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"...a taste of the real world where people have important things taken from them."
Now that was the first great episode of this season of Game of Thrones. Not that the previous three weren't well executed in their own right but “And Now His Watch Is Ended” was more engaging because it was way less concerned with (re)introducing the several story lines or characters and instead had the action escalate significantly. And that's without Jon or Robb. It also shouldn't come as much surprise that the fourth installment of the season contained several large developments, or 'oh shit moments' as one of my professors used to say, since last year's "Garden of Bones" is one of the very best episodes of HBO's fantasy to date. “And Now His Watch Is Ended" will probably end up being regarded in the same light. Of course, you can't have all the excellent payoffs without the setups and last week's “A Walk of Punishment” (another series high in ratings), and the two before that, should get some of the credit for doing a lot of the heavy lifting.
"My sword-hand. I was that hand."
Insert 'it's hard to lift with one hand joke' here. “And Now His Watch Is Ended" starts right where last week cut off (sorry, that was my hand joke) and I loved the use of a close-up of Jaime's hand dangling around his neck as a way to open the episode. In fact, this week was also a step up from the already high cinematographic standards with fantastic, even breathtaking, shot after shot. This season will also mark when everyone realizes that Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is the real deal and not just a pretty face. And hair. Jaime is one of the most interesting characters in the books, and now the series, because George R.R. Martin, D.B. Weiss and David Benioff go to great lengths to show his privilege before adding him to the list of characters having to deal with losing what is most precious to them. Well, he's no longer got the sword-hand or, you know, his identity but at least he's got Brienne. Was stealing the sword a suicide attempt? Hoping to go out by the blade instead of being a 'broken thing' like Bran? A powerful scene followed by another with the large Lady convincing him to stop wallowing in self-pity and get some revenge. And food.
"Look little loves, a spider in the garden. Run along now, grow strong."
While Jaime is stuck in the literal muck, the other Lannisters are all sitting pretty in King's Landing. Not that being there is any safer with all the scheming going on and this was an especially whisper-filled week with extra attention paid to Varys and his various visitors and visits. Yes, I did write the speech from V For Vendetta. First up was Tyrion who went to see the spider in order to gain some more information about Cersei's assassination attempt on him during the Battle of the Blackwater. Of course, the eunuch doesn't deal in proof but he does assure the youngest lion that all good things, like revenge, come to those who wait. He's got the story and dude in a box to prove it. Soon after, Ros sits down with her new boss to talk about Littlefinger, her 'old' boss, and his plans to take Sansa with him when he leaves for Eyrie. She's a smart one and I like what they're doing with her character this season instead of simply having her in sex scenes that spout exposition. His final encounter in “A Walk of Punishment” was probably my favorite because, well, Diana Rigg is just incredible as the Queen of Thorns. But before getting to the end result of their banter, there are a few non-Varys sequences in the capitol that need mention.
"The revenge you seek will be yours in time."
As the spider is busy crawling around King's Landing and spinning his webs, the Lannister and Tyrell relationship seems to be growing more tenuous. Well, according to Cersei anyway. Joffrey seems more than happy with the current state of affairs, giggling like a little boy as he tours his pretty bride to be around the extravagant sets (seriously, great production design) and Tywin doesn't seem all that concerned with the fact that Margaery has successfully sunk her claws into his grandson. Besides, he plans to set the boy straight and must continue writing those secretive letters. It's not a particular good week for the 'Queen Regent' as she continues to watch her power slip through her fingers not to mention have the pleasure of Dad telling her she's essentially worthless. We know, however, that the Tyrells are indeed full of schemes and the latest has to do with the aforementioned Varys and Olenna conversation concerning the fate of Sansa. Such a pretty girl with a famous name, she might just make the perfect bride for a young Lord in the closet who somewhat recently lost his real lover. I must admit, after all the shit the eldest Stark daughter has been through, I was pretty happy to see her have a nice moment with Margaery that seems to offer her everything she's ever wanted.
"You're fighting for ghosts."
As for the other Stark children, as I said there's no Robb or Jon this week (and Rickon, well, who really cares about him) but we do catch up briefly with Bran before having an awesome scene with Arya and the Brotherhood Without Banners. Bran continues to have his green dreams where he's chasing the three-eyed crow as well as encouraged by Jojen and this time it pits him in a rathe emotional scenario. Not only does the young Stark have to face his fears and climb but he's then met halfway up the tree by Cat who, only doing what any caring mother would do, reinforces his fear and sends him back to reality where Jojen is also waiting. Arya's storyline in “And Now His Watch Is Ended" takes us to the BWB's secret lair and we're introduced to a kind of familiar face in Beric Dondarrion. I say kind of because we have technically seen this character before when he was dispatched by Eddard in the first season but Game of Thrones has since recast the part with Richard Dormer. I'd say it was one of the more memorable character introductions in the series so far, with the man rocking the eye-patch almost immediately praising Arya's courage (a good way to win the fans' favor) and challenging the Hound to trial by combat. Awesome. I like this pair, Beric and Arya. Who am I kidding, I like Clegane too.
"Put him back where he belongs."
Theon was having a tough go of it to start the third season, stuck in a prison and being tortured for his crimes in Winterfell, however, soon a mysterious young hero came to his aid and not only set him free but also saved his ass (literally) while on the loose. This week the two continue their quest to meet up with Theon's older sister Yara at Deepwood Motte, with the young man leading Lord Greyjoy into the bowels of some concrete structure. There, Theon shares his story with his savior, baring his soul about his relationship with the Starks and how he truly feels about the betrayal. Alfie Allen has been a real pleasant surprise since the middle of the second season, providing a consistently engaging performance with a role that is really emotionally demanding and could easy go off the rails. I've also been purposefully using words like hero and savior to describe the 'boy' because as we all know by know, he was having a little bit of sadistic fun with the captive, letting him loose only to bring him right back to his torture chamber. That is not a nice thing to do and the amount of joy Iwan Rheon's character was taking in Theon's pain was a little unsettling. Can you say crazy? And yes, I know who he is but since the show hasn't said his name, nor will I!
"Whose throat are you going to cut, old man?"
Things were equally crazy even farther north, with some of the remaining men of the Night's Watch starving to death while they are holed up in Craster's Keep. The dissent that started to show amongst the men in black during “A Walk of Punishment” quickly returned with Rask once again one of the primary figures stirring the pot. Sam's also got his hands full trying to help Gilly's baby escape the fate of the other daughter-wife sons. Not long after Lord Commander Mormont leads a funeral for a recent fallen member of the brotherhood (hm, a ragtag group of soldiers and civilians out to do good, sounds like another recently formed Brotherhood in Westeros) things get heated in the Keep with another Night's Watchman taking exception with Craster's rationing of the supplies. Right when Mormont seems to have regained control, the starving soldiers spring to action and take care of the 'Godly man' once and for all.The Commander's too honorable to let that stand and draws on the traitors only to receive a knife in the back courtesy of Rask. That craven! Even with the injury, Mormont almost chokes the scum to death and the good guys (like Grenn and Edd) also enter the melee on his behalf. Sam splits but not in his usually cowardly way, this time he's worried for Gilly and her baby's safety and they all run away together.
"It is done."
It must have been a really sensational episode because I've wanted to start every thread so far by saying that it might be my favorite of the night. That being said, Daenerys' storyline this week, even though it only consisted of one extended sequence, was probably my favorite segment of “A Walk of Punishment.” I don't think I've enjoyed the time spent in the Free Cities this much since the first season finale that saw the introduction of the now famous dragons. And they continue to look rad. Dany is all business as she comes back to deal with the slaver and complete the transaction that will see her gain 8000 Unsullied (eunuch slave warriors who are completely obedient) for one dragon. Of course, Jorah and Barristan (and we) should have known that a mother would never trade her children for anything and the Khalessi makes short work of that rude pig as well as all his slavers and soldiers only seconds after the deal is done. Extra-crispy. This section also contained many of those aforementioned stunning shots, with Jorah walking through the smoke towards a sun soaked and almost defiant Dany coming to mind. Khalessi also doesn't do slaves so the next thing she does after murdering her opposition is offer them all their freedom before asking them to stay and fight at her command. If only the bickering and scheming foes in Westeros could also see the final shot...
Game of Thrones Season 3 returns next Sunday with Episode 5, "Kissed By Fire," at 9 p.m. ET on HBO. The series stars Peter Dinklage, Kit Harrington, Emilia Clarke, Lena Headey and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.