The fourth episode of HBO’s “Game Of Thrones,” nastily titled “Cripples, Bastards And Broken Things,” continues the show’s remarkable ability to continue the narrative of the novel, while still narrowing its focus enough to create a common thematic thread. As the title would indicate, this week’s episode dealt with the outcasts and lesser-thans, the grotesques and the belittled.
Of course, we’re still dealing predominately with Ned Stark and his exasperating and increasingly murky, dangerous work as the Hand of the King. His task becomes even more complicated as Cersei’s machinations become more and more brazen, just as King Robert’s actions become less and less regal. Gone is the boisterous, bold Robert of the first episode — one of the few character complaints that I have is that Robert is being reduced into little more than a drunken, whoring buffoon. Now, to be fair, those are both traits shared by the literary version, but there seemed to be far more depth to the character in the novel. That said, his whoring led to one of the episode’s most intriguing scenes — the meeting between Jaime Lannister and Jory Cassel. Both characters seem to bring their own demons to the scene, and yet again I found myself engaged by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s performance as Jaime.
But cripples and outcasts were the theme of the day, and one of the more prominent outcasts was introduced in Samwell Tarly, the newest and most pathetic member of the Night’s Watch. Portrayed by John Bradley-West, he’s a sniveling, craven, worthless human being … and yet, there’s a strange sweetness to the character that prevents him from being truly unlikable. Of course, that’s helped by his continued abuse at the hands of Rast and Allister Thorne, but what I enjoyed most about the dynamic created by Tarly was that he, like Tyrion in the prior episode, created an opportunity for Jon Snow’s character to develop and evolve some more. Snow started the show as something of a simpering brat, but I feel like Kit Harington is growing into the character — even if his hair is still a bit too pretty.
Speaking of Tyrion, he still owns every scene he’s in. His audience with Robb and Bran at Winterfell showed another hint of the compassionate side of him, but as is Tyrion’s way, you can never quite tell what his motivations are. His part was diminished in this episode, but he shone nonetheless. What was more remarkable was in his final scene, during the confrontation with Lady Catelyn, Dinklage masterfully demonstrated his range of abilities. Beginning with his tired arrogance as he walks into the inn, and gradually leading to his uneasy befuddlement as Catelyn begins gathering allies, to his final display of resigned frustration and surrender, Dinklage was outstanding. Though it should be noted that this was also the first episode where I found myself liking Catelyn’s character, which is saying something.
Meanwhile, across the sea, Daenerys and Viserys Targaryen continue to grow apart. Rather, Daenerys is growing, while Viserys continues to be a petulant child. It feels like this particular plotline dragged a bit in this episode, and the scene with Viserys and the slave girl Doreah seemed wholly superfluous. Yes, it served as a bit of a history lesson, but it simply felt forced and didn’t really fit into the rhythm of the episode.
Finally, it’s worth noting that the show is beginning to expand the cast substantially, now that we’ve established the core group of characters. In addition to meeting Sam Tarly, we were finally formally introduced to the terrifying Clegane brothers — Sandor, the King’s Hound, and Gregor, The Mountain That Rides. While they spoke no lines, their horrifying family history as told by Littlefinger was truly chilling, as was Gregor’s absolutely destroying his opponent in the jousting match. Not to mention that they are two particularly scary looking men. Fun fact: Rory McCann, who plays Sandor, stands 6’6”, and Conan Stevens, who plays Gregor, is 7’0”. Yikes.
Despite the stutter in the Dothraki segments, the show continues to grow and showcase some strong acting and writing talent. I’m finding the scenes in Winterfell to be rather dry and dull, but this week showed the beginning of the arc of Theon Greyjoy, and Alfie Allen seems poised to bring an interesting, sinister take on him. Winterfell and Essos aside, the characters are becoming more compelling with each passing week, and the writers are demonstrating an interesting ability to mold the week’s events into a unifying theme. And at the end of the episode, we’re left with another (mostly) satisfying experience that concludes with a sense of foreboding that just makes me more impatient for the next round.