We begin this week just as we had ended the last: with the exact same shot, actually – King Joffrey’s mangled, corpsified face, and his mother screaming in agony at the suspected killer Tyrion.
The opening moments of “Breaker of Chains” are far more fast-paced than we are used to in Game of Thrones, even compared to large battle scenes. Dontos whisks Sansa away from the scene of the crime. Tywin Lannister yells, “No one leaves the capitol. NO ONE,” as we get a fast panning shot of King’s Landing in the evening. It’s confusion and chaos everywhere, with dozens of players going in separate directions pursuing potentially nefarious objectives.
Many recaps of last week’s episode lamented the loss of Joffrey – certainly not for any of his positive traits, but the fact that he was the one villain so unsympathetic we could at least agree on who we hated the most. But Westeros has no shortage of assholes, and several of them are stepping up to the plate of Grand Marshal Douchebag.
Last week we had Ramsay Snow and his father Roose Bolton, the latter of whom grows in power and influence in the North.
This week we see the return of Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish, whose inconsistent accent has given up all pretence of not sounding like a moustache-twirling schemer. Today he “saves” Sansa from danger, murders Ser Dontos the fool, and reveals that the story about Dontos’s family heirloom was a cheap gag. We can only hope that Sansa by now figures out that Littlefinger isn’t what he says he is, and realizes she’s in no position to protest.
One might have doubted the show could make anyone feel sorry for Cersei at this point, but season four is pulling that off distressingly well.
We first see her with Tommen in the Sept of Baelor. Joffrey lies in state, those creepy stones covering his eyes as they did for Jon Arryn back in the first episode of season one.
Tywin, ever the compassionate patriarch, takes the time to advise Tommen on how to be a good king (tl;dr version: listen to me, because you’re just a kid). He manages to lay a history lesson down about how both Robert and Joffrey were bad kings, in the presence of the latter’s body no less. As the two leave, Cersei remains wordless. Her dear father insults her late husband and eldest son, while walking away with her younger son. What other indignity could befall her?
Jaime then arrives, and somehow the sight of their dead son-by-incest and weeks of being cut off by Cersei leads him to forcibly make out with her. He overpowers her to the ground and thrusts with overpowering lust, as Cersei protests. Joff’s body is shaken by his parents’ wrestling on the ground.
It’s stomach-churning in all the ways Game of Thrones is known for, and yet again twists our expectations for these characters in ways one might have thought unimaginable.
For at least the past couple of seasons, Cersei has consistently been punching above her weight in the political game at King’s Landing. She’s bullied, threatened, and been a generally unpleasant person to a whole lot of other characters both deserving and undeserving. We were waiting for her to get her comeuppance.
She gets it both this week and the last, in the worst ways possible, but not in ways that the audience might feel they can cheer for. She held her son’s head in her arms as he lay dying, last week. And this week, she is ravaged – I’m going to say raped, because the plausible line of distinction here is so thin it’s irrelevant – by her brother, next to the body of her son.
The two were at their most vulnerable, and most sympathetic, just last week. We’ve even seen a spark of The Hero growing in Jaime, as he chomped down on some lefty sword training with Bronn. After a season’s worth of adventures with Brienne, Jaime violently reminds us that yes, the bastard who pushed Bran out a tower window hasn’t quite disappeared forever. “The things I do for love,” he said back then. We couldn’t have imagined.
‘YES, LET US WORK TOGETHER’
Tywin opened this season when he melted down Ned Stark’s sword Ice into two blades for his family. He continues to make calculated political moves this week. After counselling Tommen, he arrives at Littlefinger’s harem where Oberyn Martell, Ellaria Sand and an indeterminate number of whores are enjoying some leisure time. We get a generous butt shot of the blond-haired purveyor from last week before Tywin crashes the party, looking for a very different kind of transaction.
If Joffrey’s death hasn’t changed the balance of power yet, it certainly has shaken its stability. Margaery didn’t consummate her marriage, so the question of succession lingers. Yet the Lannisters still need the Tyrells’ wealth. Tywin, easily the smartest and most ruthless player currently in the Game of Thrones, enlists Oberyn as a judge at Tyrion’s upcoming trial, in exchange for a vague promise that The Mountain, the man who murdered and raped Oberyn’s sister, may answer for his crimes. Give it up to his icy confidence to turn the newcomer, once intent on murdering Tywin, into a possible ally.
Most of our other stops along Westeros hit the expected notes. Stannis broods; Tyrion quips (while imprisoned, but still), and Olenna Tyrell shakes her head disapprovingly at everything other than her family’s favourable position.
The Hound and Arya’s long segments, taking place at an isolated farm house, would be the stand-out if not for the insanity currently going on a King’s Landing. The Hound gets a tasty rabbit stew and, after, a stolen bag of silver from an old man and his daughter who serve as a kind of mirror to his and Arya’s relationship, if the story weren’t full of lies and murder.
COLLAR YOUR WORLD
The episode ends with a double-header of action, first with the Wildlings south of The Wall raiding a defenseless border village. Ygritte plays the stone-cold Katniss well, but the star of the show is the terrifying leader of the Thenns, sending a boy away to tell the Night’s Watch that he is going to enjoy eating his dead mother and father.
It’s about that time of the season for Daenerys to be a boss, right?
As her army reaches the gates of Mereen, supported by giant pillars in the shape of buxom harpies, a champion of the city taunts the Unsullied’s lack of man parts, only to be Indiana Jones’d by Daario.
Daenerys then gives a rousing speech to the slaves and slave masters who are viewing this from the city’s ramparts, going down her list of cities whose slaves she had liberated, before launching barrels at the city gates with her previously unseen battalion of catapults.
Rather than gunpowder, though, the barrels are filled with the collars that once belonged to the thousands of slaves she has liberated, hopefully seeding the support that she enjoyed last season in Yunkai. It’s a powerful image, coupled with Emilia Clarke’s most imperious performance to date. Her rousing speech, performed entirely in Valyrian, is enough to convince the audience of her strength as much as it might be that she’s speaking a real language.
You’ve got to hand it to the showrunners for including a great deal of shocking moments and breathless action sequences in what is essentially a cool-down period from last week’s major death. We’ve set up Tyrion’s upcoming trial and Daenerys’s latest test in Mereen, while the other plots mosey along at a comfortable pace.
The most talked-about scene, I’m guessing, will be the chilling meeting between Jaime and Cersei – as though their relationship could be made even more unsettling. But if viewers have endured the terrible things perpetrated by, and against, several favourite characters already, there’s probably no getting off this crazy train any time soon.
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