Just a reminder — we are continuing our strict no spoilers policy. This means no hints, no clever “just wait and see” jokes, nothing that may give something away. This includes spoilers for those of you who have seen other episodes. For these reviews, once gets your comment deleted, twice gets you banned. Yes, really. Thanks.
Now that we have the perfunctory stage-setting first episode out of the way, it’s time to see how these new changes are affecting the people of the world of Game of Thrones. It’s a time of flux, across this world, with nations on the verge of war and countries struggling to find the right leaders, just as leaders are trying to find a way to hold on to their increasingly tenuous power.
“All they understand is blood.”
In Meereen, the sinister Sons of the Harpy continue to plague Daenerys and her fragile rule over the denizens of Slaver’s Bay. It is here that Dany must decide what kind of ruler she wishes to be — kind or cruel, just or ruthless. The decision, as we come to see, is not as simple as one would think, even for the slave-freeing mother of dragons. There’s something inherently fascinating about the idea of dedicating a nation to justice, when its people have never known it, and despite the wise counsel of Barristan Selmy — in a riveting retelling of the path taken by the Mad King — Dany is forced into an untenable position. Deciding the fate of the Sons was hard enough, but when even her allies betray her — even when doing so out of loyalty — her decisions become nearly impossible. It’s then, at the execution of Mossador, that Dany faces her greatest challenge — when that dedication to what is just and righteous becomes a chain in and of itself. The terrifying hiss of the crowd after his head comes off? Portends far more ominous tidings than the riot that followed.
“People like you and me are never satisfied inside the box.”
There isn’t too much to say about the journey of Tyrion and Varys this week, because little physical progress was made. That said, I continue to maintain that I would gladly watch 60 minutes of just the two of them engaging each other, week after week. Conleth Hill and Peter Dinklage are at the top of their games, and their interactions are some of the best the show has to offer. What makes it so intriguing is that they are so radically different, yet under it all, ultimately want the same things — reluctant as Tyrion may be to concede it.
“The commander we turned to when the night was darkest.”
One of the best things that has happened of late has been the evolution of Kit Harrington into someone capable of more than simple brooding and pouting. His evolution as an actor has happened in concert with his character’s growth as a leader, and it all comes to a head in one of the most unexpected developments possible — his election to the position of Lord Commander. It’s Sam Tarly, of course, who orchestrates things, and it’s Sam who has also grown as a character. There’s an almost Machiavellian manipulation at work there — while everyone else sings the praises of the victories of their nominees, Sam works their darkest fears, the moments when terror almost took over the Wall. It’s there, using Jon Snow as the light in the darkness (natch) that the others see that he’s more than just a soldier. It’s that which makes him a leader, and that very same trait that led Stannis to trying to tempt him to abandon the Night’s Watch. And it’s Jon’s loyalty to his cause that shows exactly why he is — and should be — the new Lord Commander.
“We do not mutilate little girls for vengeance.”
One of the newer developments that promises to be one of the most exciting is the slowly burning rivalry between King’s Landing and Dorne, the land of the now deceased Oberyn Martell. The hot-blooded, vengeance-hungry Ellaria Sand wants blood — any blood — to avenge the death of her love, even as Dorne’s king counsels restraint. And in King’s Landing, that thirst for vengeance leads Cersei to retreat even further into terror and paranoia and anger. Lena Headey continues to kill it as Cersei, and most impressive is her ability to switch gears so quickly — imperious and condescending in the Small Council as she attempts to usurp any possible opposition, and coldly, furiously embittered as she clings desperately to what remains of her family. In her scene with Jaime, Cersei’s resentment and bitterness is a living, breathing creature, made of ice and rage, and Jaime feels every bite. Yet even after all of their conflicts and betrayals, he cannot help himself. He will go to Dorne, and he will get his daughter back.
But best of all, he will have help. I am filled to overflowing with glee at the prospect of the Jaime and Bronn show, and thrilled that the show has opted to keep Jerome Flynn as one of the chief players on the show.
“That is what a girl must become.”
Amidst all of the action and intrigue, it’s difficult to remember that Arya faces perhaps the greatest challenge of them all. Alone in a strange land, under the looming shadow of the Titan of Braavos, Arya seeks fortune and vengeance in a strange land, from a strange man. The House of Black and White is a strange, alien place, even for Braavos, and it’s only Arya’s determination and dedication to her own vendettas that keep her on the path, although… what other choice is there? Yet after it all, after the rain and the cold, after being turned away from the House’s impassive guardian, after facing down thugs in dark alleys (“nothing’s worth anything to dead men” being the line of the night), Arya finally finds — not sanctuary, not safety, but… something. Something familiar and dangerous and uncertain, in the face of a man once thought gone forever.
Everything changes this season, it seems. Those who once followed now lead, and those who lead seem to be losing control in small measures at a time. Those who were lost — Arya, Sansa, Sam — have now found a place, for better or worse. And those who sought them have found unlikely forces opposing them. Brienne finally finds Sansa, only to find that Littlefinger has pulled her so far into his web that she no longer even wants to come out, in an attempt at chivalry that backfires terribly. These are the things that will change this landscape, showing us that everything changes, and those once thought of as the least powerful may well be the greatest threats.