Overall I thought this episode, while good, wasn’t quite so great as the two that came before it. But there were some highlights. And one really, really glaring lowlight.
It starts with a bit o’ cuteness: Sam and Gilly are chilling (see, because it’s cold…) in the woods, the latter schooling the former on how to make a proper fire. The face Sam makes when Gilly says she knew he was a highborn guy who’d never had to make his own fires is so adorable it made me want to curl up into a ball and squeal. Then, to ramp up the fuzzy feelings, Sam shows Gilly a pretty-but-useless trinket he found (an obsidian dagger, [book spoiler] yay for foreshadowing!), tells her about how great Castle Black is, and sings a song to her and her infant son about how the Westerosi gods look after little kids. I’ve read the books, but I still half-expected a White Walker to pop out and attack them, just to ruin the mood.
From there it’s to Bran, who breaks up a squabbling Osha and Meera Reed. Somebody make a buddy comedy trailer for these two. I want to see them as partners from different sides of the tracks who have to learn to accept their differences and work together to achieve a common cause. Though their banter was fun, I didn’t quite get the point of it, or this whole scene, really. Meera runs to help a sleeping Jojen, who has a fit brought about by a prophetic dream of Jon beyond the wall, surrounded by enemies. And the next scene is Jon, beyond the wall, surrounded by Wildlings. Could we not just have cut to that from the Sam and Gilly scene?
That said, this scene did give us a brief shot of Rickon, and he even had a line! So that’s good.
As Jon, Ygritte, Tormund, and Orell prepare to climb the Wall, Ygritte tells Jon that she knows he isn’t completely loyal to the Wildlings, and that she won’t tell anyone, but he’d better damn well be loyal to her. If he betrays her, she says, “I’ll cut your cock off.” There’s also a bit of banter about how Jon’s magically good at oral sex, which was a fun little factoid introduced during last episode’s cave scene. C’mon, Game of Thrones. It was funny when it was just Pod, but having two virgins revealed as sex prodigies in the span of four episodes is just weird.
Meanwhile, back below the Wall, Arya’s getting some archery lessons from one of the Brotherhood when who should show up but Melisandre. She, Thoros of Myr, and Beric Dondarrion have a little chat about the red god, who, as it turns out, needs Gendry for some sure-to-be-nefarious (because Melisandre) reason. Gendry, nooooo! Arya objects to her taking him, but he’s wheeled away in a cart under the watchful eye of Melisandre’s guards anyway.
Yet again in this bit Arya shows how completely awesome she is. Shortly after Melisandre shows up Arya says she doesn’t like her, and when Anguy responds that that must be because she’s a girl (a catfight joke, how original), Arya shoots back with “What does that have to do with anything”? You tell ‘em, girl. Arya doesn’t like Melisandre because Melisandre is creepy as hell. And a few minutes later she takes Gendry. So. You gonna apologize, Anguy?
Back to Theon, who’s being tortured by that-guy-whose-name-hasn’t-been-said-yet-in-the-show-so-I-can’t-say-it. As a placeholder name, I’m gonna go with Barry. Barry challenges Theon to guess where he is, who Barry is, and why Barry’s torturing him. If he guesses wrong he’s going to do some seriously awful stuff involving a knife and Theon’s little finger. I’m tensing up just writing this. Theon guesses that Barry is one of Rickard Karstark’s sons and is therefore loyal to the Starks (Theon’s not up on current events—Rickard Karstark is the guy beheaded for treason last episode), so he’s torturing him for betraying Robb. Barry says ding ding ding!, you’ve guessed correctly, bringing Theon’s hopes up, only to crush them mere seconds later when he says no, you actually guessed wrong, I’m just playing with you. He then flays some skin off Theon’s little finger until Theon begs for Barry to cut it off. The show’s doing a really good job making Barry a sadistic bastard [book spoiler] (pun not intended), I’ve gotta say.
Back to Riverrun, where Robb is meeting with two of Walder Frey’s sons to find out how he can make amends for having broken his promise to marry one of Frey’s daughters. If Robb wants an alliance his uncle Edmure will have to marry Frey’s daughter Roslin. Edmure objects, not because he doesn’t want to be forced into a marriage, which is a reasonable objection, but because he wants to be able to pick the prettiest wife. Edmure, you knob. A combination of the Blackfish threatening to punch him and Robb reminding him of his military screw-up earlier in the season compels Edmure to agree to the wedding. [book spoilers] Don’t mind me, just taking a quick pause to sob my eyes out.
Jaime and Brienne are having an uncomfortable meeting of their own, this one at Harrenhal with Roose Bolton, who says he’ll send Jaime back to King’s Landing as long as he promises to tell his dad the Boltons had nothing to do with his maiming. It’s a pretty sweet deal, so Jaime accepts. Brienne can’t go with him, though—she abetted Catelyn Stark’s treason, after all. Jaime tries to insist that Brienne accompany him, but Roose refuses; he doesn’t say what’s going to happen to her, but it’s pretty clear it won’t be good.
Back in King’s Landing Tywin and Olenna are having a friendly chat about Cersei’s mariage to Loras, which Olenna objects to because Cersei’s no longer a spring chicken and won’t be able to bear children for many more years. Tywin brings up the matter of Loras’ sexual preferences, saying he should be grateful to marry Cersei and remove the “stain” from his name. Olenna’s response had my cheering at my computer. She asks if Tywin never participated in a bit of guy-on-guy action, and when he accuses the Tyrells of being morally depraved, she counters with “Yeah, well even we think incest is screwed up.” BOOM!
They come to an agreement: Instead of marrying Cersei, Loras will join the Kingsguard. Cersei’s an easy character to hate, but I felt so happy for her in this scene, knowing she wouldn’t be forced into another arranged marriage after her panicked reaction to the prospect last episode. [Edit: Apparently I read this wrong and the marriage is still on? Or they didn't come to a firm agreement, and things are still up in the air? Hey, I was a little tired when I watched it, what're you gonna do?]
Speaking of arranged marriages, Loras and Sansa are chatting about their upcoming marriage, not knowing that it’s been called off. Sansa talks about how happy she’ll be. Loras talks about the dress she’ll wear and how pretty the wedding will be. It’s painfully awkward for both of them, though less so for Sansa, who seems to be willing herself into thinking marrying Loras will be a wonderful thing that will fix all her problems. (Speaking of awkward, Loras in this scene was weird for me, in a “oh, of course the pretty gay guy is obsessed with clothes” sort of way. The stereotype bugged me. Anyone else?)
Sansa and Loras are being watched by Tyrion and Cersei, who proceed to have a chat about their shared misfortune. (Cersei doesn’t know she’s lucked out yet.) Tyrion jokes that Cersei doesn’t have it that bad, since when Jaime gets back he’ll just kill Loras for her. There’s also some discussion over who ordered the attack on Tyrion at the Battle of Blackwater. All in all it’s a rather nice sibling bonding scene, the sort I don’t ever remember them getting in the books. I love how it establishes how similar Tyrion and Cersei are in their dedication to helping their family. Plus it contributes to Cersei’s character: When things are going well for her, like at the beginning of the season, she’s high on power, developing plots and threatening to kill people. But when something bad happens, as now, she’s defeated, almost nice (for her). [book five spoilers] It makes me think of the effect being laid low in A Dance with Dragons has on her. Congrats on your character development, show.
Tyrion goes to tell Sansa she’ll be marrying him, not Loras, and as it turns out he has to tell her while his secret girlfriend/Sansa’s servant Shae is in the room, too. Did I say the conversation between Sansa and Loras was awkward? I take it back. I’m so glad they cut before Tyrion told them, because I’m not sure I could have handled that particular conversation. Poor Sansa.
Then we come to the thing that really, really didn’t work for me this episode. Littlefinger and Varys are in the throne room, talking about how Littlefinger foiled Varys’ plan to marry Loras to Sansa. My informer did a great job, Littlefinger says, but the person you had spy on me didn’t fare so well. RIP, Ros. Littlefinger found out she was smuggling secrets to Varys and gave her to Joffrey (Littlefinger: “I have a friend who wanted to try something new” *shudder*), whom we see standing in front of Ros’ corpse, tied to his bed, her dressed ripped, riddled with arrows.
I get why they have to kill Ros. She’s been part of [book spoiler] Littlefinger and Sansa-related happenings in King’s Landing, and both of them will leave King’s Landing soon. She was created for the show, and her purpose is that she can interact with different people, tying storylines together and moving the plot along, but as characters scatter to different cities I can see how she may have come to the end of her usefulness.
And I get why they had Joffrey, Westeros’ resident evil jerkbag, kill her. If Littlefinger had done it it would’ve changed something about his character. He’s sneaky, but he’s not violent—he has other people do his dirty work for him. But we already know Joffrey is a sadistic SOB. You need a random bit o’ death dealt out in King’s Landing, the writers can have him do it. No problems there.
But it’s the way he killed her, the sexual element to it, that doesn’t sit well with me, especially given how filled the show already is with threats of sexual violence toward women. We already knew Joffrey’s taste for torture extends to the rape-y, so Ros having her clothes ripped apart and getting tied to his bed before being killed doesn’t add anything to his character or to the plot. It was just there to be shocking, and presenting sexual violence in that way isn’t OK. They could’ve kept her clothed. They could’ve had her not in his bedroom. As it was, the whole thing was kind of torture porn-y.
After a quick detour in the Land of Sadness and Lost Hopes–we see Sansa watching the ship that could have taken her away from King’s Landing, crying—the episode ends with Jon and Ygritte, atop the wall, looking at the land South of the wall and sharing a picturesque (and somewhat cheesy, I thought) kiss.
I can only assume that seconds after the credits rolled they started to worry about the climb down.
Miscellaneous notes for the book readers: (highlight for spoilers)
So, the rumors were correct: Gendry replaces Edric Storm as Melisandre’s sacrifice-to-be. I love all the foreshadowing in her scenes, like how shocked she was that Beric’s been brought back to life six times, which shouldn’t be possible. Magic’s getting stronger and less predictable, which is nicely creepy and plays into the increase of magic in the later books. Also: Melisandre referencing Arya’s future as an assassin in training when she says she sees all the eyes that Arya will shut forever. I’m intrigued by Melisandre saying she and Arya will meet again, too. They haven’t met at all yet in the books, and with Arya going to Riverrun and Melisandre (presumably) Dragonstone, I can’t imagine during what part of the story GRRM’s written so far they’d conceivably run into one another. So could this be a reference to events in book six or seven? The Game of Thrones showrunners were told the basics of them in case the show catches up to the books, after all. What does it mean?!