22
Apr
2013
Game of Thrones: Season 3, Episode 4
And Now His Watch Is Ended
Adam O'Brien
Disclaimer: I am writing these reviews as someone who has read the books. Knowing at least the broad strokes of the story beforehand, it's not possible to feign complete ignorance. However, while my commentary may be colored by the books, I will make every effort to avoid spoilers. Any information I give that is not given in the show is tangential background to clarify or expound on the action on the screen, and then only when I can be sure it won't be a twist revealed later.

An actor rarely mentioned but deserving of praise is Conleth Hill, who plays Varys. Lena Headey and Peter Dinklage have both praised his acting ability and commitment to the role, but he isn't one of the more glamorous, exciting, or handsome characters, and so character and actor go unremarked. This episode showcases the depth of the Spider. We first see him when Tyrion comes to visit. Tyrion wants to know more about how his sister is most likely planning to kill him, and when you want to know what's going on behind closed doors in King's Landing (or anywhere else for that matter), Varys is your man. After being left hanging last season, we get the story of how he was eunuchized as a child. I thought it was off-putting at first how quickly Varys jumped to share his past with Tyrion, but once he got into the story, it didn't really bother me much.

I'm continually blown away by the writers'/directors'/actors' ability to keep me enthralled simply by telling a story, even when the only action on screen is a man taking three minutes to hammer open a crate. As I've said before, my favorite part of the story is its tendency to give us tiny little anecdotes and bits of information about the past. My second favorite thing, I'd have to say, is that it's not straightforward medieval fiction, and it's not a magical land where every other person you meet is a wizard or secret princess. It's a world that seems more or less normal, if a bit eccentric, but every now and then we'll get a little flash of magic. We've seen quite a bit it at this point, but always on the periphery. For it to be spoken of, much less acknowledged, in King's Landing is unexpected. Knowing the voice from the flames haunts Varys more than anything he's seen or heard since is pretty chilling for the viewer as well. When Varys finally gets his crate open, we find out it's the man who cut him. This is strange to me as this scene wasn't in the books, and I'm not sure where they're going with it other than to establish a) the ease with which you can FedEx a person across the narrow sea and b) Varys's motivations and possible intentions.

He's later seen talking to Ros, who is now working for him, informing on Littlefinger. As with Shae a few episodes ago, she asks him to watch out for Sansa, whom she suspects Lord Baelish may be planning to spirit away to the Vale with him (although point of order: the shipping manifest for two featherbeds would not be lost of Varys). This then leads to Varys meeting with Lady Olenna, suggesting a possible marriage between Sansa and one of the Tyrells. (Isn't it cute how, in addition to all the people conspiring to hurt her, there are just as many trying to watch out for Sansa?) Olenna asks why he's looking out for this girl, and Varys admits how much he admired Eddard Stark, which I'm always a sucker to hear about, that Ned was so well loved and respected even though officially he's a traitor to the crown.

The one scene we actually get with Sansa in this is adorable. She and Margaery have the kind of sisterly relationship I imagine Sansa always dreamed of having with Arya. Once again making use of the stunning garden set they built, they make small talk and Margaery invites Sansa to visit Highgarden. She even suggests a possible marriage between Sansa and Loras. The look on Sansa's face was so heartwarming. Living in a warm city full of masquerades and gardens and harvest festivals while married to the most handsome young knight in the realm sounds like Sansa's wet dream. The look is also heartbreaking, because I think we've all seen enough by now to know that things here rarely turn out so nice. Life is not a song, sweetling.

Speaking of, it's insult upon injury that the Brave Companions/Bloody Mummers are making Jaime wear his severed hand around his neck while it rots. Seeing him plodding along on his horse, dead-eyed from a broken spirit and most likely a high fever from infection, really illustrates how much more important Jaime's right hand was to him than most people. Still, when Jaime grabs one of those guys' swords, it looks as though dismembered, weakened, starved and dehydrated though he is, he might have taken any one of them alone.

Last week Tyrion said of how a lifetime of outrageous wealth hasn't taught him how to manage money. This week, we see that a lifetime of outrageous talent and privilege hasn't taught Jaime much about loss. Jaime has just shut down, having the only thing besides Cersei that ever meant anything to him in this life taken away ("I was that hand"). Brienne knows the score. If Jaime had never opened his mouth about saving her, he might never have lost his hand. Here among horrible enemies she realizes the closest thing she and Jaime have to friends is each other. She gives him a pep talk about how this is how other people live. Life is about loss and you can't give up just because something important to you is gone.

I saw a fair amount of internet backlash against Brienne for her "You sound like a bloody woman" comment at Jaime, how Brienne is meant to be empowering women instead of belittling them, and to these people I would just have to say you are idiots and you have no conception of what's going on in the story. Brienne lives in the same world as other women. She wasn't content with a woman's role, so she became a warrior. She is disgusted when she sees these pretty little frilly women prancing around, being what men want them to be. It's true to a point that she looks down on women, but it's complicated. That scene she had with Catelyn where she talks about her "woman's kind of courage" depicts her ambivalence about traditional femininity. Catelyn actually is a great person for Brienne to meet, because although she's the kind of woman Brienne grew up despising, she has embraced the society she lives in and made a place for herself in the world within the confines of it. (PS I'm not pulling this out of my ass. The author has commented on it.)

North of the wall, the Night's Watch and Craster aren't getting along very well. Many of them are dead or dying, and Craster is just trying to shove the remaining out the door as quickly as possible. Being an army comprised of rapers, murderers, and thieves, they don't have much of a problem taking what they want, and things get ugly. Poor Jeor Mormont. It seems like everyone who tries to be a good and just leader in this series gets a raw deal in the end. To his credit, though, he put up quite a fight. I thought he looked really awkward and unnatural holding a sword, but when I saw him lift a man up by the throat one-handed after already being stabbed, and I thought yeah, that sounds about right. The way Rast kills him made me angry to watch.

Theon (who seems to be moving well given that yesterday he had screws through his feet) suffers the most blatantly predictable betrayal this week at the hands of his nameless liberator. While I don't think Theon has any business being in this season to begin with, this was actually much less painful than previous episodes have been. I always love a good set, and even shots that only last ten seconds look like they spent a week building this sewer entrance or that tunnel. I'm not one for show-original dialogue, but I have to admit I was touched by Theon's admission of how worthless he is, and how he just wanted to make his father proud. "Maybe it's not too late." "It is. My real father lost his head at King's Landing." Ouch. Theon never says anything like this so directly in the books, but this just worked onscreen.

After dancing around it for almost two-and-a-half seasons, Cersei finally gets to the heart of her character, asking her father why he doesn't respect or value her as much as he does his sons, when it's her who wants to be like him more than anyone. Who could blame her? Since he showed up in King's Landing, everyone has fallen in line, and like Brienne, Cersei hates being a woman in a man's world. Cersei sees how his gravitas supersedes everyone else's authority, even the king's, in a way. Tywin however, being as perceptive as he is, knows his daughter is unfit to wield his kind of influence. "I don't distrust you because you're a woman; I distrust you because you're not as smart as you think you are." Tywin knows how Cersei constantly teeters on the edge of unhinged, sees it's unwise to give her any more power than she already has. I'm not a big Cersei fan, but it's important for us to see that no one gets exactly what they want in this world. No one.

Meanwhile, Margaery's and Joffrey's little courtship is still cute in a creepy and manipulative kind of way. Joff is so excited! About death! Hey Margaery did you know this princess got eaten by a dragon? Want to come see the tombs? Margaery for her part plays him so easily. "Sometimes severity is the price we pay for greatness." You could almost feel bad for him had you not seen season 1. Then again, I have to wonder if it's only manipulation, or if she's trying to see if she can humanize Joff a little. The Great Sept of Baelor is another beautiful set, and perfect for this scene.

We meet Beric Dondarrion in the Brotherhood Without Banners's hideout, and he looks like he's been to hell and back. Sandor stands accused of trial, and in a great scene he and Beric debate the nature of service and what constitutes murder and dishonor. Arya, who still hasn't forgotten Micah, wants blood. Looks like next week we'll be getting some more trial by combat, and I'm hoping we get more about Beric himself.

Now for the single greatest scene in two years. The atrocity against storytelling that was the House of the Undying last season didn't make Dany seem heroic. It looked like the producers wanted to make everything look cool all the time always and it just came out looking tacky. Personally, it made me really unoptimistic about her character in the future. I was happier than I can say to see her take names and kick ass here. It felt weird that it was her only scene this episode and I still feel like Dany's plot in general is happening too early, but the scenes themselves are amazing.

I won't bother with a plot summary because the scene speaks for itself and there's no good way to describe it without diminishing it. It gave me chills I haven't gotten from TV since the final scene in the first season. Even if you know it's coming, both scenes were just so expertly staged and shot and scored that it makes you want to jump up and down. The scale of the set and the number of Unsullied in this giant courtyard is astounding. The visual effects people who work on the show are really experts in that I can never tell where the sets end and the CGI begins.

I love how when Daenerys started speaking Valyrian, you knew shit was about to get real. They got the same guy who created the Dothraki language to create High Valyrian, with nothing more to go on than the handful of words used in the novels. I was worried that they just wanted the first season to look good, and wouldn't bother in the future or would have everyone outside of Westeros speak Dothraki, but Valyrian is everything I wanted it to be. Not the gutteral sounds of Dothraki, but elegant, beautiful, cultivated-sounding speech. The Latin undertones are a nice touch, as befits an ancient and vaguely mythical fallen kingdom such as Valyria. The music over the credits is also impressive, sounding like a reworking of the music at the end of season 1, after the birth of the dragons. This is how episodes should end.

Benioff and Weiss wrote this episode as well, and I think they've redeemed themselves (from a writing perspective, anyway) with some really excellent lines and dialogue. Alex Graves, who directed it, also did a wonderful job (and I believe he directed next week's episode as well). Between last week's episode and a lot of season 2 I was beginning to have doubts about whether this was really the greatest show on television, or just had a spectacular first season. After tonight, I'm much more optimistic about its future.

Grade: A-

Other Thoughts:
-I liked seeing Ros working for Varys. They have a good dynamic from what we've seen so far, and it doesn't feel nearly as skeezy as her relationship with Petyr.

-I think I'm just going to pretend that subplot with Podrick and the whores doesn't exist.

-I warmed up to Diana Rigg a little more with Olenna's tirade about how stupid the phrase "Growing strong" is, something I've always thought myself.

-Bran's flashbacks from the pilot, when he could walk, are getting more intense.

-Dany needs to cool it with this Stormborn shit. People spent two seasons thinking her name was Khaleesi, and now I hear people call her Daenerys Stormborn like it's her surname. At least change it up a bit. Daenerys Targaryen, Queen of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, Mother of Dragons, the Unburnt, Child of Three, Silver Lady, Slayer of Lies, Bride of Fire, Princess of Dragonstone. The list goes on.

-Minor characters like Rast tend to come and go. I understand the logistics of television and how they can't pay bit players for every episode, but it feels weird when he disappears mid-first season and now he's back to antagonize everyone. See also: Greatjon Umber, Rickard Karstark, Kevan Lannister, any of the Dothraki.

-Something quick I forgot to talk about in previous weeks: The two big songs we see characters sing are "The Rains of Castamere" and "The Bear and the Maiden Fair." The first is an ominous dirge about the absolute resolve of House Lannister, and the second is a happy drunken song to sing at taverns. What intrigues me is that we see the Brotherhood Without Banners (relative good guys) singing the evil sounding song, while the Bloody Mummers are seen early on singing the nice fun song. It's just an interesting effect that it feels like they're singing the opposite of what they should. Makes everything less black-and-white.

-A killer episode for great lines. Here are my favorites:

1. "A dragon is no slave." Powerful, especially considering her story begins at the point in her life when she's sold off to savages in exchange for an army.

2. A very hungry Dolorous Edd over a Night's Watchman's funeral pyre, "I never knew Bannen could smell so good."

3. "He would see this country burn if he could be king of the ashes." Varys, on Littlefinger. Funny, from the promos I assumed he was talking about Stannis, who is so fanatical about getting his rightful throne.

4. "If I would start a war for that lecherous little stump, what do you think I'm doing for my eldest son and heir?" What are you plotting, Tywin?
Tags: Game of Thrones
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