“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.
- 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?