Review: GAME OF THRONES S3E04, AND NOW HIS WATCH IS ENDED (Or, Never Trust A Woman With A Dragon)
This episode gets rolling with a string of satisfying but (at least for now) relatively minor character moments before giving way to a pair of absolutely massive plot developments.
Up first - as you may have guessed from the still chosen - we get a good dose of Varys, one of the absolute best characters in this world and one who has been barely used in recent days. But he's got a double shot of fun this time out, first in a grimly playful conversation with Tyrion that spills out Varys' back story and demonstrates his ability to play the long game to get what he wants while also confirming my earlier suspicions that Tyrion was on the verge of going rogue within the Lannister clan after being so thoroughly rejected by both his sister and father. And then Varys pops up again to demonstrate his dedication to the long game - and legitimate admiration for Ned Stark - as he seeks out Olenna Redwyne - Margaery Tyrell's grandmother - to enlist her aid in protecting Sansa and getting her away from Littlefinger. It's a moment that will, no doubt, play out to have larger significance moving forward but for now it's just a beautifully executed sequence between a pair of absolutely fascinating, multi layered characters, played perfectly by a pair of supremely talented actors. This one particular scene is just television perfection and more than enough to make this episode worthwhile, even if it were the only thing of note happening here. Which it's not.
Of the smaller plot lines, we get Cersei CLEARLY starting to panic about Margaery's increasing influence over Joffrey - and her own proportionate decline - seeking out help from her father, Tywin. And Tywin, ever the emotional and nurturing father, delivers one hell of a slap down, informing her coldly that she's simply not as smart as she thinks she is. I expect she'll be increasingly unpredictable and dangerous in coming weeks as she feels increasingly backed into a corner.
As for the other Lannister, Jamie's having a bad day being forced to ride around a prisoner with his own severed hand dangling from his neck whilst Noah Taylor continues to be a dick. No real developments here but the relationship between Jamie and Brienne is developing in interesting directions.
Bran has a dream so, yeah, he's still around. Thanks for that.
And then there's Theon, supposedly freed by one of his sister's agents slipped in amongst his torturers but then not. It's all a cruel game, designed to get Theon to spill his guts - which he does, openly lamenting that he chose against Ned Stark who was a more a father to him than his real father - before tying him back to the torture rack. What's happening here? Clearly his 'savior' is high up amongst the men who are holding him and, given how casually he cut down a number of his own people to 'save' Theon I'd say there's a fighting chance that he's both the leader of these people and dangerously unhinged. Are we looking at Ramsay Snow, the bastard sent to drive Theon out of Winterfell now having a little bit of fun at his expense? I think we may be and, if so, Ramsay is a bastard in more senses than one.
And then there's Arya and the Brotherhood Without Banners - their leader now revealed to be Berric Dondarrion - the knight Ned Stark sent out to track down Gregor Clegane way back in season one and now fighting according to a set of rules and ethics entirely his own. That bodes poorly for Sandor 'The Hound' Clegane, now in Berric's control and accused of murder by Arya - again, for an incident calling back to season one. Arya's boldness wins her the approval of the Brotherhood, which will surely be a good thing for her safety in the long run, but I'm thinking the more interesting development here are some references made to Thoros - the guy who originally found Arya - being a priest of the One True God. You know, the Red God. As in the Fire God. As in the same god followed by Melisandre, who is currently out and on the prowl looking for more Baratheon blood, presumably to spawn another shadow assassin. And Arya is there with Gendry, who is very much of Baratheon blood. So ... Thoros, then. In league with Melisandre? Or do we have the beginnings of a priest versus priestess conflict?
And now big plot event number one, this one playing out north of the wall. Let me say this: Lord Mormont and his crew of rangers have gotten surprisingly short shrift throughout their northern excursion - too much time being spent on Jon Snow mooning about, in my opinion, and too little on this crew of men, to the point that their battle with the White Walkers is never even shown at all - which means this particular sequence comes sort of out of nowhere but it still packs a punch. Mormont is gone, cut down by his own men who rise up in mutiny desperate to save their own lives and slowly starving to death. We haven't seen their desperation grow to this point - which means it lacks some of the impact it could have had - but, still, they've just cut down mother fucking Mormont, one of the baddest badasses in the entire show and the ramifications are HUGE.
Consider this, for one: Jon Snow is currently leading Tormund Giantsbane and a raiding party of wildlings to infiltrate Castle Black and prepare for the arrival on Mance Rayder. When they arrive there not only will Mormont not be present but the Nights Watch will be entirely leaderless. And Snow was being prepped to take over. And Rayder is coming with his army, looking for a defensible position to keep themselves safe from the White Walkers. What's to stop Rayder from simply taking over the Wall? A whole lot of nothing, in my opinion and it's certainly the smart strategic move. Beyond the death of Mormont we may have just witnessed the death of the Nights Watch as a whole, with a door opening that will make Rayder so essential to the safety of all the kingdoms south of the wall that they will have no choice but to acknowledge his legitimacy and give him essentially anything he asks for. This has the makings of a major, major power shift.
And, finally, Danaerys. If you, like me, had alarm bells ringing when she promised to pay for her army of slave warriors with a dragon then congratulations. You were correct. That didn't make the scene any less awesome when it played out. And if you, like me, were waiting for the moment when she would reveal that she understood every vile insult that the slave trader was spouting at her purely because there was just so very, very much of it and it was too good an opportunity to pass up well then, once again, congratulations. And, again, it was still awesome to watch it play out. And then things went a step further, Danaerys effectively ending the slave trade in one fell swoop, earning the free loyalty of the army she had just purchased, and proving herself to have the blend of cruelty and beneficence that will make her a formidable opponent and a monarch equally feared and beloved.
But, still ... let's do a tally. Danaerys is building momentum, yes, but her army still amounts to eight thousand warriors and three dragons. That's a ton more than what she had a few weeks ago, but is it enough? I don't think so. If memory serves the Lannister / Tyrell forces are somewhere in the twenty thousand range while Stannis is still out there somewhere as well. Danaerys is clearly not going to try and ally herself with anyone from the Lannister or Baratheon clans - jointly responsible for killing almost her entire line - and Stannis doesnt play well with others no matter what, anyway, so the smart play there would be for her to wait for Stannis and Tywin to beat the hell out of one another before stepping in at all. But what of Robb Stark? His goals are aligned with Danaerys'. And he's got - again, if memory serves - around twelve thousand men, meaning if they join forces they can now stand toe to toe with King's Landing. And Danaerys has one other great asset to acquire power: Herself. A smart marriage means a powerful alliance for her and while Robb is unlikely to put his current wife aside he does have a pair of brothers. One of whom is a warg, and therefore should be able to communicate directly with Danaerys' dragons. Interesting, no? The shape of things to come? Time will tell ...
[Twitch has been tracking Game Of Thrones from Season One, Episode One from the perspective of someone who has not and will not read the books at all until the series has come to an end so that it can all be experienced for the first time on the big screen. Discussion of the current episode and what has come before is welcome and encouraged but PLEASE avoid spoiling anything that lies ahead in the novels so that those of us who haven't read can experience everything fresh.]