“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.