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Monday, April 22, 2013

Game of Thrones 3x4 - "And Now His Watch Is Ended"

"And Now His Watch Is Ended" is a Game of Thrones hall of famer episode. The best episode since "Blackwater" and one of the best of the series thus far. It's also the high stakes game changer, signaling what everyone who has read book 3 "A Storm of Swords" already knows and hotly anticipates: this is the season where all the very best, completely batshit crazy stuff happens. The first two episodes reshuffled the game board of Westeros and Essos. From here on in, Game of Thrones is going to bring it.

Last thing and best thing first: Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen is one of the greatest female characters currently on television. Arguably, the greatest. When you look at who she was when the series began, what had been done to her, what she's endured, and what she has become, who else has had an arc like hers? Last week, she made a bargain with an outcome everyone except maybe her old man consiglieres Jorah Mormont and Barristan Selmy saw coming: she said she'd trade her dragon Drogon for 8,000 Unsullied, but we all suspected she'd renege on that promise. She did just that, but not in a way that dishonors her; rather, she proved with authority she was more clever than anyone ever gave her credit for. In fact, she finally used the naivete everyone expects her to have, and she in fact did once have, to her full advantage.

Go back now and watch all the scenes with Missandei delicately translating Kraznys mo Nakloz's insults to Daenerys (I did) and those moments take on a whole new dimension. Daenerys makes the trade, then reveals that she is fluent in Old Valyrian and has understood every insult Kraznys mo Nakloz ever uttered. Then she makes two huge gambles: the first was calling upon her Unsullied to slaughter their former slavers. (She takes a little extra delight in commanding Drogon to roast Kraznys mo Nakloz.) The second was more dicey: Daenerys, herself no stranger to being sold as she was once sold to Khal Drogo, freed the Unsullied, asking them instead to choose to fight for her. Who in their right mind wouldn't at that point? Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen > Abraham Lincoln. That's right. Why? Dragons. Also, hotness.

Daenerys is a ruthless, clever, but compassionate Queen without her rightful kingdom. But if anyone deserves to rule Westeros, it's her. In fact, with the often brilliant ways Game of Thrones has found to deviate from the "A Song of Ice and Fire" novels, I'd get down on my knees for the Khaleesi's sake and beg the producers to not follow the events of Book 5 "A Dance With Dragons" and instead let Daenerys do what everyone is absolutely dying to see her do on the show.

In King's Landing, Varys is a busy little spider. I always enjoy Varys, a clever man indeed, and one who serves his own agenda yet seems to have, more or less, the best interests of the realm at heart. Tyrion visits Varys asking for help in his revenge against Cercei for trying to have him assassinated at Blackwater, and Varys insisted on telling him and us the secret origin of how he became a eunuch. A sorcerer cut him for a macabre spell, and we learn Varys has both seen dark magic and despises all sorcerers. And now he even has the sorcerer who maimed him prisoner, a virtue of patience and the means to use it to apply influence. For a guy with nothing in his pants (as everyone is happy to mock) Varys always plays the long game.

Varys' long game includes stratagems for Littlefinger's machinations to eventually marry Sansa Stark and lay claim to lordship over Harrenhaal, the Eyrie, and the North (amazing how deftly Littlefinger positioned himself to claim all of this, and how no one sees it but Varys). Also, Ros and Varys discuss the greatest current mystery in King's Landing: what exactly Podrick Payne did to those whores that they felt compelled to give back Tyrion's money? I still want this more thoroughly investigated. What happened with Pod and the whores?! I need answers!

But more important, I suppose, is Varys coming to the delightfully cheeky Lady Olenna with his little schemes. After both agreeing that Sansa Stark is not a particularly interesting girl but has had an interesting life, they set Margaery off to present a potential future that poor, long-suffering Sansa has longed to hear: when Margaery marries Joffrey and becomes Queen, she can have her brother Loras marry Sansa so she can become Lady of Highgarden, freeing her from the grip of Cercei. Sansa was so happy, no one has the heart to break it to her that Ser Loras might not be quite the shining knight and husband Sansa has dreamed of marrying her whole life. But why ruin her little bout of happiness with details at the moment?

Lady Olenna The Queen of Thorns is the single most fantastic new character introduced this season. She dominates every scene she's in, has all the best dialogue, and says what she (and the audience) thinks to the characters who can't and won't. Whether it's insulting her son the Lord of Highgarden, mocking the less-than-inspiring House sigil of the Tyrells, or pointing out to Cercei that women are often times more clever and more fit to rule than the men of Westeros, Lady Olenna is crunches the scenery of King's Landing in her teeth. (Olenna would love to meet Daenerys, I bet.) Cercei was so motivated by the truth of which Olenna spoke that she went right to her father and pleaded her case that she should be heard more for her opinions on tactics and strategy. Tywin told her right to her face:

And he's 100% correct. Cercei let Joffrey cut off Ned Stark's head, sparking the war that has torn Westeros apart. Cercei can't control Joffrey. And Cercei is hated by just about everyone she meets.

Margaery is everything Cercei is not; young, cunning, and wildly influential when it comes to Joffrey. All Joffrey ever wanted, it seems, is to have someone take an interest in his hobbies, which are sadism and hilarious stories of how the Targaryens died. My favorite bit of the episode not Daenerys-related was Joffrey running around the sept with Margaery showing her all the dead Targaryens. He was giggling like a kid in a candy store. Margaery then got Joffrey to come out and be seen with her in front of the people. Lo and behold, because the people love Margaery, they also decided they like Joffrey. That was the greatest day of King Joffrey's life. They like him! They really like him! (Not really, but no needs to tell him that.)

You know doesn't like Theon Greyjoy? Everyone, including Theon, that poor sap. These brand new Theon sequences invented for the show had Theon confess to his new friend that everything he's ever done has been wrong, that he didn't kill Bran and Rickon Stark, that he did have the farmer's boys put to death so he could keep Winterfell, and that he's a worthless disappointment to everyone, including Ned Stark, who was more his father than his real father. And it turns out his mysterious new friend freeing him was all a sick, cruel ruse to have Theon strapped right back to his wooden X for more torture. No doubt now this man is Ramsay Snow, one of the worst people in Westeros, and that's saying something.

Bran Stark dreamed his mom yelled at him for climbing and pushed him out of a tree. Meanwhile, the man who did push him off a tower is suffering as badly as Theon. Poor Kingslayer, wearing his severed hand around his neck and being pummeled and tortured by those Bolton men. Boltons are horrible. When Jaime tried to escape and was being beaten, Brienne tried to do him the favor he did her and save him from being further tortured or killed. She also wants to know why Jaime saved her from being raped, the act of which directly cost him his sword hand. There are no easy answers, except that no good deed goes unpunished in Westeros.

The Brotherhood without Banners brought Arya, Gendry and the Hound to their cave headquarters and it turns out their leader is Beric Dondarrion, whom Ned Stark once sent to kill the Hound's brother the Mountain. For once, the Hound was making a lot of sense, refuting being charged with crimes committed by the Lannisters he actually had no part in. Except for killing that Arya's friend in season one. That he did do. But even then, you can lay that one on Joffrey. Turns out the Brotherhood are all converted to follow the Lord of Light, and charged the Hound with trial by combat against Beric himself. Hey, didn't Melissandre leave Dragonstone to find someone who shared Stannis' blood? And these Lord of Lighters have Gendry right there...

North of the Wall, the Night's Watch are not doing well. It was funny when they were complaining that most of being a Night's Watchman involved shoveling, but what happened next wasn't funny. Half the Night's Watch completely went apeshit. They killed Craster, which is cool because that fat old piece of garbage deserved that and more. But they also killed Lord Commander Mormont and started raping and killing Craster's daughters. Sam Tarly absconded with Gilly and her infant, but it looks like all of their Watches have ended. Badly.

Fantastic episode top to bottom.