Obvious episode title is obvious.
North of the Wall
Sam, Gilly, and her baby survived Craster’s Keep, and are a few days from The Wall, but their little fire and Sam’s hymns of the Seven Gods feel like a poor defense against the dark, cold forest and whatever’s lurking in it. Also unknown is what will happen to Gilly if they do reach Castle Black: it sounds like paradise now, with its fire, singing, and venison stew, but would the Watch really allow a Wildling woman and her baby to stay? At least Sam still has that obsidian spearhead, eh?
Jon is probably not too far away, preparing to climb the wall with Ygritte, Tormund, Orell, and the other chosen Wildlings. Ygritte gives him crampons that used to belong to an ex-lover, who, she assures Jon, was inferior to him. And despite Jon breaking his oath with her in the last episode, she sees through him: she doesn’t believe that he has really rejected the Night’s Watch for the Wildlings. But she doesn’t care as long as he’s loyal to her:
The Night’s Watch don’t care if you live or die. Mance Rayder don’t care if I live or die. We’re just soldiers in their armies and there’s plenty more to carry on if we go down… but it’s you and me that matters to me and you.
Ygritte is taking what Gendry realised last week a step further: those highly-born and highly-placed don’t care about the people they use to achieve their ends. But while Gendry has chosen a different group, Ygritte wants to reject group loyalty altogether.
Her choice stands her in good stead on their climb up the wall when her axe strikes weak ice and sends the four climbers beside them tumbling to their deaths, and Jon and Ygritte with them. Orell cuts the rope holding them up, but Jon manages to dig his axe in at the last second, and when they reach the top, exhausted, Jon shows her what she’s been waiting her whole life to see: the view from the Wall. Sunset, kiss, epic music… it’s liquid nacho cheese, but they’re so very adorable. I’ll allow it.
Unfortunately, Gendry has reason to regret his choice this week, when the Brotherhood sell him for gold. Melisandre shows up, presumably directed by her fires, and buys Gendry for two bags of coin, despite Arya‘s protests. Both Arya and Gendry are utterly mystified by her motives, but we’re not: we know Gendry is King Robert’s illegitimate son, and the last time we saw Melisandre, she needed royal blood for the next stage of her plan.
Melisandre didn’t go away unsurprised, though: she met Lord Beric, the magic regenerating man. She seems both surprised and insulted that it’s recovered atheist Thoros who has the power to bring back the dead, but he is quick to correct her – it’s not his power, but the Lord of Light’s. Before leaving with Gendry trussed up in a cart, she also doles out some of her trademark creepiness to Arya:
I see a darkness in you. And in that darkness, eyes staring back at me. Brown eyes, blue eyes, green eyes. Eyes you’ll shut forever. We will meet again.
I love the constant references in this season to seasons past: here, we can’t help but compare this Arya, repeating the names of her enemies as she practices her archery skills, to the laughing little girl who outshot Bran at Winterfell in the very first episode.
Meera and Osha continue to get on the wrong side of each other while Bran plays peacemaker (Osha’s way of skinning rabbits is better). Their bickering is interrupted by Jojen, who’s having a fit – a vision. Meera runs to him, accustomed to it, but Rickon and Bran are clearly freaked out. And when Jojen wakes, he tells them he’s seen Jon Snow, “on the wrong side of the Wall.” Did he see the rest of what happened? Will this stop them going to Castle Black as Maester Luwin advised?
Theon is probably wishing he’d taken Maester Luwin’s advice, too, as his torturer continues to, well, torture him for no particular reason. He seems to be unconnected to any Northern families that Theon can guess – the Karstarks, the Umbers – then again he’s an utter sadist, so he doesn’t really need a reason. In the books, this plotline is implied rather than shown, and while I’m giving the writers the benefit of the doubt in their decision to show it so extensively, this needs to go somewhere soon. There are only so many graphic torture scenes unconnected to the plot that I can take.
Robb has invited two of the many Frey sons to Riverrun, where they issue Walder Frey’s terms for reconciliation: an apology, Harrenhal, and a marriage alliance. And now that Robb’s spoken for and his siblings are missing or hostages, the duty falls on Uncle Edmure, who isn’t particularly enthusiastic. But between the threats of his uncle the Blackfish, Robb’s pleas, and Cat’s scorn:
You’re willing to risk our freedom and our lives for a chance at a prettier wife?
he capitulates. The quicker the wedding, the Freys promise, the quicker Robb will get his soldiers, so Edmure won’t have to wait long to see how Roslin Frey measures up.
Robb has promised Harrenhal to the Freys after the war; the Lannisters have promised it to Littlefinger; but currently in control is Lord Bolton, who has some choices before him. What he should do is send Jaime straight back to Robb, but he ends up furthering Catelyn’s plan, and tells Jaime he is to be sent on to King’s Landing on condition that Jaime tell Tywin the truth about who maimed him. Lord Bolton has his eye on the long game – he’s not sending Jaime home because he agrees with Catelyn, he’s vehement about that – but because he’s not all that confident in Robb’s chances. But Brienne, fuming in a pink dress, won’t be allowed to go with him.
Jaime is also on Cersei’s mind, as she and Tyrion share a rare moment of empathy for the predicament their father has put them in. Tyrion finally accuses Cersei of trying to kill him during the Battle of the Blackwater, but in her silent response he sees the truth: it was Joffrey (just as it was Joffrey, not her, who ordered the murder of all King Robert’s illegitimate children last season). Joffrey is not only cruel but stupid: but Cersei thinks Tywin’s presence means Tyrion is safe for the moment. I’m sure he must find that very comforting.
Olenna Tyrell reacts hardly better than Cersei and Tyrion did to Tywin’s dynastic plotting: Cersei is “too old” to guarantee heirs for the Tyrell family. Tywin threatens her with his knowledge of Loras’s sexuality, something which bothers Olenna not at all:
He’s a sword-swallower through and through… it’s a natural thing, two boys having a go at each other between the sheets.
She’s even confident enough to remind Tywin of the rumours that his children have done worse. He then resorts to a threat which does move her: naming Loras to the Kingsguard. This would make the ending of the Tyrell name certain, instead of dubious, and this does the trick.
With everything in place, Tyrion takes it upon himself to tell Sansa what has been arranged – something I wish we could have seen, if only for the look on Shae’s face when her lover tells her he has to marry her boss.
Weeping, Sansa watches Littlefinger’s ship, her last chance of escape, sail away to the Eyrie. Before he goes, though, Littlefinger has his regular dose of confession with Varys. Whereas Varys is in the game for the realm, the only “greater good” there is, Littlefinger rejects it as an illusion: it’s “a story we agree to tell each other over and over again until we forget that it’s a lie.”
For him, it’s all about the ladder of power and position. There’s nothing else. And he’s eager to leave Varys with a win… as we see Ros‘s body strung up and covered with arrows in Joffrey’s bedroom. Ros, who betrayed him to Varys, was a bad investment. All desires are valid to a man with a full purse. Even murder. And Westeros is left with a king who, unwittingly encouraged by Margaery, is on the same path as Mad King Aerys.
After the stunning moments of the last two episodes, this one was probably always going to be a little bit of a letdown. Theon’s story needs to move on; so does Bran’s; and I didn’t really appreciate the stereotyping played for laughs when Loras glories in thoughts of what his bride would wear rather than who she is (cos like OMG gay guys totally like fashion amirite?!). On the plus side, the Wall climb was epic, I like that the plot changes from the books are stacking up into unpredictability: the shock of Melisandre appearing in the Riverlands was only exceeded by the sight of Ros’s body at the end of the episode, a dreadful symbol of what happens when one person’s power is allowed to go unchecked.
WARNING: if you want to talk about the books from A Storm of Swords on, please preface your comment with a ***spoiler***. The first two books and first two seasons of the show are not considered spoilers.
Screencaps c/o screencapped.net. All images are the property of HBO.