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Game of Thrones Watch: Speak Softly and Carry a Big Crossbow

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HBO

Spoilers for this week’s Game of Thrones follow:
“He should have stayed well out of all of this, if you asked me. But once the cow’s been milked there’s no squirting the cream back up her udder, so here we are to see things through!”

Meet your new favorite character in Game of Thrones, Lady Olenna (Diana Rigg), matriarch of the Tyrell family and new resident real-keeper of King’s Landing. In my viewing notes, immediately after her first appearance, I wrote the phrase “the Dowager of Highgarden,” not exactly a fair description since George R.R. Martin wrote Game of Thrones’ source books well before the world knew Downton Abbey.

Regardless, the old lady free to say what we’re all thinking is a beloved character type for a reason, and it’s fitting that her above line also sums up the spirit of “Dark Wings, Dark Words.” For all practical purposes, this was the second half of a two-hour season premiere, revisiting to a few scenes of last week’s “Valar Dohaeris” while catching up on characters that episode didn’t have room for: Arya, Bran, Theon, Brienne and Jaime.

So it’s a bit of a grab bag, but there’s something of a common theme. The cow has indeed been milked, all over Westeros, and this week we visit some of the people left to see things through after last season: the losers of war, the dispossessed, the imprisoned, the rebels, and those left to seek new alliances after the Lannisters have come out on top.

This being Game of Thrones, there are a lot of them, so I’ll just focus on two here. Besides introducing the marvelous Rigg, the scene among Olenna, Margaery and Sansa is remarkable for the way it suggests that war and politics in Westeros are not conducted only on battlefields and royal councils. And power, to paraphrase Chairman Mao, does not always proceed from the barrel of a crossbow.

Sounding out Sansa on Joffrey’s true nature, Olenna–who cares more about her granddaughter’s happiness than an alliance–is both tender and penetrating. And yet, once she wheedles out the confession they feared from Sansa (“He’s a monster”), he answer is dry and no-nonsense: “Ah. That’s a pity.”

The quick little eyebrow-raise that Margaery returns suggests that quick wits and adaptability run in the family–and indeed, by episode’s end, she’s playing the part of the monsteress to her crossbow-loving fiance. (“I imagine it must be so excited to squeeze your finger here and watch something die over there.”) He’s the guy with the weapon. But which one of them has the power?

Sophie Turner deserves credit in the scene, too, for demonstrating the bravery and relief with which Sansa finally lets the words cross her lips. It may have been a good thing that she has been honest with the Tyrells or a horrible mistake, but either way, she is something that she has not been since the distant days of the first season: free. Speaking your mind will do that for a person. It may be she’s already learned something from Lady Tyrell. (This is, in general, a strong episode for GoT’s women, including Catelyn, who often got lost in the piece-moving of last season.)

Far away, in a much less comfortable setting, “Dark Wings” caught up with another storyline in a way that gives me hope for the coming season. Bran’s story has been an especially challenging one for the HBO series to adapt, because it involves a lot of internal struggle, visions, and mythology that’s easier to dramatize on the page than on the screen. (I’ve read the source books but am writing these reviews assuming you haven’t and trying to ignore them as much as possible.) As depicted in the past two seasons, the series has given me the impression that Bran’s role is supposed to be very important—all those visions of death and three-eyed crows—without really making me feel its importance.

“Dark Wings” brought it to life, with the introduction of the mysterious Jojen and Meera Reed, more than the show has its first two years. Game of Thrones does a lot of its narrative work through dialogue, and Bran needed someone to talk to about his visions. Jojen connects them to the series’ longer mythological game by telling Bran that he’s a “warg”–which, we’ve just seen with Jon Snow beyond the Wall, is a mystic able to inhabit the minds of animals shamanically.

Now that’s interesting. But equally as interesting is how the subplot echoes a theme of this episode: that the losers of the war, the weak, the weaponless, the crippled, possess an importance of their own—and maybe a danger of their own too.

But to wield it, they have to stick together. Meeting Meera, who essentially serves as her brother’s bodyguard, Osha scoffs at the idea of a boy Jojen’s size needing protection in the wild. “Some people will always need help,” Meera answers. “That doesn’t mean they’re not worth helping.” Paralyzed Bran and captive Sansa haven’t been together since the days of season one, but in that moment, with that idea, they suddenly seem very, very close.

Now for the hail of bullets:

* On the one hand, I know that condensing George R. R. Martin’s massive books into a 10-hour season of TV requires skillful compression. On the other hand, I would basically watch Jaime and Brienne’s insult-comedy tour of Westeros in real time.

* In a way, Mance Rayder’s conversation with Jon about the various tribes of Wildlings also echoes the theme of the (relatively) powerless finding strength in cooperation: “You know what it takes to unite 90 clans, half of whom want to massacre the other half for one insult or another?” In this case, the fear of extinction. Whatever works.

* The irony in that, of course, is that the more “civilized folks on the south side of the Wall have not been united by the fear of extinction, despite the warnings of the Night’s Watch. Of course, civilization is a relative term: as Talisa tells us, the cultures of the Eastern continent see the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros as a bunch of smelly barbarians. They have a point!

* Like more and more complicated TV serials (see Lost), Game of Thrones is in a dialogue with its fans, and occasionally it gives voice to them. Gendry’s conversation with Arya, in which he asks why she didn’t just pick a different set of three names and end the war, seems to be voicing an entirely reasonable plot question of fans from last season.

* Because I’ve read the books, I’m at a bit of an advantage, but even to me it feels like Game of Thrones has muddied up the sequence of events and players at and around Winterfell. So I’m curious what viewers who haven’t read the books think: do you have a sense yet who’s torturing him Theon and why?

The usual reminder: If you’ve read the source books, be considerate in the comments of those who haven’t. Feel free to discuss how this (or any past episode) compares with the source material, but please, no references to events from the books that haven’t yet happened in the series. Thanks.

20 comments
loug
loug

Who is the actor (the handsome dude) in the picture with the crossbow?

Lucelucy
Lucelucy

Damn!  I knew the crucial scene with Olenna, Margaery, and Sansa was coming up, so I was looking forward to finally getting to hear "The Bear and the Maiden Fair."  But noooo.  They set it in a garden where, I suppose, the walls don't have ears.   But they still had the lemon cakes and cheese. 

"A bear there was, a bear, a bear, all black and brown and covered with hair..."  Now, how does that song go again?

tfox
tfox

My problem with both the show and the books, is that you have characters that you want to spend time with, but instead get a "whirlwind tour of Europe, 24 countries in 3 days".  I would be happier if the show went to two hours an episode, and then maybe we could enjoy the plot more.   A friend watched this show for the first time and kept asking why things were happening.  It is tiring to even think about answering questions like who was Renly and who is Bran and why is he wandering around.


Oh well still love the show

sachi_bbsr
sachi_bbsr

Really?!?!

There are people who watch the TV version who might be "heartbroken" about "spoilers"?

How can anyone be bothered about such a silly work of fiction? And if one IS bothered, why not read the books? And how closely does the TV show track the books?

Having seen Season One on "strong" recommendations of a friend, my queries would be these: how come these fictional folks in fictional lands were so 'modern' in their sexuality ... I mean, the sex scenes are pretty close to modern-day porn. The other questions would be about the use of chairs/tables and spoons (rather than fingers) for eating/dining.

I even saw a "primitive" lift mechanism being used for going up (or coming down. Don't quite remember).

Won't be too surprised if future episodes will show a primitive flushing mechanism in their toilets (or the use of something resembling toilet paper).

Really, what I am marveling at  is the skill of the writer, George R. R. Martin (I hope I got that right) who knew how to mix mythology and human psychology and sexuality and other stuff to come up with hit books and HBO's courage in spending millions to translate that fictional universe into a TV show.

@sachi_bbsr 

http://explainingindia.blogspot.in/



randy.mazin
randy.mazin

If you pay close attention Jamie indirectly gives it away at the end of the EP.

mathom123
mathom123

I think viewers can figure out who has Theon, if you pay very close attention to what happened at Winterfell in the 2nd season, episodes 9&10. It's very subtle; pay attention to the contradictions between what actually happens there to what different characters think happened then you figure it out. I like this subtlety because it's something Martin does constantly in the books. That said I've read the books so maybe for me it's easy to see.

mlopez55
mlopez55

I think that those dudes with the upside down man with an X are the ones that are torturing them, but, if they are Robb's bannermen does that mean he knows and lied to his mother?

kareldeprez
kareldeprez

You're quite right about what happens in Winterfell. The storytelling in the series has been a bit muddied when it comes to that - sooner or later there's bound to be a bit of a minus. Who's torturing Theon? I know. And to me it seems quite logical. But without the books, you can't really know. Then again, if you haven't read the books, you won't really know what you've missed? It's complicated, and rightly so.

vrcplou
vrcplou

To answer your question, I have no clue who captured Theon, how or why or why they are toturing him.  I really need to re-watch last night's episode because we watched it while eating dinner, and GOT requires no distractions!  But I was thrilled to see Bran and Arya and even The Hound!

NordEddard
NordEddard

@poniewozik Do you put Alfie Allen on the shelf for 3 yrs or create a storyline? The later I think. Torturers? No clue.