Game of Thrones: Breaker of Chains

"Say what you will of Cersei, she loves her children. She is the only one I’m certain had nothing to do with this murder, which makes it unique as King’s Landing murders go."

Ah, the fallout from Margaery and Joffrey’s wedding. ‘Breaker of Chains’ is a tight, well-maneuvered hour full of political actions for personal gain.

Per usual, no one in King’s Landing wastes any time on tragedy (though Joffrey’s character flaws may have, uh, lessened the overall grief). And elsewhere bloodshed is juxtaposed with survival then more bloodshed as our merry cast of characters tries to get on in this most savage of times. And as ever, the Mother of Dragons wins. Again.

Wedding Aftermath

Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe this is the first time the show has opened with the previous episode’s last frame. We are not going to let you off the hook AT ALL, viewers, is the echo in that deliberate decision by the creative team. And that message was happening left, right and center in “Breaker of Chains’. Whether the camera was lingering too long on something uneasy or cutting away before the action of the scene could be comfortably resolved, these are stunningly effective ways to perpetuate the tension of each scene and at that, this show is very practiced. Watching Dontos lead Sansa’s narrow escape (literally through the tightest of alleyways) to Baelish’s ship was as exciting as anything all season. And even as they hit the water, the innocuous sunset inevitable, we’re then thrust into a fog so ominous it was reminiscent of Perseus crossing the River Styx on the way to the house of Medusa. Interesting that one piece of the poisoning mystery is already revealed. (As someone who has not read the books, I was half-surprised that the method and a few of the players involved have already been named.)

Poor Margaery. She really hasn’t had much luck with the monarchy thing. Her scenes with Lady Olenna are consistently among my favorite and the way Lady Olenna doles out wisdom about marriage and death is as cutting as beveled jewel. It’s very easy to see where Margaery gets her brand of savvy.

The Lannisters

Perhaps better and more practiced than anyone, Tywin makes and takes every opportunity to further his agenda starting with the careful “patriarchal” insinuation of his kingly beliefs into young Tommen’s psyche. To see Cersei watch her intricately constructed motherly hold on Tommen disintegrate right before her eyes carried a real note of sadness. But really, that was nothing for Tywin. Things get really interesting when he intrudes on Oberyn’s lavish bed party in an effort to convince one of the most apathetic characters to the Lannister cause to save Tyrion from what would have surely been an open and shut case. In exchange, Tywin will see to it that Oberyn will have a face to face with The Mountain, the man who’s responsible for the death of his sister. Even if Tywin knew what he was offering was irresistible, he is still taking a big risk exchanging anything with Oberyn at all. This scene, too, leaves us on the hook, Tywin extends his hand but there is no handshake. Yet.

Tyrion is wiling away his time in a prison cell while the drama and theatre of his future trial is taking shape outside his barred door. He is granted audience with Podrick, which provides perhaps the one moment in the whole episode where there’s an ease of decency. Podrick admits to being bribed, a new bright future for his damning testimony, and Tyrion implores him to take the deal. And even if he’s saving himself his own deep-seated guilt at seeing another person get taken down because of who he is, it’s still might be the most genuine humane a Lannister can be. It’s a nice bookend to what happened with Shae recently.

And then there’s Jaime Lannister. Oh dear, what have you done? And maybe more importantly, why? In the episode’s most unexpectedly disturbing scene, Jaime rapes his sister next to the body of their dead son. It’s just awful in every way. It’s clear that the intention was to create a scene that’s practically byzantine in its emotional and psychological complexities. Yet I couldn’t help but wonder what would be the end game to leave us viewers on the hook with a quick cut away at the most upsetting and violent moment? Nothing even remotely resolved. No relief from the weight of that terribleness. And in the scene where the intention has been described by the creative team behind the show as, well, intentionally ambiguous, there’s only dialogue and the characters’ reactions for us to piece together what’s really happening. So in the end, we are left with something not ambiguous at all which is what I believe unleashed the firestorm of controversy over this scene this week. A lot of peoples’ hands touch a finished hour of produced television and it’s hard for me to say who or what is to blame for pushing this button so hard. What I can say is for me, as a viewer, I will be looking in the coming weeks to see how this treachery ultimately shakes out for those involved. I have never had any illusions about the potentially dreadful nature of any Game of Thrones character or about the worldview of this TV series in general so I don’t feel betrayed. However, I truly hope the creative team did not make this choice lightly and without great consideration as to how they will use this act of violation to say something universally true about humanity.

Beyond King’s Landing

Elsewhere more violence, taking things without consent and making personally motivated decisions: Arya and the Hound are shown a spot of kindness by a farmer and his daughter. They’re given a chance to live for awhile with less of a struggle but the Hound decides to rob the farmer instead, leaving him and his daughter to an awful fate but more meaningfully leave Arya questioning his character more than ever. Sam moves Gilly, against her wishes to a whorehouse in Mole’s Town where she’ll allegedly be safer even though she absolutely does not want to go. In terms of a farther reaching consequence to Joffrey’s death, Stannis is ticked off because of how impotent he is to take advantage of this news, but Davos uses the king’s death as an opportunity to appeal to the Iron Bank, smartly leveraging the Lannisters’ debt against his own potential political gain. And the Thenns brutally overturn a village, leaving one small survivor to spread the world of their imminent arrival to Castle Black.

The Mother of Dragons

In my favorite scene, where despite Dany’s High Valyrian translation (I don’t need English subtitles to feel the power of her message “I win. Do you want to win with me or what?”) literally communicating yet another rousing speech, this time to the people of Meereen, I’m moved by the scope and vision of this show. May I never get tired of watching her free slaves and touch them with her majesty. As an aside, I loved every moment with Daario Naharis. From his wink to Dany to him kissing his knife, it was the perfect level of impishness I would expect from a character like this. For the first time since the part was recast, I am looking forward to his presence in this universe.

Grumpkins and Snarks

*I get the impression that a more efficient investigation would be “who DIDN’T want Joffrey dead?” Not that anyone is actually interested in a fair resolution.

*I would love to see Diana Rigg spar with Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey or, hell, anything.

*Interesting the idea of ‘guest right’ being discussed over dinner at the farmer’s house when clearly what we're getting is a world that has made more of savagery than codes of ethics.

*I love this character of Oberyn. He's such a fantastic cocktail of smug, smart, sarcastic and cool.

*How old is Tommen supposed to be?

*Alex Graves: To quote Thelma and Louise, "In the future, when a woman's cryin' like that? She isn't havin' any fun."


Baelish: “Money buys a man’s silence for a time. A bolt in the heart buys it forever.”

Lady Olenna: “The world is overflowing with horrible things, but they’re all a tray of cakes next to death.”

Margaery: "One of my husbands preferred the company of men and was stabbed through the heart, another was happiest torturing animals and was poisoned at our wedding feast. I must be cursed."

Lady Olenna: "You may not have enjoyed watching him die, but you enjoyed it more than you would’ve enjoyed being married to him."

Tywin: “A wise king knows what he knows and what he doesn’t. A wise young king listens to his counselors and heeds their advice until he comes of age -- and the wisest kings keep listening to them long afterwards.”

Oberyn (to a paramour) "Someday, if you’re lucky, you will wake up and realize you are old."

Tyrion: "Give it to my father, he never fails to take advantage of a family tragedy."

Dany: "I am not your enemy. Your enemy is beside you. Your enemy steals and murders your children. Your enemy has nothing for you but chains and suffering, and commands. I do not bring you commands. I bring you a choice. And I bring your enemies what they deserve."

Reminder: The comments on this episodes are appropriate for newbies. If you haven't read the books, you're safe! If you have read the books and would like to talk about upcoming events, please do so here, in our new Season Four spoiler thread.


Josie Kafka said...

Great review, Heather!

Per usual, no one in King’s Landing wastes any time on tragedy (though Joffre’s character flaws may have, uh, lessened the overall grief).

I think that's exactly it: no one is grieving Joffrey, but some people might wind up in grievous circumstances because of that death. :-)


OMG, did I just put a smiley face next to a sentence about a dead child and terrible circumstances? What has GoT done to me?

Morgan India said...

Great review, Heather!

I think Tommen is supposed to be about twelve or thirteen or so in the show. Show!Joffrey was apparently around seventeen or eighteen.

Also I really loved the Daario/Dany moments and I think I have seriously jumped on board that ship entirely. I didn't like the previous Daario but I LOVE LOVE LOVE new!Daario. I'm really looking forward to seeing him on Orphan Black as well.

AND YAY FOR BAELISH! I've missed Littlefinger immensely, even if he sounds more Irish now that he's revealed his dastardly plot.

Also I'm loving the return of Pyp, Grenn and Edd.

Freeman said...

Ok, yeah I like the new Daario. Very roguish and charming. The wink and the kill was a nice touch. At this point though it just kinda seems like Dany may as well just stay over there and rule. She's already freed like three large kingdoms and Westeros is honestly kind of a dump that doesn't seem worth the headache. But birthright and all that I guess.

Ya know, I spent all last episode wondering where Littlefinger was, but then when the episode ended I totally forgot he was a factor. Probably one of the most dangerous factors really. Most of the crazy events in the show seemed to be influenced by him in quite a significant way. I'm surprised no one's put him down just as a precaution. Though I guess he keeps it on the down-low.

I don't feel Jaime's actions were some particularly surprising twist. I mean, the man did push a little boy out of a tower in the very beginning of the show. A person's nature doesn't just go away like that.

Juliette said...

I'm glad it wasn't just me noticed Littlefinger getting more Irish! It's a bit annoying that he gets more Irish as he gets more evil, but, well, this episode had bigger problems so I guess we can let it lie for now...

Freeman said...

I thought the Irish thing was just my imagination because it's been so long since we've seen him. I guess not.

annie auger said...

I'm very surprised by the huge controversy surrounding the Cercei-Jamie rape scene. It was extremely creepy and uncomfortable to watch, but not that much of a stretch.

Jamie has been back in King's Landing for a few weeks, and Cersei has been giving him the cold shoulder all this time. Tywin has dismissed him as well. The only one in his family who still loves him is Tyrion - and now, Cersei wants Jamie to kill him. When the scene started, Cersei was manipulating Jamie, kissing him and arousing him to get him to kill Tyrion. Then she stops - that's when Jamie goes over the edge and takes her. I'm not saying his actions are justified, but I think this result is not surprising. It does put a huge stain on his "redemption" arc of last season, that's for sure.

I think it shocked and angered a lot of people because he was seen as one of the very few "good" guys left in the series. Who do we have left as an all-around good, honorable force, other than Brienne?

Josie Kafka said...

I'm so glad you all mentioned Littlefinger's accent, which seemed much stronger to me, too--but I thought either I was going crazy or the actor had forgotten how to speak like Littlefinger. (Jaime, for instance, sounds more and more American to me with each passing episode.)

Maybe Irish is the accent of that tiny patch of Westeros that Littlefinger is from.

Bea said...

Uh, so I guess I'm the only one not into Daario at all? It's not the actor, is the character I can't stand. Even from the books, I always thought that it was a weird choice of person for Dany to keep around/obviously feel attracted to. The men she has surrounded herself with, and the man she loved, have some kind of wisdom and a whole lot of honor. I just don't see what she gets from a classical cheeky guy who winks and happens to be good with a sword. Maybe is just that the character really puts me off, I guess.

The Jaime scene really affected me, actually. I never thought, not from the show or the books, that Jaime was ultimetely easily defined as "a good guy", but I do feel that he had a very personal kind of moral compass. Last seasons gave us a perfect monologue in his voice, with almost a confession of his sins and his reasons behind it, and if didn't make him "a hero", it made him a very understandable human put in a very bad place. Raping his sister, whom he loves despite Cersei being... well, Cersei, did seem like a stretch to me, possibly because a lot what he's done in the past that's so bad (including the Bran thing) has been for Cersei.

Jess Lynde said...

I think a lot of the outrage is because they took something that wasn't a rape (per many readers) and turned it into a rape for the show. It was jarring to many, and as some others have noted, it derails or delays the redemption work they'd started with Jaime.

But I have to agree that I found it more of a perplexing adaptation choice, than an unbelievable character move for Show Jaime. We've seen Jaime do numerous terrible things, and he was completely in the frame of mind here where he would believably snap, backslide, and do something awful. Or is so desperate to get back some small bit of his old life that he'd take it by force. He's pulling a Don Draper, in a sense. You think he's starting to turn the corner, and then he slips back into old, familiar, bad patterns. We'll just have to see if the complete horror of this latest transgression is a rock bottom that pushes him back on the road to redemption. Or if he's just going to wallow in awfulness and misery.

It is funny that you were all fixated on Littlefinger's accent, because all I could focus on in those scenes was how uncomfortably close he was to Sansa's face. Back off, dude! You are so hella creepy!

Juliette said...

Bea, you're not the only one, I can't stand Daario! Though that might be because I love Jorah (either version).

mazephoenix said...

I like new Daario better than old Daario. Less boyband-bland and more like a warrior.
Ugh the scene with Cersei and Jaime..just don't try to make it sound like something other than rape producers-it was. If you were aiming for sexually aggressive but consensual you missed by a mile. See Buffy and Spike at the end of "Smashed" for aggressive but consensual stuff. Maybe it helps that Buffy starts it. And yes, that relationship was beyond messed up and ended with an attempted rape, but at least the powers that be knew what they were doing with it.
Sigh, rant over.
Also, poor Tyrion.

Bea said...

Juliette, I also love Jorah, so maybe that's the pattern.

Jess, I actually think you may be right in what you're saying, and it may be the deviation from the book that's so jarring, considering the kind of sexual violence we're dealing with in the Jaime/Cersei scene. It wasn't a loving scene by any means, but I never got "rape" from it, and in the show it so clearly was. It may also have something to do with the fact that the director isn't all that convinced that what he filmed was rape, I guess.

And yeah, Littlefinger is a creepy creepster, but I like him just like that.

Luce said...

I might be wrong, but I think that part of the outrage regarding the scene in this episode is that it's a total 180 from the way is depicted in the book. Though it's true that the show's kept certain events/plot twists from the original canon, there's a lot that TPTB of the show threw in. At least that's what I've heard from friends of mine who have read the books (I haven't).

IMHO, Cersai and Jamie already had more than enough obstacles and/or points of tension: the death and murder of their first born, Cersai's jealousy of Brienne's relationship with Jamie, Jamie's own sense of self after acknowledging (through his interactions away from King's Landing) that he does have some noble emotions deep inside of himself, Jamie attempting to reconnect with Cersai without any success (because the Jamie who came back to King's Landing after all that time isn't "her" Jamie), Cersai's insecurity at the potential of seeing Jamie and Tyrion becoming allies, etc.

To me, it was a very cheap move, unworthy of this show.

ION, I do like new!Dario better than old!Dario. The one thing that does make my eyes roll, however, is the obvious romance that the show's building between him and Dany. :-/

sunbunny said...

Luce (and others who haven't read the books) - the rape scene does not represent a total switch from the scene in the books. In the books, Jaime makes advances towards Cersei and she says "No" repeatedly. There are indications that her refusals might be because there are people just outside the door, but she does initially refuse him. Some readers viewed the scene as a rape, some did not. It certainly didn't have the level of violence shown in the episode, but there were issues regarding whether Cersei consented or not. In the ASoIaF books, each chapter has a different narrator. The chapter with the altar scene was narrated by Jaime which may have influenced the way that story was told (i.e. maybe he didn't consider it to be a rape, but Cersei did).

Luce said...

@sunnybunny - Thanks for the clarification. A lot of what I've read online hasn't mention that there is dubious consent in the scene. I did know that the chapter in question was from Jamie's POV.

One thing that I forgot to mention is that some of the books!fans seem to expect the show to happen exactly as it has in the novels. Nevermind that enough has been changed (in the transition to the show) to make GoT a kind of alternate version of the book series.