This review contains spoilers.
3.2 Dark Wings, Dark Words
If last week’s episode was the first part of a catch-up with our friends from last season, this episode is a little bit more than a refresher. Indeed, it’s a head-spinning assortment of jumps and scenes and characters both old and new. As our familiar friends wander through Westeros towards their various destinations, it seems that no road is without new faces appearing upon it. Around every corner a new shaggy, bearded swordsman emerges, and Westeros seems richer for it.
For a show that’s already running over with cast members, it seems crazy to add more people, but it seems as though Benioff and Weiss have picked some of the better personalities from the volumes of words written by George R.R. Martin, and the immediate standout, unsurprisingly, is the Queen of Thorns herself, Lady Olenna Redwyne. From her very introduction in King’s Landing, Olenna is a certified stealer of scenes thanks to Dame Diana Rigg. This may be the show’s second-best pairing of actor to character, just after Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion Lannister (who makes a brief appearance this week). It’s difficult for someone to walk onto the set of a show with a history, let alone a show with a bunch of beloved characters, and make an instant impression. Long story short, if Lady Olenna can have one good scene with Tyrion Lannister in which they match wits and crack wise, I’ll have a new favorite moment on the show.
There’s a lot of jumping around this week. Everyone we didn’t see last week appears, and some we saw last week come back for seconds. While the zig-zagging isn’t confusing thanks to the great job the show’s done fleshing out the motivations of Brienne and Arya and Jon Snow and the like, it does feel a little scattered. Some of the transitions make sense, particularly a nice match cut where Joffrey and Sansa are getting dressed and discussing (or trying to in Joff’s case) the political machinations of various figures in the court regime and one in which we go from Catelyn discussing Jon Snow and Jon Snow himself, freezing with Mance Rayder beyond the wall. It’s a clever bit of structure in an episode that needs some structure to tie it together, courtesy of Vanessa Taylor’s pen.
The episode didn’t have a great deal of visual flourish, but what it did have was a very good sword fighting scene. In some shows, where clashing steel is all about choreography more complex than the average ballroom dance, Game of Thrones is a show where the fighting looks real. There’s nothing particularly neat or pretty about it, no real spins or twirls or anything other than gritted teeth, the smash of steel shoulder on steel shoulder, sweat and strain and blood. Daniel Minahan does a great job of capturing the brutality of the right in a creative, visceral way. He creates some good tension in all of the Brienne and Jaime scenes, even when they’re jousting verbally or walking through the woods, and that pairing of actors is probably my current favorite on the programme after Tyrion and anyone else. They’re just a prisoner and a captive trudging through the woods, and Minahan does a great job of both capturing the necessary paranoia of transporting the most famous prisoner in Westeros and the incredible boredom of a very, very long journey on foot.
Like the first episode, this week’s episode has put some very interesting wheels into motion for the power-hungry nobles and red-handed bandits of Westeros. The glut of new characters aside, the development of some of the more familiar characters was a nice touch. Sophie Turner’s mini-breakdown when confronted by the Tyrells was great work on her part, but the way Margaery (Natalie Dormer) manipulated Joffrey – and the way Cersei failed at the same task – is going to prove to be important for the season to come. Cersei won’t take this sort of manipulation lightly, particularly when she’s not behind it.
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