Weddings, for all their joy and spangle, have a way of bringing out the worst in people.
Someone’s uncle is always getting way too drunk, bumping into furniture, and talking too loudly. Some young dude is going to be a peacocking dick, trotting out his crudest sex jokes and generally mocking the solemnity of the proceedings. And soon-to-be in-laws will be trying to make nice, offering pleasantries about dress choices and telling funny old stories about that one time when your dad got sooo mad about this other family trying to one-up yours in the Social Register that he slaughtered every man, woman, and child in the house and stuck their bodies up on spikes to rot all summer while everyone watched.
The arc of season three has been bending ever wedding-ward, like a particularly grisly Shakespearean comedy. Soon, like Arya, we will arrive at the Twins, where her uncle Edmure Tully will wed one of the Frey girls. And in last night’s tightly constructed episode — written by showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff and directed, like last week’s, by Michelle MacLaren — we witnessed the nuptials of Tyrion, lord of tits and wine, and Sansa, 14-year-old.
Sitting sidesaddle before the Hound, his bulk — and his words — both protective and threatening, Arya allows herself the tiniest smile as she contemplates being finally reunited with her family at the Twins. Tentative smiles were a motif in “Second Sons,” from Davos’s grin at managing to wrestle his way through a picture book to Gendry’s look of happy disbelief at the sight of sexy Melisandre drinking wine. They seemed to signal, I think, that even in moments of high pomp and public pageantry, there are smaller, more subtle currents flowing between these players, knitting them together in ways that aren’t always apparent in the din and ruckus of wars and weddings.
When Tyrion comes to Sansa’s chambers before the ceremony, in the first King’s Landing scene, he generally bungles his attempts at empathy, telling her that she doesn’t have to speak to him “as a prisoner” anymore and claiming that he knows how she feels. (“I doubt that very much, my lord,” she responds. Good for her, I wrote in my notes.) And yet, when Tyrion finally manages to say the one thing that matters — I promise I won’t ever hurt you — and then charms her by getting her some wine, a genuine smile breaks across her face. Cinematographer Chris Seager neatly underlines this growing bond. As Tyrion and Sansa speak, each is shot from the point of view of the other. At first, you can feel how their height differences mirror their emotional distance — Sansa seems to loom over her husband-to-be, whose humiliation at being forced into this match is amplified by the fact that the camera is literally looking down at him. The shots snip back and forth between the two perspectives. But when Tyrion takes Sansa’s hand and makes her that crucial promise, the camera slowly pans up from his hand to her face, connecting the two of them with something like affection.
Later, the camera will pan over Sansa’s body in an even more extended way, as she prepares to fulfill her wifely contract. (What’s that Stannis said to Davos, about not being able to choose our destinies, but needing to do our duties anyway?) But decent, drunken Tyrion, watching his beautiful bride from behind a lattice, has a Daario Naharis–ish crisis of conscience and can’t bring himself to fuck a girl who doesn’t want to be fucked. Another attempt at a tender moment is botched when he promises not to share Sansa’s bed until she wants him to — and she responds, entirely reasonably, “What if I never want you to?” As Tyrion collapses sadly on a couch, the camera takes in the whole expanse of the chamber, with Sansa at the far end, alone once more. Tyrion’s one consolation is the silent smile that cracks Shae’s huffiness the next morning, when she realizes that the sheets on the wedding bed are clean. He gives her a wry one in return — a small moment of something like love.
The wedding itself was a ton of fun to watch — especially, as is often true of weddings IRL, when people went off script. I love how Olenna’s love of razzing other people extends to her own family, as she takes such glee in outlining just how complicated the Lannister-Tyrell family tree is about to become. Tyrion and Cersei both got off some amazing zingers. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed as hard during Game of Thrones as the moment when Loras, all sensitive-like, tries to engage his bitter bride-to-be and she shuts him down with a perfectly timed, “Nobody cares what your father once told you” and just walks away. And the staging was great — I loved how those massive tables and the high balcony shots underscored just how much space exists between the members of this family. (Side note: Things are clearly getting worse between Joffrey and his uncle. I’m sure I’m not the only one who thought Tyrion was throwing down that knife in an attempt to skewer his noxious nephew’s hand.)
Meanwhile, over in Dragonstone, another young person is being matched up with an older, more experienced partner. Disappointing legions of Arya-Gendry shippers, Gendry gets seduced by Melisandre — but also by the wealth she presents, and by the vision of himself that she reflects. This is one of the first times I’ve really been taken by Carice van Houten’s performance. Melisandre’s purring menace has always seemed so presentational, so empty and cipherlike. But now that we know a bit about her background, as a former slave who once lived on a bowl of stew a day, her zeal has some grounding and some teeth. She isn’t just a sexy specter, or a random whiff of exoticism, or a convenient way to get some magic into the game. And her feline presence plays beautifully off of Gendry’s innocence — she’s a cougar who has something to teach this baby hunk. (And how.)
The panoply of religious options seems to have dwindled in this season. I don’t recall there being much talk lately of the Old Gods, or the Drowned God, or even the Seven. The Lord of Light is getting all the play now. And that’s not particularly surprising, as R’hllor seems to offer his adherents a direct line to cosmic power. Devotion to the Red God comes in many shades: Thoros has love, Melisandre has ardor, and Stannis has fear. But at bottom, the Red God is a god of proof, not faith. In an earlier episode, Thoros of Myr explained how the Lord of Light allows him to do the impossible: resurrect Beric Dondarrion as if the guy were Mario. Last night, Stannis appealed to the skeptical Davos as a fellow practical man. You’ve seen what she gave birth to, he says. When you see the truth before you, how can you deny her god is real? Similarly, Melisandre will tell Gendry that gods are like wine — you only need eyes to see and tongues to taste in order to know the truth for yourself. When Stannis tosses the leeches filled with Gendry’s blood on the brazier and calls out the names of the usurper Robb Stark, the usurper Balon Greyjoy, and the usurper Joffrey Baratheon, it seems pretty clear that his litany will have more impact than Arya’s.
Over in Yunkai, Daenerys contemplates how to win the company of sellswords known as the Second Sons. (Stannis, the Hound, Tyrion — it was a big night for second sons.) In episode four of this season, the writers used pop cliché to perfect effect with Dany, as she toasted Kraznys mo Nakloz and marched out of Astapor like a righteous superheroine, but this week the cartoonish villain Mero played like a grating version of, I dunno, every sexist pig from every movie ever. Is he Dabney Coleman from 9 to 5? Mero swaggers in with his cock talk and his ass-licking talk and his sniffing Missandei’s crotch and holy crap, we get it already. When the equally ridiculous Daario Naharis takes Mero’s head, and the head of the poor brown guy who makes up the captains’ trio, it makes no sense, but the blissful relief I felt at not having to listen to Mero jabber anymore made up for it. (As a side note, and piggybacking off your comments last week about how strange it is that women in a roughly medieval world would sport perfectly landscaped pubes — wasn’t that girl the most spotless camp prostitute you’ve ever seen? Where are these spas and Pilates studios hidden around Westeros?)
He may not have the long blue hair and three-pronged blue beard and the gold teeth the character sports in the books, but Ed Skrein’s Daario has such a beautiful boxer’s face, you can see why Daenerys might be happy to have this guy round out her board of advisers. But what kind of proof is he offering you, Dany? Two heads on your floor and some nice words about how you’re pretty? YOU’RE THE MOTHER OF MOTHERFUCKING DRAGONS, DANY. I do not like this guy. At least someone has his eye on you, as the final shot of your bath-time tête-à-tête, viewed through another lattice, seems to suggest. Of course, it’s probably jealous Jorah. In which case, Daario, I’d watch that pretty head of yours.
Finally, in an eerie closing scene ripped from Madonna’s “Frozen” video, Sam makes his own declaration of might and affection. You’d have to be a zombie wight not to be charmed by the growing rapport between him and Gilly, she of the world’s most fetching overbite. The baby may not have a name yet (how sad was Gilly’s admission that she doesn’t know many boys’ names?), but the repeated shots of his smooth, pale face established what Sam was fighting for as he ran out to face the squawking ravens — and eventually, that animatronic White Walker, lurking in the dark forest, nearly indistinguishable from the tall, thin trees. The Walker destroyed Sam’s sword, but luckily Sam had that dragonglass dagger, which he conveniently reminded us was in his possession back in episode six.
At the top of the scene, it’s shown that Sam and Gilly are camping out near a heart tree, marking the clearing as a godswood — a sacred place in the faith of the Old Gods. Maybe the Lord of Light has some competition coming his way?
See you here in two weeks, when GoT returns post–Memorial Day. And if you ever call me sister again, I’ll have you strangled in your sleep.