This recap includes spoilers up to and including season four, episode three, “Breaker of Chains.” Watch the episode first, then come back. We’re not going to tell you again.
Last week’s episode of Game of Thrones is getting plenty of attention for its final moments — a nice little shocker that we hope you were able to enjoy unspoiled — but it worked best because of simplicity. The writers (in this case George R.R. Martin himself) dedicated about half the episode to The Purple Wedding, allowing the boy king to become his worst self right before his curtain call. It delivered a maximum amount of emotional punch on a death that was already going to be a big one.
This week we come sliding back down from the high and are thrust immediately into the most dense episode of the season thus far. There are plenty of pieces to pick up, plenty to move around and plenty of storylines to join already in progress toward more bloodshed…
“No one leaves the capital!”
Saying that an episode “explodes to life” sounds hyperbolic, but rarely is it as good a fit than with “Breaker of Chains.” Unlike the post-Red Wedding episode last year and the episode after Ned Stark’s death in season one, where our return to Westeros is to the people around the tragedy, this episode brings us right back to the scene of the crime. And for good reason, as so much chaos has broken loose in the wake of Joffrey’s death. Slipping out amidst the chaos is Sansa Stark and not without some help. As we find out quickly, Ser Dontos wasn’t reintroduced for no reason. He was sent back by Littlefinger to aid in Sansa’s escape. It’s immediately clear that Littlefinger had something to do with Joffrey’s death. Though to what extent, we still don’t know.
For anyone who has gone back and watched last week’s episode again (and again), you’ll notice that the clues as to who murdered The King are littered throughout those scenes. From Lady Olenna’s nice little quote (“What kind of monster would murder someone at a wedding?”) to the strategic camera positioning that put the likes of Sansa, Oberyn, Margaery and plenty of others near Joffrey’s cup, there are plenty of suspects. The one thing we’re sure of (especially after this week’s episode): Tyrion probably didn’t do it. His track record shows loyalty to his family, even when they’re being horrible.
All in all, I love the immediacy that begins this episode. And the swift reveal of Littlefinger’s hand in the crime. We haven’t seen Aidan Gillen’s skeevy grin in a while. It’s good to see him (and hear his oddly mix-and-match accent) back in the game.
“Your brother wasn’t a good king…”
Peering down into the sept over Joffrey’s body, a strategically placed beam of light serves as a reminder that one of the show’s most significant characters is now gone. I would argue that Joffrey’s death is the most significant since Ned Stark’s (which started the War of the Five Kings). The Red Wedding may have killed of characters you loved, but The Purple Wedding killed off someone who really mattered in the power structure of Westeros. Remember, Robb Stark just wanted his sisters back and revenge for his father. He didn’t want the Iron Throne.
Nowhere is the importance of Joffrey’s demise more evident than in the way Lord Tywin gets right down to business with Tommen. Even as Cersei is clearly about to have a complete meltdown in the background, the gentle young king-to-be gets some hard truths and big lessons from Grandpa. The reshuffling of power in King’s Landing is going to start with Tywin (not Cersei), and this time he seems intent on getting it right. The good news is that Tommen doesn’t seem to be anything like Joffrey.
The entire thing ends with a tense chat about kinslaying and an even more tense incestuous rape/hate sex/strange mourning ritual moment between Jaime and Cersei. Just when you were starting to like Jaime, he does something to remind us that he’s the guy who pushed Bran Stark out of a window in the pilot. It’s a tough scene to dissect, as we’re not fully aware of how willing Cersei is as a participant. On the surface, she’s not into it and Jaime forces himself upon her. I will say that it’s far different in the books, as Sonia Saraiya at The AV Club outlines in depth. The scene reads in the books like a release for both characters, each of whom are struggling with pent-up emotions and the overwhelming grief over losing their first born son. In the show, it’s very rapey. The hope is that the change was made because it will be important going forward (perhaps it will drive them apart, helping Tyrion). If not, it’s a very unnecessary change from the books. Time will tell.
“You are the Worst Shit!”
There’s magic in the way young Maisie Williams delivers her lines. Which is what makes The Adventures of The Hound and Arya the best little buddy comedy in all of Westeros. Sure, there’s some darkness in their journey and The Hound’s big line (“How many Starks they got to behead before you figure it out?”) cuts like a knife through Arya’s lingering humanity. But they are an entertaining pair, especially where their table manners are concerned.
It’s also interesting, from an editing perspective, to see the episode shift so effortless from the Cersei/Jaime scene to Arya and The Hound. We go from a character we like (Jaime) doing something pretty terrible to another character we’re getting to like (The Hound) showing signs of being decent, only to do something terrible. Is anyone else sensing pattern here?
“He is a Prince of Dorne…”
It isn’t long before we have to get back to Lord Tywin’s maneuvers. So much work is to be done if he’s going to prosecute his youngest son, guide another child king and keep the whole of Westeros in check. Also, no one kills the buzz of an orgy like Lord Tywin. In the exchange between Tywin and Prince Oberyn we begin to understand why Dorne is so important to the Realm. It’s not just because Oberyn is so damned charming, they also have a significant amount of strength and value. But something gives me the suspicion that Oberyn won’t be as easy to control as Lord Tywin thinks.
Let us now take a moment to recognize the fact that Pedro Pascal is absolutely killing it as Oberyn. Dangerous, sexy, witty. George Martin made this character and he delights me. There’s no way I’m alone in this.
Before we step away from King’s Landing to check in on the scene where the episode gets its name, that little exchange between Tyrion and Pod is especially important. As Tyrion sends away his squire and learns of Bronn’s somewhat fugitive status, he is now truly alone. It’s been a rough road for everyone’s favorite imp this year. He had to send away Shae, he was tormented by Joffrey and now he’s on trial and without a witness to call. Who will come to his aid if he is to survive? Something to ponder as the season moves forward.
“I have something to say to the people of Meereen…”
Are we warming to the new Daario Naharis (Michiel Huisman) yet? As if anticipating the fact that not everyone would like the change, the show moves quickly to remind us that he’s a complete badass. The beginning of Daenerys’ assault on the massive slave city of Meereen teaches us several things beyond the fact that Daario is good at killing people (and horses). We get a little taste of the larger action promised in season four, as a great number of battles have been promised by the show’s producers. The tracking shot of arrows hitting the ground toward Dany and Daario is especially pleasing, as it shows off the evolved action style the show is taking on. It’s starting to look like a big sword-and-sandals action epic fit for the big screen. It’s amazing what runaway success and a bunch of money will do for a production that started with a wing and a prayer.
We also get yet another display of the growth of Daenerys Targaryen the leader. She’s not just a blond girl with dragons anymore. She’s a completely terrifying conqueror with a big army. The Champion of Meereen jokes that she leads an army of men without their bits, but I’d argue that Dany has balls big enough for all of them. The episode doesn’t really clear up what comes next for Meereen, but it all seems pretty straightforward from here. The little blond girl is in charge. The only question is whether or not she’ll be able to rule. Will Dany become the great leader who restores the Targaryens or will she suffer the same fate we saw of another young leader last week?
Overall, “Breaker of Chains” has a lot of story density. We didn’t even touch on Stannis’ impatience or Sam and Gilly. And we still haven’t seen any of the Iron Born yet this season. There’s so much happening in Westeros (and beyond) that keeping it all straight is maddening. What’s important though, is that the show communicates the forward momentum of its major characters. With this episode, it accomplishes a lot of that. Dany is conquering, Tywin is maneuvering, Oberyn is sexing, the situation at The Wall is getting worse and Stannis is still out there. The wheels are clearly in motion on what promises to be the most unpredictable and violent season yet. It’s hard not to be excited.
Random Thoughts (no spoilers)
- I fucking hate Thenns.
- The Sam and Gilly storyline doesn’t seem to have legs. Romantic tension just doesn’t seem suited for the dire straits of The Wall. Hopefully this is going somewhere interesting.
- Lady Olenna is the realm’s most accomplished grief counselor. Her basic theory: “Third time’s a charm.”
- Is no one else bothered by Aidan Gillen’s accent? Peter Dinklage gets a lot of criticism for his, so why not Gillen (who is actually Irish)?
Until next week, Hodor.