Game Of Thrones goes into hyperdrive as virtually every character gets their due in a busy set-up episode.
Let’s bitch it out…
With so many story lines to juggle, the early episodes of any season of GoT are bound to be busy. Last week’s ‘The Wars To Come’ suggested that show runners Benioff and Weiss were going to parcel out the screen time to characters more strategically, but ‘The House Of Black And White’ reverts back to form by dedicating time to nearly every single character. As the show with the biggest cast on TV, Game Of Thrones is still more than adept at juggling story lines than nearly any other show, but it still makes for a very busy episode.
In lieu of attempting some kind of exhaustive account, here are the top three memorable story lines from tonight’s episode:
1) Cersei (Lena Headey) is losing her power
To me, Cersei is one of the series’ most divisive characters. She has always been a pathetic figure because her sex has prohibited her from obtaining the power she so desperately craves, despite her megalomaniacal desire to rule. With her father gone, Cersei has never had a better chance of inheriting the kingdom, and yet only two episodes in and she’s already falling apart at the seams. Not only is her offer of a lordship for the man who brings her Tyrion’s (Peter Dinklage) head not producing results, her attempt to act on behalf of child King Tommen (an unseen Callum Wharry) is immediately challenged. Despite liberally distributing new titles on the Small Council members who may oppose her, Cersei’s tactics are both desperate and obvious, as demonstrated by one member’s refusal to submit to her puppet mastering approach. If Cersei can’t produce results (in her personal life or in the Small Council), what hope does she have at retaining the most powerful seat in the land?
2) Daeny (Emilia Clarke) is similarly in over her head
For much of the episode Daeny and Cersei are presented as contrasts. Their costumes are opposite colours, and their respective Council meetings are substantially different in terms of form and structure. Despite the challenges, Cersei dominates her environment, cutting aside opposition at every opportunity. Daeny, meanwhile, welcomes a diversity of opinions at her council meeting. Unfortunately her decision to listen to Barristan Selmy (Ian McElhinney) results in a decision to be fair and just (unlike her father, the Mad King). As we’ve learned, doing the “right” thing in this world is not rewarded. Daeny quickly discovers this when her decision to put a captured Son of the Harpy on trial creates conflict with the freed slaves and she is forced to publicly execute Mossador (Reece Noi) when he disobeys her rules. At this point Daeny doesn’t yet know when to be democratic and when to be totalitarian, but it appears that the road to power will continue to be rocky until she figures out what kind of ruler she wants to be.
3) Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) can’t catch a break
Admittedly the Stark protector doesn’t have the best rap sheet (she’s 0 for 2 in protecting her lords and 0 for 2 in recruiting Stark daughters), but damn if she isn’t a force to be reckoned with when wielding Oathkeeper. Brienne’s interaction with Baelish (Aidan Gillen) and Sansa (Sophie Turner) in the pub feels like a deliberate effort to begin condensing the sprawling story lines and the resulting chase on horseback is the hour’s best action scene. I particularly enjoyed Brienne’s grisly dispatch of one of Baelish’s soldiers with a thrust through the neck (blech). As one of the few truly “good” characters in the series, it’s nice to see Brienne coming into her own, even if her debating skills remain a bit rusty.
- We get our first taste of Dorne, the Southern realm where poor doomed Prince Oberyn came from, and I’ll admit it’s a bit underwhelming. The lack of establishing shots don’t help to distinguish the landscape and it feels too similar to King’s Landing visually. Still, it’s exciting to see Ellaria (Indira Varma) again and to meet the Dornish leader, the incapacitated Doran Martell (a most welcome Alexander Siddig). Ellaria is clearly at odds with the stability-oriented king, which should lead to some solid conflict when Jamie (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Bronn (Jerome Flynn) arrive to retrieve Myrcella.
- I won’t lie: I wanted much, much more time with Arya (Maisie Williams). The youngest Stark daughter arrives in Braavos by boat (PS that’s how you introduce a new location!) and is promptly turned away from the strange, monolithic titular house. It’s only after she nearly dispatches a gang of overconfident thugs that she is welcomed inside by a disguised Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha). Seeing Arya again filled me with glee. Wondering what next makes me giddy.
- In his most ill-advised move yet, Jon (Kit Harington) does not protest when Sam (John Bradley) nominates him for Commander of the Night’s Watch. Coming so soon after Jon’s defiant mercy killing of Mance and immediately after Stannis (Stephen Dillane) offers to make him Lord of Winterfell virtually guarantees that Jon is going to continue irking Stannis. Plus Jon wins command of the Wall with a single vote, which means he’s only got half of the Night’s Watch support. This is going to be rough.
- Side Bar: We’re getting strong hints that there will be some substantial issues between Stannis’ camp and the wildlings. Melisandre won’t stand for anything that pulls power away from Stannis and tonight his wife explicitly tells their daughter Shireen (Kerry Ingram) to stay away from Gilly (Hannah Murray). Two episodes in and the Wall is already the most combustible location of any we’re visiting regularly.
- A+ to the FX team on the work bringing Drogon to life in that final scene. The creature effects on this series have steadily improved and the moment between Daeny and her oldest charge is tense and ominous. The fact that Drogon refuses her outstretched hand and flies away does not bode well for Daeny – she’s clearly lost control of her dragons when she needs them most.
- Finally, which comedic team serves the show best: Podrick (Daniel Portman) and Brienne, or Jamie and Bronn? I’ll give the edge to the former, but already there are signs that an epic buddy-comedy is in the works with the latter.
- Brienne (when Podrick states that they only have one horse): “Find more”
- Tyrion (upon learning Cersei has offered a lordship to the man who brings her Tyrion’s head): “She ought to have offered her cunt. Best part of her for the best part of me.”
Your turn: what did you think of this very busy episode? Which story lines stuck out to you? Were you happy to see Arya again? Did the introduction of Dorne and the expansion of Braavos work for you? Who is in over their head more: Daeny or Jon? Will Cersei retain her control of the capital? Sound off below, but please do not post spoilers from the books or the leaked episodes!
Game Of Thrones airs Sundays at 9pm EST on HBO. Next week: further insight on what lies beyond the doors of the House of Black and White, trouble at the Wall and a challenger in the capital. Here’s your preview