In last night’s episode, the Game of Thrones creators revealed the answers to two mysteries that lingered from last week: Who killed Joffrey? And was the show going to take Jaime to task for that rape-that-wasn’t-really-a-rape-but-yeah-it-really-was-a-rape?
Answers: Bad Grandma Olenna Tyrell, and a big fat not-a-chance-in-seven-hells.
Eagle-eyed commenter Dylan111 already sussed out the mechanism of the assassination: poison contained in a stone from Ser Dontos’s fake heirloom necklace, which Littlefinger had given to the fool to give to Sansa. Last night we learned that Olenna was the mastermind, and that she did it to save her granddaughter from the evil little psychopath. (We also learned, retroactively, that Olenna has a Bond-villainlike inability to keep her plans to herself: Remember when she told Sansa that killing a man at his wedding was a horrid thing?)
Olenna confesses – though that’s too contrite a phrase – to Margaery in the garden; meanwhile, in the hold of a ship speeding toward the Eyrie, Littlefinger divulges his role to Sansa, his guest/rescuee/hostage. Sophie Turner deserves boatloads of credit for drawing a powerful and subtle character arc out of the less interesting, more passive, more googly- and cow-eyed Stark sister. In an episode where it was nearly impossible to cheer for anyone (not that that’s always the point, but still, it’s nice), I cheered for the way Sansa held her own with Littlefinger. She’s brash, in her mousy way; her old princess-y tendencies are coming back to serve her well. Even though she’s stuck in a ship with a slimeball who looks at her like he’s an evil Irish Garfield and she’s a lasagna, I somehow worry less about Sansa’s ultimate psychological health than I do about Arya’s.
Margaery, for her part, is shocked by the news, but also … scared? Aghast? Impressed? Hard to tell, but she takes to heart Olenna’s story of how she seduced her grandfather to steal him from her sister, as well as the old woman’s warning that she must “do what needs to be done” to keep Cersei from turning Tommen, whom they’re angling to make Groom No. 3, against the Tyrells. Apparently, what needs to be done involves taking a page out of the child molester’s playbook and sneaking into Tommen’s room at night, telling him that these nocturnal visits will be their “little secret” that they won’t tell Mom about. As several folks noted on Twitter, this may be why the writers aged Tommen up from the books. Still, it was a supremely uncomfortable reprise from last season, when Margaery flirted Oedipally with Joffrey over his crossbow, just with a pet in place of a weapon. (Oh hello there, Ser Pounce!) Margaery has always used her sexuality and warmth as a political weapon, but it’s also her armor; the one thing that made me feel less icky about this scene is that when Margaery says that when they marry, “I become yours,” she means it. As scared as Tommen looks, Margaery will be in a vulnerable position, too. Not every strong wife gets to be an Olenna; sometimes they end up as Cerseis.
It remains to be seen whether the Tommen-Margaery May-December romance is played for hot-for-teacher schoolboy smirks or for a morally and ethically chancy power play, but this episode made one thing clear: Jaime’s raping of Cersei in episode three is being played for … nothing.
The creators don’t just avoid using that scene to complicate Jaime’s new sensitive, good-boy aura; they’re actively doubling down on that persona. Every scene Jaime appeared in last night cast him in a heroic light. Here’s Bronn, reminding him of how much faith his brother once had in him. “You gonna fight for him now?” Bronn asks, as Jaime gazes at him soulfully before lowering his eyes. (Gag.) Here he is visiting Tyrion in his cell, joking to raise his little brother’s spirits before lowering his voice and asking manfully, “How can I help you?” (Retch.) Here he is, giving Brienne his precious new sword and telling her how she will use the steel from Ned Stark’s sword to save Ned Stark’s daughter, exchanging halfway-longing looks with her as she and squire Podrick ride off under swelling music. (Vomit, throw the remote.) Hell, he even comes off smelling like a rose in the scene with Cersei, who’s written here in full-on comic melodrama villainess mode, calling Tyrion a “creature” and Brienne a “great cow” and Sansa a “murderous little bitch” and ignoring his insistent claims that he made those vows to Catelyn so he could get back to her, before dismissing him with a cold, “That will be all, Lord Commander.” So now we’re supposed to feel bad for her rapist?
The apparent evaporation of the rape scene from the show’s collective memory infects all the story lines that touch Jaime’s, to cop an apt phrase a friend used. The wonderful Brienne comes off looking like a chump for earnestly believing that Jaime, like the sword he gives her, could fairly be called “Oathkeeper.” Her love for him becomes complicit. Tyrion becomes complicit. And if the show’s insistence that we see Jaime as a damaged and lovelorn romantic hero eventually makes us believe that he forced himself on a woman as a result of that love and damage – or, more likely, if they make us forget that he did it entirely – then we’ll be complicit, too.
But this episode took at least one other turn toward the hammy and the easy and the vile. The whole Craster’s Keep storyline was a hot bag of WTF. I guess this episode answered another mystery, which is: Exactly how many hyperviolent lunatics does one show need? Answer: As many as you can get! The mutineers from the Night’s Watch who killed Jeor Mormont have gone all XXX Lord of the Flies out in the woods there, and are whiling away their days drinking out of skulls and raping Craster’s daughters while eating his precious pigs. I think the shot of Rast gently kissing that woman’s naked, dirty body is one of the most chilling things I’ve seen on the show; it added insult to the injury of yet another scene where we’re asked to gawk at female bodies in extreme distress. Color me baffled, angry, and bored.
I know I’ll cheer in an episode or two when Jon Snow and his band of volunteers arrive to mete justice on the mutineers and save Bran, Jojen, Meera, and Hodor, but that doesn’t exactly make me feel better either – just caught in the relentless icky pleasure-plot machine.
Meanwhile, that scene where Jon Snow gets a bunch of Night’s Watchmen to volunteer to take back Craster’s Keep and avenge Mormont – that was some Rudy sports-movie bullshit, wasn’t it? (And in case anyone else had trouble remembering exactly who Locke is, he’s the man Roose Bolton sent to Castle Black in search of possible intel on Bran and Rickon, as well as the guy who cut off Jaime’s hand.)
Across the Narrow Sea, however, there’s a hero narrative that seems like it might be fraying even as it’s reaching its most hysterical peaks. Having defeated the Meereenese masters’ champion and launched barrels of slave collars over the wall, Daenerys sets out to capitalize on her symbolic wins and seed revolt among the people, sending Grey Worm and his fellow Unsullied to rev up the slaves. They do, with some heavy-handed rallying cries – “I promise you a single day of freedom is worth more than a lifetime in chains” – and the slaves rise up in awful, vengeful fashion.
The riots begin with one of the masters coming across a scrawled, bloody message: “Kill the masters.” (@YgrittetheWild asks rightly on Twitter, “So is that graffiti in English, Westerosi, or translated by the Tardis?”) Director Michelle MacLaren uses the city’s maze-like architecture to stage a really tense, scary attack scene, as hordes come at the man from every side before hacking him down. Then suddenly, the dark scene is flooded with sunlight and Daenerys is walking through the throngs of joyous former slaves as they yell Mhysa! Mhysa! Mhysa! She sentences the masters to the same fate as the 163 slave children who marked her way to the city, crucifying them in front of the ones they’d oppressed. The act ends with Dany standing on the edge of the great pyramid, surveying the beautiful, verdant land she’s won.
But I don’t think the show buys Dany’s myth – not completely, at least. The episode opens with Missandei teaching Grey Worm the Common Tongue, and him asking her when they took her and if she remembers her home. Missandei may have the kind of accent that signals to us, in the real world, that she’s posh, but this scene reminds us – as Varys does, constantly – that there’s a sharp difference between the high-born and the low. I don’t think it was coincidental that Daenerys walked into the room just as Grey Worm was muttering, “Kill the masters.” She’s a master, too, despite her mama bear swagger and her rhetoric to the contrary.
And she’s a cruel one. When Ser Barristan urges her to answer the masters’ injustice with mercy, she snaps that she will meet injustice with justice, but the screams that echo through the closing shot and the music, with those gloomy minor notes creeping under its martial progression, don’t help her case. Exactly one season ago, we saw Daenerys sack Astapor in a similarly sweeping, bombastic fashion, and we cheered. But this time, the bombast has grown brutal, and the triumphalist staging feels ruthless and cold. In the final shot, the camera switches its of point of view and shows Dany on the ramparts, dwarfed by the giant building. The huge red-and-black Targaryen flag draped over the harpy statue makes it look as if she’s presiding over some sort of fascist rally, and the dark clouds, which contrast with the pointed sunniness of the previous scene, seem to foretell dire things ahead.
Dire like a baby-turned-wight! The episode ends with an infant – Craster’s last son – being left out in the woods for the White Walkers, per Craster family tradition. It’s picked up by a Walker and brought to what looks like a little icy Stonehenge, where it’s laid on an altar. This will not end well, one thinks to oneself. A line of black figures stand watching the baby, and one walks forward. When we see his face, he has the distinct air of a Buffy the Vampire Slayer demon about him, what with the pointy things ringing his forehead. He touches the baby with one long, gnarly fingernail and the baby’s eyes freeze icy wight-blue. (If you need a refresher: White Walkers are a race previously thought to be mythological; they’re the really tall mummy-looking ones. Wights are the creatures Walkers create when they reanimate corpses.) I’m pretty sure this is the first time we’ve seen a Walker turn a living creature into a wight – an interesting wrinkle. That’s one way to raise an army.
See you back here next week. What are you waiting for, a kiss?