TIME

RECAP: Game of Thrones Watch: The Irony Throne

Tywin (Charles Dance) on what is, alas, not the final throne he occupied. HELEN SLOAN / HBO

The season finale deals with some troubling parent-child relationships, takes some weird turns, and leaves us wondering where this ever-more-sprawling story is headed.

Spoilers for the season 4 finale of Game of Thrones below:

This season finale, “The Children,” went in a lot of directions to attend to a lot of business, so we might as well start where the title directs us–to Tywin Lannister, who went out doing his business, sitting a throne that was not made of iron but of irony.

Through all his machinations and cruelty, it was always about family for Tywin Lannister, and yet he was done in by family: Cersei, who revealed her incestuous secret and thus that his family’s claim to the throne was illegitimate; Jaime, who helped Tyrion escape death row; and Tyrion, who took crossbow in hand and pronounced his father’s death sentence upon his chamberpot. (Yes: on Fathers’ Day. That’ll make a great e-card!)

What was striking about the final scene between son and father, sold convincingly by Charles Dance and Peter Dinklage in performances that conveyed decades of history, was that it could have played as fist-pumping payback but instead was simply, deeply sad. This began, of course, with Tyrion discovering one more betrayal: Shae, whom he made hate him to save her, in the bed of his father. Seeing Tyrion, she tries to stab him; he strangles her, but regretfully. And some note of that carries over to his encounter with Tywin; even as his voice drips hatred for Tywin, lying at the last to save himself, there’s pain too. “I am your son,” are his last words to his father. “I have always been your son.” It’s not a statement of anger or defiance so much as an acknowledgment that you can’t erase the hurt of your father’s hating you, not if you plug the hole with a thousand crossbow bolts.

In Meereen, meanwhile, the parent-child theme takes another ironic turn. The means of Dany’s conquest, and the source of her power, has been by taking on the maternal role and expanding her family. First she became Mother of Dragons, then became Mhysa to the slaves she liberated. But as she deals with staying in the city and attempting to govern, she discovers that the interests of her adopted children are in conflict–namely, that an AWOL Drogon has immolated a three-year-old peasant girl.

It’s a horrific revelation that underscores Daenerys’ core problem: that the roles of conqueror and governor are in conflict. Here, literally, one source of her power, her dragons, is also an uncontrollable menace. Now that she’s chosen to stay in one place, she has to make a choice: wrenchingly, she leads the two other dragons into a catacomb, where she collars and chains them in place while they wail for her like babies. The longer Dany occupies two roles–the warrior queen and the nurturing protector–the more likely it is that she will not be able to live up to the collection of grand honorifics she has amassed. After all, as we are reminded when she is introduced in the episode, “Mother” is only one of her titles. Another: Breaker of Chains. Ask her scaly children what they think about that.

“The Children” in this episode, however, refers not only to parent-child relationships but to the mysterious ancient beings Bran finds north of The Wall in an encounter that gets… weird. Like, Ray Harryhausen, Jason and the Argonauts weird. Season 4 claims another casualty–Jojen Reed–to the attack of some energetic undead wights, and we’re introduced to The Children, who repel the skeletons using–are those exploding pinecones? Gandalf, is that you?–and bring Bran to a cave, where the “Three-Eyed Raven” he’s been seeking turns out to be an ancient man who promises Bran he will fly and–

OK, deep breath. I’m willing to give this storyline a lot of slack, because, like the White Walkers and the Wall, it feels deeply tied to Game of Thrones‘ long game involving the stirrings of magic in a world where it’s long been dead. And because it has Hodor. But part of the reason the series has been so special and effective is because it’s been so sparing with the skeletons-and-sorcery. There’s intriguing stuff here, but Benioff and Weiss need to walk carefully next season to make sure they don’t turn this whole storyline into the cover of a Yes album.

Likewise with the other wintry doings here, at The Wall, where Stannis, having apparently taken a turn north at Braavos, flattens the Wildling army with heavy cavalry. Here again, I’m dedicated to the story because I can feel, in theory, its importance. (And now because I’m curious what happens when Jon and Melisandre are sharing screen time. But season four could have done better connecting us to Jon Snow’s character, and I’m hoping this turn of events brings him in from the cold.

There’s one more significant storyline to deal with, but first: where does “The Children,” and season four, leave Game of Thrones overall? It’s been a season of some incredibly powerful moments and confident storytelling. But its pieces also feel very scattered–by design, maybe, but scattered nonetheless.

Depending on your estimate of how long the entire series will run (seven or eight seasons seems the consenus), we’re about halfway through. And the series has largely been structured around taking characters in a few central locations–Winterfell, King’s Landing–and dispersing them to the winds. A bunch of threads have spread widely from their starting point, and we’re at the point where we have to take on faith that they’re meant to come back together, though we can’t see where or how. Game of Thrones is at the peak of its popularity, but it may next season reach the point where it tests fans’ patience if the story gets any more diffuse.

But then there’s Arya. One saving grace of Game of Thrones is that, for all its increasing spectacle, it gets its greatest power from certain characters and combinations of characters, who charge the screen whenever they appear. Maisie Williams’ Arya has always been one, and her pairing this season with The Hound has been as delightful–though in a different way–as pairing her with Tywin earlier.

It makes sense, then, that “The Children” would end with her. (Book readers, I’ll talk a little about where the season didn’t end below.) There hasn’t been a lot of event in Arya’s story this season–she and the Hound have gone one place and another and another. There have been no undead skeletons! Yet it’s never felt like wasted time, because their interchanges have been such a pleasure and–as they’ve traveled the war-ravaged countryside–added depth to the themes of the series.

It may be that The Hound is dead. (Or not–if you haven’t seen his head explode, you can’t be sure!) She may be off to an uncertain future in Braavos. And she may be getting, not closer to her family, but a full continent away. Yet there’s something hopeful about seeing her climb to the prow of the ship, heading to an uncertain thing to come next. Arya has been hardened, but not defeated, by what she’s seen, and her ability to keep going is infectious. We want to see what comes next because she wants to see it.

So as the producers of Game of Thrones get ready for season five next year, they should keep in mind how Arya represents what the show does best. It’s not necessarily about where the ship is going; it’s who you’re traveling with.

Now for a quick hail of crossbow bolts:

* If you haven’t read the source books, you can skip over this bullet point. If you have read them, I’m going to be vague here for the sake of non-readers, but you’ll get what I mean. (And I ask that you be as vague in the comments.) From the Twitter reaction just after the episode, I gather a lot of you were upset that [shocking thing that happens at the end of A Storm of Swords] did not happen at the end of this season. As a reader I was puzzled, since it seemed like such an obvious punch-in-the-gut ending, like the hatching of the dragons. And for all I know maybe the reason was [casting issue I will not detail for spoilers’ sake]. But as a TV fan, I’ve seen so many dramas compete to end on the most shocking cliffhanger that, if nothing else, it was refreshing that the producers chose to end on an emotional moment instead of a cool one.

* OK, non-book-readers can rejoin us. You might be glad to know that several of the storylines are rapidly catching up with what’s been written in the books to date. So very soon we’ll all be equally befuddled.

* Loved the choral arrangement of the series theme playing over the final scene with Arya.

* I’m sure that, for elaborate future-plotting reasons, it was impossible for Arya to end up with Brienne. But now I want them together all the time.

* It’s unfortunate that The Wall business was dealt with so quickly and early, because there was power in the idea that for the Wildlings, the war was never about conquest but mere survival: “We’ve come to hide behind your Wall just like you.”

* “Killed by a woman. I bet you liked that.”

TIME Television

RECAP: Game of Thrones Watch: Hulk Smash!

HBO

Oberyn Martell enters the arena to fight a trial by combat for Tyrion--but it turns out that he's prosecuting an entirely different trial.

Spoilers for last night’s Game of Thrones follow:

“There’s no kind of killing that doesn’t have its own word.”

Game of Thrones is perhaps the most elaborate trick TV has ever created to get people to watch a show about talking while making them believe it’s a show about fighting. Yes, there is swordplay and spearplay, yes, there are dragons and occasional magic, yes, there are pyramids and castles with Moon doors, yes, there is sufficient violence that a man had an axe buried in his bald head and it was maybe, maybe the third grossest thing we saw tonight. Yet Game of Thrones is never more captivating than when it’s just one person talking to another person.

You would think that “The Mountain and the Viper” would be an exception. It was, after all, an episode that, as the title tipped us off, was built toward a duel, between Oberyn Martell and Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane. This time, the action would matter more than the talk. You would be wrong–but no more wrong than the assembled crowd in King’s Landing, who believe they’re gathered to see, not just a royal trial, but a battle royal–a clash between two legendary fighters, bantamweight vs. superheavyweight, speed vs. strength, Ali vs. Foreman. (Think of it as When We Were King’s Landing.)

Yes, the scene delivered, balletically. Director Alex Graves made news earlier this season with the muddled, controversial, looked-like-rape-but-apparently-it-wasn’t-supposed-to-or-was-it scene between Jaime and Cersei, but the duel was a thing of beauty, from Oberyn’s whirling-dervish entry to the building pathos of his rage, intercut with the reactions of the spectators that both traced the course of the fight and revealed their different interests in it.

Yet to Oberyn, on the fighting ground, the duel is only a means to an end. His words are not just venting or trash talk–they’re the point. He is, as gradually comes clear through the scene, not fighting in the trial by combat of Tyrion Lannister (as Tyrion realizes with growing horror). He is fighting the trial by combat of Gregor Clegane. His accusation becomes a one-two-three combination attack in itself, building rhythmically: “You raped her! You murdered her! You killed her children!” (I assume, by the way, that we have now exhausted every Oberyn-as-Inigo-Montoya joke that there is to make.)

Killing the Mountain would be nice, for him and for Tyrion, but it is secondary. I’m sure everyone in the audience, not unlike Tyrion, was thinking, “Shut up and finish him off!” But Oberyn is not simply, as they said in The Incredibles, “monologuing,” arrogantly blathering rather than finishing off his opponent. The words are the point. The point is that the killer Say. The. Words.

So, OK: words are not going to unsmash Oberyn’s pumpkin of a head. Nor are they going to keep Tyrion’s attached to his body. Oberyn lost, yet he won–he won the trial that he was staging, getting those words out of The Mountain–and publicly airing the ugly story of Tywin Lannister’s triumph–maybe the only way he could have.

So RIP, Oberyn Martell. “You’re a talker,” the Hound says to a Lannister soldier, dismissively, in the season’s first episode. But Game of Thrones loves talkers (the Hound not least among them)–it loves Arya sparring with Tywin, Littlefinger dancing with Varys, Olenna Tyrell holding forth with anyone. And even a physically thrilling episode like this one is finally memorable for its monologues and dialogues.

Immediately before the climactic battle, there’s a remarkable talk between Tyrion and Jaime, which ends up prefiguring the duel. The younger brother remembers their idiot cousin Orson, who was fascinated with crushing beetles. It becomes a mystery story–why does he do it? what does he get from it?–and then it becomes a story about young Tyrion and his need to understand what makes people tick. In his cousin’s face, he sees a language he can’t read, and yet there’s something there, if only he could translate. “I had to know.”

It’s a mystery that ends without a solution. Tyrion digs and digs and then one day a mule kicks Orson in the chest and it’s over. The lesson? Maybe none. Or maybe the lesson is that while intelligence and fluency can get you very far, sometimes the search for a lesson is doomed to fail. That the urge to crush is something beyond language, beyond reason, beyond the maester’s books. That you can have the nimblest mind, the quickest tongue, and a dancing spear to match. But sometimes it’s the hulk who likes to smash things who gets the last word.

Now for the hail of arrows:

* While we’re celebrating the great talkers of Westeros, let’s hear it for Lady Sansa Stark! Her performance before the lords of The Vale was one to do Littlefinger proud–not simply because of her successful lie but because, as he would himself, she dresses it in just enough of the turth to make it believable. (And, I assume, to scare the seven hells out of Baelish until she got to the end of her story.) I’m not sure I understand her aims here better than he does–though it does seem reasonable that the Eyrie, at least, is impregnable anything seems better than to risk being handed over to the Lannisters yet again. Or maybe she’s making it up as she goes along. But after so much time whimpering and being victimized, confidence looks good on her.

* “You are Ramsay Bolton.” So one lord in all of Westeros finally does right by his bastard–and it’s this jackass?

* Despite Jorah banishment, and a seemingly budding relationship between Missandei and Grey Worm, the major development from Meereen this week is giving us the phrase “the pillar and the stones,” which is my new favorite euphemism.

* So it turns out that burping “The Rains of Castamere” is no better an omen than having a string section playing them.

* As I said, this was an episode of well-written dialogue, and yet what probably said it all was Arya, finding that she showed up at the scene of one more ill-timed family death, laughing and laughing uncontrollably. Times like this, what else can you do?

TIME Television

RECAP: Game of Thrones Watch: Snow Castles in the Snow

HBO

Every player in this game, it seems, wants to knock down someone's castle. But in "Mockingbird," which adds to Littlefinger's already impressive list of dastardly deeds, the real problem is knowing what to rebuild afterward.

Spoilers for last night’s Game of Thrones follow:

“If you want to build a better home,” Petyr Baelish tells Sansa Stark just before planting a creepy-uncle kiss on her, “first you must demolish the old one.” He should know: Littlefinger, as we’ve discovered in recent episodes, has been bringing down castles in Westeros like Miley Cyrus riding a wrecking ball: killing a King, revealing that he killed a Hand, and now killing the Hand’s widow, after she served the purpose of marrying him and giving him a castle.

He’s a big believer in creative destruction, is our Petyr, a little lord far down the chain of power who long ago realized that if the wants to rise he needs to take a boltcutter to the chain links above him. With his talk of keeping your enemies off-balance, he has hinted at a larger plan: to upend everything, kick over the snow castle, the better for a crafty sculptor like him to rebuild it to his liking.

But to what end, for what cause? Love, or lust, or both–for Catelyn and now, by quasi-incestuous extension, for Sansa. Which raises the next, implicit question: can he possibly build any better a new order on that twisted foundation?

More on that in a second, but first: Sansa, poor Sansa! She’s as unlucky a girl can be who has repeatedly been saved from death and imprisonment. She’s the Sally Draper of Westeros, forever doomed to witness terrible things and stumble upon the depravity of adults. When her sister Arya was shielded from seeing Ned’s death, she had a front-row seat. Likewise Joffrey’s hideous death, and all the psychological tortures of King’s Landing in between.

And yet, as the initial scene in which she tries to rebuild her family home, as a snow castle, from memory–she has still managed to remain a child, which may be the greatest achievement that any character on Game of Thrones can claim. Up in the Riverlands, Arya remais decent-hearted, but she’s also a dead-eyed killer, able to skewer a man through the heart like pinning the tail on the donkey. Sansa, on the other hand, at least hangs on to some capacity for wonder amid her misery.

She hasn’t had to kill with her hands, but what Sansa must do emotionally is damn hard work, work that Sophie Turner conveys remarkably (in a performance that, I think, has gotten underappreciated because her character isn’t the crowd-pleaser that others are). Whether it’s enduring the cruelty of the Lannisters while keeping her composure, reassuring her crazy aunt that she has no designs on her now-uncle, or resisting said uncle’s advances in the Eyrie courtyard–Sansa can never let up, can never stop keeping up her guard and her appearances for one damn second. Which is why it’s so sweetly sad to see her have a moment of play in the snow (even if she’s building a monument to the dead) and even to get into a fight with her cousin/fiance Robin–because it’s a child’s fight, over a ruined snow castle, and for a few moments she has the opportunity to simply be the girl she is, not a wary target, a prisoner, a prize.

The more I watch Game of Thrones, really, the more I feel that it’s Sansa–not Dany, Jon, Stannis, or any other claimant–that I want to see end up in power (although a life sitting on the Iron Throne may be the last thing she wants). Toughened by her experience but tough enough to retain some measure of kindness, she’s one queen I could imagine sculpting Westeros’s rubble into something worthwhile–one person who could look at the plans for a castle without first asking where is it you hold the executions.

But, as Petyr told us, we don’t live in that world, not yet at least. The world we’re in now belongs to the castle-smashers. In Dragonstone, we get an ominous scene between Selyse Baratheon and Melisandre, whose very religious practice is built on the idea that one releases power and does God’s will on Earth by making people into tinder. When you believe that nothing done in your god’s name can be a sin, you end up with funeral pyres and poor old Gendry, who I assume is still out there rowing away from her with all his might. Charming as she can be, it’s chilling to hear her tell Selyse that her daughter Shireen must come along on their unnamed adventure: king’s blood, as we know, is Mel’s favorite potion, and poor Shireen is chock full of it.

In Meereen, Daenerys is asking herself what she wants to rebuild, having demolished the social order of Slaver’s Bay. Unlike Petyr, her goals are idealistic, even if she started out with the simple goal of restoring the Targaryen family dynasty. But as she’s discovering, there’s a fine line between idealism and fanaticism, between liberator and executioner, as Jorah persuades her. Kill all the Masters and she’s a tyrant; leave them alive and she may regret it. Here, destroying is the easy part; rebuilding is harder–and knowing what you want to rebuild and why, maybe impossible.

Yet the urge to destroy may still have its uses: it may be Tyrion’s last hope, for instance. As suggested last week, his demand for trial by combat was indeed a from-hell’s-heart-I-stab-thee swipe at Tywin: “It felt good to take that from him.” But he literally cannot get a champion for love or money. Jaime is not willing to get killed by The Mountain (whom we see dispatching prisoners like batting practice) simply to go down with his brother. And as for Bronn–the future Mr. Lollys Stokeworth–his price is now too high.

But Tyrion has just what Oberyn wants: revenge, and the opportunity to shatter Tywin Lannister’s plans. People may think of Game of Thrones as an action series, but “Mockingbird,” like so many of its stronger episodes, is really just a series of conversations between two people. In a confluence of interests so perfect I’m surprised Tyrion didn’t think of it immediately, Oberyn volunteers to avenge his sister and her babies, and proffers a gift to Tyrion in return: a story about visiting him as a baby–rumored to be a “monster”–and witnessing the murderous hatred his sister had for him even then. It’s a compelling monologue, but equally telling is Tyrion’s reaction to Oberyn’s offer: he’s relieved, maybe, but not really overjoyed. The story reminds us, after all: even if Tyrion survives, what does he have to move on to? For some, all that may be left is the demolition, not the reconstruction.

Which brings us back to Petyr Baelish. His destroy-and-rebuild metaphor is so apt, I think, because Game of Thrones does a lot of characterization through architecture; that is, the castles and keeps of the various families tells us something about the builders and inhabitants. Winterfell is sturdy and austere. Dragonstone is cold and hard and isolated, like Stannis. The Eyrie is impregnable but isolated, underlining the paranoid, stir-crazy, sickly air of the Arryn family.

Littlefinger, we know, hails from a forgettable hold in the sticks. What sort of castle would Petyr build if he could? The episode is titled “Mockingbird,” which is Petyr’s sigil: a mimic, an imitator. His means of ascension has been simply to acquire the homes of others, trading up every time (it’s Property Ladder with Petyr Baelish!). By playing a certain part for Joffrey, he got Harrenhal, by playing the brief role of Lysa’s lover, he moved on up to the Eyrie.

Petyr Baelish is a mockingbird, but given his modus operandi, he might better be a cuckoo or a cowbird–some species that lays its eggs in another’s nest, pushes out its brood, and claims it for his own. (Lysa, actually, raises this image herself; the bodies hurled out the Moon Door, she says, sometimes shatter on the rocks “like eggs.” We know that he has the genius for sowing chaos, but not if he has the imagination to do anything but inhabit others’ castles, to try to create a replica of his true love through Sansa.

So he does just that, and–once he has her right where he wants her–pushes poor, tormented Lysa Arryn out of her own nest through the Moon Door. Because there’s one thing this mockingbird knows: If you want to make an omelet, you’ve got to break some eggs.

Now for the hail of arrows:

* Hot Pie! Though it remains to be seen where the Brienne and Pod Roadshow will take us, I was delighted to see Westeros’ Top Chef make another appearance. I just wonder how easy it is to carry a wolf-bread intact on a cross country journey in armor.

* And, Hot Pie, you speak truth: Never, ever give up on the gravy, my friend.

* This week in equal-opportunity nudity: a long-awaited shot of Daario’s ass is directly followed by a nude (at considerably more length) Melisandre.

* A digression, and maybe everyone is tired of talking about rape in Game of Thrones, but: Bronn’s new sweetheart, Lollys? She’s actually an example of a brutal rape scene from the source books that the series omitted. In what would have been a season-2 scene, Lollys was horrifically gang-raped by an angry mob during a revolt in King’s Landing; that was changed here into a mob attack in which Sansa was nearly raped but was saved by the Hound.

* Meanwhile, at The Wall–well, things are still progressing very slowly. That looming attack by the Wildlings has been looming for quite a while now, and although there are still three episodes left, I have to wonder if this story arc will get much resolution by the end of this season.

* Although the series is increasingly departing from the books, and may do so more in the future, the rule is still the rule: no discussing future book spoilers. But you knew that already, right?

TIME Television

RECAP: Game of Thrones Watch: Soul on Ice

HBO

King's Landing is in flux, the plot heats up in the icy North, and last week's controversial scene looms over a story of conflicted loyalties.

Spoilers for last night’s Game of Thrones follow:

The Seven forgive me, but it’s hard to discuss this week’s Game of Thrones, “Oathkeeper,” without returning to last week’s–namely, That Scene, which loomed over many of the doings in King’s Landing–whether it was meant to or not.

I was on vacation last Monday and so thankfully sat out the Great Was It Rape Debate of 2014. (Maureen Ryan’s analysis pretty much nailed it in the Huffington Post.) But to sum it up, whatever the director and producers intended (which their conflicting comments only further confused), whatever was in the source book, whatever it says about sexual violence generally in Game of Thrones: of course it was rape, what we saw on screen between Jaime and Cersei–a woman being overpowered by a man, protesting and resisting even as he thrusts into her at the end.

From the evidence of “Oathkeeper,” which doesn’t overtly address the incident, my guess is now that the makers meant the scene not to be rape–intended, maybe, an encounter of angry sex between two damaged lovers*–but utterly botched getting any of that complexity on screen. It’s just a guess. You’re welcome to disagree. But at the point that an audience is having this argument, someone has screwed something up. Ambiguity can be a powerful thing; “Keep your foes confused,” as Littlefinger tells us in this episode. But the audience is not the enemy, and the confusion in the sept muddied not only That Scene but what comes after.

*If that’s so, it would make the intended scene something closer to the equivalent of the scene from the source book. And although some think pieces last week described that book scene as “consensual,” I don’t think it’s quite that simple. It’s eventually consensual, but it’s the sort of she-fights-it-then-gets-into-it scene–Cersei protests and “pound[s] his chest with feeble fists” before consenting–that has its own problems in portraying a “no” that turns into “yes.” Regardless, the book is the book and the show is the show; if your scene requires outside reading to interpret, you’re doing it wrong.

So in “Oathkeeper,” we see a strained encounter between Cersei and Jaime. She’s devastated and enraged (and drinking heavily), but is it simply her agony over Joffrey’s death and rage at Tyrion, or is it…? There’s clearly a chasm between her and Jaime, but is it the chasm we saw when he first returned to King’s Landing (“You’re too late”), is it bitterness at his refusal to kill Tyrion, or is it…? Is she insistent on increasing Tommen’s security because she fears a second regicide, or because she wants to display some vestige of the agency that her father is brazenly stripping from her, or is it…? Is Jaime insistent on “filling his page” in the Lord Commander’s book simply because he still feels guilt for his own regicide, or is it…?

We’re weighing, in other words, the scene we actually saw with our guesses at what scene we were meant to see–and that’s the difference between complexity and confusion. (Which is doubly a shame because Lena Headey is transfixing in her bereavement and fury here.)

And it’s too bad, because “Oathkeeper,” directed by Michelle MacLaren, though largely a piece-mover episode, is itself a model of clarity in many ways. Look, for instance, at how it leads us through the solution to Joffrey’s poisoning, like Littlefinger teaching Machiavelli 101 to Sansa.

It’s not merely didactic or expository. It uses the revelation to illuminate character: Sansa (the underappreciated Sophie Turner) overcoming her well-bred naivete to see the world as a conspirator does, Littlefinger laying out his philosophy, that most men risk too little and die anyway. (In other, less eloquent words: YOLO.) Then the episode leads us geographically to Littlefinger’s co-conspirator, Olenna Tyrell, who before skipping town shares with Margaery her own views on power–and reveals she was a hellion in the sack–while also slyly revealing not only that she helped kill Joffrey, but suggesting how: she delicately fingers the stones on her granddaughter’s own necklace.

MacLaren follows up that heart-to-heart with a scene that’s a masterly example of being nuanced but clear. Taking Olenna’s advice that she must act before Cersei does, Margaery visits Li’l King Tommen in his room at night. Tommen, as sweet and dutiful as Joffrey was vicious, is still very much a child, but it seems very possible she could be walking in to seduce him, because of Olenna’s explicit story and because, well, what won’t Game of Thrones do?

It is a seduction, but not entirely of that kind. She befriends him, giggles, makes nice with Ser Pounce. It’s girlfriendly, but in a way modulated to Tommen’s age and maturity level, to gaining his comfort and trust–while also, just ever so, intimating that they will some day be much more friendly. It’s not a sexual seduction, but it’s not entirely not sexual either. As she says good night, she leans in momentarily, makes as if to kiss him on the lips, and instead kisses him gently on his forehead. She’s putting herself forward as a friend, as a big sister and as someone he can trust in a scary time–yet she’s holding out the promise, barely perceptible to him now, of being his woman.

That’s how you do subtle-but-clear.

And how do we take Jaime now? In the aftermath of last Sunday, I saw some commenters suggesting that the show would whiplash back to Jaime as “the good guy” again. But whatever happened last week, Game of Thrones is not in the business of simply good or bad guys, period. And despite his bonding with Brienne last season, I’m not sure the show intends us to ever see Jaime as a good guy, nor intends any straight redemption arc with him.

Follow his timeline back. Last week, he at worst raped his sister, at best had hate-sex with her by the corpse of their son. Before that, he saved Brienne from rape and murder. Before that, he tried to kill a boy by pushing him out a window. Before that, he killed an insane king to save a million people in King’s Landing. Before that, he served an invading army that used rape as a weapon of war. Before that… The point being, it is entirely possible he will always be able to do good and reprehensible things; he may want an honored name, but not too much goodness in a world that tells him it’s a liability. (“You learned to fight like a good little boy,” Bronn tells him, after knocking him on his ass.)

What Jaime can do, anyway, is follow promises if he cannot trust himself to follow principles. He can resolve his agony over Joffrey’s death by drawing the bright line that he can’t kill his brother (whatever he’s done to his sister). And in the scene that gives the episode its title, he can outsource his honor, giving his sword to someone who can use it better and telling Brienne that she at least should keep her own oath as best she can.

In many ways, “Oathkeeper” was about forms of loyalty: loyalty to family (and contradicting claims of loyalty by different family members); loyalty to oaths; loyalty to principles; loyalty won through seduction and insinuation. Loyalty may often travel in the same lane as goodness, but it’s not the same thing. It’s a way of securing good-adjacent behavior, or at least to fend off anarchy. Get rid of loyalty to oaths, for instance, and you have the hellish rapists among the oath-breaking mutineers against the Night’s Watch at Craster’s Keep. You have the Red Wedding, which broke a sacred vow of protection to guests who have taken your bread and salt. Like laws or mottoes–“The Lannisters always pay their debts”–loyalty is a way of securing predictable behavior in a world that tends to chaos. Jaime’s kingslaying is both the best thing he’s done and the greatest stain on his name–secretly preventing a mass murder, through the greatest violation of loyalty that his society knows.

So he sends off the more trustworthy Brienne off to be an oathkeeper on his behalf. For someone like Jaime, maybe loyalty is what you fall back on when you can’t trust yourself to be good.

Now for the hail of arrows:

* Like last season, and like the GoT Close-Up posts I’ve done earlier this season, I’m going to try to focus these posts on individual scenes, storylines, or themes, not list every damn thing that happened. Feel free to talk about anything I didn’t cover in the comments. That said…

* Meereen: current-events synchronicity alert; just after Cliven Bundy suggested slavery might have been better than welfare, we see a slave rebellion that gives voice to the slaves themselves. The opening dialogue of Missandei and Grey Worm sharing their memories of being “taken” (or lack thereof) was a great example of the small revelatory conversations that Game of Thrones uses to link plot action. (It’s interesting how Grey Worm, though he wants to “kill the masters,” also retains pride in being Unsullied, even as it obliterated his previous identity: “Before Unsullied, nothing.”) Where the storyline has largely focused on the liberator–Danaerys, “Mhysa”–here we had Grey Worm declaring, “No one can give you your freedom.”

* The Wall and Beyond: I’m as baffled as you are, and maybe more excited. This is where Game of Thrones is playing its longest and most mystical game (Bran’s visions, the White Walkers), reminding us that this is ultimately about an existential battle for life on the planet. Things have sometimes dragged with The Night’s Watch, as it awaits a Wildling invasion that seems to be moving as slow as molasses–well, molasses at The Wall. But that Bran’s and Jon’s stories seem to be converging is exciting–Bran a hostage at the keep, Jon marching toward him–especially since (not to get into details) if I recall correctly this storyline departs almost entirely from the books.

* The Craster’s scene involves, yes, more rape, but here at least it’s unambiguous and anything but glamorized. The issue, I think, is not how often a series depicts rape, any more than how often it depicts murder, but how seriously (or cavalierly) the show treats its effects and consequences. Craster’s daughters have gone from abuser to abuser. (Not only is rape a weapon of war in the Seven Kingdoms, but the Night’s Watch, we’ve been reminded, has been an exile for many of Westeros’ rapists.) And the effects of the women’s abuse by their father have chillingly outlived the old man; they insist on handing over the male baby, per Craster’s arrangement, as if a religious obligation–“a gift to the gods.”

* A nitpick, but I have never been satisfied with any representation of the Walkers, who I imagine as more spectral: not version 1.0 of the first season, not the white-maned rebooted version. And now it would seem we have more than one type of Walker, including–what, a Walker priest?–who looks a bit like an albino Darth Maul. Should we assume that the baby’s being frozen, body and apparently soul, is how little Walkers are made? (In other words: they are literally conceived of abuse and cruelty?)

* Big thanks to my colleague Eric Dodds, who did the first three episodes of Game of Thrones Watch this year. We may yet switch off again this season, but you’re stuck with me for now.

* And finally: no book spoilers in the comments. (Book readers, I know you’re dying to talk about the changes, but please do it without discussing any book events not yet depicted onscreen.) But you knew that, right?

TIME Television

Game of Thrones Close-Up: Ain’t No Party Like a Westeros Party

HBO

The wedding scene in 'The Lion and the Rose' was stunning, subtle and horrific—and that was before The Great Big Thing happened at the end. TIME's James Poniewozik writes on last night's episode (beware of spoilers!)

In each Game of Thrones Close-Up, rather than trying to recap every event from each sprawling episode, I dig into one theme or scene from the hour. Spoilers from last night’s Game of Thrones, “The Lion and the Rose,” follow:

It’s a bit of a cheat writing this Close-Up about the wedding party in “The Lion and the Rose,” since (1) the scene takes up a good half of the episode and (2) it’s the one everyone who watches the show will be talking about the next day. (Though you could also have a good old time unpacking Bran’s vision at the weirwood tree.)

But let’s not spend too much time on The Great Big Thing at the very end, since I’m guessing all of the Internet is exploding right now over Joffrey’s death. It was a stunning moment and, even if you knew it was coming, felt pretty damn well-deserved after the Red Wedding and everything else the Boy King and his minions have perpetrated. (And yet it’s a credit to the direction and makeup that, nonetheless, it plays and looks like a horrible, hideous thing.)

Instead, let’s look at everything that led up to it–an extensive, uncomfortable party encounter that brought together more central characters in one place than Game of Thrones has usually had the opportunity to do since the Starks left Winterfell. Whatever Joffrey’s death portends–and whoever is responsible–it surely means blowing up many of the circumstances and relations we thought were cemented. Everything is going to change, and the wedding gives us a chance to look in on many of the players moments before everything does. The result is easily the best scene in perhaps the best episode Game of Thrones has ever made.

Top to bottom, this scene is a study in making each moment do several narrative jobs at once. Written by George R. R. Martin, the author of Thrones’ source novels, the script first uses the gathering to survey the state of alliances and tensions in the peace–so-called–that has followed the Lannisters’ victory. Oberyn reminds us that the rulers have an uneasy ally in Dorne–and that Dorne, essentially, has a hostage in Cersei’s daughter, Princess Myrcella. Jamie and Cersei’s encounters with Loras and Brienne, respectively, are really about the incestuous twins relationship with each other; if their love seemed strained last episode, they can still express it through icy threats against anyone who gets too close to the other.

The festivities themselves, meanwhile, are an unsparing exercise in discomfort, reminding us that, if this is a wedding for Joffrey and Margaery, for many of the guests it’s a funeral. And their loved ones–Robb Stark, Renly Baratheon–are not just killed again but their corpses desecrated in the dwarfs’ combat, a ghastly but amazing set piece. (It features, among other things, the “degenerate” Renly capering around with a prosthetic bare ass and “Joffrey” humping the severed head of a direwolf.) Several times we see pans and background reaction shots of the guests, their faces a study in suppressed pain and fear.

At first, Joffrey’s cruelty in the scene seems excessive for him. But this isn’t just setting up the audience to pump their fists at the comeuppance he gets at the end of the episode. It’s drawing the political picture of Westeros, demonstrating what the entire Seven Kingdoms are facing. This is their future, a point underscored by the first shot of Joffrey, from behind, slouching in his pointy crown. Its young king is a powerful child, petty, unwise, utterly victorious, and utterly ungenerous in that victory. Even by the standards of a hard world, he’s a sadist–cruel even when it’s unnecessary, cruel because it’s unnecessary. (Not even the doves in the pie are spared his overenthusiasm with a weapon.) He’s secured his power and his alliances. And he is going to live and rule for a very, very long time.

Or so it seems.

On a second watch, it’s interesting to see another thing this scene is doing, beyond drawing out character and the larger meaning of Joffrey’s celebration. It’s also setting up a murder mystery, a fantasy “Who Shot J.R.” packed into half an episode, quietly parading a number of characters who have motive to kill Joffrey–and who doesn’t?–and who may have just had the opportunity to slip poison into the wine or the goblet. (Because I’ve read the books, I don’t want to say too much more about this, but have fun Zaprudering this one.)

And before it was over, the scene gave us Game of Thrones’ greatest combat sequence since Brienne fought the bear–the one between Joffrey and Tyrion, a subtle duel involving no more than words and a cupful of wine. In retrospect, Joffrey is pitiable even in his humiliation of his uncle; he’s outmatched verbally (“It’s not meant to be an honor!”) and spared only by the presence of an audience afraid to laugh. There’s a flicker of disgust across Charles Dance’s face as Tywin takes in the spectacle; we know Tywin has no love for Tyrion, but he’s clearly not much happier with this blunt instrument of a grandson turning his triumph into an embarrassment.

Soon it’s over–and pour out a goblet for Jack Gleeson, who takes advantage of the send-off to sneer, pout, and preen the hell out of this character one last time. I don’t expect many of you to mourn Joffrey, but there is a sadness to those last moments when he collapses and is rushed at by first Cersei, then Jaime–whether he suspects it or not, his mother and father, watching their child die before them. The last we see of his face is veined and bloody and twisted, the face of a spiteful boy-king–but a boy, in the end, who grew up marinated in the spite around him. In his last act, Lannister to the end, he points an accusing finger at his uncle, and Cersei turns on him with the fury of a lioness.

Times like these, family is so important.

TIME Television

RECAP: Game of Thrones Watch: Fear Factor

HBO

HBO's Game of Thrones is back for a fourth season as all the major players in Westeros deal with the fallout from last season's notorious "Red Wedding." Beware of spoilers here. And boy, are those dragons getting big

Caution: Spoilers ahead.

“As long as I’m better than everyone else, I suppose it doesn’t matter.”

The characters in the Game of Thrones universe live their lives based on fear, so in a sense, it’s fitting that the audience does as well: Fear that a favorite character will be killed; fear that something will prevent George R. R. Martin from finishing the books; fear that, for those who have only experienced the television version (this writer included), the events yet to unfold onscreen will be spoiled for them.

The season premiere of the show’s fourth season makes it clear that whatever our fears may be, the ones that our friends in Westeros will face over the next 10 weeks are far, far worse.

The episode begins with Ned Stark’s enormous sword, forged from Valyrian steel, being broken down, melted and made into two separate swords by Tywin Lannister, who is still serving as Hand to the King. It’s not hard to sort out the symbolism here. For all the talk throughout the episode about how the war was over — thanks to Stannis Baratheon’s defeat at Blackwater and Robb Stark’s butchering at the Twins — it’s clear that the Seven Kingdoms are as divided as they’ve ever been.

That division spells trouble for everyone. Though the Lannisters appear strong and unchallenged with the Starks out of the picture and Jaime returned home only slightly worse for wear, the cracks are readily apparent. Between the hand missing from his right arm and the Hand of the King pressuring him to accept de facto exile as de facto Lord of Casterly Rock, Jaime finds himself in an unfamiliar position (though one with which Tyrion is altogether too well-acquainted): unwanted.

And if Jaime thought his nephew would be any more grateful for his return, he quickly discovered he was sorely mistaken. Joffrey spent his few minutes on screen this week mocking Jamie for being captured in battle and losing his hand. (It’s fun to remember that Jaime hasn’t seen Joffrey since Season 1, but if he believed that his “nephew’s” reign as king would have made him any less of a brat, coming home must certainly have been a rude awakening.)

Even Cersei, who has been desperate for Jaime return since his capture, seems to want nothing to do with him. “If not now, when? I’ve been back for weeks,” he pleads, but his words do absolutely nothing to shake Cersei’s resolve. “You took too long,” she says, and though it’s clear she’d like Jaime to believe that his inability to escape from Robb Stark has caused the change she keeps mentioning, it’s obvious that Jaime believes it has more to do with the visits she’s been receiving from her doctor. Sure, Tywin gave Jaime a lovely sword, but if we’ve learned anything about the Game of Thrones universe, it’s that it takes more than steel to wield power.

Things aren’t much better for Tyrion, who spends most of the episode running interference on newly arrived Dornish prince Oberyn (Pedro Pascal). If there’s one area that Tyrion excels in, it’s neutralizing would-be antagonists with his words, rather than his blade. That gift is lost on Oberyn, however, who has a hatred for the Lannisters that only Arya Stark seems capable of matching. Unlike Arya Stark, Oberyn has the means to seek immediate retribution, plunging a dagger deep into the wrist of an unnamed member of the Lannister clan at Littlefinger’s brothel. Seems rather unlikely that it’ll be the last squabble Oberyn gets in during his time at King’s Landing.

Of even greater concern for Tyrion, however, is the fate of Shae, as she continues in her role as most openly disdainful attendant of all time. After spending most of last season abiding Tyrion’s wishes that she keep her distance for fear that Joffrey or Cersei will use her to get to Tyrion, Shae has finally had enough. After watching Tyrion’s pitiable attempts to comfort Sansa — inconsolable since learning of her mother and brother’s deaths — Shae goes to the one place Tyrion has forbidden her to go: his bed. However persuasive, her attempts at seduction are no more heeded by Tyrion than Jaime’s were by Cersei, and Shae leaves in a huff after flinging a few choice words in Tyrion’s direction. On her way out, she’s spotted by an attendant who then reports to Cersei that she had heard something “important,” which doesn’t at all bode well for Tyrion or Shae. Cersei might not be in the best of spirits right now, but it’s likely that only makes her more dangerous, not less.

In even more imminent peril are the few remaining members of the Stark clan. Jon Snow manages to avoid execution by being completely honest — a tactic that never served his father particularly well — but certain members of the Night’s Watch council still want his head for killing Halfhand and sleeping with Ygritte. More urgently, Mance Rayder’s roving bands are closing in on Castle Black, and if you thought the Wildlings we had already met were dangerous, Styr’s cannibalistic tribe gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “out for blood.” (It became rather obvious what the Thenns were carrying in those bags only moments after they showed up, but something about seeing a human arm on a spit never fails to be chilling).

Only Arya appeared to come out on top, but it’s likely a pyrrhic victory. After leaving the atrocities at the Twins, she and the Hound happen upon a local tavern where a group of Lannister-employed soldiers are preparing to rape the daughter (or wife — it can sometimes be difficult to tell on this show) of the barkeeper. One of the men — who had stolen “Needle” from Arya back in Season 2, and killed her young friend — recognizes the Hound, and their initially cordial conversation takes a turn for the nasty, particularly after the doomed man mentions the Mountain. After a typically gory brawl, Arya herself finishes off the man who had struck up the conversation, sinisterly repeating the words he had once spoken to her back to him, then thrusting Needle into his throat. For other characters, this might qualify as a triumph, but it’s harrowing to watch a child kill so mercilessly. More than any of her kin, Arya is becoming someone who’s capable of surviving in Westeros — but at what cost?

This sort of ruthlessness has been typical for Daenerys Targaryen for quite some time now. She’s become a mother of dragons, acquired a vast army and conquered cities, and accomplished none of these things by being fearful. Her subordinates worship her (and occasionally vie for her affections, none more aggressively than Daario Naharis, who looks a little different than when we first met him). But because so much of Daenerys’ power is based on her children, she could face substantial problems if they continue to misbehave. She hasn’t looked as scared as she did when one of her dragons snapped at her since Season 1. Daenerys will likely need her dragons — and her troops — to keep in line more than ever as she marches on a city that offers crucified children as welcoming gifts.

By all accounts, the season-opener was setting the table for what promises to be a season filled with violence and intrigue. For now, the fear is only creeping in along the edges. Once it arrives in full, that’s when the real fun is likely to begin.

Now for the quick hail of arrows:

  • The most confusing thing from this episode (if you haven’t kept up with casting news) is that Ed Skrein was replaced by Michiel Huisman as Daario Naharis. It’s unclear whether he’ll have better luck charming Daenerys than did his predecessor.

  • Jaime even tries turning to old traveling companion Brienen for kind words, but she seems far more concerned with getting him to uphold his end of the bargain that he made with the late Catelyn Stark. Even though Jaime jokes that she must be part of his family with talk like that, at least she doesn’t appear to consider him entirely useless. Brienne may want to learn to choose her words more carefully around others, though, as Margaery reminds her while the pair discuss poor, dead Renly.

  • It’s hard to know exactly what to make of Oberyn’s companion, Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma of Rome fame), but it’s clear she calls at least a few of the shots — though even she isn’t able to fully control Oberyn’s Lannister-induced rage.

  • No Lord Varys, Littlefinger, Bran, Hodor or Stannis in the opener, but the next episode is likely to fix that right up.
TIME Television

Game of Thrones Would Be Classier With a Smooth Jazz Theme Tune

Eat your heart out, Kenny G. This jazz quartet adds a bit of class to the HBO hit show's opening credits theme, just in time for the season 4 premiere

We know, we know. Everything about about Game of Thrones is perfect as is. But just imagine, for a moment, how classy the HBO drama would be if a smooth jazz rendition of composer Ramin Djawadi’s opening credits theme set the tone for each episode.

So, to get yourself psyched for tonight’s season premiere, listen to this oddly mesmerizing five-minute jazz version of the iconic GoT theme.

TIME Game of Thrones Season 4

The New Season Of Game of Thrones Will Have Simultaneous U.S. and U.K. Premieres

A dragon statue stands on a red carpet in preparation for the season four premiere of the HBO series "Game of Thrones" in New York
The red carpet premiere took place in New York on March 18th and in London March 25th. Mere mortals will have to wait 10 more days for the broadcast of the first episode. © Lucas Jackson / Reuters

The long awaited season premiere of bloody fantasy drama Game of Thrones will be broadcast simultaneously in the U.S. and U.K., the Guardian reports.

The decision was announced at the red carpet premiere in London Tuesday.

Season four’s first episode will be shown in the U.S. Sunday April 6th at 9pm ET by HBO, while Sky Atlantic will broadcast the episode in the U.K. on Monday April 7th at 2am GMT.

The macabre title of the fourth season of the popular television series is “All Men Must Die.”

[The Guardian]

 

TIME game of thrones

Game of Thrones Will Probably Catch Up With George R.R. Martin, and That’s Just Fine

HBO

Let HBO's series be the series, let the books be the books, and let Martin take as much time as he needs.

I love HBO’s Game of Thrones. I love George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, the books on which the fantasy series is based. And unlike some screen adaptations of books, the two seem to love each other. The series, within the constraints of time, has been faithful to the novels; Martin has been a producer and screenwriter for the series.

But like many a relationship, this one had the seeds of conflict in it from the beginning. The problem: ASOIAF is intended as a seven-book series. Martin has written five of those books, since 1996. Game of Thrones has covered two and a half volumes of story in three seasons (with season four premiering next month).

You don’t have to be a maester to do the math. Either Martin writes a hell of a lot faster–and he took six years between books four and five, which had once been intended as one book–or HBO surpasses him. This is not a surprise. I asked Martin about it before the show premiered. Everyone asked about it. The producers thought of it. And the answer generally was, Martin will hurry up with the last two books, or HBO will take a while with the series or–look, a raven!

The current Vanity Fair goes in depth on Game of Thrones, and it is becoming clear that the chief GoT producers–David Benioff and D.B. Weiss–are not exactly on the same page, or stack of manuscript pages, as Martin.

Benioff and Weiss said they aim to finish the series in seven or eight seasons, so as not to overstay their welcome (or let the several central child actors grow into middle age). They’re being proactive, and had a lengthy visit with Martin to lay out a broad outline of the end of the series, should they have to break that dragonglass and finish before the author does. Martin, on the other hand, tells Vanity Fair the same thing he was saying in 2011, hoping HBO will take this year to finish his third book, three seasons total for books four and five, and two for book six, allowing him to squeak under the wire with book seven. Making for ten seasons minimum. With maybe a prequel thrown in to buy another year.

Let’s be clear. That is not going to happen. Not unless HBO has a serious change of heart about GoT‘s longevity, and figures out how to clone a second, younger Maisie Williams. A TV series is an implacable dragon: it barrels along on its momentum and blasts away anything in its path (much less a book). And Martin, who produced TV’s Beauty and the Beast and wrote for a Twilight Zone remake, knows this. You no sooner keep a TV executive from his or her business objectives than you do Tywin Lannister. HBO will finish Game of Thrones when it wants to, with or without his books.

And that will be fine. Maybe better.

Again, I love the series and love the books. But though they share a plot, they are essentially different works. The series is necessarily streamlined; its story is more linear and less digressive. The novels are rich in detail, mythology and history; they create not just a cast of characters, but an integrated world, numerous societies and religions, and a history and politics that richly inform the battle for the throne. Sometimes the series’ whittling down of detail is a loss; sometimes it brings alive characters that were flat on the page and accelerates the story where needed.

But they’re both fantastic, in more ways than one, and they should each have the chance to finish at the pace that makes each work its best. In fact, the series finishing first may make Martin’s books better: he can finish plotting and detailing without rushing, develop storylines that the series dropped, reverse decisions in the show that he disagreed with.

Won’t one spoil the other? I can only speak for myself. I read the books before watching. I know every major event that will happen (assuming the series doesn’t go off the reservation). I am thoroughly spoiled. And yet whenever I get new screeners for Game of Thrones, I devour them like Sansa Stark scarfing lemon cakes.

If the situation ends up reversed, if I see the story end on HBO first (which is looking pretty likely by now), the books won’t be worthless. They’ll be an extended directors’ cut of the series conclusion, but better–a cut created by a “director” with no limits on budget, special effects, or running time.

Oh, and about those running time limits? Yeah, there’s one more thing Martin says in that Vanity Fair interview. ASOIAF, fans might recall, was originally meant to be a trilogy. Now, he says, “Hopefully, I will be able to finish it at seven books.” Hopefully.

GRRM, take all the time you need to do it right. And HBO–don’t wait up.

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