SPOILER WARNING: Whether you’ve read all five books or only watch the series this post is for you. I have read the books (multiple times) but I will not go beyond the scope of the TV series (save a wink or a nod every now and then that only my fellow readers will catch on to). All events that have occurred in the TV show up to and including yesterday’s episode are fair game. You’ve been warned.
Note: With the biggest cast in television it can be hard to keep all the names and faces straight. Thus the first mention of each character contains a link to a picture of them which will open in a new tab.
After the season premiere, “Valar Dohaeris,” got us caught up with all our favorite characters, this week’s episode was devoted to table-setting. Or, well, it would’ve been if this was any other show. Instead, “Dark Wings, Dark Words” began placing all those narrative dominoes for the characters lucky enough to appear in both episodes while embarking on the same “hey, remember these guys?” quest for Arya, Bran, and the rest of the folks we’d yet to see.
As we all know by now, Game of Thrones has a sprawling world and the biggest cast on TV, but despite it being nigh impossible, the writers are generally able to link all those storylines with a shared episodic theme. In the case of “Valar Dohaeris,” which is high valyrian for “all men must serve,” that theme was the idea of servitude. We got no such link this week, but that doesn’t mean the writers couldn’t find a way to bounce gracefully between all those separate characters and locations. It wasn’t so fancy as a shared theme, however. Instead, the characters in one scene would mention somebody’s name, and then we’d be whisked away thousands of miles to see what they’re up to. One scene for instance was centered around Robb and Catelyn, but when they brought up Theon Greyjoy, suddenly we’re in some dungeon watching the dude get tortured. The same concept was utilized throughout the episode, and while it’s less seamless than a fancy thematic connection, it got the job done.
Bran Makes a Friend (or Two)
Things begin inside Bran’s head. The Three-Eyed Raven (or Crow for my fellow book readers, yeah, I don’t know why they changed that either) has shown up in his dreams again. He attempts to shoot it with an arrow, complete with the same encouragement he got from Jon, Robb, and his father while practicing marksmanship way back in the pilot. Bran misses, and a new character shows up to tell him he can’t killed the Crow—er, Raven—because “the Raven is you.” We later discover the new guy is Jojen Reed, son of Howland, one of his brother’s bannermen and his father’s oldest friends (Howland even saved Ned’s life during the Rebellion). Jojen, it seems, knows a thing or two about Bran’s premonitory and wolf-inhabiting dreams. He experiences the former himself and knows enough about the latter that he can help Bran take control of his skinchanging abilities. Sounds like a pretty good friend to have if you ask me.
Meanwhile, Jojen’s sister, Meera, and Osha have an unexpected bonding of the warrior women moment. Osha mocks Jojen for needing his sister to protect and do the fighting for him, to which Meera responds, “Some people will always need help. That doesn’t mean they’re not worth helping.” As with so many lines on this show, this one has a double meaning: Meera’s talking about her brother, but she’s also referring to Bran, who they’ve come so far to help. Osha, of course, has already been helping Bran despite the fact that he’ll “always need help” because she’s recognized how special he is.
The Buddy Comedy Continues
I often joked last year that the Jaime and Brienne storyline was reminiscent of a buddy comedy. Just imagine this in a movie trailer voice: When two polar opposites are shackled together—literally—and forced to go on a road trip, anything can happen (insert funny clip), but laughs are certain. Prince Charming and the warrior woman you wouldn’t want to dance with (clip of sword fight, indicating double meaning of dance) are sure to give each other a hard time. But when greater obstacles emerge, will learning about each other lead to learning about themselves? Can the two discover how to play nice, or will their refusal to work together drown them both? Jaime Lannister and Brienne of Tarth star in “The Bear and the Maiden Fair.” Rated R. In theaters four-seven-thirteen.
The Jaime and Brienne scenes don’t offer the same opportunity for exposition and fresh perspectives that their book counterparts do, but that’s a given. The medium makes it tons more difficult and time-consuming, but the writers, directors, and actors have done a fantastic job of letting us inside these character’s heads without actually letting us inside their heads. The way Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime) delivers a line like “I don’t blame him, and I don’t blame you either. We don’t get to choose who we love,” really underscores the depth of his love for Cersei, just as Brienne’s reaction to his earlier crack about Renly’s homosexuality shows us the way she felt about her king. Likewise, when Jaime yanks one of Brienne’s swords away, his smile and body language say it all. He moves about and casually swings the sword like it’s a part of his arm. It’s been ages since he held a sword, meaning it’s been ages since he felt whole.
It’s exactly this kind of character defining moment that gets them in trouble with those Bolton men. Jaime’s impudence in starting a fight certainly made it easier to find them. But they’re truly caught because after coming across a seemingly-innocent fellow traveler, the ultra-honorable Brienne assumed he was just that, innocent, and let him walk. Jaime, on the other hand, is looking out for number one. He insists the man recognized him and argues that they should kill him either way just to be safe. In the end, it’s Brienne’s honor that gets them a ticket to see Roose Bolton at Harrenhal.
Sansa’s Date with the Tyrells
Meanwhile in King’s Landing, Sansa is invited to dine with Margaery Tyrell, the queen to be, and her grandmother Olenna Tyrell, also known as the “Queen of Thorns.” The date isn’t just about lemon cakes and compliments, however. With Margaery now betrothed to Joffrey, the Tyrells want to know what the king is like, and who better to ask but his former beau? At first, Sansa believes she’s being set up, having learned that the king (and Queen Regent) have ears everywhere the hard way. But this is no trick. Margaery is far more in tune with political realities and the ways of the world than Sansa was when she first arrived at court, no doubt thanks to her prickly grandmother being unafraid to call bullshit—on anyone or anything. The Tyrells have heard some nasty rumors about Joff, and they want to know if there’s any truth behind them.
It takes a bit of prodding, but they finally get Sansa to speak. “He’s a monster,” she says. But that won’t affect their course of action. Margaery will marry Joffrey (her father, or the “Lord Oaf of Highgarden” as his mother calls him) regardless, she simply wants to do so with her eyes open. We’ve known from the very beginning that Marge is a player, not a pawn, and the way she “seduces” Joffrey by feigning interest in his phallic crossbow makes that clear (if a sword is an extension of Jaime’s arm, than that crossbow is an extension of Joff’s dick). Even more impressive, however, is the effect Margaery seems to be having on Joffrey even when she’s not around. King Douche has made it increasingly clear that his mother, Cersei, is no longer the number one queen on the charts or in his heart. That probably won’t make her any more of a jealous, controlling psycho.
Arya Stark and the Brotherhood without Banners, with Special Guest The Hound
When the camera finds its way to Arya for the first time this season, she, Gendry, and Hot Pie are trying to find her grandfather’s castle, Riverrun, and hoping her brother and mother are inside its walls. As they wander about the Riverlands, they discuss their most recent fun-filled activity: the escape from Harrenhal with the help of Jaqen H’ghar. In a fantastic bit of Lampshade Hanging, Gendry wants an explanation for something many of us have been wondering ourselves: “He offered to kill any three people you wanted. Dead. All you had to do was give him the names. Anyone. You could have picked King Joffrey. You could have picked Tywin Lannister… You could have ended the war.” Arya tells him to shut up about it because they got out of Harrenhal and that’s all that matters. For Gendry, myself, and the rest of the fans who are wondering why Arya didn’t just say “Joffrey Baratheon,” my explanation may not be entirely satisfying. But it’s correct from a narrative standpoint.
Badass though she might be, Arya is still a child. It may be harder for her to understand big-picture stuff like ending the war with a whisper when the people around her are being tortured and dying. Her first selection was the Tickler for two reasons: First, she hadn’t seen Jaqen deliver yet. In that position, offering the Tickler is a win-win (or more accurately a win-draw). If Jaqen does follow through, the man directly responsible for the captives’ lives being a living hell will be no more. If he’s bullshitting her, then things stay exactly as they are. OK, so once she knows Jaqen’s legit, why doesn’t she give up Tywin? Recall the situation at Harrenhal before Tywin arrived: the torture, execution, incarceration, and so on. Tywin arrives and takes the prisoners out of a cage and puts them to work. Gendry is back to banging an anvil, Hot Pie is back to baking hot pies, and Arya recieves a pretty comfy position as his personal cupbearer. She may have feared that Tywin’s death would have meant a return to the way things were. Furthermore, she formed an odd kind of father-daughter bond with the man over the course of the season. So she waits, and uses the second kill to save her own skin when Amory Lorch discovers she’s stolen a message from Tywin’s chambers. By the time she puts it together that killing Tywin kills the Lannister war effort, it’s too late. So she uses Jaqen’s rules against him so that he’ll help them escape. Now, back to season three.
So Arya and company cross paths with Thoros of Myr and the rest of his cohorts in the Brotherhoood without Banners. Although Thoros claims that while “The Lords of Westeros want to burn the countryside. We’re trying to save it,” it’s not immediately clear if he’s telling the truth or if the trio are being kidnapped by your standard gang of outlaws. I don’t want to reveal too much, we’ll doubtlessly get a lot more information on the Brotherhood in the coming weeks, but I think it’s clear by episode’s ends that Thoros’ boast is closer to the truth than the outlaw argument (but as always there are no blacks and whites in Game of Thrones, only shades of grey). The Brotherhood has captured Sandor Clegane, the Hound, and he’s the one that reveals Arya’s identity. Even if the Brotherhood are closer to “good guys” than “bad guys,” they still need to seize an opportunity when it comes to them, and ransoming a daughter of one of the most powerful houses in the kingdoms is a hell of an opportunity. It’s a bold strategy, Cotton, let’s see if it works out for ‘em.
A Few More Things:
Here’s a quick rundown of the scenes/characters we didn’t get to cover:
1) Robb heads for Riverrun to attend his maternal grandfather’s funeral while Roose Bolton is left to garrison Harrenhal. He and Catelyn receive some bad news: Theon and the Ironmen (ostensibly) razed Winterfell and murdered Bran and Rickon before bolting back to the Iron Islands. But wait, that doesn’t fit with what we saw happen in last season’s finale, nor with Theon being tortured. What’s really going on?
-Catelyn discusses a young Jon Snow in a fantastic monologue. Or rather, it would’ve been fantastic if it gelled at all with what we know of her character thus far. A great actress puts on a great show, but that seems to be all it has to offer. I get that there are a lot of characters and not enough monologues to go around. But despite being well-written and well-acted, the inconsistency makes it seem like a self-indulgent waste of screentime.
2) One of the men present for said torture tells claims he was sent by Theon’s sister, Yara. Can he be trusted? Is he friend or foe?
3) Shae warns Sansa about Littlefinger, and later converses with Tyrion about protecting her. At least one person in this list is smart enough to realize that people and things may not always be as they seem.
4) King Joffrey Baratheon, first of his name, or your weekly proof that “there’s no cure for being a cunt.”
6) Meanwhile, Sam is exhausted as the remaining members of the Watch begin the trudge back to the Wall. He takes a break, seeing more benefit in dying than taking another step. But he’s able to get moving with some help from his friends, along with a direct order from the Old Bear, “I command you not to die.” Does the Watch need every last man, or does Mormont have big plans for young Mr. Tarly?
And some random musings:
-In general, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau has put on a fantastic English accent throughout the series. You might never have guessed he was Danish… until this week. A few of his early lines this week were just… off. His Scandinavian roots managed to seep through a bit.
-Holy puberty, Branman
-For those who don’t know, the episode’s title, “Dark Wings, Dark Words” refers to a common saying in the show’s universe. Messages are carried to far away castles by raven in Westeros. The idea behind the phrase is that more often than not, the birds (and their dark wings) bring bad news (dark words).
Check out the preview for next week’s episode below and follow the writer on Twitter @NateKreichman.
Tags: A Song of Ice and Fire, Arya Stark, Barristan Selmy, Bran Stark, Brienne of Tarth, Brotherhood without Banners, Catelyn Stark, Cersei Lannister, Daenerys Targaryen, Davos Seaworth, Free Folk, Game of Thrones, Game of Thrones blog, Game of Thrones Season 3, Gendry, George R.R. Martin, Hot Pie, Jaime Lannister, Jeor Mormont, Joffrey Baratheon, Jojen Reed, Jon Snow, Jorah Mormont, Littlefinger, Loras Tyrell, Mance Rayder, Margaery Tyrell, Meera Reed, Melisandre, Nate Kreichman, Ned Stark, Night's Watch, Olenna Tyrell, Osha, Petyr Baelish, Podrick Payne, Qhorin Halfhand, Qyburn, Robb Stark, Roose Bolton, Samwell Tarly, Sandor Clegane, Sansa Stark, Stannis Baratheon, The Hound, Theon Greyjoy, Thoros of Myr, Tormund Giantsbane, Tyrion Lannister