Remember when all the characters on Game of Thrones were shiny and new? Now Tyrion Lannister can't get laid in a whorehouse. His brother Jaime has lost his groove. The Stark girls have death in their hearts. Jon Snow's a traitor forever. Last night's premiere showed these characters aren't just broken, but broken beyond repair.
And yes, this feels like a new development. Most of these characters have been broken for some time, but the show always seemed to hold out hope that they could come back and be restored, somehow. In the wake of the Red Wedding and Jaime's homecoming, however, we're finally seeing that these characters are broken not just emotionally or physically, but symbolically.
The "symbolic" part of their brokenness is important, too — in a place where symbols are power, these symbols make these people able to function. Symbols like swords, necklaces, and flowers. The other theme running through the episode is one of people keeping their oaths (or failing to), and the episode suggests that breaking oaths, or keeping them in a terrible fashion, is the main symptom of being a broken person.
The Hound's sword is named "my sword".
This episode begins and ends with Stark swords — at the beginning, we see Tywin Lannister having Ned Stark's sword, Ice, broken and melted down to make two smaller swords. Ice was made of Valryian steel, a rare commodity since Valyria is a fallen empire, and Tywin brings in the best smith with the rare skill of breaking down and re-forging the stuff. He also burns the wolf pelt the sword was wrapped in, closing the book on the Stark family after the Red Wedding.
Tywin's moment of triumph is exceedingly grim, and director D.B. Weiss (one of the two showrunners) depicts him as alone in the darkness, lit only by the forge and the hearth, with smoke billowing around his faint smile. There's no pomp, no crowds. Tywin doesn't especially want anybody to watch him destroying Ned Stark's proudest possession, he just wants two fancy swords to appear in the hands of House Lannister.
As quiet as Tywin's victory celebration is, it's still spoiled because his eldest son, Jaime, is no longer in a position to wield the bigger of the two re-forged swords with any great effect, because he lost his sword hand. He can't even sheath his new sword properly.
That might be okay, if Jaime was willing to resign his position on the Kingsguard, with its oath of celibacy, to become Tywin's successor as patriarch — in that case, the sword would be just a sign of Lannister might. Tywin wants Jaime to go to Casterly Rock and rule in his stead, after Joffrey releases him from his vows. (Because Tywin, himself, will never get to go home to Casterly Rock before he dies.)
But Jaime would rather do a bad job of keeping his last remaining oath than add another violation to the long list he's already racked up. His honor is tarnished beyond repair, he tells Tywin, but he won't abandon his promise to protect the King.
And then, at the end of the episode, Arya Stark finally gets her own sword, Needle, back — but it happens in a pretty gruesome, horrible fashion. She recognizes Polliver, the nasty man who captured her and the other Night's Watch recruits back in season two, stealing her sword and using it to kill her friend Lommy, who had a bad leg. So Arya runs after Polliver, forcing her companion the Hound into a confrontation with Polliver and his four friends, who are sacking an inn.
Arya keeps expecting Polliver to recognize her — after all, she recognizes him, and he's one of the people she's sworn vengeance against. But first, he recognizes the Hound and not her, and tries to make friends with the Hound on the basis that they're all torturers and hired thugs here. (Alas, the Hound is actually too messed up even to be a good hired thug any more.)
Then, when the fight breaks out and Arya finally joins in on the Hound's side, she reclaims her sword. It's only when Arya has Needle to Polliver's throat, quoting back to him the things he said when he stole it and killed Lommy, that he recognizes her — but he only recognizes her as the boy he stole a sword from, not as Arya. In fact, she's only able to get Needle back because nobody asks any questions about the strange girl traveling with the Hound — they just assume she's his prey.
So she gets the last piece of her legacy from Winterfell back, only at the cost of losing another tiny piece of her identity.
And in the middle of all this fuss about Ice and Needle, swords whose names comment on their owners' identities, the Hound serves up a bit of a corrective to all this excessive symbolizing: naming your sword, he says, is for cunts. The Hound similarly doesn't seem to care much about the oath he swore to protect the King, because fuck the King. And every time you screw with the Hound, that's another chicken you owe him — chickens being a lot more useful than honor.
The Arya-Hound relationship is shaping up to be an interesting mirror of the Arya- Jaqen relationship, where she buddies up with a merciless killer and he teaches her about the nature of violence. Except the Hound lacks any of Jaqen's elaborate philosophy about gods and lives and not using proper nouns.
Why shouldn't Jaime have a hook for a hand?
Last night's episode is the first time we've seen Cersei interacting with her brother Jaime since the start of the first season, and a lot's changed since then. Cersei goes to great (okay, moderate) trouble to get Jaime a new hand, made of gold, to replace the one he's lost — but Jaime points out that he'd be better off with a hook instead.
After all, a hook is functional and you can use it to grab onto things, somewhat, whereas a gold hand is only a bad facsimile of the real thing. Prosthetic technology in Westeros being kind of crappy.
(And incidentally, the guy fitting Jaime's new hand is Qyburn, an ex-maester who lost his position because he was doing anatomy experiments that were deemed unethical. Jaime has Qyburn to thank for the fact that he didn't lose his whole arm, since Qyburn was the one who tended his wound. Qyburn followed Jaime back to King's Landing, and is now apparently being useful at helping Cersei with her "symptoms," since she doesn't want to deal with the pee-smelling Grand Maester Pycelle.)
The biggest shock, for Jaime, is that Cersei doesn't want to sleep with him any more — because she's had to learn to cope on her own while he was gone, and because she's mad that he was away during the horrible time she's been through. Given that Jaime gave up on becoming the Lord of Casterly Rock partly so he could stay close to Cersei, he's pretty disappointed.
And in the context of Cersei spurning Jaime's advances, her gift of a gold hand seems more insulting than anything else. Or at the very least, like a consolation prize. He can't have her, because he can no longer fight for her, but here's a golden reminder of what he once had. And when Cersei's spy shows up, Cersei eagerly invites her in over Jaime's objections, because she's gotten used to playing the game.
And then Jaime gets reminded of another one of his oaths — he swore to return Arya and Sansa Stark to their mother, in exchange for his freedom. Now Arya is missing, presumed dead, and Sansa Stark is Sansa Lannister. Jaime feels as though his oath no longer applies, but his former captor Brienne of Tarth disagrees. Arya might still be alive, and Sansa still isn't safe.
At last, Jaime faces the worst humiliation of all from his own son, King Joffrey. Who barely pays attention as Jaime tries to assert himself on the question of security at Joffrey's wedding, but then deals a crushing insult to Jaime about the lack of any great deeds next to his name in the big book of Kingsguard members, past and present. And now, it's too late to achieve anything for Joffrey's unclefather. Jaime tries to put up a brave front, just like he did with his father, saying his lack of a hand just gives his opponents a sporting chance, but Joffrey's scorn just leaves no room for bravado.
You have to wonder how much it would hurt for Joffrey to get slapped with a golden hand.
Tyrion's cloak of protection
When Tyrion married Sansa, he put his cloak over her shoulders, placing her under his protection — and he tries to assert that relationship in last night's episode, when she's starving herself and going half-mad with grief over her dead mother and brother. And in fact, Tyrion is unable to protect anyone or anything, as Joffrey reminded him when he took Tyrion's stool away.
Early on in the episode, we see Tyrion try to welcome a large group of visitors from Dorne to King's Landing with appropriate pomp and ceremony — only to have them pause briefly, and then ride past him.
Tyrion does manage to track down the visiting Prince Oberyn Martell before Oberyn kills one of Tyrion's distant relatives for the crime of singing the Lannister family anthem, "The Rains of Castermere" at Littlefinger's brothel. Prince Oberyn is there to sample the women (and man) of the House, with his paramour, the self-proclaimed bastard Ellaria Sand. (Don't call her a lady.) But he's just as happy to fuck some shit up.
The Dornish have a reputation for goat-fucking, but also for being a bit barbaric in general, and Oberyn enjoys tweaking everybody's expectations by throwing his weight around in King's Landing. (And don't forget, Dorne is where Tyrion sent his niece, Princess Myrcella, to get her out of harm's way before King's Landing was attacked. So Myrcella is surrounded by alleged goat-fuckers who hate Lannisters.)
Turns out Oberyn has good reason to bear some grudges — back when the Mad King was on the Iron Throne, the Mad King's son Rhaegar was married to Oberyn's sister, Elia Martell. They had two kids, but then Rhaegar decided he wanted Ned Stark's sister, Lyanna, who was promised in marriage to Robert Baratheon. Rhaegar kidnapped Lyanna, setting off Robert's Rebellion.
And when Tywin Lannister's men sacked King's Landing after the Mad King fell, they found Elia Martell and killed her children in front of her. The Mountain, the Hound's brother, then raped Elia before splitting her in half with his greatsword. Tyrion protests that he wasn't there at the time, but this is still his family's shame — and Oberyn warns him that the Lannisters aren't the only ones who pay their debts.
So Tyrion is not having a great time, either in his capacity as Sansa's husband or as Joffrey's representative.
And to make things worse, he has an encounter with Shae, his girlfriend and Sansa's maid, that very nearly mirrors their scene together from a couple seasons ago — Tyrion tries to warn Shae that they're in great danger, and she meanwhile tries to seduce him. But while the previous version of this scene ended with the two of them having sex in spite of Tyrion's protests, this iteration ends with Shae accusing Tyrion of wanting her gone. (Because Varys offered her a bag of diamonds to get out of town last season.)
And Tyrion doesn't even know yet that his secret has been revealed to Cersei, which means things are about to get really nasty.
The Wildlings Do Love A Barbecue
The Wildlings massing South of the Wall meet up and have one of those backyard barbecue things, where everybody competes to see who has the best cut of meat. Tormund Giantsbane has a few small animals roasting on a spit, but then Styr, the barbaric Magnar of Thenn, shows up, with his crazy face-scars and his Reaver followers, and trumps Tormund — because he's roasting the arm of a member of the Night's Watch.
The Magnar of Thenn gives Tormund some grief because he's lost his warg, Orell, and some of his other men — but Tormund says he'll answer to Mance Rayder, their leader, about this. (Since it was Mance Rayder's decision to trust Jon Snow, this ought to be on him anyway.)
And meanwhile, Tormund can't quite believe that Ygritte shot three arrows into Jon Snow and Jon still got away, because Ygritte is the deadliest archer around. So if Jon is still alive, it's because she wanted him alive. Ygritte seems pretty ready to rectify that error now.
Meanwhile, Jon Snow has some explaining of his own to do — about how he slept with Ygritte and joined up with the Wildlings, but also about how he killed his mentor Qhorin Halfhand. Jon is facing a tribunal made up of Maester Aemon, but also the acting Lord Commander, his former trainer (and enemy) Ser Alliser Thorne, and Janos Slynt, the former commander of the City Watch down in King's Landing.
Slynt and Thorne pretty much want to kill Jon Snow for his misdeeds — but Aemon overrides them, because he can tell Jon's telling the truth after a childhood spent listening to lies in King's Landing. (But nobody listens to Jon's warnings about a massive army coming towards the Wall, complete with giants.)
You might remember Janos Slynt from seasons one and two — he was the guard commander who helped betray Ned Stark when Ned made his move against Joffrey. And later, he carried out Joffrey's order to kill all of King Robert's bastards in the city. After that, acting Hand of the King Tyrion decided Janos couldn't be trusted, and sent him north to the Wall — where they immediately decided he was leadership material. Because of course they did.
It's not just swords that get a lot of attention in this episode — there's also a lot of necklace action. Lady Olenna Tyrell makes a huge production out of getting the absolute perfect necklace for her granddaughter Margaery to wear at her upcoming wedding to Joffrey, rejecting a whole slew of necklaces on offer. Lady Olenna tells a whole gaggle of handmaidens to go into the city and get the best necklaces from all the jewelers in town, and the one who brings back the best necklace gets to keep the second best.
This is an incredible power play — Lady Olenna is basically throwing her weight around, making every jeweler in town compete for her favor and depriving all the other ladies in King's Landing of necklace options in advance of the Royal Wedding. It's intended not just to get a lovely necklace, but to remind absolutely everybody of the wealth and power of House Tyrell.
(And meanwhile, the Tyrells also get a visit from Lady Brienne, who amazes and delights Lady Olenna — Brienne wants to tell Margaery herself how Renly died, and promise to avenge his death somehow. Margaery barely seems to remember she was ever married to that guy, and gently reminds Brienne that referring to anyone but Joffrey as King could be hazardous to one's health.)
Meanwhile, Sansa gets her own fancy necklace, in a very odd scene — which readers of the books will recognize as a huge subplot, compressed down to a couple minutes. At the very start of season two, Sansa saved a drunken knight named Ser Dontos from being executed after he disgraced himself in a duel at Joffrey's birthday party. Now Ser Dontos wants to thank Sansa for his life, by giving her the only object of value he has left from his once-great family: a lovely necklace.
This is just a lovely reminder that Sansa's kindness has actually made a difference, and even if her brother was shot with arrows and stabbed and had his head replaced with a direwolf's head, there's still love and dignity in the world. And even as bereft as Sansa is, she still has something to symbolize her inner goodness. Still, it is a very odd scene.
Daario's flowers are his penis
Finally, we also spend a lot of time with Daenerys in this episode, who's weighed down by everything she's won. She's got three dragons flying around eating the local wildlife and squabbling amongst themselves like cats. She's got a massive army of Unsullied, that it takes her a billion years just to walk past. She's got a huge camp of freed slaves. And she's got guys competing for a place at her right hand, including, most childishly, Daario Naharis and Grey Worm.
Daario (who is totally transformed by his love for Daenerys, to the point where he's almost unrecognizeable) tries to impress her by doing some weird juvenile thing with balancing a sword on his arm for longer than Grey Worm can. (And he taunts the eunuch Grey Worm about his lack of equipment with which to see to Daenerys, if she did show Grey Worm favor.) This does the opposite of impressing Daenerys, who makes both of them ride in the rear of her incredibly massive train.
So Daario tries a different tactic than swords — flowers. But not just pretty, romantic flowers, but rather flowers that symbolize how ill-prepared and ignorant Daenerys is. She doesn't know the local flora of Meereen, the slave city she's on her way to "liberate," and thus nobody will respect her and her ignorance might get her killed if she accidentally makes tea with the poisonous flower instead of the healing flower. The gift of flowers shows that she needs him, because he knows stuff, and she's already arrogantly trying to liberate whole city-states full of people she knows nothing about.
As if to underscore Daenerys' destructive arrogance, the people of Meereen have left her a greeting: a dead slave, hanging every mile from here to their city. Hell of a welcome mat, that.
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