This Game of Thrones review contains spoilers.
I don’t suspect anyone was surprised when Lysa Arryn fell for Petyr Baelish. She had long ago succumbed to that flight of fancy, and we all knew where it would land her.
Yes, we had our first relatively major death on Game of Thrones tonight since King Joffrey’s demise, and it is certainly another one that fans should be able to savor as one for the “win column” since Lady Arryn, who helped organize the death of Jon Arryn and started the war with Littlefinger, has been as sympathetic as a little boy still breast-feeding at nine-years-old. And when she almost sent Sansa through the Moon Door, it all but sealed the fate that someone was going through it. But fortune smiled on fans again when two-for-two deaths tipped toward the aggrieving party, and the antagonistic character got to soar away by the end credits. It feels good.
However, before we unwrap this both creepy, yet strangely heroic (or at least relief-inducing) moment for the most dastardly of Game of Thrones characters, we should also consider what was an overall satisfying episode of Westerosi drama this has been, if not the blockbuster event that Tyrion’s trial was last week.
The obvious place to start with this follow-up to the previous showstopper is the aftermath of Tyrion’s mockery of Twyin and Cersei’s day in court. Indeed, it is almost a shame that we did not see Tywin fuming as his son made a ruin of his perfectly laid plan to ensnare Jaime Lannister back into Casterly Rock service, but we at least got plenty of good stuff between the Kingslayer Brothers (I say it’s sticking!). Their one scene is of Jaime chastising Tyrion for apparently throwing his life away in a bout of pride against his calculating family members. Yet even Jaime cannot suppress a satisfied smile at the thought of his weakened sword hand taking both Kingslayers to the seven gods above and below, leaving Tywin’s legacy in ashes. However, it is a more intriguing moment because while Jaime sees it as an amusing, fleeting fantasy, Tyrion clearly is hanging onto it for far longer.
The telling aspect of this sequence is the difference is in familial outrage and anger both brothers have. Jaime’s opinion of Tywin since the show began has always been a few shades shy of rotten, but he still loves his family in the general sense (and in the very explicit sense with Cersei, though that relationship also appears to be in flux). The same once upon a time could be said about Tyrion, but even though Jaime is the only friend he has, all Tyrion can fantasize about now is avenging himself on the humiliations of father and sister. He even mocks one-handed, sister-banging, and king-killing Jaime as still being the golden son. Jaime has killed cousins for less, so while it speaks volumes that he can merely smirk that off, it is showing a growing rift in the Lannister family about how far Tyrion would go toward getting his own back, and it is darker than even his brother expects. However, the first thing he will need to get back is a reprieve from Cersei Lannister’s chosen sword hand meant to carry out his death in trial by combat.
Next for Tyrion came a scene that I was unsure that David Benioff and Dan Weiss would keep…nor did I truthfully want them too. While Tyrion is definitely taking the betrayal of Shae harder, for viewers and readers, Bronn turning his back on Tyrion and ending the four-year bromance was the real tearjerker stuff of this courtly drama.
Like Shae, Bronn is at the end of the day someone whose company Tyrion paid for, implicitly saying a lot about his wealthy if ultimately lonely lot in life. And like Shae, Bronn could be bought, even if in a much more amusing manner. With a title and castle in the offing (at least after his sister-in-law-to-be is offed), Bronn is quite the dandy when he bittersweetly tells his former Imp employer to bugger off. Tyrion promises that if Bronn could kill the Mountain—Cersei’s gargantuan champion—that he will provide Bronn with a comfortable living in Winterfell, assuming that he ever can reclaim his missing bride. But this would be a long ways off, and even if it did come to pass, Tyrion is looking to the north, and winter is coming. Meanwhile the south is warm and comforitng.
Tyrion and Bronn part with a handshake, a far gentler passing of friendship than in the book, but the realization of Tyrion’s complete and utter abandonment from all save his uselessly crippled brother really brings home the intense level of tragedy in his life. Just like Tyrion later says in this episode, Cersei always gets what she has wanted, and she has bought off Tyrion’s best friend and lover. Sitting in that cell, he looks pathetic and all the luster of last week’s thunderous showdown with Tywin seems to vaporize, which is a shame, as Game of Thrones is notorious about letting momentum from an epic event deflate the following week, and this is no exception.
But still, there is a silver lining. In the moment that will be most talked about of the night (besides Lysa finding the blue), Prince Oberyn slithers his Red Viper goodness into Tyrion’s cell to deliver a wildfire volley worth excitement to this cooling story thread: he shall fight as Tyrion Lannister’s champion.
The revelation features the most perfect logic imaginable from the point of view of this latter day Inigo Montoya. Cersei Lannister has named Gregor “the Mountain” Clegane as her champion. He raped and killed his sister after also killing his nephew and nieces—prepare to die. Yet, even Oberyn displays a mount of pity and sympathy for Tyrion that no one else in King’s Landing would appear to grasp. He recalls seeing Tywin Lannister’s “monster” and only finding a baby, one that even in the cradle Cersei wanted to murder and torture. Somehow, while Oberyn is the manliest man who ever stepped foot in King’s Landing (at least since Ned Stark’s death), he also could hold an entire realm-wide seminar on sensitivity training. In the meantime, we’ll settle for him taking Ser Gregor’s head. After all, it is the just thing to do.
Another character who has been learning a lot about justice as of late is Daenerys Targaryen. Due to the courtly intrigue in the Capital last week, I was unable to give proper consideration to Dany’s first few moments as Queen of Meereen, but the frustrated delay of her triumphant return to Westeros has at least revealed some interesting cracks in her armor that she (and audiences) could have otherwise ignored if she moved through this final Slaver Bay’s city with as much rapidity as she did the last two.
By choosing to stick around, we at least get to enjoy the work of the series’ new Production Designer, Deborah Riley, in the city’s great pyramids. And despite their great Aztec and Mayan influences on their exteriors, I’d like to say that I especially appreciate the Egyptian influences on their interiors. As I detailed in my The Real History of Game of Thrones, the Targaryen House is at least partially inspired by the Macedonian-rooted Ptolemy family that ruled Egypt from Alexandria throughout the Hellenistic period, before ending in the incestuous line of one Cleopatra (technically Cleopatra VII) whose romantic image in history and even mythology has had an obvious influence on Daenerys Targaryen, the Mother of Dragons.
But to get back to the actual events at hand, Dany is learning a great deal about the price of ruling. Last week, she discovered that indiscriminately crucifying 163 people might lead to the deaths of relatively innocent bystanders, such as the important Hizdahr zo Loraq’s father. Likewise, when she suggests that they slaughter all of the masters in Yunkai (again) after doing exactly that in Astapor left a power vacuum filled by the “Butcher King” Cleon, Jorah Mormont proves that he is vital to his Khaleesi for more than longing looks and a superbly gravely voice. Aye, more than Selmy or Daario, Jorah has Daenerys’ ear as a counselor and wisely points out that diplomacy with Yunkai might be less bloody and less chaotic for all involved.
But the highlight of the night for Dany’s story is undoubtedly the refreshing way she takes Daario like Robert Baratheon might take a tavern wrench while on the road. Full disclosure, I actually think this scene is great. First, it implies a sex scene without a frame of female nudity—how novel for HBO—but more importantly it changes the entire power dynamic between Dany and Daario in the books, and it’s for the better. For multiple novels in George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire,” Daario is meant to be the roguish mercenary with a wry smile and a raised eyebrow that Dany swoons for. For hundreds and hundreds of pages, she literally trembles and publicly yearns in front of her subjects the sight of Daario, always (and visibly) afraid to give in to him lest he “master her.” When they finally share an inevitable night in bed, it is not as a Queen and her dalliance, or even as equals and lovers, but as Dany the star-struck young girl and Daario the womanizing anti-hero. It doesn’t work.
In the show, Dany takes a sip of wine and guardedly invites Daario into her bed. She might have feelings for him yet unseen, but in a rather drastic change, she treats him as a subject and a distraction to be kept at arm’s length, even if they are sharing one flesh. I am intrigued just how else they will change this relationship in future episodes. I also can applaud them for not putting in gratuitous nudity.
…So, the next scene is Melisandre pointlessly taking a bath when Queen Selyse barges in. Well, never mind that….
The other major highlights of the night pertained to the Sisters Stark and the heroes who’d dare find them. On the road in search of Sansa Stark, Brienne of Tarth and loyal Podrick Payne make several incredible discoveries when they put on their detective solving halmets. The first is that we have not in fact seen the last of Hot Pie when they come across his inn and ask of Sansa Stark. The second is that Hot Pie has seen Arya Stark, and she was headed north with the Brotherhood Without Banners and the Hound toward the Twins.
This reveal allows a touching moment of nostalgia from Arya’s admittedly gentler era on the show when her adventures were more medieval transcendentalism by way of Samuel Clemens as she, Gendry, and Hot Pie made tracks through the Riverlands during Seasons 2 and 3. Hot Pie even has a much better baked wolf-bread loaf for her to get should Brienne find her (an unlikely feat before the bread would get moldy). However, it also shows Podrick is truly the Imp of Lannister’s squire, because he could deduce that after Lady Catelyn and Robb Stark died at the Twins that the next best place for Arya to head was toward the Eyrie, the home of her crazed Lannister-hating aunt.
In another welcome departure from the book, Brienne and Podrick are making much, much faster progress in their search for Stark girls, and Brienne is now on track to find both of them. Assuming of course, she can follow the breadcrumbs between the previously hapless Brotherhood Without Banners and the Hound.
Which bring us to the actual Arya and the Hound themselves. If Arry of the Riverlands was a tale of on the road adolescence, I’d daresay that Arya is now nearly fully grown by Westerosi standards, and her adulthood has become a truly dark tale. Indeed, after witnessing the slaughter of Robb’s men, his direwolf, and Robb’s own defiled corpse when she was within moments’ reach of her loving mother’s arms, Arya has hardened into the most chilling of spokesmans for Death. When she and the Hound find some poor sad sack bleeding out for what appears to have been days, lacking the courage to end his own life and face the worse fate of potential nothingness, Arya coldly mutters, “Nothing is nothing.” By debating the meaningless of existence or the lack of an afterlife, at the age of about 14 (in the show’s timeline) Arya has become the most ambivalent of existentialists. This isn’t Samuel Clemens; it’s Samuel Beckett, and this old-timer just discovered that he’s been “Waiting For Arya.” Albeit, it is the Hound who ends his suffering.
Luckily, Arya’s precious Needle does not go dry in working on its embroidery when Biter and Rorge—callbacks all the way from Season 2—make a surprise return in tonight’s episode. The stagebound theatricality of the previous scene (which I mean as a compliment) is only compounded when Rorge, who viewers at best remember as the guy who threatened to rape 12-year-old Arya in Season 2, stops long enough to politely acquiesce to the Hound and Arya’s request for his name. After he gives it, Arya just as cordially runs him through with Needle. It is a quizzical scene bordering on the surreal and is honestly a hilarious highlight of the night. Arya has gotten dark—to the point where the Hound comes off as the soft one as he whines about the cruelty of his brother (and his irritated, bitten flesh), and it is ever a joy to see.
But the biggest fan service of the night, besides Oberyn’s lifeline to Tyrion, came in the show’s closing moments when we returned to the Vale. Winter might still be a little ways off for the rest of Westeros, but in the cloud-kissing mountaintops of the Eyrie, the first snowfall has come and with it a moment of melancholy reflection for Ned Stark’s eldest daughter.
Arya might play with vengeance and blood, but her older sister still clings not only to the childhood amusement of making temporal art in the snow, but also to the fantasy illusion of hope. She hopes that she will one day see her ancestral home of Winterfell again, the castle that also was nestled in the snow and that nestled her youth with Arya, Catelyn, Eddard, Robb, Bran, and Rickon. But they’re all gone now, dead or at least deceivingly so to the world’s eyes. Even Winterfell was largely burned and scarred by the Bastard of Bolton. In its place, Sansa only has the memories of a childhood lost like tears in the snow.
Perhaps this is why she is so intrigued when Robin, the technical Lord of the Vale, tells her that one day they’ll wed and she will be able to make whoever she wishes fly. It is also the reason why she shows a bit of common sense and slaps a character even more naïve than herself when Robin ruins her castle. The always watchful Littlefinger approves of Sansa’s growing backbone and whispers sweet lies in her ear about vengeance on the Lannisters for Catelyn’s death (remember, we know that he precipitated the war when he had a lie ravened off to Winterfell from Lysa’s hand). But most creepy of all, the dirty old man reflects on that he wishes Sansa Stark had been his daughter, but he will settle for her being his intended lover when he uncharacteristically forgets himself and steals a skeevy kiss.
Of course, Lysa saw it all.
Honestly, there are few people who will sympathize with Lysa Arryn’s death, and it was all but inevitable as by Littlefinger’s admission, he always loved Catelyn and never Lysa. Also, with her craziness out of the way, Littlefinger needs only smooth over the circumstances of her death to assert himself as Lord Regent of the Vale. Instead of ruling the now last untangled kingdom in the War of the Five Kings—since Dorne is throwing in their lot with Tyrion—through his unpredictable wife, he can rule the kingdom unencumbered except for a sickly, weak, and totally unlikely-to-make-it-to-adulthood boy, all with the girl he intends to be his protégé and eventual bridal key into the North by his side. Littlefinger made another major step toward all consuming power tonight. Perhaps that is why Lysa is such a pathetic soul. She loved a man who saw her as nothing more than her sister’s substitute. She might have murdered her husband and certainly would have killed her niece too if Petyr Baelish hadn’t interfered in a moment that bordered on chivalry. But the last words she heard was the love of her life rejecting her in favor of a dead sibling. I doubt she even felt the sudden stop to it all.
Thus ended another superb night of Game of Thrones. Any episode that concludes on a satisfying death is a winner in my book, but this show also made great strides in pulling away from some of the literal source books’ weaknesses, such as Brienne and Podrick’s aimless wandering and Dany’s subservient nature to Daario. And it featured the Red Viper announcing to Tyrion that he will turn his venom toward the Mountain in the Imp’s stead, perhaps providing both characters with a sense of justice in the next episode following Memorial Day weekend. It all made the bitter taste of Bronn’s betrayal go down smoothly as we anticipate the true climax of Tyrion’s trial in two weeks’ time. In the meantime, I am going to search for some direwolf-shaped bread.