Game of Thrones, Season 3, Television

Season 3, Episode 5: Kissed By Fire

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Robb Stark continues to live his life in his father’s memory. The honorable Ned Stark still looms large in the Young Wolf’s life. Though he was a good warrior, Ned was also a hesitant leader, and accepted the job as acting Hand of the King only under pressure. Still, Robb keeps trying to fold his father’s value system into his own leadership, because taking stock in values and virtues worked out well for Ned… right?

“Kissed By Fire,” the fifth episode of a season now half over, opens on the flames of the Brotherhood Without Banners. Later in the episode, Ygritte will explain the episode’s title, telling Jon Snow that “kissed by fire” is a wildling phrase to represent people with red hair, who are said to have good luck. There are many other people who use fire throughout, though not all of them experience the same amount of luck as ginger wildlings.

In the hideout with the Brotherhood, the warrior priest Thoros of Myr recites a now-familiar prayer to the Lord of Light, and Beric Dondarrion sets his sword on fire. This party trick was also what made Thoros a household name among warriors in Westeros: he is remembered for laying siege to Pyke (part of the Iron Islands) with a flaming sword during Robert’s Rebellion, as Jaime Lannister and Stark bannerman Jory Cassel reminisced on in Season 1, back when lions and wolves could be friendly to one another.

In this case, Beric is the one wielding the flaming sword, as Thoros and Stannis have done before him. The Hound has been sentenced to a trial by combat to prove his innocence or guilt in the eyes of the Lord of Light. Sandor Clegane is almost laughably larger than Beric, but he seems to struggle against the older knight. Not for nothing, the Hound has a proven aversion to fire, given the trauma of his youth (wherein his older brother, the Mountain, shoved his face into a fire– hence the scars). It’s what sent him running from King’s Landing during the Battle of Blackwater. He looks no less terrified in this scene, especially when his shield goes up in flames, but the fear also seems to propel him. He fights back desperately and ultimately slices deeply into Beric’s shoulder.

Almost as quickly as he dies, Thoros is able to resurrect Beric back from the dead. We’ve heard that the White Walkers do something similar, but their reanimations are more like zombies than wounded old warriors. We learn that this is the sixth time that Beric has come back from the dead. (Is the Lord of Light looking favorably on him, or not? Six times seems an awful lot of times to die for someone so honored by God.)

While Arya is indignant over this seemingly-incorrect judgment, Beric calmly supposes that the Lord of Light isn’t done with the Hound yet, though he is certainly not innocent as proclaimed. This may simply be a case of Beric rationalizing his loss to the bigger, stronger man so that it fits the religious ideology he preaches. Still, no matter what we believe, there’s no denying that Beric rose from the dead. Ultimately, there is some greater power at work, and that power has more in store for the Hound.

When Arya screams, “It isn’t fair!” she serves as a mouthpiece for an audience full of fantasy fans who have been trained to expect the triumph of the good and the just. This belief comes from the medieval myths and stories of our youth. Trial by combat was a very real aspect of medieval culture, and though at the time similar hopes were placed on the ability of good to triumph over evil (or the innocent to triumph over the damned), physical strength and a cunning with the sword was undoubtedly what produced winners in the end, no matter the peoples’ beliefs in the intervention of God. Despite this reality, countless stories have been produced during and after the Middle Ages to further the myth of the era: the good shall always (or, at least, often) prevail, no matter the struggles they may face along the way. This ethos is powerful in our Western mythology; even the hugely-influential Lord of the Rings trilogy follows these values, as well as the entire Harry Potter series.

Whenever I introduce our unit on the Middle Ages to my classes, I play a word association game with them. Inevitably, when my adolescent students think of the medieval era, they think of kings, castles, maidens, knights, and chivalry. They think of heroic knights and King Arthur’s round table, and they are certainly not alone, even among adults. Our view of the Middle Ages has been tainted by fairy tales and fantasy novels. Though everyone can recall the horrors of the era, including the Black Death and the unwashed masses, the abject violence and imperious class distinctions are not often reconciled with our idea of the codes of honor, duty, and heroism. As with much of history, we want to believe in the myths of the begone era without always confronting its brutal realities. Fantasy has long provided us that outlet. However, as with Sansa (an admitted lover of fairy tales), it also blinds us to the harsher truths of that world, and leaves us unprepared for its reality.

Ultimately, it is this phenomenon which sets up the shock in all of Game of Thrones‘s famed twists. The series is brilliant largely because it subverts our expectations. The Hound beats Beric in a trial he should have never won, and it’s not fair to those of us who were raised to expect differently. The Stark family in particular serves to represent many of the typical fantasy tropes: honor, duty, family, loyalty, pride, service, beauty, love. Undeniably, this family is (was?) the most popular of the series, at least throughout the first season, and that fact alone seems telling of the audience’s expectations for the triumph of the good. However, a major theme of the series  is that the Starks are horribly, horribly wrong about the world they live in, and the major tragedy of this show revolves around the fact that we have to sit through the gradual undoing of the family for their overly-simplistic worldview– the same worldview that we too often share.

It’s not until Sansa and Arya are away from their family and isolated from all they’ve ever known that they start to acquire more of the skills needed to play the game. No longer sheltered by their naive parents, they are forced to adapt to the harsh world, and each adopts a different approach. Sansa, though largely passive as of yet, arms herself with lies and subterfuge. Still, she’s not anywhere near mastery; in this episode, she is unable to  fool Littlefinger about her plans to marry Loras Tyrell.

Arya, on the other hand, arms herself by meeting (or, attempting to meet) violence in kind. It is all she can do to stop herself from jumping into the trial by combat and slaying the Hound herself. Gendry has to restrain her when the Hound is found innocent in victory. Her first reaction is to grab a knife and attack.

Meanwhile, Robb, who is the only Stark who has been surrounded by his northern bannermen from the start, continues to make one terrible decision after another. He is still very much motivated by his ideals, no matter how misguided they may be. Love triumphed in his decision to marry Talisa over one of Lord Frey’s daughters– a sticky situation, to say the least, now that he has to go beg the Freys for a new alliance in order to have any hope of surviving the war.

Then, he feels himself honor-bound to execute Lord Karstark for killing their two young Lannister hostages. This decision happens to fly in the face of all the advice he is receiving to the contrary. Robb is still living in a fantasy world where honor matters, as it did to his father before him. (Side note: for a fantastic analysis of Robb Stark’s military failings, be sure to check out “Young Wolf, Bad General: What Robb Stark Doesn’t Understand About War” by Spencer Ackerman: “the Young Wolf is a case study in the difference between winning battles and winning wars.”)

Last week, I spoke about honor as it related to Jaime and Brienne. Brienne herself is also living in a different world, separated from reality, where her principles are as important to her as armor, shields, and swords. Unlike with the Starks, where honor is a catalyst for tragedy, Brienne’s honor is a beacon of hope to an otherwise dejected Jaime Lannister. She inspires him to be more than his moniker, “The Kingslayer.” In a great scene at the baths of Harrenhal, Jaime confesses that he broke his solemn oath as Kingsguard and besmirched his honor by killing the Mad King Aerys Targaryen, but not for the reasons everyone thinks. Jaime admits that he chose to break his vows not for personal greed, but because the man was ordering Jaime to kill his own father and threatening to light the city with wildfire.

Jaime’s character highlights the moral ambiguities of the real world: is it more honorable to keep your oaths, or to protect your father? What about to save innocent civilians from the use of a weapon of mass destruction? Jaime doesn’t want to be seen as the Kingslayer, because that name is too morally unambiguous. He is condemned by scores of people simply because they perceive him to be an oathbreaker, fitting him neatly into the “evil” category in their dichotomous outlook on life.  At one time, this misconception was perpetrated by Ned Stark. Jaime says that Ned judged him guilty the moment he set eyes on him, without waiting to hear the complex factors that informed the Kingslayer’s decision. He wants to be free of this name, to gain some sense of his personal honor back, and with his last bit of strength insists to Brienne (who still calls him Kingslayer) that his name is Jaime. For better and for worse, Jaime is more than just a Kingslayer. He’s a real man, who is so much more than his myth.

Ultimately, Brienne wants the same as Jaime. She doesn’t want to be known simply as “the woman,” or “the wench,” or “the freak,” but as Brienne of Tarth and all that comes with it. When Jaime insults her ability to protect anyone she serves, including Renly, she stands defiantly to face him, daring him to take it back. She is naked above the waters, but the camera captures her just above her breasts. This is not a moment of attraction for the two. She is more than just a woman, she is a warrior. It is an exchange that exists outside of gender, or sexuality, because she is more than simply “the wench.” She stands up to him bravely, and Jaime, out of much respect, immediately apologizes. We don’t see a raised eyebrow or winking grin from him, nor do his eyes take a slow path down her body, as you might have seen in less serious shows. The show stays true to its multifaceted characters, and to reality. Ultimately, this exchange only furthers the bond between the two misunderstood fighters.

Meanwhile, in King’s Landing, Cersei and Littlefinger form a temporary alliance of convenience to help each other get what they want. Cersei wants to tear down Margaery for being younger and hotter (though, I believe that’s a matter of opinion). Littlefinger still wants to keep Sansa for himself. They come to the realization that they can achieve both of their goals together by ensuring that Sansa and the Tyrells are thwarted.

In the last episode, Cersei was goaded by her father Tywin, who claimed that she has done little in service to the Lannister name, despite what she may think. So, she has served him the North on a silver platter, much to Tyrion’s horror. After all, it is Tyrion’s cross to bear. He will have to marry the beautiful young Sansa. He feels a noble sense of pity for the girl (who has already suffered much at the hands of Lannisters) that she should now have to marry him instead of the handsome young Loras. Cersei is delighted by his disappointment until Tywin informs her that she will now wed Loras instead, sentencing her to yet another loveless marriage. Not only that, but she will likely be shipped off to Highgarden, far from the capital and from her longtime ambitions as Queen.

Though we’re all busy sympathizing with how far her brothers have fallen from power, it’s worth taking a moment to pause and reflect on the tragedy of Cersei’s current circumstances. Cersei, ice queen though she may be, is also not as inept as her father claims. In her youth, she was married off to Robert Baratheon, which was not a pleasant, loving, or committed marriage, and may have also verged on abusive at times. She took it all in stride for the good of her family and for the opportunity that one day she might see her son on the throne. Among her bad ideas are good ones, including her disagreement over her son’s decision to behead Ned Stark. Like Tyrion, she keeps on trying to prove to her father that she should have a place in this administration. Still, she is brushed aside by everyone she loves, largely for misogynistic prejudices against her abilities. In the end, she is exchanged to the Tyrells in order to live out her days with a man who does not seem to have an ambition to match hers, nor love to spare her. Though she strives for more, her fate, her life’s purpose, has always been tied to the man she is forced to marry. She is certainly not the best leader in Westeros (though, at this point, who is?). But, in an odd way, it’s a bit sad to see her ambitions squashed by her own father for the simple fact that she is a woman and has no place in his political sphere, outside of creating marriage alliances.

On Dragonstone, we finally meet Stannis’s wife, Selyse. We have apparently not been missing much. Selyse is a brainwashed cult member of the Lord of Light’s following. She believes so strongly in the divine right of Stannis to the throne that she is incredibly willing (and happy, in fact) to overlook his infidelity. She rationalizes this by claiming that it is what the Lord of Light wants Stannis to do in service to him, especially considering that she has been unable to give him a male heir. She even keeps her three dead sons suspended and preserved in jars as a gruesome reminder of her shame (side note: mothers in this series are all portrayed, at times, as crazy– why is that?).

Shireen, their daughter, seems to be hidden away, unacknowledged by the mother until Stannis reminds her (and us) that he has an actual, living child in there somewhere. She appears to be a happy kid with a skin affliction on half her face that may repulse her own father, but not Davos. This disease, called greyscale, is similar to the leprosy of the medieval era in both its symptoms and its stigma. When she finds out that Davos has been put in the dungeon, the smart and precocious young girl sneaks down there and offers to teach him to read to pass the time. This friendship is an invention of the show, but it is a great addition. It’s not too often that we get to see sweetness in Westeros.

There is a lot made of physical differences and handicaps in Game of Thrones. Some of the greatest depth of moral character comes from characters who have had to overcome physical limitations. Even the Hound had his principals, refusing to participate in the abuse of Sansa Stark, and eventually saving her from a mob with lethal intent. Something in Jaime has changed since losing his hand; or, maybe it was there all along, but it took the loss of his hand to get past the cocky exterior to the heart underneath. Granted, he did still push a child out the window, and the Hound did still run down an innocent peasant boy (albeit on Joffrey’s orders), but there’s a definite trend in the characterization: these characters are more than they appear on the surface. What is the source of this? Does George R.R. Martin want to make these characters more obviously sympathetic to the audience, not trusting us to find our way to sympathizing with a character like Jaime without it? I would hate for this to be what’s happening. Or, as in the case of Tyrion and now Shireen, do the physical differences and their internal struggles to overcome them seem to create great mental and emotional character?

The scene with Shireen ends with her describing to Davos how Aegon Targaryen once lived on that same island, Dragonstone. From there, he was able to launch his conquest of Westeros, establishing the Targaryen dynasty. Aegon I was known as “the Conqueror” and “the Dragon.” Sound familiar? Across the sea, Daenerys is also hoping to reinstall the Targaryen dynasty in much the same way as her predecessor, and these stories are juxtaposed in the show’s narrative by having Shireen’s description of Aegon as a voice-over during the transition to Daenerys’s scene.

In the opening credits, we see a new city called Yunkai for the first time, but Daenerys hasn’t quite reached it yet. While they are en route, heading north from Astapor, Daenerys has the Unsullied select a leader for themselves from their ranks. They choose Grey Worm. When Daenerys finds out that the names of the Unsullied are given after castration to represent different forms of vermin, she instructs them to pick new names. However, Grey Worm says that his has brought good luck, since he had it when Dany gave him his freedom, so he intends on keeping it.

Meanwhile, in a conversation between Ser Jorah Mormont and Ser Barristan Selmy, the two men circle back to the question of honor. According to Ser Barristan, who has served on the Kingsguard of many terrible kings, a man of honor always keeps his vows, regardless of who he serves, whether he be drunk or mad. Clearly, Barristan’s code of honor is much different from Jaime’s, but it hasn’t done him much good. He was quickly tossed out of the Kingsguard by Joffrey, who found him a relic of a bygone era. Thanks to the imposition of harsh realities on his idealized world of oaths and chivalry, Barristan may actually get his chance to serve a king (or queen) worth fighting for.

For many decades, the lands of Westeros have been held hostage by inept rulers. It is a wonder that they have been able to keep the peoples’ faith in the institution throughout the crisis of leadership, though tides finally seem to be turning against them. As Lady Olenna says, that’s what elaborate royal weddings are for: giving the masses something to look forward to, lest they start to find reason to riot in the streets. After this week, and after the multitudes of failures among the leaders of Westeros, it appears that we will have many more weddings in our future.

Other thoughts on “Kissed by Fire”:

  • Ser Barristan reminds us of the whole reason why Jorah was banished from Westeros: Jorah, himself, sold people into slavery, which is not likely to be a great way to ingratiate himself to Daenerys and her followers.
  • Another cause for tension between Barristan and Jorah is that Jorah fears that the man might know that he once acted as a spy for Varys on behalf of the Small Council. After all, the only reason why Robert Baratheon knew that Daenerys was alive and with child was due to intel from Jorah. Ned Stark mistrusted Jorah’s information entirely, since, according to Ned, “Once a tratior, always a traitor” (I’m paraphrasing here). Once again, Ned seemed incapable of appreciating multiple perspectives.
  • Lots of butts in this episode, right? At least there were equal-opportunity butts this time. Male butts, female butts. Butts for everyone!
  • In the books, Robb does not decide to head to Casterly Rock and the heart of the Lannister’s homeland. Instead, he decides to head home to retake the North, which is what Talisa suggests.
  • Just as it was nice to see Shireen teaching Davos how to read, it was similarly heartening to see Arya tell Gendry, “I’ll be your family.” It was also great to see what’s called the “Lord’s Kiss” scene (as the book readers call it) between Jon Snow and Ygritte. It’s fun to see these people being kind and/or happy every once and a while!
  • I think I’m the only person who was actually rooting for the Hound against Beric. Love you Arya,  but you’re wrong about the Hound. “There is still good in him.” – Luke Skywalker
  • “She’s a lovely girl. Missing some of Ser Loras’ favorite bits, but I’m sure they’ll make do.” – Tyrion, on Sansa’s planned engagement to Ser Loras
  • Another great, surprisingly emotional scene was a simple one: Arya, after seeing Thoros bring Beric back to life, asks with tears in her eyes, “Could you bring back a man without a head?”
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Game of Thrones, Season 3, Television

Season 3, Episode 4: And Now His Watch is Ended

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Daenerys steals the show in the fourth episode of the third season, redefining the meaning of “girl power” as she takes command of her Unsullied troops and lays waste to the corrupt city of Astapor.

“And Now His Watch is Ended” is a stunning episode in ways we have rarely seen before, thanks to an incredible final scene in Astapor when Daenerys takes command of her new army. It is so rare for a television show or film to surpass my imagination from reading the source material, but this scene managed to do so with flying colors (/dragons). I knew what was going to happen, but was still totally dazzled by the visual execution.

Game of Thrones has always had an epic scope in terms of its story, but rarely has it been able to achieve the same scale in its visuals. This is primarily due to budget constraints, which are also to blame for the lack of war scenes in such battles as the one between the Night’s Watch and the White Walkers, or between the Starks and the Lannisters (in which Jaime is captured). Blissfully, in this episode, writers and creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss spare no cost to illustrate the breadth Daenerys’s power play.

Before we get there, we must first bear witness to a number of characters whose fortunes are not quite so high as Daenerys. After all, the episode’s title is a commonly-used phrase at a funeral of the Night’s Watch (“And Now His Watch is Ended”), which is referenced about halfway through the episode.

After the loss of his hand, Jaime Lannister is convinced that his own watch has ended, which to him is as good as death. The episode opens on his severed hand, which has been fashioned into a crude necklace hung around his neck. He looks weak and dejected, with Brienne looking on him with concern and pity. This once-great man, so arrogant and Lannister-like, inspired loathing among most viewers from the start (remember: in Season 1, Jaime rode up on Ned Stark and his men, proclaimed them to be “such a small pack of wolves,” and had every one of Ned’s men killed, back when everyone was rooting for the Starks).

To watch him not only suffer a fate that is, to him, worse than death, but then to get bullied by lesser men in the meanwhile, is enough to inspire great pity for the heretofore unsympathetic lion. He tries to battle his captors with his left hand and struggles mightily against them, when the old Jaime could have cut every one of them down without even losing his breath. No one knows that more than the Kingslayer himself. In one of the scene’s most heartbreaking moments, when he is knocked into the mud, he reaches for the lost sword with the stump where his right hand had been. His face in that moment is enough to warm even a stubborn and loyal Brienne to his cause.

Later, around a campfire, she gives him a little tough love in order to get him to start living again. She tells him that ordinary people face great hardships, more than he has had to in his entire privileged life, and calls him a coward for not wanting to live to take revenge. Her words seem to go straight to Jaime’s heart. After all, she, too, is suffering, though with courage instead of resignation. Though he had refused to eat, hoping that he might die instead, Brienne’s words prompt him to pick up some food with his one remaining hand, and to live to fight another day.

“Why did you help me?” she asks, knowing what it cost him. He doesn’t answer, probably out of regret for the results of that decision. But, it is also clear that there was a reason– something as close to honor as he has ever shown– and maybe that reason will be something he can draw strength from in the future.

Another theme of this episode, already introduced by Brienne, is the idea or act of revenge. In King’s Landing, Varys shares with Tyrion the story of how he became a eunuch, and how this experience fueled his ambitions. In sum, he abhors magic, having been castrated by a sorcerer. Varys is still a bit of a mystery, even though we now know much about his background and talent for deception, spying, and thievery. Just like his sparse room, his monologues give few additional clues and it is still unclear what his ultimate ambitions are, though in the first season he alludes to a master plan to reestablish the Targaryen dynasty (therefore, presumably, to help put Daenerys on the throne).

Though he prefers to lurk in the shadows, the Spider is not to be discounted in the game of thrones; for, in the center of his room is a box, and in that box is the sorcerer himself, shipped from unknown lands for the long-overdue pleasure of Varys’s revenge. The eunuch compares his influence to that of a weed whose tendrils stretch all the way across the known world. Varys’s power, like the weed, seems to be growing unnoticed beneath the feet of greater men.

For one, it is clear Littlefinger knows nothing of Ros’s friendship with Varys, nor would he be happy should he find out about it. Varys is known for his spies, but one as powerfully placed as Ros must have been a real coup. Perhaps her spying for Varys is her own form of revenge on Littlefinger for when he reprimanded her for crying with a customer in Season 2, Episode 2. In that scene, Littlefinger intimidated her with a terrifyingly calm retelling of when he sold a similarly unhappy prostitute to a sadist: “My losses were definitely mitigated.”

Ros alerts Varys to Littlefinger’s potential plans to bring Sansa Stark with him to the Vale when he goes to marry her aunt, Lysa Arryn. This sets off a chain of events where Varys uses his influence to get the Tyrells to intervene. It is not clear why Lady Olenna and her granddaughter Margaery would want to help Sansa; though they seem to be genuinely kind to her, they also do little without their own interest in mind. Even Margaery’s warm and affectionate charity towards the smallfolk appears carefully calculated within the matrix of power. If the Tyrells are operating under Varys’s suggestion, then perhaps they want to secure Sansa for themselves; should Robb Stark fall, Sansa will hold power in the north. An alliance of marriage between the northern Starks and the southern Tyrells would put the latter in a very fortunate bargaining position over the others at the table. Though earlier in the episode Lady Olenna mocks her house motto, “Growing Strong” appears an apt descriptor of this ambitious lot.

The Tyrell women have sunk their thorns deeper into their fractured Lannister hosts. Margaery has driven a very powerful wedge between King Joffrey and his mother, the Queen Regent. Though Tywin Lannister would think that his daughter has too often relented to Joffrey’s whims, there seems to be nothing Cersei can do to please him anymore. Margaery entices him in a number of ways, but more importantly, she lets him play at being a man and king of his people. Cersei’s major problem is that she only ever wanted for Joffrey to be king so that she could be the de facto ruler of Westeros in his stead. This plan, and the happiness she derived from it, was always contingent upon Joffrey’s youth.

Margaery is forcing Joffrey to grow up quickly, much to his mother’s chagrin. Notice, also, that Margaery throws a knowing glance over to Cersei before she leads Joffrey out to greet “his people”; she knows full well what she is doing. “If you give them your love, they will return it a thousandfold… They adore you.” Clearly, she is playing Joffrey to her full advantage. The people of King’s Landing initially clamor for “Lady Margaery,” but the longer the future king and queen stand there together, the more shouts of “King Joffrey” can be heard throughout. Ego-stroking is Joffrey’s favorite pastime, and Margaery has revealed to him new ways in which he can draw pleasure from the attention of others. What better way to feed your ego than to make everyone love you?

Love of the people, however, is never enough protection in George R. R. Martin’s universe. North of the Wall, a once popular and beloved commander is killed at the hands of his own men. Commander Mormont (Ser Jorah Mormont’s father) foreshadows his own demise at the funeral of a fallen brother, who had starved at Craster’s Keep, by ritually proclaiming, “We shall never see his like again. And now his watch is ended.”

Mormont’s murder is a huge death played small; though the commander is integral to whatever hope the Night’s Watch might have against the White Walkers, his death comes at the hands of a weak-minded, common criminal (and habitual whiner) named Rast, who literally and figuratively stabs him in the back. As in life, you never know when death will befall someone in Martin’s world. Mormont’s death is an act of shortsighted revenge for the starving conditions that are largely outside of his control. This tips off a massive fight between the brothers: those loyal to their fallen Commander and those without honor or care to the mission. The mission of the Night’s Watch is to protect the realm, but their forces are dwindling as quickly as the enemy’s grow. Perhaps it was not such a good idea to man the most important bulkhead in the kingdom mostly with former rapists and murderers. However, people (and governments) are never good at long-term thinking.

Back down south, we finally meet the leader of the Brotherhood Without Banners, Beric Dondarrion. We have actually met Beric before in Season 1, though his role has since been recast (making him all but impossible to recall). In Season 1, Ned Stark orders Beric to take a hundred men and ride out after Gregor Clegane, Sandor (The Hound)’s brother. As the Hand of the King, Ned orders Beric to execute Gregor for treason and murder. The last we heard of Beric, he is rumored to have been killed.

However, now he appears with a band of devoted recruits, all of whom are acting in balance to the warring kings of Westeros. “That’s what we are: ghosts, waiting for you in the dark. You can’t see us, but we see you. No matter whose cloak you wear– Lannister, Stark, Baratheon– you prey on the weak. The Brotherhood of Banners will hunt you down.” They are interested in getting revenge on the lords and their bannermen for their atrocities to the public. They justify this vigilantism by calling it justice in the name of the one true god, the Lord of the Light (Melisandre’s god). Arya, who has spent the past few years motivated by the thought of revenge against the members of her Hit List, watches on resolutely as her charter member, the Hound, is finally brought to justice for the murder of her friend, Mycah.

Like the Brotherhood Without Banners, Daenerys has also taken up as a champion for the weak, though up until now she has been operating on a much smaller scale. For instance, back in Season 1, Daenerys demanded that her adopted Dothraki tribe treat its prisoners better (its female prisoners, in particular). Now, she commands a force of thousands and, perhaps more importantly, three dragons. Using one dragon and her new Unsullied troops, she frees Astapor from bondage, instructing them to kill all of the masters. After all, “A dragon is not a slave.”

This scene is an important one for Dany: though she shows great empathy for the persecuted, she also does not flinch in ordering the use of unparalleled carnage and cruelty in revenge on the men and women who hold power: “Unsullied! Slay the masters, slay the soldiers, slay every man who holds a whip, but harm no child. Strike the chains off every slave you see!” To Daenerys, the ends definitely justify the means.

In a brilliant twist, Daenerys admits to knowing Valyrian all along, which means she heard every one of Master Kraznys’s many insults. In some ways, though she clearly has a desire to free the slaves, she also appears to be motivated by petty revenge on Kraznys for his misogynistic underestimation of her true power.

Now, Daenerys has finally realized a combat strength to match the character strength we have seen all along. The episode ends on her marching her troops out of Astapor towards an unknown destination. Is she headed towards the Seven Kingdoms to secure her throne in Westeros? Or are their other journeys they must take on their way there? No matter what, the scope of that final shot says it all, with thousands of loyal Unsullied troops marching of their own free will under the wings of the dragons: Daenarys has arrived.

Other thoughts on “And Now His Watch is Ended”:

  • It must be fun for the Stark family to film the odd scene together, like Cat and Bran meeting in his dream at the top of a tree. Since the whole cast seems close to one another, it’s almost as sad that the Stark actors never get to film together anymore as it is sad that the actual Stark family is so fragmented.
  • Hats off to Jack Gleeson, who plays Joffrey with such malicious, childish glee. Joffrey struts across the Great Sept of Baelor with a self-conscious swagger, just like a self-absorbed teenager on a real first date.
  • Poor Sansa, sometimes you are so naive. Just as she buys Margaery’s joke about the “porridge plague,” she also believes in her offer of friendship without a second thought. When Margaery declares that she wants them to be “good friends,” Sansa looks like she’s about to cry. “That would make me very happy.” No doubt; this poor girl has suffered from a lot of isolation over the last couple of years. Though some viewers rue to admit it, the abuse she suffers from the Lannisters should not be regarded as a comeuppance for her part in Ned’s downfall. She is still a child and has been wrongfully treated. Therefore, Margaery, who seems capable of true empathy, is surely at least somewhat genuine in her request of friendship. Still, poor Sansa seems to be the only one still fangirling over Loras Tyrell. The wolf is too smitten to realize she is barking up the wrong tree.
  • “He would see this country burn if he could be king of the ashes.” – Varys, on Littlefinger. A knock-out, fantastic quote that goes a long way in characterizing a character in a single sentence.
  • Lady Olenna: “Roses are boring, dear.” They have been anything but in this season! “A golden rose growing strong? That strikes fear in the heart of no one.” Perhaps that explains why the Tyrells have been so effective at planting deep roots in King’s Landing.
  • “What happens when the non-existent bumps against the decrepit? Question for the philosophers.” – Lady Olenna preemptively wins this season’s award for dirtiest wit (sorry, Tyrion).
  • We get another allusion to Podrick’s sexual prowess. Yet again, we have annoyingly few details. I remain skeptical.
  • Theon’s sequence is still (intentionally) confusing. Though his savior claims to be from the Saltcliffe, which is one of the Iron Islands (where Theon is originally from), he only leads Theon right back to the torture chamber. At least we got a great admission from the Greyjoy: he confesses that his “real father,” Ned, died in King’s Landing, and his decision to rebel against the Starks was the wrong choice. Unfortunately, it appears that he is paying more than the iron price for his bad decisions.
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Game of Thrones, Season 3, Television

Season 3, Episode 3: Walk of Punishment

When Daenerys brings Missandei into her entourage, but warns her of the dangers she might face, Missandei reassures her new master that “Valar Morghulis” (“All men must die”). Much to her surprise, Daenerys is able to translate her words (could she all along?), and adds a brilliant twist: “All men must die… but we are not men.”

“Walk of Punishment,” written by showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, and directed by Benioff, was a fantastic display of the show’s best features. Game of Thrones  has always been dark and twisted; however, luckily, there is also plenty of gallows humor throughout. This episode was a great showcase of both.

The title takes its name from a path Daenerys and her team follow in Astapor, where insubordinate slaves are left mutilated and dying. This episode was a walk of punishment for many of the characters, though none so much as the great Kingslayer. At least, unlike the road in the series, Benioff and Weiss allow us a touch of black comedy as we journey through, perhaps to make the suffering a little less disturbing. As Catelyn Stark says, at times “a person could almost be forgiven for forgetting we’re at war.”

The episode set the foundations of its dark humor right from the start with a comedic and then tragic display of impotence on Edmure Tully’s part. Unable to light the funeral pyre of his own father’s ship as it sailed down river, Edmure (Catelyn’s brother) is pushed aside by the much-larger Blackfish, his uncle, who manages to light the fire on the first shot.

Apparently, the Tully’s incompetence extends beyond the display along the river. Robb Stark confronts his uncle Edmure over the Tully’s rash campaigns for glory in the Riverlands. Instead of being patient and aiding the Stark cause, Edmure has won land that is all but worthless and has captured two distant Lannister relatives in the process, when much sweeter prizes (like Tywin Lannister himself) were at stake. We learn from Robb that the initial plan was for the Lannisters to be drawn out west, farther away from King’s Landing. Edmure’s campaign for glory pinned the Lannister forces down in an area close enough to King’s Landing, thus ensuring that Tywin and his troops could easily counter a  Baratheon siege of the capital, which is exactly what happened. Now, the Lannisters have entered into an alliance with the Tyrells through Margaery’s upcoming marriage to Joffrey, which leaves the northerners with too few resources compared to their southern foes– and winter is coming, after all.

We know this better than most, thanks to Jon Snow and his mission to the north of the Wall. Jon is still a spy trying to blend in with the wildlings, but it is hard for him to hide his unease when they come upon a strange, satanic-like formation of severed horse parts. This is where the fighting occurred between the White Walkers and the Night’s Watch. This battle happened entirely off-screen for us between this season and the last (with only a few sword-clashing sound effects played to open episode 3.1). The human remains are nowhere to be found; as Mance suggests, they have likely been reanimated as the White Walkers’ soldiers (a.k.a. “wights”– imagine them as the more zombie-like figures in last season’s final scene).

Those who survived this battle at the Fist of the First Men have now made it back to Craster’s Keep. There, the old man who makes his daughters into wives seems especially unhappy to have the Night’s Watch as guests. He insults Samwell Tarly’s weight, causing the young man to flee outside. There, he witnesses Gilly giving birth to a baby boy. The horror on all of their faces reminds us how Craster has managed to stay alive, untouched, in the midst of the White Walkers: the boy will soon be sacrificed to their army.

This darkness is again balanced by several deftly-crafted scenes in King’s Landing. Two scenes in particular stand out in contrast to the doom and gloom of the rest of the episode. While, in my opinion, one was less necessary than the other (the lesser involving Tyrion’s squire, Pod, and an improbably successful encounter in a brothel), both were a refreshing counterbalance to the gruesome nature of the multiple attempted rapes and missing limbs (both man and beast).

The best of these scenes was the first meeting of the Small Council under Tywin Lannister. This man, who has been the de facto ruler of the kingdom off and on for decades, sits in an enormously powerful position: both literally and figuratively. This is no Round Table of King Arthur’s court; Tywin’s new table clearly delineates different seats of power. When the rest of the council arrives, they move for their seats in very telling ways. Without a bit of dialogue, Benioff and Weiss are able to say a lot about each character at the table.

For example, Littlefinger– the most outwardly ambitious of the lot– makes the first move and all but pushes Varys out of the way en route to the seat at Tywin’s left hand. There, Tywin discusses the next step in Littlefinger’s bid for power, which will take him out of King’s Landing and into the highly-coveted Vale. He already has Harrenhal, though only by name, since Roose Bolton’s troops have taken over there. Tywin assures him that this title is enough to get him the hand of Lysa Arryn (née Tully, of breastfeeding fame), who is holed up in the impregnable mountain-fortress at the Vale and currently unaligned in the War of the Five Kings.

Varys, meanwhile, is content to leave a little distance between himself and the seat of power. His willingness to let Littlefinger push his way to the front of the line is emblematic of his patience and pragmatism, as well as his willingness to work behind the scenes. Maester Pycelle, just happy to be alive and in any position of power, takes the open seat without complaint.

The Lannister siblings, however, both need to make a big show of breaking the rules. Cersei starts it off by dragging a chair across to the other side of the table, taking up to the right of her father and directly across from Littlefinger. Her triumphant stare might be reminding him of their famous exchange from last season: “Power is power.”

Tyrion, ever the rebel, loudly (and hilariously) drags the giant chair across the length of the table so that he is seated at the other end. Tyrion takes the head of the table to go toe-to-toe with his father, while at the same time maintaining a healthy amount of distance from him.

While everyone is still jockeying for power in Westeros, Daenerys purchases the complete army of Unsullied from Astapor by promising Kraznys mo Nakloz her largest dragon (will the dragon go to its new master as willingly as the Unsullied warriors will go to theirs?). These eunuch warriors are programmed to follow the orders of their owners, which makes Dany’s new advisor, Ser Barristan, uneasy. He does not like that the soldiers have no choice in following her into battle, and questions the honor of it all. Jorah Mormont, her longtime companion, believes that these fighters will not wreak havoc on the innocent, unlike the typical male soldier; he understands better than Ser Barristan Daenerys’s belief in her divine mission to protect the helpless, and knows this to be a selling point.

More than anything, Jorah knows that Ser Barristan is wrong to argue for honor above all else. In the world of Game of Thrones, honor is not rewarded. When the old knight tries to convince Dany that her brother, Rhaegar, was followed into battle “because they believed in him and because they loved him,” not because they were ordered to, Jorah stuns everyone with the brilliant retort: “Rhaegar fought valiantly, Rhaegar fought nobly, and Rhaegar died.” (This quote is a personal favorite of book readers and is kept here almost entirely intact.)

In the world of Game of Thrones, honor is not only unfavorable; it is often punished. Just take Ned Stark, for instance. Was there ever a more noble figurehead to grace the kingdoms of Westeros? He paid for that honor with his head. By now, Ned’s political machinations seem infantile and naive in comparison to the work of the artful power-players we have seen since.

To this point in his life, Jaime has managed to play the game as well as any Lannister. His every move has been calculated not with his honor (or lack thereof) in mind, but instead on the value of self-preservation. To Jaime, there is no such thing as an honorable death. He could care less what people think of him, so why should he care about their opinion when he’s no longer around? Why not try to live by any means necessary? It’s this line of thinking that has prompted him to push an innocent child out of a window, seemingly without remorse, simply to protect the secret of his incestuous love affair. He’s not necessarily cruel-hearted, nor does he enjoy the pain of children outright (like some characters on this show might), but he’ll stop at nothing to protect himself and his family.

Therefore, it is surprising when Jaime breaks character over Brienne of Tarth and her impending rape at the hands of the Bolton bannermen. Brienne, a woman who embodies the code of chivalry and manages to beat him at swords, has earned something like his respect– a feat we had yet to see before this moment. This inspires him to attempt to save her dignity, as she may just be the one person with anything like it left in all of Westeros.

To do this, he plays a rich man’s game with the leader of their captors, a man named Locke (who is similar to Vargo Hoat, or “the Goat,” from the books). He promises him a hearty ransom not only from his own father, but from Brienne’s, claiming that the “Isle of Sapphires,” home of House Tarth, is thus named for its wealth in jewels. He plays this exchange with the same cocky bravado as his younger brother, which is successful in saving Brienne. Jaime has never seemed more alike and unlike a Lannister as in this scene.

But, of course, this is Westeros and no noble deed goes unpunished. Ned Stark lost a head, and Jaime lost a sword hand. The episode ends abruptly on a haunting sound: Jaime Lannister, so cocksure and undaunted by life’s misfortunes, shouting in bewildered agony as he raises a stump where his right hand used to be.

Other thoughts on “Walk of Punishment”:

  • The credits cut in suddenly, along with a jarring, indie rendition of “The Bear and the Maiden Fair,” the song that Locke’s men were singing earlier. While I hated it at first, I enjoy it the more I think about it, because the music only highlighted the shock of the ending.  I’m also starting to enjoy the song on its own merits, and am not ruling out the possibility of starting a rousing rendition of this next time I’m hanging out with my shamelessly nerdy friends.
  • I love that the Tully armor looks like scales (see: Edmure and The Blackfish), given that their house sigil is a fish.
  • We see Stannis briefly in this episode, and he spends most of the time begging Melisandre not to leave him. We don’t know much about what she is doing or where she is headed, but she mentions something about others with Baratheon blood. Just in case you’ve forgotten the “Black of Hair: Ned Stark, Private Eye” special from Season 1, this is likely in reference to Gendry, Arya’s blacksmith companion who was found by Ned to be the only true son of Robert Baratheon (the rest are, of course, Jaime’s golden-haired children).
  • It’s not clear who this boy is that keeps saving Theon just in the nick of time, but clues are there to the super-discerning viewer. Have fun speculating over what it means (if anything)  that he says “Winter is coming,” or the reaction from Theon’s torturer just before the savior shoots him through the head. Is he sent from Theon’s sister, as he claims? Or the Starks? Or someone else entirely?
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Game of Thrones, Season 3, Television

Season 3, Episode 2: Dark Wings, Dark Words

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Margaery and Joffrey get cozy over the crossbow in the second episode of the third season titled, “Dark Wings, Dark Words.”

“Dark Wings, Dark Words,” the second episode of Game of Thrones’ third season, is largely about the delivery of news between characters, making it a rather slow set-up piece for the remainder of the season. Catelyn and Robb learn about the disappearance of Bran and Rickon, Sansa shares with Margaery some of Joffrey’s cruelty, and the Hound, newly captured in the Riverlands, tells the Brotherhood that they are holding a Lady of Westeros, previously unbeknownst to them.

“Dark wings, dark words” is itself a common phrase in Westeros, used to represent the black messenger ravens and the bad tidings they tend to bring. It is a cynical phrase and, therefore, an apt title for this chapter, if not the series as a whole.

cyn·i·cal  /ˈsinikəl/

  • Believing that people are motivated by self-interest; distrustful of human sincerity or integrity.
  • Doubtful as to whether something will happen or is worthwhile.


The raven makes an early appearance in the opening scene of Bran’s prophetic dream. The three-eyed raven is the same bird seen leading Bran into the Stark family crypts during Season 1. At the time, the bird heralded his father’s death. This time, Bran tries to shoot it, but is told by a young boy (Thomas Brodie-Sangster of Love, Actually) that he cannot kill the bird because he is the bird.

This would seem a lot more confusing if not for Jon Snow and his crew beyond the wall, who provide a helpful background for this mystical phenomenon by visiting Orell, a wildling who is also a “warg.” Wargs, we learn with “Know-Nothing” Jon Snow, are people who are able to enter the minds of animals and control them with their own.

While Orell scouts with an eagle, Bran and the newcomer Jojen Reed (the boy from the dream who shows up again in real life with his sister, Meera) definitely have some kind of power over the direwolves, which helps to explain the wolf-life dreams Bran was having in earlier seasons. The three-eyed raven is slightly different. As Jojen explains, the raven is a symbol of Bran’s power of “Sight,” which is the ability to see events past, present, and future.

Osha is distrustful of the two Reeds, especially since Meera was the one wielding the knife as the siblings came upon the party. The wildling woman seems willfully ignorant to the fact that she is living in contradiction to her words: “Isn’t he ashamed, your brother, needing you to protect him?” Meera swiftly points out Osha’s hypocrisy, replying with some of the best lines of the episode. “Some people will always need help,” she says. “That doesn’t mean they’re not worth helping.” The scene ends on a shot of Bran being pulled by cart, his weakened physical abilities belying his newfound power.

Meanwhile, dark wings have brought bad tidings to the Stark camp. Catelyn learns that not only has her long-suffering father succumbed to illness, but the Boltons (of the flayed man sigil) are reporting that Winterfell has been burned in the wake of fleeing Greyjoys (Theon’s clan). There is no sign of her sons Bran or Rickon, nor her family’s former hostage, Theon. Without word of a hostage negotiation or demand for money, as would be customary with surviving noblemen and their families, this news is almost as good as a death certificate for Catelyn’s youngest sons. While she still holds onto hope through prayer, her maternal distress is great enough for her to confess a massive, Catholic-like guilt to her daughter-in-law, Queen Talisa: in no uncertain terms, she assumes full responsibility for the sorrow of the Stark family.

Also in the Riverlands, Arya, Hot Pie, and Gendry run into a few scouts from the Brotherhood Without Banners. At first, they are distrusting of this band of outlaws whose intentions are not immediately clear. Last season, Tywin and the other Lannister bannermen at Harrenhal were interrogating and torturing potential collaborators in order to get information on the Brotherhood, who was operating a guerrilla campaign against them. Finally, thanks to the scouts’ leader, Thoros of Myr, we learn that “The Lords of Westeros want to burn the countryside,” so the Brotherhood is acting to support the commoners and small-folk (as Cersei would call them, affectionately). They seem kindly enough, and are about to let Arya and her crew go until a new captor is brought in and revealed to be Sandor Clegane, otherwise known as the Hound and key member on Arya’s hit list. The scarred and disgraced knight, unseen since fleeing Sansa’s room during the Battle of the Blackwater, immediately identifies Arya as a Stark. Though it is yet unclear how the Brotherhood will react to this news, a Lady of Westeros is hardly an enviable position among their company.

Also working their way down through the Riverlands, Brienne of Tarth and Jaime Lannister get into both verbal and physical duels. First, they quibble about whether or not Brienne loved Renly Baratheon, her former king (she clearly did– at least in the chivalrous way, which is a lovely twist on traditional gender roles). In the end, Jaime actually relents with some kindness, admitting, “We don’t get to choose who we love.”

These characters’ on-screen chemistry is one of the show’s actual delights, and is only strengthened when Brienne is able to defeat Jaime in a duel he was so confident that he would win. Despite being manacled, it is important to remember that Jaime is (or at least was) the best knight in the realm. Brienne winning, without hardly looking at him in the end, has an effect on Jaime. Unfortunately, we hardly have time to savor this moment before the Bolton’s flayed-man bannermen ride upon them. This is already the third indication of the new reach of the Bolton men. The first was Roose Bolton’s delivery of the dark words about Bran and Rickon at Winterfell. The second, though subtle, could be the similarities of the cross of the flayed man sigil and the cross on which Theon is bound and tortured.

Finally, King’s Landing provides a couple of the most interesting scenes yet in the third season. The first is a fantastic scene in which we are introduced to Margaery Tyrell’s grandmother, Lady Olenna. Old women telling young people what to do with a bit of sass and cunning is apparently all the rage these days (just ask the Dowager Countess from Downton Abbey). She, along with Margaery, push and prod Sansa into telling them about King Joffrey and how he has treated her.

Sophie Turner does a great job in this scene showing Sansa’s inner conflict between her desire to have someone listen to her, after all the trauma she has suffered, and the knowledge that there are few in King’s Landing who wouldn’t trade on word of her betrayal. Even by Game of Thrones standards, Sansa has suffered a lot, though she seems to gain little relief by finally admitting that Joffrey is “a monster.” While she is certainly hoping that the Tyrells are sincere in their support, Sansa has learned to develop a healthy cynicism of the world around her; she knows all too well the cost of this betrayal if Margaery or Lady Olenna were to go to the Lannisters.

So far, it is still a little unclear what the Tyrells will do with this knowledge, though Cersei, of all people, provides some helpful insight on their motives. Naturally, Joffrey dismisses his mother’s warnings that Margaery’s every move is calculated self-interest. Later, even after learning the news of Joffrey’s cruelty from Sansa, Margaery visits him in his room. There, she uses her new knowledge to play him like the bow string she strokes so suggestively. She insinuates herself into his violent desires by posing with his new crossbow and saying, “I imagine it must be so exciting to squeeze your finger here and watch something die over there.” When Joffrey, barely able to get the words out, asks if she thinks she could kill, Margaery avoids the question but plays it to her advantage, asking instead if he would like to watch. Hook, line, and sinker.

After all, there are few sincere relationships in this series, or few that are not at least partially motivated by self-interest. As Tyrion says, “I try to know as many people as I can. Never know which one you’ll need.”

Other thoughts on “Dark Wings, Dark Words”:

  • Several of you have pointed out how slow the show has seemed over the last two episodes. I agree, but with reservations; knowing the book as I do, I know what is to come and what these events are setting us up for. That being said, I fully acknowledge that these two episodes have been anything but action-packed (though, the Brienne/Jaime sword fight was definitely the exception).
  • A potential solution to this problem might be a 2-hour premiere that launches all of the storylines at once. After all, we saw nothing of Daenerys or Stannis in “Dark Wings, Dark Words.” Similarly, we saw nothing of fan-favorites Arya and Brienne in the first. A double episode would initiate all of these storylines and combine the more plodding season starters into one night.
  • If you caught the hint from Arya about wanting to find her grandfather at Riverrun, the young girl and her two companions are not too far from her mother’s camp in the Riverlands.
  • Catelyn assumes responsibility for all of the Starks’ woes in part because she did not love Jon Snow enough, as she promised the gods she would when he was suffering from a pox. Though this scene was controversial for many (Jace Lacob calls it “character assassination”), I was not as bothered by it. Catelyn’s 17-year hatred of Jon Snow never seemed realistic to me for so devoted a mother and so harmless a son. At least in the television show, Catelyn shed some light on a time when her heart was rightfully softened to the innocent child, and then owned up to her shockingly persistent weakness as a mother towards him. Lady Stark does her fair share of hand-wringing in the novels; this monologue cut right to the chase. I didn’t find any of it entirely out of character, though I still don’t find it realistic that she could hate him for so much under the circumstances.
  • I have a theory about Shae. Since they have strayed pretty far off-course with this character (in the best way possible, in my opinion), I’m curious about how they might still stay faithful to the source material. In some ways, they have to. Major book spoilers ahead. Please do not read unless you have finished book three, A Storm of Swords. To uncover, use your mouse to highlight the following space: So far, the show has positioned Shae and Tyrion’s relationship in such a way that it would be very hard to imagine her ending up in Tywin’s bed by the end of the season. Though they could always argue that Shae, like Ros and others in her line of work, was putting on an act for the job, this would be a weak amendment to some of the series’ best scenes. I really like the way Shae has been developed in the television series compared to the books, and I like that her relationship with Tyrion seems the closest thing to love that we have on this show. How, then, could they still get her to spur Tyrion’s ultimate betrayal? I’m guessing it will have something to do with Tyrion’s eventual marriage to Sansa Stark. The scene in this episode, while a delight, seemed to be rather intent on bringing up the potential jealousy in Shae. It may seem like she’s joking now, but will she be so lighthearted when Tyrion is forced to marry and, presumably, consummate with the beautiful young Sansa?
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Game of Thrones, Season 3, Television

Season 3, Episode 1: Valar Dohaeris

In “Valar Dohaeris,” we look ahead to another season of lies, betrayal, mutilation, and misery among the crowd in Westeros and Slaver’s Bay.

It’s back. Game of Thrones has returned for its third season with the show’s highest ratings yet. In a wink to fans of the book series, the episode was titled with the popular Braavosi saying “Valar Dohaeris.” This phrase may sound familiar, as it is the customary response to the one used for the title of last season’s finale, “Valar Morghulis.” This felt right, since the first episode did more to reply to the events from last season than it did to break new ground.

“Valar Dohaeris” is High Valyrian for “all men must serve.” It is hard to find a man or woman in Westeros who does not serve someone else. Try as he might, even King Joffery is not fully his own master, but is acting in service to his mother, his grandfather, or the Lannister red and gold.

Beyond the Wall, Jon Snow’s new mission is initiated in service to his brothers in black and the safety of the realm. Last season, Jon was instructed to kill the ranger Qhorin Halfhand in order to convince his wildling captors of his supposed defection. This way, he could infiltrate the wildling camps. After killing Qhorin in a duel, he is brought to the camp by Ygritte, the snarky wildling ginger who loves nothing more than to troll Jon every chance she gets. There, Jon meets his newest master, Mance Rayder (also known as the King Beyond the Wall). Mance, a former brother of the Night’s Watch, is easily persuaded by Jon Snow’s ruse of defection.

Back in King’s Landing, Tyrion Lannister is suffering from mental and physical scars after the Battle of Blackwater Bay, which left him with a nasty cut across the face and a sinking suspicion of his own dear sister. In another clever nod to book readers, Cersei remarks that she had heard Tyrion had lost a nose in the battle, which is what actually happened in the novel. Given the amount of makeup that this type of wound would require for Peter Dinklage, this detail was wisely left out.

The Lannisters in King’s Landing all act in service to either themselves or their family name. In some of the best scenes of the episode, the various family members interact with their typical, cutting remarks. In one scene, Tywin Lannister makes it all too clear that Tyrion should not expect to inherit the family’s fortunes. In another, Cersei and Tyrion initiate a verbal duel that just barely avoids the major elephant in the room (Cersei likely orchestrated the Kingsguard’s attack on Tyrion during the battle), while both of their personal guards are preparing to draw actual swords outside the door.

With Margaery Tyrell, we see her serving the people in a way that few have done before. It is clear that this season’s power index is going to include more Tyrells. Last season, Margaery made it very clear that, in no uncertain terms, she wanted to become queen. Like a medieval Princess Diana, Margaery goes to visit the poor orphans of the men and women who perished in the recent battle. She is not afraid to hold them, give them toys and food, and promise to come back with more. This kind of compassionate leadership in Westeros is hitherto unseen. Joffrey is just as surprised as we are to see this scene on the wretched streets of Flea Bottom, staring in awe from his heavily-fortified litter.

We do not yet know Margaery well, but it is clear that, unlike Cersei, she inspires others to serve her by making them love her, rather than fear her. This pair is already poised for an All About Eve-like rivalry, with the aging queen opposing the young upstart ready to overtake her. After what we’ve seen in the first episode, I am most excited for the development of this relationship.

Two of the television show’s inventions, Ros and Shae, have a great scene together on the docks of King’s Landing. Though Shae is in the books, her role is very different from what she has become on the show—namely, in her assignment as handmaid to Sansa and their subsequent relationship. While I, like all fans of the books, was skeptical of these two, they have already grown far beyond plot devices. Along with the potential feud between Cersei and Margaery, I am most excited to see how these two women add to the story throughout the season.

Shae is a fantastic companion to Sansa. As Sansa’s self-declared protector, she highlights the precariousness of Sansa’s position at King’s Landing. Shae has served Sansa beyond what is called for from a handmaiden, and in return, Sansa has opened up to Shae in a way she has been unable to with anyone remaining in King’s Landing.

Ros, meanwhile, has insinuated herself into one of the biggest power circles of Westeros. She has come a long way from Theon’s bed to Petyr Baelish’s entourage. On the docks, she asks Shae to look out for Sansa, especially in regards to Littlefinger. Given his penchant for her mother, this is a potentially sleazy foreshadowing. It is interesting that Shae and Ros, both prostitutes, spend the scene contemplating the cruelties that could be done to a girl of noble blood; they know that nobility is insufficient armor to the evils that women face in their world. One of the greatest strengths of the Game of Thrones series has always been its strong female characters, all of whom emerge from within an extremely violent and patriarchal world. Ros and Shae, as they are in the television series, have become two of the greatest examples of this.

Times are (still) hard for the Starks. Robb and his forces arrive in Harrenhal, clearly too late to stop the Lannister forces from massacring everyone within. This appears to be a new battle strategy for the lions, who have come to realize that facing Robb is far too costly; the young wolf doesn’t lose. Robb bemoans the fact that “the Lannisters have been running from us since Oxcross” (which occurred in the fourth episode of Season 2, when Robb met his wife Talisa). Since then, instead of facing Robb, the Lannisters have been executing a Fabian strategy (a Roman tactic favoring attrition over frontal assaults). Though Robb was hoping to meet Tywin and his forces at Harrenhal, he arrives after the Lannisters have left to bolster the forces at King’s Landing. All that is left are the bodies of two hundred of Stark bannermen.

Davos Seaworth is somehow still alive and manages to hail a ship loyal to Stannis Baratheon, despite losing his lucky pouch of fingertips in the Battle of Blackwater. His luck soon runs up when he arrives at Dragonstone and, ever loyal in his service to the would-be Baratheon king, decides to confront Stannis about his misguided faith in the Red Priestess, Melisandre. Inevitably, he is sent to the dungeons after Melisandre provokes him by invoking the memory of his son, who died at Blackwater last season.

Meanwhile, far across the sea, Daenerys Targaryen’s ships land at the city of Astapor in Slaver’s Bay. There, she inspects a force of men called the Unsullied. These eunuch warriors are trained to serve without hesitation or fear. As a ruthless band of mercenary drones, they serve only the highest bidder. As Ser Jorah Mormont tries to convince Dany to purchase the troops, she starts to play ball with a poor young girl in the streets. Unbeknownst to her, a cloaked figure resembling Obi-Wan Kenobi trails behind her in this moment and draws a knife. Out of the ball appears a manticore: an extremely poisonous, scorpion-like insect from Essos. This is a message from Qarth, the land of Pyat Pree and Xaro Xhoan Daxos—the two men who sharpened Dany’s teeth (and lit the dragon’s fire) at the end of last season. The hooded figure saves her by killing the manticore with his drawn blade.

The big reveal at the end of the episode is the man under the hood: Ser Barristan Selmy, the former Lord Commander of Robert Baratheon’s Kingsguard, who was dismissed by Joffrey in order to bring Jaime Lannister up into command. He kneels and offers his service to Dany to make up for the loyalty he lacked for her family during Robert’s Rebellion. This was not the most climactic choice they could have made to wrap up the first chapter of the third season, but it is an important event nonetheless. Finally, Dany has everything she needs to begin acting on her dream of taking back her kingdom. Finally, the scenes beyond the sea will show more than Dany simply reacting to events that unfold around her, as she has in much of the series up until now.

Overall, this was a very strong start to the season. Though the theme was not as coherent as it has shown to be in the past, and though some of the fans’ favorite characters were left out entirely (Brienne, Arya, Jaime), the episode foretells an entertaining season. This season and the next will be covering my favorite book in the series. I am thrilled to see how the showrunners adapt the story to their medium; I, unlike many other fans of the original material, don’t mind the vast majority of the edits. Knowing what is on the horizon, I can promise you that we are in for an exciting and fantastical adventure– which is great, “Because the truth is either terrible or boring.”

Other thoughts on “Valar Dohaeris”:

  • Tywin is awfully condescending to Tyrion about not wanting to be rewarded for his victories on the battlefield for a man who had himself heralded as the “Savior of the City” following the Battle of the Blackwater.
  • Remember the maester, Qyburn, who is the sole survivor at Harrenhal and whose wounds are tended to by Robb’s wife, Talisa.
  • Sansa’s reaction to hearing that her sister Arya is alive was intentionally muted, given her distrust of everyone around her (save Shae). However, I couldn’t help but be touched by it. As someone with three sisters, I understand Arya and Sansa’s relationship all too well. We can only hope that the two will be reunited someday.
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