A lot happened in this episode, wrapping up some plot lines from last season and pushing things forward to a new place.
Most of the scenes on the Wall dealt with the aftermath of the big battle in "The Watchers on the Wall" and the arrival of Stannis. Jon was central of course, but it was his interactions with Stannis, Melisandre, and Mance that stood out for me. Jon is already acting as the Lord Commander of the Night's Watch through action, even though the position isn't his yet. That throwaway line that elections for the new Commander are coming up, and that Jon is loved by half and hated by half of the men, is pretty much telling us what's to come.
Stannis is very full of himself lately, or maybe he's always been that way. But the future that he believes in seems kinda horrible. His insistence that he is the one true king is not only arrogant, it's foolish. He has the name, but not the temperament to rule. It's pretty clear to me that after a while, he would end up burning half of his men for mild slights on the crown, then he would find himself in the middle of another rebellion.
I'm not sure if Melisandre is evil, but she is creepy as all hell. Asking Jon if he's a virgin, yuck. I hope her plans don't involve burning him alive. Her intense looks and slightly affectionate demeanor towards Jon were also really odd. For a moment I wondered if perhaps she was Jon's long lost mother, although I guess that depends on how old the character is supposed to be.
Mance and Jon had probably my favorite scene in the episode. Jon's compassion and respect for Mance was clear, and he desperately wanted to save Mance from himself. One thing is obvious though: Jon's actions at the end of the episode will be controversial. By firing that arrow to give Mance a merciful death, he will have angered Stannis and perhaps some of his brothers of the Watch. But he might have gained some favor from the Wildlings, or at least Tormund.
The other scenes featuring Cersei were all based on her questionable actions, mourning Tywin (in her own way), and her hatred of Tyrion. I was wondering if she would put together that it was Jamie who set Tyrion free, so I'm glad that's resolved. It's unfortunate that her hatred of Tyrion now has a legitimate reason. Also, I wonder what the overreaching consequences of Tywin's death will be. He was the person holding the Lannisters together. So I bet Jamie is right. If Cersei doesn't work with him, everything could spiral apart.
Lastly, there was the strange little scene between Cersei and the much altered Lancel. I don't know what is going on with the Sparrows, but it is at least interesting to see what the truly devout worshipers of the Seven are like. He came across as pretty creepy and scary, much like Melisandre (although she's in a class to herself). The shorn hair, and simple rough clothing kind of has me worried about this sect of the church though, because it means he has cast off most of his connections to the world.
Across the Narrow Sea
The other big conflict was with Dany and her total unwillingness to play politics. I'm not sure how I feel about Daario yet, but he had a point. The fighting pits could serve as a transition to a more free society. It could even be a means for the poor to rise up into wealth. Of course that would depend on how she set it up. If she just deferred to the Masters, that arena would probably end up no better than the human cockfights she mentioned. Slaves killing slaves.
Now as for Tyrion, it is pretty sad that he doesn't see himself very well. He's gotten to the point where he's suicidal. Not surprising, considering he just committed patricide, but drinking himself to death is a very hard and awful way to go. I don't think Varys is going to let him just fade away, though. He's spent too much time and risked too much just to let Tyrion die. He knows how valuable Tyrion's mind is, and if he's right he could be an amazing ally for Daenarys.
Bits & Pieces:
Arya wasn't in the episode, which is unfortunate because her story was the one I really wanted to see.
Charles Dance's (Tywin Lannister) name was in the same place in the main credits. That's pretty nice considering he had no speaking part, and a stand-in could've been used for his corpse.
Sansa and Petyr had a couple of short scenes dealing with the politics of the Vale. Little Lord Arryn is about as bad at combat as I thought he would be. I'm glad that they have decided to leave the Vale for now, because Robin is a character I don't really want to see much more of. But I wonder where Petyr is taking them that could be a long way away?
Brienne and Pod seem to be back at the beginning of their story again. She is so upset at loosing Arya that she is lashing out at him. Which sucks for Pod, but at least he isn't taking her vitriol to heart.
There was no hint of Bran and company, or the magic, wonder and death beyond the wall.
Varys: "You have a choice, my friend. You can stay here at Illyrio's palace and drink yourself to death or you can ride with me to Meereen, meet Daenerys Targaryen and decide if the world is worth fighting for."
Tyrion: "Can I drink myself to death on the road to Meereen?"
Tyrion: "The powerful have always preyed on the powerless. That's how they became powerful in the first place."
Cersei: (to Jamie) "Tyrion may be a monster, but at least he killed our father on purpose. You killed him by mistake with stupidity."
Varys: "You have your father's instincts for politics and you have compassion."
Tyrion: "Compassion. Yes. I killed my lover with my bare hands and I shot my own father with a crossbow."
Varys: "I never said you were perfect."
Not a stunning opening episode, but very few ever are. At least it the character interactions were solid, and the plot moved forward.
3 out of 4 Harpy masks
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J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related. He reviews Arrow and Farscape and cool new movies that strike his fancy.
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