“Power resides where men believe it resides”, says Lord Varys as he congratulates Tyrion on a well-played ploy to uncover a traitor. Power seems to be a core concept for this week’s visit to Westeros, from Tyrion exercising his over the weeds in the small council, and even to Craster using his to order the Night’s Watch to vacate his property. “A small man can cast a very large shadow”, smiles Varys once more. Indeed they can. This episode is proof of that.
After witnessing Craster drop off a newborn baby boy in the woods at the end of the last episode, and consequently being walloped over the head because of it, the master of incest drops off Jon Snow back at the keep, before ordering Lord Mormont and his men to leave. Jon informs Mormont of what Craster is up to, only to be informed that the Lord Commander already knows of Craster and the sacrifices he leaves the many creatures lurking in the forest. “Whatever it was, I dare say you’ll see it again”, he warns, rather ominously. Indeed you will, although could you please guide it to the path of Craster so that he can be slaughtered? Thanks.
Elsewhere at Craster’s keep, poor old Sam is at it again with Gilly, one of Craster’s daugthers/wives and the mother of the baby son sacrificed. Unable to take her with him like a proper knight in shining armor rescuing the damsel in distress from the great dragon, he instead chooses the next best thing: giving her a thimble from his child-hood. It’s a sweet gesture Sam but it’s not going to be of much use the next time Craster decides to implant another son inside her, is it? He asks her to keep it safe for him until he comes back, which in the world of ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’, will probably be in five book’s time.
Moving south to the home of the Starks, we come to Bran and his continued duties to watch over Winterfell in his brother’s absence, as well as have dreams in which he is his direwolf, Summer, and can witness events happening before they do, such as his father being beheaded last season. Maester Luwin assures him that they are just dreams and that the days of such things have long since passed, citing his chain-link of Valerian steel as proof that he is knowledgeable in the matters. Given the fact that this is the same man who loves to protest that the dragons are long gone, when there are in fact three lurking around the Red Waste, I’m not sure Bran should take his spoken words as the truth of the matter. Besides, who doesn’t want to be a wolf in their dreams?
Elsewhere, Lady Catelyn Stark finally arrives at Renly Baratheon’s camp as a peace envoy for her son, Robb. She arrives in the middle of a tournament being presided over by Renly and his betrothed wife, Margaery Tyrell, the sister of the brother Renly likes to get down and dirty with, much to their (and our) pleasure. Loras is in the midst of a fight with a mystery combatant, and promptly gets his arse handed to him on a platter, before the helmet is lifted and we see that the victor is a stocky, man-like woman named Brienne of Tarth. Renly tells her that he’ll grant her anything she desires, as long as it is within the realm of acceptability. She requests to be a member of his Kingsguard, a demand that is promptly accepted, much to Loras’ chagrin.
Noticing that Catelyn is in their presence, Renly offers his condolences for Ned Stark’s untimely death and promises her that he will deliver Joffrey’s demonic (my words, not theirs, but still true) head to her when he takes King’s Landing. Loras, after losing his fight to Brienne and getting somewhat sulky, claims that Robb Stark is hiding behind his mother’s skirt by sending her instead of himself. Catelyn replies with a very well-delivered and punchy “My son is fighting a war, not playing at one”. You tell him, girl!
It’s got to be said that Gwendoline Christie, who plays Brienne, is great casting choice. There are some people who think she doesn’t look ugly enough, given the book interprets her that way, but I think she looks fine. I was initially unsure of how she would get on because, before this episode, she always looked ‘too’ attractive but it’s clear that they have worked some effort into making her the opposite. Plus, the fact she’s built like a man and towers over people around her is also a faithful adaptation, so thumbs up for this casting choice!
Over at Pyke, Balon Greyjoy is still alienating his son, Theon and drawing up plans to seize Winterfell whilst Robb escorts the entire Northern army to the south to play war. Theon is amiss when Yara, his sister, gets thirty ships to attack Deepwood Motte and his gets only one, with the task of raiding the fishing villages, a task hardly befit of a man proven in combat, as Theon rightly points out. Theon suggests forging an alliance with Robb instead of possibly being destroyed by him but Balon refuses and insists that they take what is theirs and tells his son that his time with the wolves has made him weak. Next comes a brilliant scene where Theon rages at his father that he was the one who gave him away all of those years ago, like a dog he no longer wanted, and that him chastising him because he’s chosen to come home is unfair and hypocritical. There’s a lot of anger, confusion and hurt bubbling beneath the Greyjoys and this scene was a small eruption in that pool.
Further north at King’s Landing, Tyrion is still figuring out what to do with his hidden ‘girl’, Shae. He suggests she play the role of a kitchen wench, which obviously doesn’t go down too well. He tells her that her very presence in King’s Landing is a danger to her as well as himself, what with Cersei looking to exploit any weakness he may have. Shae, being quite dim as usual, doesn’t understand that being called a weakness from a man who has no others is a compliment and instead brushes him off. I almost wish Cersei would get her claws on her.
Speaking of Cersei, she enjoys a rather awkward dinner with her children and Sansa, one where Sansa has to play the role of excited bride-to-be to Joffrey. Prince Tommen asks if Joffrey will kill Robb, and Cersei says she is unsure, but that she’s sure Sansa will play her role regardless of the outcome. Later on, Sansa receives a visit from her new hand-maiden, Shae, but barks at her when it becomes clear that Shae has no idea what she is doing or is supposed to be doing. Come on Sansa, it’s not Shae’s fault that she’s not the brightest girl in the world.
Meanwhile in King’s Landing, Tyrion is busy playing a very cleverly executed game to root out which member of the small council likes to whisper in Cersei’s ears. He tells Littlefinger that he wishes to wed Myrcella to Lord Arryn of the Vale, to Theon Greyjoy for Varys and to broker an alliance with House Martell for Pycelle. The question, is which version of the tale will reach the Queen’s ears first? The answer: Pycelle’s version. Tut tut old man. Didn’t anybody ever tell you that loose lips sink ships? Well in your case, they have your beard lopped off and have you thrown into a cell for being untrustworthy.
Littlefinger is unhappy at being made to look a fool by Tyrion and tells him that he wants no part in any further schemes. However, Tyrion informs him that he is crucial to his next scheme – to get Jaime back by using Littlefinger to persuade Catelyn. The promise of Harrenhal, titles and recognition that he promised Littlefinger last time unearthed a weakness in Petyr: despite his steely exterior and mountains of gold, Littlefinger is desperate for recognition. You showed your weakness, sir. Bad move.
Back at Camp Renly, we get to see another sexual encounter between the King and Loras Tyrell, something which I will not complain about seeing again. It doesn’t last very long, as Loras is still sulking about being beaten by Brienne in the previous fight, and he tells Renly that he needs to be careful with how he plans to win the war. Out goes one Tyrell and in comes the other. Unable to satisfy Margaery, she asks if he needs her brother to get started, or if he wishes to pretend she is him. Surprised at her knowledge, Renly denies the accusations but Margaery plays the dutiful wife and informs him that the lies should stay in court. The best way for them to solidify their claim to the throne and conquer their foes is to conceive a child together.
First thing’s first: Margaery. She is being played rather brilliantly by Natalie Dormer, who not only looks the part but ‘feels’ the part. It was always unsure to me, from the books, whether she was ever aware of Renly’s love for her brother instead of her, but the TV adaptation has answered that question. It’s also made it quite clear that whilst others in this show are quite unaware of how the ‘game’ is played, Margaery has a firm idea on how it should go down, so that their survival remains intact. In some ways, she is Renly’s ‘small man casting a very large shadow’, one that could very well keep him alive.
Back at Pyke, Theon contemplates sending a letter of warning to Robb but chooses not to and instead, receives a baptism in the sight of his family and the Drowned God. Theon’s inner battle between placing his loyalty with those who entrusted theirs with him or rejoining the family he desires to be a part of was handled extremely well. Let’s just hope his decision doesn’t result in an untimely death further on down the line, huh?
To conclude the episode, we head back to Arya and the rest of the men and boys headed for the Night’s Watch, under the guidance of Yoren. After sharing a wonderful moment where Yoren tells Arya of his colorful past and how a thirst for revenge encompassed him, they are attacked by Lannister men. Yoren puts up a good fight, even with a crossbow in the chest and spears entering his body, but he is viciously murdered nevertheless. Arya, Gendry and the others all try to make a run from their captors but it is fruitless and they are all seized in the process. Arya, however, manages to free the three men from the cage before they are scorched, an act which I’m sure will go well in her favor later on…
After being captured and having had her sword, Needle, stolen, Arya watches as Lommy, a boy they were traveling with, struggles with an arrow to the knee (yes, Skyrim jokes abound). One of the men pretends to help him, only to insert the sword into the boy’s throat, killing him. They want Gendry, as per King Joffrey’s orders, and Arya decides to rat him out, only the boy she unveils as Gendry is the same boy who just had a sword penetrate his voice box.
So, was this week another sterling effort for Game of Thrones? Absolutely, which is nothing we haven’t come to expect from this show. Once again, it’s clear that the team have so much material to work through that sometimes, on weeks such as this, we don’t see hide nor hair of some characters of their stories. For example, Daenerys didn’t feature at all this week. Neither did Joffrey for the second week in a row, or anyone from Team Stannis. In some ways, it is a negative but in others, it’s preferable for them not to include pointless scenes with these characters when they can choose to leave their scenes for a later date.
Also, I have to praise the casting of Brienne and Margaery once again. Both actresses play their parts superbly and it’ll be interesting to see where they both go from here (even though I already know since I’ve read the book).
The war for the Seven Kingdoms continues to rage on and whilst this week may have been bereft of too much action, it’s made it clear that the biggest players in this war are not the ones fighting on the battlefield, but the ones sitting behind the scenes, playing roles and doing damage with their words, and there was no abundance of that this week.