Yet we are not downhearted, because we learn some Very Important Things this week, and the drama, though on a smaller scale, is just as painful.
Yes, Tyrion is still in jail for Joffrey’s murder—but now we know who really did it. Yes, the Night’s Watch is still dithering away as the noose draws tighter—but Jon Snow is allowed to at least take some action. Yes, Daenerys is still busy marching between dusty cities—but hey, we manage to liberate one without a dragon in sight. Yes, Jaime forced himself on his sister last week but he… well, that one I’ll save for later.
Come on in.
This week is about something as simple as keeping your word. And breaking it.
Dany’s massive army (sans dragons… where are those damn lizards anyway?) stands at the gates of Meereen, but rather than mount a frontal assault on the city, the good guys sneak in, arm the city’s slaves, and it falls apart from the inside. It’s not exactly a bloodless coup, but Dany captures the city intact, with essentially no losses among her forces and apparently few among the rebelling slaves.
She’s getting quite good at this general stuff, though the neatness of her victory is somewhat spoiled by the One True Queen’s insistence that the former slave owners get some crucifixion payback. It’s tempting to see this as Dany becoming the most bloodthirsty of the bunch after all that tiresome marching, but really, she just doesn’t like slavers. She's keeping her word to both sides of the slave trade.
Nice as the celebrations are, the slave city shuffle is definitely losing something in the repetition. Look out there, Dany. Water! Ships! Isn’t it really time to move this party to Westeros?
Back in the Red Keep, Tyrion is still in jail for the murder of Joffrey, but as we learn this week, he’s one of the few actually not involved in the snot king’s death. Littlefinger, who is possibly trying to impress Sansa but really just doing a very good job of creeping her out, explains that the necklace she was wearing at the wedding feast was composed of poison crystals. I guess it’s a really good thing Sansa never licked her fingers after toying with the necklace, or we could be down yet another Stark. For a guy who thinks he’s cleverer than the rest, Littlefinger engages in monologuing that would make Megamind blush, explaining that Ser Dontos was his pawn, that he wants to rule the world (possibly the universe) and that he had some "new friends" involved in killing the king. We now scan quickly to ....
Lady Olenna, who is not a lot more subtle than Littlefinger in explaining her role in the king’s death. A quick review of the tape reveals that, yup, the Queen of Thorns was involved in some some sympathetic pawing in Sansa’s neck region shortly before Joffrey takes a dive. It’s a pretty blunt admission for the usually subtle head of the Tyrell clan. Paired with recounting her tales of screwing her way to the top, it makes Olenna seem a little more crude than expected. There’s also a painful turn of phrase when Olenna, having just finished explaining how she ascended to the top of the Tyrell family by literally making the heir bowlegged, "compliments" her granddaughter by telling her that she’s even better. At what? Seducing her way to the top? Well ....
Maybe she is, because it’s not too long before we see Good (maybe) Queen (possibly) Margaery making her way through the secret spaces of the Red Keep to slip into young King Tommen’s bedchambers. To her credit, the queen doesn’t immediately try to induce bowlegitude in the very, very young king. After all, this is a kid who is still talking about a kitten he’s nicknamed "Ser Pounce." But Margaery definitely sets her hooks, inducing Tommen to share a secret with her and building a relationship with him that’s away from the manipulations of his family. Good work, Margaery. And hey… who showed you all those secret passages?
Up at the wall, Jon Snow and his friend Sam are both getting the short end of the stick. No one believes Sam when he tells them how he killed a White Walker, and with few exceptions, the idiots now in charge of the Night’s Watch following Lord Mormont’s death seem to be more worried about making Jon Snow eat dirt than they are about the hundred thousand man-woman-thing Wildling army about to be on their doorstep.
When Jon finally gets permission to go off to fight the traitors who killed Mormont, it’s more because the Night’s Watch leadership wants to put him in a place where many pointy ends are turned his way. Still, they can’t be happy that Jon makes such a ringing call for volunteers, or that he gets so many. Though at least one of the fresh volunteers is too good-natured, too skilled and too convenient-by-half. Keep an eye on that man, Jon.
Meanwhile the mutineers manage to paint themselves as double evil with a side of evil sauce, drinking from a cup made of Lord Mormon’s skill, abusing Craster’s already abused girls, taunting caged animals and leaving children out in the snow to die. Women, children, animals? Check, check, check. Oh, and when these ex-crows capture Bran and party, they engage in a round of Hodor-baiting. That’s worthy of a painful death right there. Ride fast, Jon Snow.
And then there’s Jaime. At the start of last week, Jaime Lannister had very nearly become a sympathetic character—quite an accomplishment for someone who starts out the series with the attempted murder of a child and whose most celebrated trait is betrayal. Or possibly incest. In any case, that building sympathy doesn’t last, because Jaime forces his sister/lover to have sex right beside the discolored corpse of their dead son. You might argue that it wasn’t rape (you’d have to argue hard), but you can’t argue that it’s not ugly and just plain damn disgusting.
While viewers might not be able to get past what Jaime did with Cersei in the previous episode, Cersei seems to be over it. She dresses her brother down, talks to him as if he's a servant, and generally gets back to treating him the same way everyone’s been treating him lately—like mud. Most importantly, Cersei, never a stickler for the finer points of honor, insists that Jaime break the oath he made to the dead Caitlin Stark. Not only should Jaime not protect Sansa, Cersei wants him to go out, find the girl and kill her.
Instead of immediately marching off to follow his sister’s orders, Jaime goes off to meet with Brienne. Surprisingly, Jaime loads the big woman down with gifts, presenting her with a new suit of armor, and giving her one of the two Valyrian steel swords forged from Ned Stark’s old two-handed blade (bet Tywin wouldn’t have let Jaime keep the sword if he’d known it was going to the Maid of Tarth). Best of all, Jaime matches Brienne with Tyrion’s former squire, Podrick Payne, which in one stroke saves Podrick from the schemers at the capitol and provides Brienne a trusty companion.
Brienne looks damn fine in her armor. Triple fierce, and somehow more chivalrous than any other knight we've seen. She rechristens the sword she’s been gifted as "Oathkeeper." The name alone is at such odds with Jaime’s nickname, which commemorates the moment when he broke a sacred vow, that it fairly aches with counterpoint.
It’s hard to reconcile this generous Jaime with the one who forced himself on Cersei, or the one who hurled Bran from a window, or the one who did any of the dozens of petty, despicable things that Jaime has done. But I can try.
Since the moment they met, Brienne has been Jaime’s conscience—a giant-sized Jimminy Cricket. In providing her with gifts and sending her away, Jaime isn’t really doing a good deed, so much as he is admitting that good deeds are beyond him.
Brienne is noble. Is loyal. Is still somewhat innocent. Is truly admirable. Brienne is what Jaime wishes he could be.
By sending her down the road, he’s waving goodbye to the last spark of his own hope for a better future, admitting to himself that those blank pages in the great book of the King’s Guard are never going to be filled with the valiant deeds of Jaime Lannister. He’s admitting to himself that he is as bad as Cersei, as bad as his father. He’s the Kingslayer. The oath breaker.
At the end of the episode, we get our most prolonged look at a White Walker, as one of the ice zombies comes to collect the child left outside Craster’s Keep and takes it to a kind of ice-henge where a touch turns the infant into another blue-eyed wight. It’s a chilling moment, but perhaps not as sad as seeing Brienne ride away.
Even a character you know you should hate can still break your heart.