With one word, Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen becomes the most dangerous person in Westeros. This was something everybody expected after last week’s surprising trade offer, but I want to start out this review by applauding the direction in the thrilling conclusion to this week’s episode. As has been well documented, the show has a limited budget. This manifests itself in a number of ways, from poor-looking CGI for the direwolves, the intentional not showing of Dany’s dragons for long stretches, and showing only the very beginnings and ends of battles (see: Tyrion’s battle from Season 1 where he gets knocked out by a horse almost immediately). Typically the writers do a good job of avoiding the big battles without it being too disappointing. It also results in a great payoff when we actually get to see one (AKA The Battle of Blackwater). In the concluding scene this week in Astapor, director Alex Graves continues this trend. Graves, a newcomer to the series, but also the director of next week’s episode, does a phenomenal job (along with the actors) of capturing emotions without any words. After Dany’s transaction is complete, the slavemaster struggles to hold the tethered dragon–already questioning his ability to control it. As he will learn, dragons are not slaves. While The Unsullied begin to slaughter everyone in town the camera pans to Jorah and Barristan looking on in awe. This is by far the most power they have seen her flex, and realize just how much they have underestimated her. The only one who speaks is Daenarys, who confidently, in her native tongue of Valyrian, orders her newly acquired soldiers to slay their old masters. It takes but a puff of smoke for Astapor to be razed to the ground. Even though we knew it was coming, it was still awesome to see. Dracarys.
DO NOT DISCUSS THE BOOKS. WE HAVE NOT READ THEM.
Just a note before you continue reading: this review is LONG, but I think it is warranted given the significance of this episode. I would argue this is probably one of the 5 best and most important episodes of the show thus far. It does a good job with pacing, and it wastes nary a moment or a sentence on something not worth hearing and seeing. I want to make sure I hit everything I thought was important.
While Dany will likely be the lasting image of this episode, it is Varys who I believe gets the most screen time. First he tells Tyrion two origin stories (that are one and the same): how he was cut, and why he despises black magic; the whole time slowly cracking open a large wooden crate in the room. While he spins his Horatio Alger tale–from beggar on the streets to Small Council Chamber–I am wondering, why is this the appropriate moment to tell this story? The answer is twofold: one, because he has the sorcerer from the story in the box. Second, it is a lesson to Tyrion. Patience, Varys preaches, patience coupled with resolve can lead to great reward. Varys learned, in my favorite line of the episode, that “the contents of a man’s letters are much more valuable than his purse,” and so he began on the path to becoming the Master of Whispers. While Tyrion is a good player of ‘the game,’ he is still a greenhorn compared to Varys. These words of wisdom are applicable to many characters this week.
Next we see Varys doing what he does best: gathering information. Before Ros gives Varys a sneak peek at Lord Baelish’s ship manifest though, we do learn the important detail that Podrick is not as big as previously thought. I guess that narrows it down to either tongue dexterity or some black magic of his own. Anyways, one question I have is what Ros’s motivation is for giving Varys this information. Is it jealousy of Sansa? Is it payback for earlier poor treatment by Baelish? I have to imagine she feels grateful to Baelish for lifting her from the dregs of prostitute life, so why would she backstab him like this? Furthermore, if he finds out her life is over. She’s playing a dangerous game with no apparent payoff from giving Varys information.
Varys’ final scene has him using this information to put more wheels in motion. As he remarks to Olenna Tyrell, Baelish would let the world burn if he could rule over its ashes. If that is his belief, then he should hardly want Baelish to acquire more titles and power. A marriage to Loras would stop him in his tracks.
Two things to clean up as a result of this: so I think what we want to take away is that the public story of Baelish traveling to the Eyrie to marry Lysa Arryn is not true–it is simply pretext for getting Sansa out of King’s Landing so he can then marry her. Secondly, I want to remark on Varys as a fascinating character, in that he appears to only deal in truths. In all 3 of his scenes he is fairly forthcoming with his personal beliefs and what he has or has not heard–for god sakes he shows Tyrion what’s in the box, and yet people continue to tell him everything. He has so much information and such a wide network that he is too valuable to dispose of because any side can use him against another side. He truly occupies an interesting and unique place in the Westeros universe.
And there is still so much more that happened in this episode! Three quick hits first: There is degrading, and then there is what Jamie Lannister had to go through in this episode. Wallowing in mud, drinking horse piss, not to mention that he has already lost his sword fighting hand, which he has to carry around his neck. As I remarked last week, that hand contained Jamie’s soul. However, Brienne gives him a glimmer of hope (echoing Varys’ advice to Tyrion). She gets him to eat, and reminds him that he knows nothing about feeling low. I wanted so badly to hear his answer to her question about why he lied to protect her!
Then there is the Brotherhood without Banners, which has embraced the Lord of Light (ugh). The Hound gives an oddly contradictory response to the accusations of murder. He emphatically denies he had nothing to do with the killing of the Targaryen children, which he seems to be offended by and says he is not his brother. However, when Arya accuses him of killing the innocent butcher’s boy he jokingly remarks that he was a bleeder, but tries to defend himself by saying he could not disobey orders from a Prince. But he himself abandoned the Kingsguard! How can he reconcile this? The Hound definitely has some perverted sense of right and wrong, but I’m not sure even he can articulate it fully at this point. I look forward to the upcoming battle between him and the pirate running the show there. Maybe some of The Hound’s biggest fear, fire, will get tossed around, as I have a hard time thinking a one-eyed man can fair well in a sword fight.
The Tyrell family is run by Olenna like a well-oiled machine. What does she do when Varys gives her the information from Ros? She immediately puts Margaery to work on planting the idea that Sansa-Loras is a great match. Margaery is such a brilliant tactician, reminding Sansa that while Cersei would not want her leaving King’s Landing, once Marg marries Joffrey she will only be Queen Regent, and powerless to stop Marg from marrying Sansa off.
Cersei sees the Tyrells as a threat, but really she is incredibly jealous of this matriarchal family. She never had the influence over Robert like Margaery already has over Joffrey.* She asks her father why he never considered if she, and not Jamie, deserved Tywin’s trust, but she simply doesn’t see the big picture. Talking with Olenna makes her think that that could’ve been her if only she had the opportunity, but Tywin reminds her of her shortcomings. She could never control Joffrey. She’s not as smart as she thinks she is. Cersei thinks the Tyrells are a threat? Without them they never would’ve won the Battle of Blackwater! What would she have Tywin do? Cast them out of the city? While Cersei may be right, that once upon a time she was the best protege Tywin could have, that day has long past. Tywin, easily one of my favorite characters, is also one of the wisest. He knows how wars are won and lost, and I don’t think to this point he’s been wrong about anything. When he asserts that if necessary, he will control Joffrey, I believe him. Can we please get a Joffrey-Tywin scene already!!!!!!
*Just brilliant lines over and over from Margaery. She convinces Joffrey to go outside the castle by reminding him that he led the defense of King’s Landing! The people adore him! Enough repetition, flattery, and obliging him by listening to his stories of the history of slaughter in Westeros and she’ll have complete control. I’m sure I would listen to her too if I got to look at her in those outfits all day.
The one critique I have, which is something of a refrain for me at this point, is the Sam-led story in the North. They for some reason devote time to this storyline every week, and yet I don’t see the potential payoff. I understand that in comparison to the danger that lies in the North, all actions that take place below the wall are trivial, but a long respite in Craster’s den does nothing to highlight that importance. I shed a tear for Lord Commander Mormont, truly I do. He was a father figure to many of the miscreants he takes in at Castle Black, but while his watch has come to an end, sadly this storyline has not. Jeor’s downfall was allowing Craster to live his depraved life at the expense of letting Jeor’s men starve. Why? Why couldn’t he just kill Craster and station a couple men up here? Craster was such a dick that it didn’t seem worth it to hurt his own reputation in the eyes of his troops to let this asshole live. But that’s what it’s come to–there’s a mutiny in the Night’s Watch, which I imagine is going to make storming the castle fairly easy for Mance Rayder.
Missing Character Count: Stannis & Co.; Bronn; Jon Snow & Co.; Baelish; Robb & Co.
What should we take from the brief dream sequence where Jojen coaches Bran to catch the raven? My prediction is that when he finally does, he will regain the ability to walk. It was a psychological injury.
Fun fact: the actor who plays Jojen Reed was the love-stricken little drummer in Love Actually.
Another week without Stannis means he becomes even more of a minor character. Is Stannis, with Melisandre behind him, really less important than Sam?
Theon! Oh Theon…a little late to be saying your real father died in King’s Landing. The lack of sympathy I have for Theon is the opposite of the sympathy I have for Jamie. Was that entire escape just a mindfuck to bring him back for more torture? It’s like really serious pledging.
Tywin: “if I started a war over that lecherous little stump, imagine what I would do to get back my oldest son and heir.” Tywin is the best.
The Tyrell’s slogan: Grow Strong. Even Olenna knows that’s pussy shit. She is clearly the Dowager Countess of the show.