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When we left last week’s episode of Game Of Thrones, we re-learned what we already knew — that all men must serve, and all men must die. And while “The Lion And The Rose” ended with one such death, this week’s episode, “Breaker Of Chains”, laid the emphasis on the different types of servitude that all who live in this dark and violent world must endure.
In the wake of what shall soon be known as the Purple Wedding, we find a furious Tywin, a frantic Cersei, and a fearful Sansa. It’s that fear that drives Sansa to follow the drunkard Dontas, and at the end of the road, she finds an unlikely and frightening benefactor in Littlefinger, who slaughters Dontas without blinking. This was one of the episode’s weakest scenes, for while I have often enjoyed Aiden Gillen’s spellbinding performance as the dangerously clever Lord Baelish, here he was practically twirling his mustache in villainous glee. It was a decidedly unsubtle performance in a show that prides itself on nuance, and it wasn’t helped by a spineless and hopelessly naive Sansa. I generally enjoy Sophie Turner’s performances, but perhaps the endless simpering victimization is starting to wear on me. Regardless, with this unexpected development and with her new fugitive status, she finds herself in the bosom of a most uncertain safety.
As for Tywin, he once again shone with menacing brilliance in this episode, carrying two of the greatest scenes. First, in the sept with Tommen and Cersei, he has a fantastic dialogue with a stricken new monarch about the truth of kings, made all the more ominous as they stand over the body of one. Wisdom, Tywin tells him, is the how a king rules, even as we know that it’s wisdom clad in steel and without mercy. All the while, a shellshocked, ragged Cersei can do nothing more than stare into the middle distance, even as Tywin takes him in hand, telling him of Joffrey’s wrongs and leading him away, as if to lead him away from all the mistakes Joffrey learned from Cersei. Unfortunately, it’s shortly thereafter that this scene fell apart — the unpleasantness of the exchange between Cersei and Jaime, her demand for the thing he cannot give her — the death of Tyrion, their brother — all of that felt right, felt true to their character. Yet the conclusion, with the awful and hideously uncharacteristic assault and what was, for all intents and purposes, a rape filled with guilt and loathing, with Jaime bound by his baser desires, reeked of writing for the sake of shock value and ultimately rang hollow. It was a truly horrible and unnecessary moment that felt like a betrayal of both characters.
There was more happening in King’s Landing — Margaery and Lady Olenna Tyrell lamenting the former’s penchant for doomed, incompatible husbands, while Oberyn and Ellaria get to flaunt their insatiable sexual appetites. The latter led to Tywin’s other great exchange, his offer to Oberyn. It was note-perfect Tywin Lannister, delivered with the customary steely-eyed, unflinching gaze, as he continued to machinate and manipulate, even under the guise of appealing for help. Once again, the show has found a perfect compliment to Charles Dance (who really needs to start being a serious contender for best supporting actor awards), this time in Pedro Pascal, demonstrating a heady combination of the coldly calculating versus the blazing heat of Oberyn’s baser needs.
Yet despite all of that, the greatest moment in King’s Landing was between the imprisoned Tyrion and the unlikeliest of scene stealers, Podrick Payne. The goofy nerd-bait that was Pod’s sexual escapade at one point threatened to undo the character, yet all was redeemed here, when he was the bright spot in the darkness that surrounds Tyrion. His unexpected displays of kindness and loyalty, something that Tyrion refused to accept, was one of the show’s most moving interactions. And despite Tyrion’s best efforts to drive him away, to entreat him to save himself, you could tell that that loyalty that Tyrion praised can’t be bent or broken. As Tyrion’s voice cracked when he proclaimed that “there has never lived a more loyal squire”, there was a palpable emotional energy between them that made it so deeply satisfying.
We concluded in Meereen, with Daenerys Targaryen at the gates of another slave-city. This was an odd scene, for though it was ultimately quite entertaining and engaging, at its onset one couldn’t help but succumb to the repetitive nature of it all. It’s as if as the rest of the show moves forward, all Dany does is march and stand at gates and give Braveheart-esque speeches. Yet there was more to this one, as she took stock of her champions and allies, her friends and advisers, and chose Daario Naharis to face Meereenvulgar champion. The resultant battle was no battle at all, as Daario made short work of him, but that was never meant to be the climax. That final speech was a splendid one, delivered with determination and unerring gravitas by Emila Clarke, who strangely enough sometimes feels like she’s at her best in the big moments, while sometimes losing her focus in the smaller ones. The scene ended with some of the show’s most vivid imagery, with an impassioned speech for not a war, but for revolution, for retribution, punctuated by the chains and collars and memories of freed slaves hurled over the walls for all to see.
One of the show’s greatest gifts is to be able to tell so many stories in such a short period of time, somehow condensing so much into an all-too-quick hour. This week’s was no exception, though it had a couple of more dead spots than expected. Sam and Gilly’s time at the Wall was enjoyable enough, with Sam’s awkward attempts at companionship and chivalry, but his plan to leave her in the squalid care of a whorehouse never quite worked. At the same time, the Wall was plagued by the savagery of the Wildlings and the Thenns, by the dangers surrounding Jon Snow, and by the truths and lies he told to save them all. On the opposite end, Arya and Sandor Clegane’s scenes were quite good (unsurprisingly), demonstrating her deftness with a lie and quick-thinking nature, a true challenge given the Hound’s penchant for brutish tactlessness. Watching him tear down the goodwill that they built the next day, shattering what few illusions she has left, was a brutal and intense moment (and his line about learning her lessons from her beheaded family members was vicious), and one can’t help but feel it leave an indelible mark on her.
In the end, we saw an episode filled with people who find themselves chained in some fashion or another — chained as slaves, as prisoners, as saviors and as the saved, all of them bound by purpose or duty or fear or fury. It was also an episode marred by a couple of unfortunate stumbles (the Jaime and Cersei scene in particular was less a stumble and more what felt like a writer’s gross and callous laziness) that detracted from the overall story. That unpleasantness aside, that notion of being chained and bound to one thing or another shows one more of the complex forces that drives them all, and makes each passing week that much more enticing.