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Game of Thrones: Season 3, Episode 4 Deconstructed

Posted by Stefan Sasse on Thursday, April 25, 2013

Welcome to “It Is Known – Season 3 Deconstructed”! Every week, you will find my extensive review of the week’s episode of Game of Thrones

I will explore the narrative that the show weaves. And what a narrative indeed! The story is complex, the characters are manifold, the twists and turns unexpected. I will deconstruct the episodes piece by piece, moving from character to character. This is an unusual approach, I admit, and a bit cumbersome at times, but the show basically does the same. The episodes are just parts of one, epic story, and as parts we have to examine them if we hope to get everything that happens. 

There will be no real spoilers for future events, but I will reference the books from time to time, so if you haven’t read them, you might want to be careful around these reviews, although I’ll try to keep the references cryptic.

 

This Week's Episode: "The Walk of Punishment"

Go Dany! Danaerys’ storyline in season 2 left much to be desired, but in season 3, she excelled, and this episode was – despite the heavy bias towards the Night’s Watch in the title – her episode. She didn’t get that much time in the previous episodes, but she got the ending of this one, and it ended with a bang and a deep swallow from the CGI budget. It’s this bang that secured the episode a firm place in the viewer’s memory, even though the middle was a bit of a slug. This is again, of course, showing great skill by the creators, because this slug was necessary. You need to advance plotlines in order to get to the payoffs sometimes, and they essentially hid the advancing in between the great stuff, primarily Jaime getting his ass whooped by Brienne in the opening and Dany whooping slaver’s ass in the ending. But let’s continue our tradition of geographical progression. 

Jon’s absent from this episode, and I guess he’ll show prominently in episode 5, climbing the Wall, but for now, we have to make due with the Night’s Watch. Their plot reaches yet another climax, and I would guess, for non-book readers it came somewhat unexpected although the hints that something was to happen were all over the place. That Rast (I was right on that account) and the unnamed ranger would stab the Old Bear dead surely came as a shock, but he got one last moment of badassery trying to strangle Rast at least. Before, we had some nice build-up with Grenn and Dolorous Edd shoveling shit and Sam trying to talk to Gilly. Both served yet again to reinforce what the Watch is at its heart and that, yes, there are Others out there. Should we revisit Sam in episode 5 (which is not sure, they could push him into 6) we’ll get to see yet another iconic scene from the books and him earning a new nickname. Nuff said, let’s move on. 

South of the Wall, Bran has yet another dream with the Three-Eyed-Crow and gets again visited by Jojen Reed, who tries to do…what exactly? The scene mostly succeeds in reminding us that, yes, Bran still exists, and Jojen does, too. Catelyn’s appearance is nice, too, but right now, I would like to decide for them to finally make for the Wall (really, that decision is due for some time now) and to finally get on with the tale of the Knight of the Laughing Tree. I really hope that story will be in there, perhaps mixed with some beautiful landscape shots, Lord-of-the-Rings-style. Hoping against hope. Has your father really never told you this story, Bran? Sorry, non-readers, but that was just me nerding around.

Theon is in for a rough ride. As I already suspected, the mysterious and yet unnamed savior (*cough* Ramsay *cough*) is no good, leading Theon around a merry chase for “Yara” (wrote Asha before noticing my mistake and deleting it) back to the castle where they started. Theon, you dumb ass. Deepwood Motte is a wooden castle, and it’s fifteen days from Winterfell, as the raven flies, and you don’t fly. But hopes can of course defeat sense, and the showmaker’s lack of sense for distance seems to have rubbed on you. But I forgive you, because you broke my heart down in that tunnel when you finally broke down and confirmed what I wrote about you some time ago (http://towerofthehand.com/blog/2012/02/22-prevented-stark/): you really want to be a Stark, and you never could be. You are a tormented soul, Theon, and soon you will have the fitting body. “My real father was beheaded in King’s Landing.” Man, what a line. Really, really great and memorable. If Edmure finally finds some stones and calls the Blackfish on his bullshit, I shall die content. 

Leaving the North, we come back to the Riverlands, which don’t feature quite as prominently as they did last episode. Although Riverrun is in the credits, we don’t see anything of Robb, Catelyn, Edmure or the Blackfish. Again, wait for episode 5. We need a treason and a wedding invitation yet to happen, after all, and while the treason is already casting its shadows (they did it in episode 1 already), the silence from the other betrayed faction, the Freys, is ominous. The writers generally push some events behind and pull some in front, and it works very well to give the season a better flow, removing the need to wrestle with everything at once. 

So, we get Jaime again, who, after being on the sidelines in season 2, really shines in season 3. His scenes are again great, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau excels in playing the broken man he has become. Jaime was a monster before, the real antagonist of the show, but when you see him swinging the sword with his left and getting kicked in the mud, didn’t you feel a stab of pity? Great acting, and great writing, and strong source material of course. Plus, the speech that Brienne gave him, about not to whine like a woman? There’s a lot of internalized sexism in that woman, and perhaps the show will highlight this element of her a little bit more. It would definitely be interesting. So far Brienne succeed in instilling Jaime with the will to live again, despite the gruesome token of Locke’s brutality around his neck. I wonder whether Roose Bolton will punish Locke for this or not. The political subtext of this is altered from the books, but I’m actually more invested in it than with Vargo Hoat, perhaps because it’s more accessible. I don’t know, what do you think? Let me know in the comments. 

We also get a pretty fast journey for Arya: she, Gendry and the Hound arrive at the headquarters of the Band without Brothers, a really nice-looking, albeit damp, cave. There is some cleverly written banter going on about who the Brotherhood is and what they do (they’re Robin Hood, basically), filling in all the necessary details. I found the “we all serve R’hollor”-thing a bit hastened, though, and it lacked any impact for me. I’m not sure whether the significance of them serving the same god as Stannis had any impact on the audience at all; for me, it was just an infodump and didn’t carry any meaning. Perhaps we will get more of it when Melisandre arrives in the cave (presumably), but as of now, there’s not much to it. Beric’s spot-on, though – he not only contends for the greatest voice of all knights with Ser Jorah, but he also really comes off as the just, but somewhat bitter veteran. His fight against the Hound will have impact, that’s for sure. Also, as a side-note: nice that the Hound tried to defend himself with ye old “I just followed orders”-line. As always, it impresses nobody. 

King’s Landing next. Tyrion shows up at the door of his best buddy, Varys (another deviation from the books I like – the relationship between the two gives the whole Tyrion plot a much needed emotional anchor) and tries to get proof about Cersei’s involvement in the murder attempt on him, but Varys prefers to teach him a valuable lesson: influence grows like a weed. Another really great line, another really great bit of dialogue, although the scene with the sorcerer itself seemed a bit much to me. But I can forgive this easily enough; it shows us that there is another Varys, one capable of the position he is in, a show of power that Littlefinger clearly needs for quite some time now and which hopefully is coming soon. 

Speaking of him, although he’s absent in this episode, people talk about him a lot, and all these statements about how dangerous he is don’t resonate with me. We need to be showed something of it, like in season 2, when he casually threatened Ros. That was the Littlefinger I could fear, but we see too little of him. Although, I’m intrigued to see that Varys and Olenna both know about his plot to abdicate Sansa. This actually complicates the political plot in King’s Landing, which is already much more complex than in the books thanks to the upped performance of Margaery, a feat that’s all the more impressive when you take into account how many characters have been omitted for the show. They use the maximum potential these characters have to offer and wove a complicated web of intrigues. 

Speaking of them, Olenna Tyrell again kills. Her dialogue with Varys is great, and the plot they scheme remains unknown to the viewer, but the following scene with Margaery shows us the plot and her character both: marrying Sansa to Loras omits Willas Tyrell, another useless character when you go down to it. Margaery puts on a great show about how she is best friends with Sansa, and Sansa goes for it out of pure emotional desperation. You can see it all on her face when Margaery lays out that castle in the clouds that’s never going to be. This is such great acting and characterization in so few shots and lines of dialogue, I’m amazed time and time again. 

And the great scenes in this episode are not done. King’s Landing also gets its share of the CGI budget, and we can finally see the interior of the Great Sept of Baelor. How nice is the dialogue between Cersei and Olenna? Also, mark Olenna’s words: “You try to save your children, but they yearn for death.” (Paraphrasing here) And then Margerys takes Joffrey out to bath in the crowd, on the same spot where he ordered Eddard’s head to be cut off, and Cersei can only watch in dismay, panic and desperation. Man, is this great stuff. Cersei also pulls a Tyrion on Twyin, demanding recognition, and gets told she’s stupid, basically, because she can’t refrain Joffrey. I’m almost sorry for the little brat when Tywin announces his intent to discipline him. Almost. Perhaps we even see this in the show; in the books, it was only promised and never done. Would sure love to. 

And with that, we’re beyond the Narrow Sea, in Slaver’s Bay, where Dany finally purchases her slaves. They saved her scenes for the ending of the episode to do them all in one big swoop, which is fine by me, because we get some real payoff. Emilia Clark finally gets something to shine. When she begins talking Valyrian, it has an even greater impact than in the books, because of what she actually says! Instead of using her dialogue to free the slaves, she rips Kraznys a new one by telling him Valyrian is her native tongue because she’s Valyrian nobility, bitch! (Paraphrasing again) And then, carnage ensues. Her dragon roasts the slaver and the top of a wall for no other reason than to give Dany some explosions in the background to calmly stand in front of, and the Unsullied kill the slavers. And then, they are freed, and as an army of freedmen, the orcs of Mordor march…oh. Forgive me. 

Holy shit, did that really happen? Wow, so impressive. Book readers know we’re nowhere near Westeros with the army yet, so it’ll be interesting how the show manages to explain to us why Dany doesn’t simply rock the place now with these troops, but I’m confident D&D can pull it off. They can pull off anything.

 

[Stefan Sasse is a regular contributor to the “Tower of the Hand” (www.towerofthehand.com), has his own blog “The Nerdstream Era” (http://thenerdstreamera.blogspot.com) and conducts a regular podcast with Sean T. Collins, the Boiled Leather Audio Hour (http://boiledleather.com/tagged/podcast). He lived with his family in his native Germany.]

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