given the things he's seen. Yoren offers a bedtime story about how he brooded for years over his brother's murder, the killer finally turned up and and "I buried an axe so deep in his skull that they buried him with it." Well, good night little girl!
Before Arya can try to get back to sleep, the Lannister forces show up. The recruits scatter but Yoren's too badass to back down and fights even with a crossbow arrow in chest. Arya sees a fire menacing the three prisoner and tosses them an axe to free themselves. A thug catches her and not only takes her sword Needle, he uses it to kill one of their traveling companions. Arya puts one over their captors, though: "You wanted Gendry? You got him," she says, pointing out that the guy they just killed had the tell-tale bull helmet.
The blocking and camera placement of director Alik Sakharov seems to embellish the power motif in the script. This week we get three scenes, almost in succesion, that playing up female stature: Brienne looms over Catelyn, Yara stands toe-to-toe with Theon, Shae smiles down seductively at Tyrion. Later, when Tyrion seems to have the upper hand on Cersei, he stands on staircase to look down at her. Maybe it's unintentional, but I think I detect a pattern.
This week features great character moments from the actors playing Lord Commander Mormont, Maester Luwin and Yoren.
I know Renly's spiky crown is meant to represent the Baratheon stag, but it looks kind of like a Jesusy crown of thorns.
The House Greyjoy motto is "We do not sow," meaning that they take what they want, rather than stoop to farming. Spoken aloud, the line sounds like "We do not sew," which isn't quite the same thing, but close.
Having read the books, I love the foreshadowing about Harrenhal, the huge, allegedly haunted castle.
Bran mentions Rickon having the same dream of their father's death. When was the last time we saw Rickon, anyway?
Tyrion lies to Littlefinger that he wants to marry Myrcella off to Robyn Aryn, who you may remember as the bloodthirsty little tyke still breastfeeding in the previous season.
Varys offers a riddle about a king, a priest, a rich man and a sellsword, and suggests that power lies where people believe it lies. Then Varys wonders, "When Ned Stark lost his head, who was really responsible?" Arya clearly blames Joffrey, Cersei and possibly Sansa, but Varys seems to imply that the populace that tolerates Joffrey's rule bears some responsibility. Do we get the leaders we deserve?
If "Game of Thrones" were "Parks & Recreation," Hodor would be Jerry.
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