Watching “And Now His Watch Has Ended,” I felt the same way I did at the end of last season, with “Valar Morghulis.” I got rather bored, wondering if this episode would be all table-setting and no eating. Then, just as the small cat nestled comfortably on my stomach, I sat up. (That was unwise, as regards the cat.) By the end of the episode I was leaning forward, getting goosebumps, and—I’m not ashamed to admit it—brushing tears of glee from my eyes.
I’m talking about the two big events at the end, of course: Old Mormont’s death at Craster’s Keep, and Dany finally killing the slavers of Astapor. I’ve been waiting for Dany to sack Astapor since the season opener, and for a while I was wondering if they would draw her story out until the end of the season finale. I worried too soon: the sack of Astapor was something to write home about. Emilia Clarke plays vulnerability well, but I like it best when she shows her inner fire. It was even more remarkable that she managed to express such force while speaking Valyrian. I got shivers, and teared up, in no small part due to the excellent score.
Mormont’s death, on the other hand, took me completely by surprise: I did not expect it to happen now, and I might have been more shocked than he was at the conspiracy against him. Given that a band of wildlings is currently headed for the Wall, Mormont’s death can only mean bad things for the Night’s Watch, for Jon, and for Westeros.
That’s not to say that death is the only thing that happened this episode. The conversation between Varys and Tyrion showed us just how serious Varys is about revenge, about hating magic, even about keeping King’s Landing and Westeros safe. Varys makes no bones about his network of spies, but he keeps his darker impulses well hidden. That he was willing to reveal his history (and his boxed sorcerer) to Tyrion speaks volumes about how Varys trust him. (Perhaps because Tyrion doesn’t have enough power to be a threat, but I like to believe that Varys isn’t lying about being his friend.) Varys’s hatred of magic is more than reasonable, given his history, but it also might set up a problem down the line: in a world of dragons, zombies, and fire-gods, a little magic might be a good thing.
All that is beside the point, as clearly magic isn’t yet the dominant power in King’s Landing (although I suspect it may be by the end of the series). Different forms of non-magical power and leadership continue to be the theme of this show. From Mormont’s failure to contain his men’s discontent, to Dany’s discovery of the powerful rage that motivates her to sack a city in order to avenge its slaves, “And Now His Watch…” makes clear that there is no one way to rule.
Take Margaery. She clearly has Joffrey under her thumb (as much as anyone can), and is “contributing” more to his management and the peace in King’s Landing than Cersei ever could. She indulged Joffrey’s macabre and repulsive obsession with the corpses of his predecessors, and then showed him that she provided access to one thing he—and the other Lannisters—never managed to get: the love of the common people. She is granting him power his mother couldn’t, which must make Cersei’s blood boil.
And her blood should hot enough already: first her brother, then her father, have told her that she’s not as smart as she thinks she is. Sadly, they’re right. Cersei wants to be a player in the game of thrones, but is too easy to manipulate and to transparent when she tries to manipulate others. The decline of her influence parallels Jaime’s: he has lost his hand and his identity; Cersei has lost her maternal influence and her identity.
Part of Cersei’s downfall is due to the other, subtler players currently in King’s Landing. It’s not just Margaery but all the Tyrells—especially Olenna—who are far craftier at power plays. Olenna is particularly skilled forging alliances rather than demanding intimidation, which has been Cersei’s m.o. for eons. Olenna’s conversation with Varys felt almost ritualistic: sly digs, his pretense of walking away, their eventual conversation and plans. It went exactly as both of them wanted it to. The result? The eternal pawn Sansa is being moved around the board yet again, due to be married to Loras (according to Margaery, who isn’t trustworthy).
Varys isn’t wrong about Littlefinger’s power: he lacks knightly prowess, lands, or money, but he has the skills and manipulative ability that others lack. Varys described Littlefinger as willing to watching the whole kingdom burn if he could be king of the ashes, and the idea of total war for total power is frightening. That it bothers Varys, that he doesn’t want that for Westeros, is part of why I like Varys. (And why I worry that his good intentions + his hatred of magic might eventually lead to a serious conflict of interest.)
I started this review with two quotes: the one about Littlefinger, and Dany’s “Dragonfire!” that led to the sack of Astapor. While I ship Dany+The Throne as the ultimate power couple on this show, it’s worth noting that her willingness to destroy, especially in the context of Varys’s comment about Littlefinger, isn’t a positive thing. I don’t feel particularly bad about the Astapor slavers, but I worry that Dany’s desire for power might wind up making her the queen of nothing but ashes.
Grumpkins and Snarks:
• More talk about Pod’s prowess. I hope each episode for the rest of the series contains someone else finding out about it and wondering what his secret is.
• How creepy is Theon’s captor? While there “there and back again” structure to Theon’s segment of this episode was rather annoying, the utter insanity of the young man’s smile was worth it.
• Hey, that’s Burn Gorman! Not Theon’s captor. Night’s Watch Guy Karl, who killed Mormont.
• I’ll have more to say about The Hound, Beric Dondarian, and the trial next week.
Remember that spoilers for the books live in the discussion thread!
Four out of four Unsullied.
Josie Kafka reviews The Vampire Diaries, True Detective, Game of Thrones, and various other things that take her fancy. She is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)
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