You know, I could start listing everything Game of Thrones got wrong this week, nit-picking at the plot holes and gaps in logic in excruciating detail: the inexplicable “jet-packing” we’ve been scoffing at all season, the awkward Stark reunion, Bran’s general creepiness, matched only by Littlefinger’s own, the epic battle that resulted in major casualties but zero main character deaths…
But I won’t, because this episode was so damn amazing. We finally got the dragon attack we’d been waiting for, and in true GoT fashion, we weren’t even really sure who to root for. It was spectacular, it was emotional, it was the biggest thing we’ve ever seen on television – such a far cry from the bad CGI Drogon Dany climbed onto in the pits of Meereen a couple of seasons ago. And to think it was all directed by someone whose resume consists mainly of a few dozen episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia! It just goes to show what a phenomenal job Benioff and Weiss have been doing ever since they realized they’d be flying solo for the show’s last two seasons, writing material that’s essentially fan fiction of the highest level, and what a stellar crew they’ve assembled to work on this juggernaut of a show.
It’s easy to focus on the brilliant battle sequence, which not only set the record for most stunt people set on fire at the same time, but also featured the best example of superimposing excellent practical and digital effects to produce some of the most thrilling scenes of television ever. But we wouldn’t be doing justice to the rest of the episode, which counterbalanced the insane action with a heavy dose of character development and emotional scenes we had been anticipating almost as much as the battle itself.
Who among us didn’t squeal with delight when Arya gazed at Winterfell from afar, then showed up at the gates – only to be met by the most obnoxiously rude guards in the North? And yes, the fact that the two guards were so hostile and keen on turning a little girl away was a slight stretch; but it did succeed in building suspense, and her sudden disappearing act was a nice callback to Jaqen’s antics from back in the day.
I loved how awkward Arya’s reunion with Sansa was, and the crypts were the perfect setting. The very few lines of dialogue were enough to telegraph how much both Stark girls have changed since we last saw them together – and to remind us that they were never too close to begin with. It would have been too awkward, especially in contrast with the fierce hug between Jon and Sansa back at Castle Black last season, had Arya not gone in for the second hug after their brief conversation.
Even Emotionless Bran seemed pleased to see his sister: that half-assed hug was more than Sansa got, and a hell of a lot more than Meera got when she announced she would be returning home. It seems like the show is taking great pains to drive the point home about Bran’s new identity as the Three-Eyed Raven, but it’s milking the creepy factor for all it’s worth. Bran has seemingly lost his humanity during the course of his transition, but we get too few glimpses of the abilities he has actually gained and zero explanation about how his visions actually work.
Hopefully Bran’s storyline is going to be a slow burn rather than a fizzle – otherwise, what’s the point? Why choose to recount the worst event in Sansa’s life, and not confront Littlefinger with the truth about the incident that almost ended his? As satisfying as it was to see the smirk wiped off of Petyr’s face when Bran threw his famous ‘Chaos is a ladder‘ line back in his face, it was quite underwhelming, considering all the incriminating evidence Bran has now access to. Did the famous valyrian steel dagger trigger those visions, and Bran decided to keep them to himself for the time being? If he’s not Bran Stark any more, does he even care enough about Littlefinger’s various crimes against his family to actually share that vital information with his sisters?
And what, exactly, is Littlefinger up to at the moment? His efforts to cause a rift between Sansa and Jon backfired, and now he has three Stark children to contend with. Is he just biding his time before he can put another one of his schemes into motion? Or is he now purposeless and content to hover around Sansa hoping she might eventually return his dubious affections? For all our certainty that his days are numbered, for all our predictions that one day soon Arya will wear his face and pay Cersei a visit, Petyr seems to be cruising along so far.
Whatever his plans are, one thing’s for sure: our pint-sized assassin’s got his number, because that long, uncormfortable (for Petyr) look they exchanged after Arya and Brienne’s wonderfully choreographed sparring session spoke volumes.
And how great was it to see those two reunite? Brienne holding back at first, then realizing she’s not dealing with some untrained kid and going at her at full force; Arya approaching the fight with a brilliant combination of everything she’s learned in her journey, transitioning seamlessly between Syrio’s water-dance moves, the Hound’s sneaky style and her own Faceless Men brand of swordplay.
But what about the Valyrian steel dagger? I’m sure there are dozens of theories floating around by now (and I have access to none of them, here at my wifi-less, windswept piece of heaven), but it’s been too prominently featured in the last few episodes to be just a red herring. We got a brief glimpse of an illustration of the famous dagger when Sam was doing his research in the Citadel, but now it’s there, front and center: the same dagger that almost killed Bran presented to him as a gift from Petyr, and the creepy cripple doesn’t even bat an eye and regifts it to Arya, because it’s useless to him. With any luck, it will be this dagger that will cost Littlefinger his life, courtesy of our little Faceless girl.
Meanwhile, back in Kings Landing, Tycho Nestoris is too busy kissing Cersei’s ass and she’s too busy gloating – and why wouldn’t she? So far everything’s going according to plan, and she’s been scoring wins against Dany left and right.
Dany, on the other hand, is too busy flirting with Jon in the cave – and don’t we remember all too well what happens when Jon finds himself alone in a cave with a woman *wink wink nudge nudge*? Daenerys and Missandei may be about to start giggling like schoolgirls as they chat about Missandei and Grey Worm’s sexcapades, but Jon has no time for that shit: Dragonstone is sitting on a mountain of dragonglass that he’s already mining and using to forge weapons, but something even more important is conveniently hidden in that cave: primitive drawings depicting the Children of the Forest and the First Men coming together to fight the White Walkers.
NOW does she believe him? Sure, but she won’t help unless he bends the knee, and she’s beginning to sound like a broken record by now. It’s like that whole “where are my dragons” thing all over again, and, just like that tedious plotline, it’s starting to get old. Not surprisingly, it’s Missandei who gives Jon some clear perspective on the matter: the two of them are basically the same, leaders whom people chose to follow, because they believe in them. Now if only someone could get through to Dany and stop this bend-the-knee business…
Jon is becoming frustrated, but nowhere near as much as Dany, now that she gets her second piece of bad news. She’s understandably pissed off at Tyrion, who has been 0 for 2 in his strategic planning, and has had enough of the roundabout approach. She asks Jon’s advice, and he obliges: if she launches a full-blown attack and incinerates half of Westeros, she won’t be any different than Cersei. As the (only remaining?) Greyjoy ship reaches the shore and Jon and Theon have their own awkward reunion, Dany is already on her way to Westeros to launch the biggest attack we’ve seen on the show so far.
I’m not going to dwell on the logistics of this whole operation, but it is puzzling: if the Greyjoy fleet got torched by Euron a couple of episodes back, and her own Meereen fleet got torched at Casterly Rock last week, then how exactly did she conjure up enough ships to transport the thousands of Dothraki screamers (and their horses) and how long did it take them to reach the Westerlands? Sigh. I guess it doesn’t really matter, because the sound of those hooves and the sight of the Dothraki in the horizon was completely intimidating and utterly thrilling – enough to make us forget how much of a dick papa Tarly is, and even how hot Dickon is, despite the unfortunate name that seems to crack up Bronn as much as it does me.
The battle sequence had it all: savage Dothraki warriors, brave Lannister and Tarly soldiers, raw violence (although I could have done without the maiming of those poor horses) and the biggest human barbecue we’ve seen to date, courtesy of a majestically lethal Drogon. More importantly, it had really high stakes: not only does the Lannister caravan carry all the gold Cersei intends to use to pay her dept to the Iron Bank, it carries all the grain that will sustain Kings Landing through the long winter.
And, of course, the spectacular scene involved some of our favorite characters, cleverly making them the central focus of the battle, much like the Battle of the Bastards followed Jon, Tormund and Wun Wun. The stakes were raised even higher by making it hard for us to root for either side: as much as I’ve hated Jaime for sticking with Cersei, as much as I yelled at my TV when he was foolhardy enough to think he could single-handedly kill Dany as she’s standing next to a 747-sized, fire-breathing – albeit wounded – DRAGON, I didn’t want him to die; as much as I wanted someone to stop Bronn from using the scorpion and hated seeing Drogon get speared, I didn’t want the smartmouth sellsword to die, either. And even though I’ve never been a huge Dany fan, I sure as hell didn’t want her or Drogon to die, especially since that would mean Mad Queen Cersei wins the war.
Even the dubious cliffhanger worked, despite the improbability of someone getting thrown into a shallow pond and finding himself sinking in the abyss. It had a kind of surreal quality to it, and worked perfectly well juxtaposed with the focus on Tyrion being torn between wanting Dany to win and his brother to be safe. Flee, you idiot.
Well, Jaime didn’t flee and he has several pounds of metal armor weighing him down, but I doubt this will be the end for our second favorite Lannister, but it still leaves the scene open-ended enough to have us contemplating possible outcomes. Will Jaime be captured? Will Bronn?
I’m leaning towards yes, not only because Dany really needs a win right about now, but also because we need a Lannister brothers reunion almost as much as we needed the Stark kids together under the same roof. Olenna planted the seed last week, with her dying-moment-confession, and as repetitive as it would be to have Jaime held hostage once again, it would also be a nice bookend to the war of five kings.
And what about Bronn? He’s a sellsword; like the Iron Bank, he follows the money and hedges his bets. He may have strayed from his cynical attitude this week, putting his life on the line to save Jaime, but who’s to say he won’t be switching sides if he sees the tides turning? This opens up so many interesting possibilities, and we haven’t even gotten to the real main attraction yet: the revelation about R+L=J. I love how, even this late in the game, the show still manages to keep us on our toes and subvert our expectations.
One thing’s for sure: if episode #4 is this epic, I can’t wait to see what the rest of the season brings.