After a season that started with a high level of intrigue and perhaps the most eagerly anticipated entry in GOT’s hefty body count, “Breaker of Chains” slows the pace down. Way down.
It’s not that things don’t happen, but a lot of those things come in the form of positioning. You can see that the pieces are all getting into place for a big kerfuffle in the near future, but this week it’s just above dragging characters from point A to point B so that next week (one hopes) we can get on with the job of beating the hell out of those Point-b-ians.
The result is an hour that’s a little bit more fractured than we've seen previously this year, and a lotta bits less engaging. Still, we do get a chance for globs of exposition… sometimes even without sex.
Come on in. Let’s wander about the Seven Kingdoms.
From the title, you might think the episode was centered around Dany and her Lincoln-plus-dragons parade between the slave cities, but the week actually starts in King’s Landing only moments after Joffrey’s throat-clawing, blue-skinned dance of way-to-make-a-million-people-tweet-in-joy. This time we get to see Tyrion marched off to jail, the wedding guests in a furor, and while Sansa’s absence is apparently noticed within seconds of the boy-tyrant hitting the ground, no one seems to have spotted just which way the last wolf in captivity actually ran.
Guided by knight-turned-fool Ser Dontos, Sansa gets aboard a small boat and locates a surprising patch of darkness and fog in which a ship is waiting. As she climbs aboard, she’s greeted by the ever smirking visage of Littlefinger. Hi, Littlefinger! Up until this point in the season, our former master of coin has been doing all his skullduggery off screen. Now he’s back, and he digs right in.
When Dontos—not apparently so motivated by fondness for Sansa as he might have seemed—sits placidly in his boat waiting to be paid off by Littlefinger, his payment comes in the form of a crossbow boat. Dontos. There’s a reason why we was demoted from knight to fool.
Sansa is more than a little taken aback by Littlefinger’s surprisingly blunt approach, but Lord Baelish demonstrates that her pal Dontos was not as loyal as he may have seemed. In particular, the old family heirloom Dontos gave her was a fake all along. Tossing the necklace on top of Dontos' body, Littlefinger sends both drifting back toward King’s Landing. So now Sansa is left in the loving arms of the man who once tried to bed her mother and who has already told Tyrion’s erstwhile bride just how much she reminds him of dear departed mommy. Charming.
Oh, and Littlefinger’s timely appearance and clear control of Dontos advances him right to the front of the who-killed-Joffrey queue.
Next in line would have to be Olenna Tyrell, who we next see engaged in a conversation with granddaughter Margaery. Having wedded without being bedded for the second time, Margaery is a smidge concerned over her status. Gradmom assures her that no matter what, Margaery is better off than she would have been if Joffrey were alive to practice his joffreyness. Maybe Olenna should go back to the front of the line after all.
With Mad King Joff out of the way, the crown now passes to little brother Tommen (tell the truth, did you remember there was a little brother Tommen?). Standing above Joffrey’s contorted body, Tywin Lannister leads his grandson through what has to be the most inappropriate lesson in leadership ever. The biggest point of this grotesquery being that good kings are wise, and that wisdom comes from listening to their grandfathers. Then Tywin tops himself by using this moment to launch into a birds and bees speech sure to leave the new king shaking in a corner.
Back at the body, Joffrey's true parents linger over the little tyrant. Cersei’s single-minded focus is still on killing Tyrion. She’s not about to let a little thing like a trial get in her way. Despite having spurned Jamie on his return, she's more than willing to put in a little painfully inappropriate make-out time to convince her brother to dice up their other brother, until she remembers that Jaime disgusts her now and breaks away. At that point, Jaime Lannister, who has spent three seasons redeeming himself from the opening moments of the series in which he defenestrated a child to cover up incest, throws away every trace of accumulated sympathy in a few ugly seconds as he forces himself on his sister in a macabre sexual assault, then goes on to rape her next to the bier holding their dead son. Some people are just not meant for redemption. All the being nice to Brienne in the world isn't enough to make up for this.
Now it’s time to go on the road with everyone’s favorite odd couple, The Hound and Arya. These two definitely need their own theme song. Arya has become so comfortable in traveling with the scar-faced killer that she even creates a cover story in which the Hound is her father. However, while she can fool strangers into taking them in, she can't get the Hound to display a scrap of manners. Or sympathy. The Hound promptly robs the farmer who helped them, leading Arya to bark at him. It’s nice to see that Arya, despite her murderous actions, still has a moral core.
When the Hound asks her how many Starks are going to have to die before she surrenders that last sense of fair play, you’d like to think the number is infinite.
Up at Castle Black it’s time to visit with Sam and… what’s her name? Gilly. Sam, and Gilly, and Gilly’s baby, Sam. Gilly is still stuck among the none-too-savory men of Castle Black where Sam frets over her and wonders if she'd be better off elsewhere. Gilly asks if he's bored of her, echoing Shea's words to Tyrion before he sent her away.
Sam eventually takes Gilly and her child down to Molestown, the little village best known as where the men of the Night’s Watch go to satisfy the appetites they took an oath to stop satisfying. Molestown turns out to be even dirtier and more decrepit than the decaying Castle Black, and Gilly clearly feels more than a little betrayed when Sam abandons her there.
And now… Stannis and Ser Davos. Stannis is as calm and forgiving as ever, blaming the only man who’s been giving him good advice for all his troubles and warning Davos that he’d better think of a way to conjure an army out of thin air, and he’d better think it up quick.
Fortunately, the Onion Knight has his regularly scheduled reading lesson with taskmaster Princess Shireen. Not only does Davos get to deliver the best line of the episode—“If you're a famous smuggler, you're not doing it right”—while telling tales to Shireen, Davos comes up with a plan to get the funding Stannis needs to press his claim. Good work, Davos.
The week’s obligatory sex scene turns out to be a fairly tame affair, despite involving Prince Oberyn, his paramour, and a cast of several. In the middle of pillow talk, Tywin charges in. While the once and future Hand definitely has some suspicions about the Prince’s possible role in Joffrey’s death, Tywin is above all things, pragmatic. He offers Oberyn what he wants most, a chance to chop down The Mountain, in exchange for a few civic duties.
The most interesting thing about this exchange is that Tywin is clearly aware of the danger from both the wildling army in the north and Dany’s growing flock of dragons. It’s the first time in lo these many weeks we’ve heard anyone pull their head out of local intrigues long enough to notice that the world beyond Westeros’ borders isn’t all peaches and cream.
Down in the dungeons, good squire Podrick pays a visit on Tyrion, bringing with him writing material and snacks. Unfortunately, there’s no news of Shae, and when Tyrion finds out that Podrick has refused an offer to testify against his boss, he’s forced to send away the last person he can rely on. Now Tyrion is very much alone… but at least his dungeon seems well lit and he’s got some cheese.
Back up by the wall, Wildlings descend on a northern settlement. Red-haired Ygritte lends her bow to the slaughter, but it’s the cannibalistic Thenns who deliver a message to Castle Black meaning to draw out the tiny remains of the Night's Watch. Meanwhile the traitors back at Craster's Keep are in the path of the wildling army and likely to reveal just how weak the nights watch really is. In between the total dithering mass of the Night's Watch is down to less than a hundred men, and half of them are in as bad a shape as their castle. It really is a dark spot for the men in black.
And finally we head over to see Dany's ex-slave army arrive at the gates of Meereen. Whew. Seemed like we never get there. By process of elimination, we determine that Dario is the only person in the whole army who is worth nothing, so obviously he acts as Dany’s champion, defeating Meereen’s best in about two seconds flat.
After that, Dany delivers a rousing speech, bypassing the rulers of the city and talking straight to the slaves. Dany is getting really good at this. She punctuates this speech by bringing up a line of siege engines that hurl, not rocks, but bundles of broken slave collars. Point taken. If only it had come a little more quickly.
Now. Let's get on with the story.