Titled “And Now His Watch Is Ended,” the fourth episode of Game of Thrones’ third season is by far the busiest and best episode we’ve seen yet. It could well represent a turning point for the season, which until this point has sort of oozed along in a relatively disjointed fashion. Give the series credit though: much of what the showrunners spent the first three episodes dithering about and developing paid off in a very big way this week.
Revenge is a central theme of the episode – well, revenge and Daenerys Targaryen being a stone-cold badass. Revenge, according to Varys (who I’m thankful got more screen time this week, as he’s easily one of the series’ most riveting figures) is a matter of a patience and influence. And if you “have the stomach for it,” it can give one a reason to live.
It’s a lesson Tyrion takes to heart, and one his brother Jaime would do well to learn. In last week’s episode, Jaime requested that Bolton’s bannerman unhand him – the sinister Locke (who book-readers will know as Vargo Hoat) granted his request, though not in the way Jaime meant it.
The elder Lannister brother is in a dark place in this episode, and unfortunately he can’t fight a lick with his left hand (though he gets his hand on a sword and does his best). For all of those excuses, I came away from this scene with the idea, once again, that the show is making a point of Jaime’s martial skill being overrated. After all, we see Brienne is a more effective fighter with her hands tied, than Jaime is with just one.
Jaime and Brienne have been walking aimlessly all season (and for the last few episodes of the previous season), but I think the show has generally done a good job of using their interactions to, in some ways, caption the goings-on in King’s Landing. For example, Jaime’s recent mutilation transitions seamlessly to Varys’ harrowing tale of being cut “root and stem” by a Meereenese sorcerer. His tale of revenge, and doing whatever it took to achieve it, also links back nicely to the Brienne and Jaime’s following conversation about vengeance.
What a fun scene in which Tyrion and Varys discuss revenge and influence, with the old sorcerer trapped in a crate. I could listen to actor Conleth Hill discuss the dynamics of power in Westeros in a velvety tone for hours, truly. I’ve also come to think of Varys, with the way he’s portrayed in the series especially, as kind of like a twisted Friar Tuck, which for whatever reason amuses me greatly.
Up north of The Wall, the “Old Bear” Jeor Mormont and his men are in a desperate way and starving in the snow. The desperation of the Night’s Watch men, their comments about how delicious a fallen comrade smells, and Mormont’s failed venture up north has clearly eroded their confidence in him.
Viewers can smell (frozen, undead) trouble from a mile away, but it comes to a head when Craster can’t help himself and goads a couple of rangers into violence. When Mormont attempts to intervene, his own men stab him and, y’know, now his watch is ended.
In King’s Landing, we learn that Tywin talks to Cersei in the same condescending manner with which he addresses Tyrion, his “lecherous stump” of a son (great line). Margaery continues to manipulate Joffrey expertly by playing to his sadistic streak. “Sometimes severity is the cost of greatness,” she says. If the young king pays any attention, he might even learn a thing or two about politics from the young Tyrell maiden. Margaery’s manipulations might have Cersei on edge, but Tywin is smart enough to see the value of a preoccupied Joffrey.
Elsewhere in the capital, Littlefinger’s plan for carrying Sansa Stark away with him to the Vale is in danger due to Ros’ leaks to Varys, as well as his intervention with the Tyrells – who pivot quickly and plan to marry Sansa off to their knightly son Loras. I’m curious to see what happens to Ros – a throwaway character from the series pilot (who did not appear in the books) given a substantially greater role in the show – as a result of her betrayal of Lord Baelish. Frankly, I’d somewhat expect Littlefinger to figure out what’s going on (if he hasn’t already), and it would give the showrunners an opportunity to demonstrate the extent to which Aiden Gillen’s character is a cobra in the weeds.
Speaking of things that are unique to the television series, the sequence with Theon’s torture, and false escape is a wholly original wrinkle too. It’s a necessary and clever addition, I think. The man he’s with, whose identity hasn’t been revealed yet, is clearly a sadistic freak (even lying to the men in the dungeon about Theon having killed his would-be rapists), but we haven’t got his name just yet. All we know is that he likes to kill people, gets glee out of Theon’s reaction to being led back to his own torture chamber, and knows that the Stark boys aren’t dead yet. It’s a pretty cool introduction to a character that should be central to the story going forward.
The Brotherhood without Banners scene in the cave of judgment, or whatever it’s called, was one of the stronger scenes in this particular arc – an arc which I haven’t found enthralling yet. The most interesting parts of this scene were, by far, the invocation of the fire god by Thoros of Myr – the same foreign god Melisandre is constantly whispering in Stannis’ ear about. It makes sense that religious upheaval in Westeros might accompany the type of violence and political instability we’ve seen dramatized throughout the series. All the scene really does, however, is set up what should be a fun fight between Sandor “The Hound” Clegane and Beric “Who’s this guy again?” Dondarrion, who makes his first appearance this season, for next week. Can’t wait!
Finally, “don’t haggle with Daenerys Targaryen” should probably join “never gamble with a Sicilian when death is on the line” in the pantheon of stupid mistakes. Also in the pantheon of stupid mistakes? Turning over all of your soldiers to a possible enemy, even one offering a rare magical beast in return. Daenerys’ emancipation moment was one of the best of the series so far, I think, and the mechanics of how she unleashed her plan (and how she heeded the advice of both Jorah Mormont and Barristan Selmy in the last episode, but in her own unique way) were so, so well done.