Westeros may be a man’s world, but damn if the women of George RR Martin’s fictional kingdom weren’t killing it tonight on Game of Thrones.
For a show that is often (rightfully) taken to task for its…lets say liberal use of no censors and no nudity clauses in actress’ contracts, the writers and creative team reminded us this week that it is often women who keep things running behind the curtains. Whether you’re an animal-whispering basket case or a deranged little sociopath who probably does not know your bride’s crafty grandmother matriarch even exists, chances are that you need some help from the fairer sex. Or you think that is all Valyrian gibberish and are in a hurry to be charged the Iron Price.
The biggest introduction of new girl power tonight is the charmingly dignified Olenna Redwyne. The Lady of the Tyrell family is as politely disarming with a wry smile as she is painfully direct. Like seriously, one can instantly tell her points are as sharp an Unsullied’s Blade. That may be the reason her real nickname is the Queen of Thorns, though I do not believe we have yet heard her named such on the show.
Played by thespian royalty Diana Rigg, the former Mrs. James Bond absolutely steals the entire show in her brief appearance. The Tyrells have summoned the little dove, Sansa, to their newly marked turf in the Red Keep. Of course, they try to woo her friendship with niceties and outdoor dining. The use of Loras Tyrell as her escort was likely their best weapon if only because Sansa is unaware of the Knight of Flowers’s preference for oak tress to his own namesake. However, Sansa has been around King’s Landing long enough to know to keep her mouth shut, no matter how smiling they are. So when Margaery Tyrell tries to squeeze Sansa with pleasantries about the real skinny on Joffrey, whose oft-used betrothal tactics have made them sisters of sorts, Sansa freezes up faster than a raven in Winterfell. Yet, it is when Olenna starts digging her claws into poor, poor Sansa, nothing but the unbridled truth of Joffrey comes pouring out. There was the time he cut off her dad’s head; then, there was that other time he made her stare at it on the battlement’s walls before having her beaten. Heck, she did not even have to go into the whole “stripping me naked in front of the court” thing for the Tyrell ladies to get the idea. “He’s a monster,” a terrified Sansa squeaks between breaths, likely unsure if she should be afraid of the boy-sadist’s spoken name or of the passing of that knowledge to Olenna. “Ah, that’s a pity,” Olenna says with all the disinterested menace of Maggie Smith’s Dowager Duchess. Margaery shrugs as she takes a bite from lemon cake. Joffrey, you’d better run. For the freaking hills.
Speaking of the Lord Protector of the Seven Kingdoms, Joffrey is trying to finally look like a king with his new tailor. Obviously intent on impressing his fiancée by cutting a striking pose, he will no longer wear any embroidery with flowers on it. Behind him sits a bemused and seething Cersei. She sees that her beloved child has finally taken an interest in the other sex for more than just sadism and it terrifies her beyond any of his baby killing proclivities. She helpfully puts ideas in Joffrey’s head about Margaeary being a fine wife. Like she totally will, even if she seems somewhat intelligent for a woman. And there was that time she was married to Renly, the dead fifth king in this war. Also Joff, did you notice that she kind of dresses like a harlot? Dayum, Cersei retract those claws! For all her unsubtle cattiness, it must have sown a kernal of doubt for the young king, because after he throws his mother out, he sends for Margaery.
In Margaery’s presence, Joffrey has all the confidence that any teenage boy would around Natalie Dormer. The actress, who once awesomely played Anne Boleyn on Showtime’s The Tudors, has no trouble manipulating this petulant ruler. Really the only difference between him and Henry VIII is that in comparison, Henry seemed like a foodie sweetheart. He tries to corner Margaery about marrying a traitor, but the woman who wants to be queen effortlessly manages to avoid besmirching her late husband (who she clearly preferred over this twerp) while simultaneously exonerating her honor by implying Renly had no interest in this Tyrell’s rose or any other woman’s. Joffrey, being satisfied, states he may make homosexuality a capital offense one day. Such a charmer! Still, when Margaery feigns interest in Joff’s crossbow, he does not even realize that he has completely conceded the power in this relationship.
However, it was not all palace intrigue this week. Nay, there was equal intrigue on the road! Indeed, the episode opens on a shockingly pubescent Bran Stark. Dang, Bran what are you like six feet tall now?! Hodor is going to break his back trucking this kid all around God’s green Westeros. Fortunately, the paraplegic Bran gives plenty of excuses for the actor to be shot from an angle that leaves him low to the ground. It is almost as low as his voice. By Season 4, Bran may be singing “Old Man River” on these little treks.
Anywho, Bran and Rickon are wandering around Westeros with Osha and Hodor still after the sacking of Winterfell. There is some vague sense of them going somewhere, but thank the Seven that Bran’s story is saved yet again from tedium by the introduction of much better side characters. Enter Jojen and Meera Reed. The brother-and-sister duo, whose absence from Season 2 was made painfully aware for HBO by a legion of pissed off Geeks (like us), have come to help Bran because their father was friends with his father or some such lost exposition. Really, the point is that they are there to give his story some much-needed direction and just own his scenes for him. Meera, much to Osha’s chagrin, is the heavy among the siblings. She may be a girl, but she wields a bow and blade better than the Wildling warrior ever could. Osha believes Jojen should be emasculated, but he has no reason to be. Why you ask? Because it’s THE KID FROM LOVE, ACTUALLY! I guess if all he wanted for Christmas was to be on HBO’s hottest show, then wish granted. Yeah, he has a name, I am sure, but he will always be the kid from Love, Actually. Hopefully, Liam Neeson and Claudia Schiffer can stop by and help Bran out too in a few weeks too.
Meanwhile, Bran’s older brother and mom are not having a nice go of it. Weighted down by the news that Cat’s father and Robb’s grandpappy is sick and dying in the still-unseen Riverrun, Robb has turned his whole army around to get on to the funeral. They also have since heard of Bran and Rickon’s likely “deaths” and are in sour moods. It cannot help that Robb’s men blame their bad fortune on his recent marriage to Talisa. At least Talisa tries to have a mend fences by breaking words with the still shackled Cat.
Mamma Stark has some fascinating words to reveal as the writers continue what I call the Rehabilitation of the Stark Women. Every time they add new depth and sympathy for Cat and/or Sansa, we will add it to this ledger. This week, the television writers invent a completely new backstory for Cat where it is revealed she fought to save Jon Snow’s life. Remember that time from Season 1 where she told the bastard son of her husband to leave comatose Bran alone? Well, that was already a softened rewrite to the book’s version of events, however we now know she once displayed the same grief for Jon Snow himself! When he was but a boy who she despised for being a daily reminder of her husband’s infidelity, she prayed for the gods to take the child away. Ergo, when he lay dying from Pox for a night, she stood by him for every passing second praying for his recovery and giving him comfort. She even blames her family’s misfortune on her being unable to let the “motherless boy” be named a Stark after the near-death experience. Sure, she still was unable to love Jon as her own child, but dammit if she did not care for him in his moment of need. The anti-Cat fanboys are likely sharpening their knives even as I type.
One character who has no haters, at least none any would take seriously, is Arya. And the awesome tomboy with a burgeoning bloodlust is back this week! She, Gendry and Hot Pies are picked up by bandits who work for some nebulous Robin Hood organization called the “Brotherhood without Banners.” They claim to fight for the peasants left devastated by the war between the Starks and Lannisters, and they generally seem like nice chaps. They even humor Arya when she pulls a sword on them by knocking it out of her hand and still giving her food and drink. Obviously though, she let him win. Right? We all know Arya can water dance them all to death faster than you can say Syrio Forel. She does not need to win your stupid sword contest! That’s my version and I’m sticking to it.
Sadly, just as the brotherhood is about to let Arya and her sidekicks go, they get spotted by the freaking Hound of all people. Yep, the burn victim with a soft spot for Stark girls apparently was picked up by this ragtag group. He spots Arya out within seconds. Sorry, milady but it seems your trip back to Cat and Robb’s arms must be postponed for another subplot.
But lest we end on a complete downer, the episode closes on the ever terrific Jaime and Brienne. The lady knight of an NBA player’s height is still escorting everyone’s favorite witty sister-lover back to King’s Landing. The way these two bicker, or rather he taunts and she fumes, is the stuff of television gold. Hell, after this season is over, I say let’s have a mini-series spin-off of just these two’s doubtlessly lengthy adventures through the wilds of Westeros. We can call it, “The Sword and the Snark.” Speaking of swords, Jaime eventually gets free and pulls one of Brienne’s blades from her belt. Thus the two have a coincidentally cinematic duel across a medieval looking stone bridge. I cannot tell if the fight was deadly or flirtatious, but either way it matters not, because it’s interrupted by men loyal to Roose Bolton (one of Robb’s bannermen who has been left in charge of Harrenhal). They have come to reclaim Jaime’s freedom and perhaps his head.
Well, that was fun. After a somewhat exposition-heavy premiere episode, Season 2 found its groove back immediately. It appears that the showrunners have learned from some of the more overstuffed episodes of Season 2 and are paring back on how many characters we see each week. I am unsure if there will be another “Blackwater” this year (where it is only set in one location for the whole hour), but just as Dany and Jon Snow’s stories were helped by given primary focus last week, their mostly absent selves (Snow makes about a five second cameo this week), gives all the other storylines room to breathe.
There were also a lot of new additions to the cast. And while finally getting the immediately affable and entertaining Reeds this week felt like an early holiday gift, nothing beats Dianna Rigg coming in to steal the whole episode in five minutes of screen time. I cannot wait for her to have a scene with Joffrey. Likely, anything she says will go over the idiot’s head, but I bet it’s still going to freaking burn.
No one’s claim was either furthered or worsened this week, yet it is just so much fun interacting with all these characters. Even the entirely invented scenes, such as Margaery’s peculiar courtship with Joffrey, allow me to finally enjoy the many relationships again and not solely the epic story. Also, no matter who wins throne by the end of the series, this week just reaffirms who we all truly wish to ascend to their obviously divine right. Ready?
ARYA! ARYA! ARYA!