This episode does exactly what it says on the tin. In a way…
Did we all spot the Dreadfort and Meereen in the title sequence? Good work team! But we don’t actually get to see either of them in this episode. First, it’s off to…
Tywin has brought over his very own pet swordsmith from Volantis to put the finishing symbolic touches to the almost-total destruction of the Starks. Some of the rare Valyrian steel that used to belong to Ned’s “absurdly large” sword is going to Jaime. Just so long as he knows what he’s expected to do in thanks: quit the Kingsguard and go back to Casterly Rock to rule in Tywin’s place. He refuses; and Tywin puts him down with one swoop:
A one-handed man with no family needs all the help he can get.
Jaime‘s not having the best day. Put down by his father, slagged off by his nephew-son, and irritated by Brienne reminding him of his promise to Catelyn (RIP) regarding Sansa, being back in the capital isn’t all rosy for him: despite all this, Jaime wants to stay in King’s Landing, because that’s where Cersei is. But though she gave him a golden hand that she spent “the better part of an afternoon” on, she doesn’t seem to want him the way she used to. Wink wink, nudge nudge. Her reasons — he was “gone too long” — don’t seem all that watertight, even to her. Is this something to do with the “symptoms” she mentioned to Qyburn? Or is it just his new hair?
On the plus side, Brienne seems to have gained an admirer in Olenna Tyrell — a handy friend to have. I mean, if she has to have people other the hell out of her every time she appears, at least “absolutely singular” is a compliment? Brienne tells Margaery what really happened to Renly, but Margaery seems entirely unperturbed, only concerned about Brienne knowing who to acknowledge as king these days. She’s too practical a woman to give much thought to murdering shadows.
Poor Sansa is under a spotlight as the only Stark left (they think): she repulses both Shae’s and Tyrion’s attempts to ease her grief, retreating to the Godswood. Where she’s followed by Ser Dontos, the drunken knight-made-fool whose life Sansa saved in Season 2 (want to really get an attempted-rape survivor on your side? Maybe don’t follow her through the woods and scare the hell out of her! Pro tip from your friendly author). His present-giving gives Sansa the chance to slip into a more comfortable role — the grand lady bestowing favour, rather than the grieving orphan — and we finally see her smile a little. (Any other book readers think the Godswood here was utterly wrong?)
Shae, meanwhile, is getting more insecure and — in my mind — implausibly jealous of Sansa. When Tyrion refuses to have sex with her in his rooms, she storms out loudly, giving her fellow handmaid the chance to run to Cersei with what she’s overheard. Her recklessness here is difficult to believe — does she just not believe Tyrion about how ruthless his father is? Tywin had Tyrion’s first wife gang-raped — and has Shae missed that Tywin was behind the whole Red Wedding? In the books, the character is much younger and sillier than Sibel Kekilli’s intelligent, watchful Shae, so her behaviour is more believable.
And on to my favourite new character — yes, it’s Oberyn Martell, the younger brother of the Prince of Dorne and a man bent on revenge, after some hot four-ways with his lover Ellaria and some of Littlefinger’s best employees, of course. I liked that they brought Blond Guy back after his adventures last season seducing key info out of Loras; he obviously got a promotion for his pains and he’s the new Ros.
Oberyn is arrogant (“everyone is on offer”) and violent, but he’s a man with a plan: revenge. Helpfully for non-book readers, he manages to get through quite a lot of exposition while shaming Tyrion for his family’s dreadful deeds. To wit, Oberyn’s sister Elia was Rhaegar Targaryen’s wife, who was raped and killed by the Mountain on Tywin’s orders at the end of Robert’s Rebellion. (The “other woman” Oberyn refers to is Lyanna Stark, Ned’s sister and Robert’s fiancée, whose tomb we saw in the very first episode). Is revenge a dish best served decades in the making? But with Tywin at the top of the festering pit of power in King’s Landing, how exactly does Oberyn plan on getting his revenge without breaking the new, fragile peace in Westeros?
I hope Margaery’s not planning a rousing rendition of “The Rains of Castamere” as her first dance.
Tormund finally says what we were all thinking:
If that boy’s still walking, it’s because you let him go.
But there’s no time to roll his eyes at Ygritte when there are cannibals — the bald, scarified Thenns — to avoid.
The second surviving Stark, Jon, is mostly recovered from aforementioned arrows, and while mourning his brother also has to defend himself against the Night’s Watch leaders for his “desertion.” Sam explicitly compares himself to Jon — is that supposed to make him feel better? In Jon’s reaction here, we see how much his priorities have changed since the first season. When Ned was killed, Jon was ready to break his vows and rush headlong to Robb’s side: but Robb’s own death inspires reminiscence, not action. Jon has more important things to do than avenge his family — there are giants coming. This is something that makes an impression even on Alliser Thorne, though not on the fresh-from-King’s-Landing jackass Janos Slynt.
Dany seems to be having fun on her road trip through Essos, relaxing with her hyuuuuge dragons and flirting florally with the new Daario Noharis. Having burnt Qarth and sacked Yunkai, she’s looking forward to unleashing some freedom-loving Unsullied on Meereen, but the welcome party wasn’t exactly what she was expecting. Crucified children are such a bummer.
And finally, here’s the second sword we’re really talking about — Arya‘s gift from Jon, Needle. Who didn’t love the dark comedy in these scenes?
The Hound: Ugh, you named your sword.
Arya: Lots of people name their swords!
The Hound: Lots of cunts.
But the darkness is the lasting impression, not the comedy. When Arya sees her chance to get revenge on the man who murdered Lommy and get her sword back, she relishes it. Really relishes it (the producers obviously read that Winds of Winter chapter extract before the rest of us). She gets Needle back, and the Hound even allows her a horse of her own. But how many men has Arya killed already? If they get to the Eyrie, what will Aunt Lysa think of her?
What did you think of the re-introduction to Westeros? We’ve still to catch up with Gilly, Bran, Rickon, Theon, Yara, Davos, Gendry, Stannis, and the lovely Melisandre. Not to mention the Brotherhood and the Tullys — did the Blackfish escape? How did Edmure enjoy his wedding night? Come theorise with me in the comments.
UPDATED SPOILER WARNING: if you want to talk about the books from this event in A Storm of Swords on, please be nice and use rot13.com to encypher your comment (go to that site, write your comment, click, then copy and paste the new text back here). Events from the books that have already been depicted in the first three seasons of the show are not considered spoilers.
Screencaps c/o screencapped.net. All images are the property of HBO.