There’s a moment in the episode when Brynden Tully, better known as the Blackfish, says to his niece Catelyn, “Even in war’s darkest days, in most places in the world, absolutely nothing is happening.”
How blissful those places must be, I thought. I generally think Game of Thrones has done a really excellent job creating a new world out of George R.R. Martin’s source material. It’s impeccably cast. It’s beautifully shot. But it doesn’t always find compelling ways to weave together its disparate story lines so that they feel unified, either in plot or in theme. Last night’s episode suffered from a bad case of the Game of Thrones Shuffle: too much scuttling, too little air.
There’s a great moment in “Walk of Punishment” between Stannis and Melisandre. It’s very short — just a brief exchange on the shore as Melisandre heads off on a mysterious mission she won’t tell her king about. But in about two minutes, Stephen Dillane manages to convey so much about where Stannis is right now — ragged, angry, hopped up with lust and abandonment issues, sharpened to a crazed point. It reminded me that this cast is so crazy good, I wish they all had more room to play, to deepen their characters. Or that certain scenes had more time to spin out — like the eerie exchange between Talisa and Robb’s new young captives. Wouldn’t it be amazing if Robb really was a werewolf?
As a more serious thought experiment: Would it be possible for Game of Thrones to follow, say, three or four locations in an episode (as opposed to the ten I counted last night), and still have the whole plot move forward in an organic and meaningful way? That would more closely capture the kind of leisurely crosscutting the novels engage in. Not that I think fidelity to the books is the key sign of a good adaptation — it’s just another strategy to consider. Every episode can’t be “Blackwater,” i.e., Game of Thrones’ version of Girls’ Patrick Wilson episode. But wouldn’t you watch a version of this show that was a little less schizophrenic? I would.
Onto the recap proper.
Last night, Tyrion became the Master of Coin — a fitting turn in an episode whose main motif, if we can elicit one, was the buying, selling, and appraising of people.
Dany is in Astapor, negotiating the purchase of 8,000 Unsullied, a bunch of baby soldiers, and a new girl sidekick. Hot Pie and his baking skills got left behind at the inn, as “payment” for feeding the Brotherhood without Banners. And poor Edmure Tully (a.k.a Season Three Theon) gets reamed by both his liege and his uncle for trading the Mountain’s head on a spike for a couple of cheap teenage Lannisters and a mill.
Elsewhere in Westeros, another Lannister captive is tallying his worth. Jaime, in a mix of bitterness and concern, tells Brienne that she will be raped by the Bolton men at the first opportunity, and that they will kill her if she fights back. “I’m the prisoner of value, not you,” he tells her. She’s worth nothing to them — except as a piece of luxury conquest. “None of these fellows have ever been with a noblewoman,” he points out.
Jaime has spent a lot of their road trip snarking on Brienne’s femininity, or lack thereof. But last night — as in season two’s closer, when they find the hanging bodies of women killed for sleeping with Lannisters, and Brienne furiously cuts them down — we see how the warrior woman’s gender is as inescapable a fact in this world as Jaime’s lineage is for him. Brienne is a singular creature, but she’s as deeply woven into the same social and value systems as any other character in Westeros. Her disembodied screams as the men carry her away echo pathetic Gilly’s screams in childbirth — and while Jaime tries to convince Locke that Brienne’s father would give “her weight in sapphires” to ransom his daughter, Craster is comparing his daughter-wife to the pig he laughingly declared to be “of more value to him” than the bedraggled rangers he’s hosting. (“Gave birth to a litter of eight, barely a grunt.”)
Of course, a man’s gender in this world can be just as dangerous a liability: Gilly is naturally terrified at seeing she has birthed a baby boy, one who’s bound to suffer the same fate as Craster’s last son — i.e., becoming a White Walker Lunchable. And rape is not a fate reserved for women in Westeros: The ever-more-degraded Theon is proof of that. (Do you think he’s only in this episode to make that point? I loved Theon’s arc last season, but I’m waiting for his story line in this one to bear some fruit. In any other show, a gruesome torture, a daring escape, and a mysterious savior would have been A-plot material; here, it’s an annoying distraction.)
For Missandei, Kraznys mo Nakloz’s courtly translator, her gender seems to have worked in her favor: Dany, curiously, seems in the mood for a bit of womanly bonding. Maybe she’s over that whole handmaiden-betraying-her-to-the-warlocks thing and she misses the girl talk. Maybe she’s tired of being condescended to by her grizzled male advisers. Maybe all those women and girls peering over the wall to watch her negotiations were sending her silent eye-signals. Maybe that amazingly massive harpy statue hypnotized her. Who knows. I’m sure she realizes that Missandei was doing some pretty slick negotiating of her own up there, but the bit where Dany quips, “All men must die, but we are not men” felt a little bit too Hollywood-blockbuster-tagline for this woman, who’s been burned by sisterly feelings before. (Side note: nice cutaway to Ros’s breasts, GoT editors!)
I’m similarly not sure what to make of the fact that Podrick is such an amazing loverman that three veteran prostitutes just fling his coins back at him in their crazed paroxysms of joy. It also felt like a gag out of a different movie. And it took SO LONG to set up. And Podrick isn’t even important yet! It felt like a dig at those of us who are just waiting for the frantically flapping plot to settle down somewhere — anywhere — for a little while.
You know what else is frantically flapping? Jaime’s hand! Well, guy, better your hand than Brienne’s teeth. Cue True Blood–ish outro song. (It was The Hold Steady, in case you were wondering.)
The wildings are on the move, people. There’s a crop circle made of horse heads back out there Beyond the Wall. I have to cash a check at the Iron Bank of Braavos, and then I gotta go see about a guy about a bear.
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