GAME OF THRONES: “Breaker of Chains”

The fallout from the Purple Wedding spirals outward. Who’s in a position to benefit? (Put your hand down, Tyrion.)

There are plenty men worse than me. I just understand the way things are.

–The Hound

When last week I tallied up the list of suspects in The Plot To Poison Joffrey, I left one pretty important name off the list: Tywin Lannister himself, who was becoming increasingly aggravated by his grandon’s antics (what with instigating one war, failing to lead another, and generally being the worst). So why not hatch a scheme to knock off the little twerp, and install a more…malleable youngster on the throne? After all, it solves multiple problems for Tywin: keeping the realm unified and his petulant daughter in line; crowning Tommen, the third of Cersei & Jamie’s illegitimates, who will do anything his grandfather tells him; and setting up the despised Tyrion (his own son, but still) to take the fall. It would have been as perfectly executed (heh) as anything else he’s set out to accomplish.

I’m not saying he did it. But it merits consideration, something that Tyrion is certainly giving, pacing the perimeter of his little cell, trying to piece together the shreds of evidence he has in his own defense like the star of a CBS procedural. I’ll get back to him in a moment, because while we can’t say that Tywin was involved (he probably was not, but he’s definitely taking advantage of it), we can finally name one person who was: the long-absent Lord Petyr Baelish. It’s been many a moon since we last saw Littlefinger, who had sailed to the Eyrie to shore up allegiances with Lysa Arryn, but he’s back now, and creepier than ever. (For Aiden Gillen’s part, his voice gets huskier with every appearance. It’s quite distracting, as I don’t believe he started the series with that rasp.) When Ser Dontos whisked Sansa away after Joffrey’s asphyxiation, it was on Littlefinger’s orders (that necklace? Just glass) — and what does he get in return? An arrow in the head, because Baelish doesn’t trust drunk fools. RIP Dontos; we barely knew you. Seriously, this was only his 4th episode.

This week found our far-flung characters wrestling with questions of virtue, struggling to recalibrate their moral frameworks within a world gone increasingly mad. Arya still believes in honesty, even as she lies to a farmer; Sam looks to protect Gilly, but can’t properly read the situation; Cersei knows she’s being punished and gets to suffer some more. Before Joffrey’s body is even cold, lying in the sept with painted stones over his eyes, Tywin is giving the soon-to-be-crowned Tommen a history lesson: what makes “a good king?” It’s not holiness, or justice, or strength. Those are all good, but they’re not enough. What Tommen eventually realizes, in a brilliantly written scene, is that those failed kings lacked wisdom — the unspoken definition, in his case, basically doing whatever Tywin says. Joffrey, in the elder Lannister’s words, “was not a wise king. Or a good king.” (Alex Graves’s camera holds on Cersei during this exchange, as Tywin’s words are meant for her, who has failed so egregiously as a mother and as a daughter, and is now useless to him.) Tommen seems like a nice kid; almost too well-adjusted to have come from this dysfunctional family. Tywin leads him away from Cersei, hand on shoulder, to talk about the birds and the bees, leaving Cersei alone with Joffrey’s body. He was a monster, but he was her monster, dang it.

Another woman left in limbo is Margaery, who — not upset about Joffrey’s death, obviously, but rather how it unmoors her position — tries to figure out her next move with her grandmother. Olenna makes the point that the Lannisters still need the Tyrells, which is accurate; Marge will eventually be marrying someone, the question is who. “The next one should be easier,” the Queen of Thorns says. (Oh, poor Tommen.) But as Olenna knows, Tywin is all about unity. So much so, that he interrupts one of Oberyn Martell’s patented orgies with a little proposition. (Not that kind of proposition, thank the Seven.) If the Red Viper will serve as one of the three judges at Tyrion’s trial, alongside Tywin and the buffoon Mace Tyrell, he’ll get a seat on the King’s Council and a shot at revenge at Gregor Clegane. Tywin offers a stonefaced denial responsibility for Elia Martell’s rape and murder; Oberyn is equally deflective about being involved in Joffrey’s assassination, despite being an expert on poisons. It’s also clear that Tywin isn’t even certain Tyrion was behind it, but he also doesn’t really care. He just wants this over with so he can get back to business. So this is more than just damage control — he’s fully aware of the Greyjoy rebellion, and Mance Rayder’s army, and even the girl across the sea with three dragons, and knows how small this matter is in comparison. Well, I’m glad someone does. It’s perspective like this that makes it so hard to despise Tywin Lannister as a villain. He just commands respect.

Tyrion will stand trial in two weeks, and with no one to call to his defense (Sansa is gone, Bronn is under suspicion, Varys is already a witness for prosecution), it looks pretty bleak. The “ominous they” is even offering loyal Podrick a knighthood if he’ll turn on Tyrion, a deal Tyrion believes Pod should accept, because the alternative is bad news for Pod, and Tyrion’s screwed anyway. But as the only two people he knows to be innocent are himself and Cersei (“which makes this unique, as King’s Landing murders go,”) there’s nothing to be done but wait for the kangaroo court. Before letting Pod go, probably for the last time, Tyrion pays him the compliment that “there has never lived a more loyal squire” — and it’s not just because he secretly stuffed parchment and chicken in his pants!

Cersei, meanwhile, is so convinced Tyrion is guilty that she wants Jamie to kill him before he can stand trial, something that Jamie’s not a fan of. But unfortunately for everyone, the only thing Jamie really wants to do at the moment is get in his twin sister’s pants, so he forces himself on her (calling her “a hateful woman,” which is true) — there, in the sept, at the base of the stone still holding the body of their dead son. It’s a new low, even for these two, and especially for Jamie, who we had been led to believe had come a long way thanks to his rehabilitation with Brienne. So what the heck is this about? Is raping Cersei — because that’s what this is — revenge? Reasserting his own power after spending so many episodes ridiculed and emasculated? Seriously, why? And should book readers be worried, future-wise, because Benioff & Weiss took an event that’s consensual in the text and made it so one-sided? It undercuts all the goodwill we’ve built towards Jamie, and is the lone, glaring mis-step in what is otherwise a pretty great episode. Hmm.

Moving on…

The Wall. Sam and Gilly continue to awkwardly flirt, or whatever one calls it — Sam has never spent time with a girl, and Gilly had never even met another boy — and Master Tarly realizes a decision needs to be made. It won’t be long before one of the others takes a hard pass at Gilly (even here, amongst the fine, upstanding criminals and rejects of Castle Black), so Sam wants to take her down to Mole’s Town, where she’ll be safer. “There’s a hundred men lying awake at night picturing you,” he says. But to Gilly, it means she’s not wanted; that Sam must be bored with her, despite his protestations to the contrary. And the Mole’s Town brothel is not exactly the Grand Budapest, but it’s “safe”-ish: Gilly will clean and babysit the babies of the other whores, but she must not, under no circumstances, become one herself. Even if the money is better. John Bradley and Hannah Murray are really very sweet together, one of the few remaining beacons of hope and decency in Westeros.

And hope is not to be found anywhere else in Castle Black, as Jon has to make a hard choice of his own. Wildlings (led by the cannibalistic Thenns) are raiding nearby villages south of The Wall, and the locals are begging for the Night’s Watch to dispatch a force for protection. The problem is, they’re already stretched absurdly thin as it is, and will need every man they can get when Mance Rayder’s army arrives. Jon finds himself agreeing with Acting Lord Commander Thorne that The Wall is the priority. (Wisdom, above all things.) To make matters worse, before long Mance will reach Craster’s Keep, where last season’s mutineers are still holed up (and Grenn and Dolourous Edd have just escaped from.) The last thing they need is for Mance to find out how poorly-defended Castle Black is, so Jon’s got a new mission — finish the job at Craster’s.

The Riverlands. When Arya and The Hound are discovered on a farmer’s land, she bluffs that they’re a father & daughter, running away from The Twins. Clegane may hope to one day join the Second Sons in Essos (though he doesn’t believe Arya has friends there), but today he’s a Tully man, and it’s that lie that brings them to the farmer’s home under the still-sacred covenant of “guest right.” (It’s also our first mention of “The Red Wedding” by that name; the farmer earnestly believes Walder Frey will burn in Seven Hells for his treachery.) And the way the pair eat, ravenously devouring the farmer’s soup while his daughter silently gawks — another delightful bit of physical comedy — they certainly seem to be related. But the farmer recognizes a warrior when he sees one, offering “honest pay for honest work,” if Clegane will help work the farm and protect it from roving marauders. How will he pay him? With silver he has stashed away, of course — ohhhh. Uh-oh. And sure enough, the next morning, The Hound knocks him out and absconds with the money. Arya is understandably furious: “You’re the worst shit in the Seven Kingdoms!” But Clegane argues that he’s just being practical; the farmer can’t defend himself, he’ll be dead by Winter. Then the silver will just go to waste. It’s a cruel lesson, but one Arya must take to heart if she’s to survive.

Dragonstone. “The Usurper” may be dead — another +1 for Melisandre’s blood magic — but it won’t do Stannis any good if he can’t put another army together. Davos is doing the best he can, drawing a few small houses to the cause, but it’s not nearly enough, and Stannis flat-out refuses to bring in mercenaries. So magic is okay, but sellswords are not? Stannis is weird and boring; he doesn’t want to be “a page in someone else’s history book.” Frustrated, Davos goes to visit the charming Shireen, who (after correcting him for pronouncing “knight” when he reads like a member of Monty Python) gifts him a book about one of the First Swords of Braavos. Hey, that gives Davos an idea, complete with the Slow Dolly In of Impending Epiphany: send the Iron Bank a letter in Stannis’s name. To what end, we’re not sure, but he sets Shireen to drafting it. But even if it works, whatever it is, how will Stannis feel about Davos going behind his back again? And, uh, THE WALL? Remember that? For such a climactic moment in Season 3’s finale, it sure seems they do not.

Meereen. Now here’s a leader who’s got her act together. Dany handles her first confrontation outside the gates of Meereen perfectly, not even revealing her dragons, exhibiting wisdom, justice, and strength — good thing she’s got the best claim to the Iron Throne, right? But first thing’s first, which is to totally dominate this slave city. A champion rides out from the gates, pisses on the ground, and is generally obnoxious, so Dany must choose a champion of her own. Barristan, Jorah, and Grey Worm are too valuable (though they each ask for the honor), so that leaves the sellsword Daario, who is more than up to the task: “let me kill this man for you.” Hey, Daario, don’t you want a horse? Horses are faster than men! “Horses are dumber than men.” So the Meereenese fighter charges, and Daario…throws a dagger into the horse. It’s very Raiders of the Lost Ark. The “battle” is over in just a few seconds, royally pissing off the Masters inside the walls, and making Daario look even more awesome. Dany then gives her big stump speech, but it’s directed at the slaves: basically, look at all these people I freed, and I want you to be next. “I am not your enemy; your enemy is beside you.” She cues up her trebuchets and rains down barrels on the city, barrels full of the collars she took from the dead slaves on the road to the city. So as the look on one of these Meereen slaves shows, in the pitch-perfect final shot of the episode, Dany might not have to do much of her own fighting after all. An uprising has begun. And what a coincidence — that’ll save HBO an awful lot of silver.

3 thoughts on “GAME OF THRONES: “Breaker of Chains””

  1. I’m not convinced of anything, but the theory I like right now is that Joffrey was accidentally poisoned. I think Cersei may have tried to poison Margaery or her grandmother and the wine found its way to Joffrey. The appearance of Littlefinger probably negates that possibility but it’s interesting nonetheless. Also, I would totally watch a Tyrion police procedural. “He has a different angle on the world.”

    As much as Tywin is a terrible person, I’m thankful for him because I don’t think we would have any connection to Dany for the last few seasons without him. Feels like he’s the only person who knows or cares. If not for him, that whole storyline feels like an entirely different universe. An awesome universe of brown people, but ultimately different.

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