So I’ve decided to simply post 2 mini-reviews every fortnight for Game of Thrones. I know I called them mini-reviews last time and they were each about as long as a Song of Fire and Ice book, but this time I’m going try to be…dear God…..succinct (yeah, you’re right, it won’t happen).
First of His Name – 4×05
I had been growing a little tired of the tidier, thematically driven episodes that have followed Joffrey’s death, but after watching this episode, which was a bit of a mess, I’m honestly not sure in which mode of storytelling I prefer Game of Thrones to sit. This episode sees new beginnings, moments of great catharsis, and 180 degree plot re-routing all rubbing against each other and it makes for an inconsistent, if sporadically entertaining episode. I’m going to be lazy and divide the episode into what did and didn’t work for me.
What I Likes
– I know I probably talk about Cersei more than I should, but I truly feel that she has the ability to be one of the strongest characters on the series. She can perform the effortlessly clever schemer role that Tywin and Olenna comfortably inhabit, but she is also less able to control her emotions which means that she is prone to wild bursts of craziness (always fun) and occasionally she lets a hint of vulnerability peak out from beneath her austere facade, especially when it comes to the well-being of her children (Tywin simply doesn’t have time for such human follies as vulnerability).
This episode is the best example of those two sides of Cersei that we’ve seen in quite some time as she sidles up to all of those whom have a say in the upcoming trial of Tyrion Lannister. The ambiguity as to whether her heartfelt dialogues with Margaery, Oberyn and Tywin are merely clever power plays or semi-genuine moments that reveal the truths that Cersei works hard to repress (while still being clever power plays) is exactly why I find her character so promising and why I find the lack of such moments in previous episodes incredibly frustrating.
– I’ll admit it, not a lot from Jon or Bran’s running storyline throughout the 4 GoT seasons has interested me greatly, but in this episode they share some of the more affecting and cathartic moments that we’ve seen since the Purple Wedding. In pure GoT style this episode doesn’t actually achieve any long-term results (the threat posed by the Craster cowards if captured by the White Walkers was always a bit dubious) but the pain of the near miss between Bran and Jon was as palpable as the the sense of pure joy felt when Jon souklavied Karl through the back of the head.
– Pod and Brienne. Need I say more ❤
What I Don’t Likes
– I’ve heard a lot of people say that Dany’s arc is the book is less than compelling and fraught with problems and inconsistencies and I have to say that her story is starting to wear me down. I think she’s a fantastic character, but from the ‘exposition meeting’ she has with her advisors, it’s clear that the writers are just saying, ‘ok she’s done all the cool stuff we can think of, but we can’t let her do the really cool stuff, like cross the Narrow Sea, so let’s backtrack and have her deal with the stuff she did last season’. In some ways, it’s refreshingly realistic that not everything is falling into place for our protagonist and the idea that a leader can’t expect to keep the status quo after their presence has departed is reasonable. It’s also perfectly within character, even predictably so, that Dany would react to this news with moralistic integrity. But the scene is so insultingly out of nowhere and to-the-point that it reeks of a show that isn’t sure how to keep one of it’s most popular characters relevant.
– Arya and the Hound. See my first review of the season and note that I haven’t really discussed them since.
On the Fence
– Sansa’s arrival at the Eyrie was a mixed blessing. On the plus side, Sansa is more sympathetic than she’s ever been; resourceful even, as she repeats the horrible taunts Joffrey used to throw at her as a way of convincing Lady Arryn that Baelish has no feelings for her. And the return of Lady Arryn and her demon spawn are a wonder to behold because they are so batshit crazy, with Kate Dickie nailing both Lady Arryn’s frail lack of confidence and her shrill, demanding witchiness. But that horribly unconvincing bit of exposition where she lays out all of her and Peter’s past transgressions is so awful that it ruins what could have been the most interesting portion of the episode. Having said that I look forward to seeing more of this ragtag bunch of Scallywags at the Eyrie.
Overall Rating: 7.5 ‘Oh come on, she’s faking it’-Sansa sighs out of 10
In the midst of all the neck-cracking, wedding faux-pas and lumberingly slow threats from the north, sometimes it’s easy for me to forget that this show works best as a political drama, and boy does this episode deliver the goods on that front. It’s not a perfect episode – it’s slow in parts and the Theon/Reeks scenes, while not uninteresting, didn’t add much to the episode beyond the continuing theme of identity that occurs throughout – but this episode proves that you don’t need violence, bloodshed, and rape to telling a compelling, transfixing story.
Davos was this episode’s surprise player in the game of thrones as he proved to be a shrewd and practical thinker when he and the increasingly hopeless Stannis arrive in Braavos – introduced via a SFX panorama shot that is vastly superior to similar establishing shots of Mereen used earlier in the season. In his chat with the World Bank……I mean….Iron Bank, Davos points out the inherent flaws in backing a boy king whose primary supporter is getting on in age (Come on. Tywin will NEVER DIE). But Davos isn’t the only one who takes the time to spell out the majors players of the game and re-orient viewers as to the current stakes and threats at this midpoint of the season. The meeting of the small council reminds us of all the players we haven’t heard from in a while and discusses the potential threat of Dany, perhaps in order to insist that she is in fact relevant to the story taking place in Westeros, despite my concerns that she is not.
Despite continuing to be one of the cleverest and subtlest players, I found Varys’ conversation with Oberyn to be a bit lacking, despite Oberyn’s amusing implication that Varys prefers the company of men. Varys’ suggestion that he feels no desire, while perhaps true, feels like it should be explored more deeply than simply having it stated as fact. Also the disambiguation between ‘desire’ and ‘sexual desire’ irked me as it’s obvious that Varys does have desires, it’s just that sex and infatuation are small fries that get in the way of his ultimate end goal: to have power and to wield it.
But enough about the supporting players, this episode obviously belonged to the Lannisters, with Jamie, Tywin and Tyrion all contributing to the splendour that is the second half of the this episode. If I haven’t said it enough already, let me just say it again, Tywin Lannister and Charles Dance are equally amazing. The matter-of-fact manner in which Tywin agrees to spare Tyrion as though he had just satisfactorily bargained for the purchase of 3 goose eggs and a bushel of carrots is a wonderful moment, taking an incredibly dramatic and lengthy trial and bringing it to a screeching halt in a matter of seconds (or so we thought), served as always by Dance’s impeccable underplaying of everything he does with straight-faced confidence.
As great as Tywin is (and he is, don’t fight me on this), the MVP of this episode is Tyrion and the always reliable Peter Dinklage. After a season of being put down and moping, Dinklage finally gets to lets loose, chewing the scenery so vociferously that I think he swallowed some Iron Bank staff and a few dragon-charred goats along with it. But it’s not all teeth-gnashing and character-defining speeches; Dinklage shines most in his quieter moments as when he, with utter sincerity, gives his brother his trust and the way he slumps down to his seat, a defeated man, after realising that Shae (I never liked her – but she is officially the worst) wouldn’t vouch for him and even worse, after she used their tender and loving moments against him as though they meant nothing. To quote The Simpsons, ‘you can actually pinpoint the second when his heart rips in half. Aaaaaannnnnddddd ….now!’
The final five minutes of the episode are masterful, from Jamie’s shock and horror of his brother going off script, to Tywin at his grumpiest, trying to get something from Tyrion that will allow him to be spared, to Tyrion deciding that he simply can’t deal with this shit anymore. No more politics, no more duplicitous friends or disappointing exes. Let’s have some violence!
Overall Rating: 8.5* out of 10.
*Points deducted on account of being a dwarf.