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.
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.
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."
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