The Night’s Watch takes stock; Varys meets his better; Arya is taken to the commander of the Brotherhood; Daenerys makes an exchange.
If “Dark Wings, Dark Words” was well received, I’m guessing that “And Now His Watch is Ended” is even more so. Whereas the first two episodes were slow, and the previous episode provided a momentous event just at the end, this episode sees at least two significant events that will revebrate through the storylines going forward. It’s an episode that definitely seems to be gathering the various plot threads laid out in the earlier episodes and is starting to bring forward momentum to a host of plots, accelerating towards a finale that may well be the best one yet if this episode is any indicator (and how I hope it is).
Alex Graves, a director new to Game of Thrones, makes himself right at home with his first episode of the season (he has also directed the next episode, “Kissed by Fire”). Grave frames a number of scenes very well, knowing when to come in close and when to focus away from the principal actors. Case in point: Cersei meeting with Tywin, a scene deliberately set up to mirror Tyrion waiting on his father in “Valar Dohaeris”. The camera sometimes lingers on the actors… but it often pulls away to focus, instead, on the scratching of the quill as Tywin busies himself with the business of ruling the realm and winning the War of the Five Kings once and for all. This image is repeated several times in the scene, as Tywin writes, pauses to spare his daughter a moment’s attention, only for him to return to it. The writing stands as a not-so-mute testament to how little regards her. Charles Dance conveys with his eyes all you need to know about how he sees his daughter. It’s interesting, however, that he makes an observation that Cersei herself made in that first episode: just as she said Tyrion isn’t half as clever as he thinks he is, Tywin notes to her that she isn’t so smart as she believes she is, either. Cersei’s position in the realm has turned very much on her gender, on being queen to Robert’s king, of being mother to the future heir (now king himself), and finding in all these things that the men in her life are willing (even eager) to push her away from the power she believes she deserves. Her argument for her case is that she is the only one of Tywin’s children to have truly absorbed his lessons about the privilege of being a Lannister, and the duty one has to that legacy. It’s an interesting take on the character, one that meshes well with what we slowly discover through the novels even as the character on the show has been changed in a number of ways (for example, it’d be hard to imagine the Cersei in the novel to remain so solemn when her father dismisses her value).
For the most part, King’s Landing is the story of the Tyrell interests and, perhaps surprisingly, Varys’s interests. The former plays out through relatively quiet scenes, as we see Margaery continue her efforts to guide Joffrey in a direction she desires (a fact that is Cersei’s chief concern). The influence Margaery may begin to exert on Joffrey clearly makes her Cersei’s rival for influence, a fact well-conveyed in the looks the two exchange as Margaery takes Joffrey out to receive the cheers of the crowd. It’s doubtless no coincidence that this same scene again brings up that Westeros is a patriarchial, misogynistic society, a fact that both Olenna and Cersei recognize—and a fact that they both rue, but the former seems to have made accomadations with this fact that please her (as well as she can be pleased) while the latter will likely never be satisfied. The scene, it should be noted, also plays out in a brand new set, featuring the interior of the Great Sept of Baelor (an interior we suspect may well have been built in the same pod of the Paint Hall Studio as the set for the Eyrie’s throne room).
Part Romanesque cathedral, part Hagia Sophia, we do quite like the look of it… although the nude statues seems much too pagan for a religion quite deliberately modeled on the medieval Catholic Church (yes, one might cite Michelangelo, but that’s from the Renaissance, and the Italian Renissance at that). A minor nitpick, however. The one place in the episode where Graves seemed to have made a small misstep in his direction is actually in this scene, as Margaery directs Joffrey’s attention to how grand the sept is. They look to the right… and suddenly the camera has not swivelled around to match their motion, but has instead pulled far back and up. They are now at the upper end of the screen, in the background and rather hard to see (at least on our rather so-so quality review copy DVD), while at the bottom—and highlighted by a beam of light that focuses on them—are Cersei and Olenna having their separate conservation. A small thing, again, but it’s a bit jarring if one considers that the natural tendency would be to suppose that we’d have, perhaps, a view showing us what they were looking out at.
But I digress. The other half of the story, and the one that surprised us, was Varys. Tyrion seeks him out looking for proof against his sister over Mandon Moore’s attempt to kill him during the battle on the Blackwater, and instead he learns something completely different. What to make of it? The details are all straight from the novels—indeed, Varys is almost speaking word-for-word from the book—but then we have the reveal of the sorcerer and… well, we don’t know what to think. Truth be told, this may be one of the first times that the TV show has blown theories out of the water. Or it may not be—who knows what input Martin necessarily had on this scene? From what we’ve been able to ascertain, he doesn’t get to see the scripts written by the other writers, and this may be a detail that was never noted to him. Perhaps someone will take the time to ask. Regardless, Conleth Hill continues to do fantastic work bringing Varys to life. I won’t discuss the Podrick, World’s Greatest Lover scene, other than to indicate how much lamer this whole rigmarole is now that it’s a running joke. But it’s through Ros that Varys gets on the trail of a secret Littlefinger has tried to keep, and it’s something the writers use to deviate from the novel’s narrative in an unexpected way by making Varys apparently decide to become a benefactor for Sansa. His motives may not be entirely pure—he does it to stop Littlefinger from getting something he wants—but he at least seems genuine in his desire to help her, even though it benefits him. Conleth Hill and Diana Rigg work quite well together—there’s one particularly laugh-out-loud moment, conveyed all in a weary quip from the Queen of Thorns and a surprised glance down from Varys that’s particularly good.
What more to say about the Jaime and Brienne scenes that has not already been said? Coster-Waldau and Christie continue to play their parts perfectly, given the circumstances the characters find themselves in. Brienne frames Jaime’s plight as one of misfortune and loss, and then contextualizes it: many people suffer losses, and must cope; just because he’s a Lannister, he shouldn’t be immune to this. Then she follows this with an insult: he’s acting like a woman. Or, rather, like the cultural stereotype of a woman. This is, of course, interesting on any number of levels for Brienne to say. Is it a calculated insult, no more? Is it a sign of self-hatred? Is it a knowingly understood irony? All good questions. It will, doubtless, spark arguments in some quarters, given its seemingly mixed message about gender roles and expectations.
While Jon Snow and Catelyn Stark take a breather for this episode, we do have more time for Arya and Gendry, and yet another new location—the cavern where the brotherhood have made their base—and another new character in Richard Dormer’s Beric Dondarrion. The show does very little to tell viewers anything about him, other than his leading the force that attempted to apprehend the Mountain that Rides, but Dormer does a great deal to infuse the character with a weighty gravitas and the sense of a genuine drive for justice. The brotherhood without banners is one of the more egalitarian organizations presented in the novels, largely in part because of Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr, the red priest. More will soon be explained to viewers unfamiliar to the books about how Dondarrion has come to embrace the Lord of Light, but suffice it to say Dormer really carries off the sense that he is zealous in his pursuit of justice and his protection of the common people that suffer in these wars. Both Stark and Lannister forces, its plain, have been a plague to those who live in the battleground. The Hound’s response to accusations of murder—including that of Prince Aegon and Princess Rhaenys (the first time, I think, both names have ever been said on the show)—was well done, and Rory McCann has finally had something really meaty to do. Next episode should certainly be exciting.
For all that, however, we must talk about the two central moments: the mutiny of the Night’s Watch and the murder of the Old Bear, and Daenerys turning the Unsullied against their former masters. Though the mutiny is hampered, ever so slightly, by having one of the two ring leaders be an entirely new and unnamed character, although played by the recognizable character actor Burn Gorman (why did Mormont never actually give his name? Casting information suggests he’s Karl, but it’d be nice to get names to go with characters with any significant role or dialog), it plays out very well indeed as we’re led inevitably to the moment when Mormont loses control of the angry, hungry men. The chaos that follows—including the murder of Craster, Rast’s killing of the Old Bear, and Samwell’s flight with Gilly—is exactly the kind of confusion you’d imagine when half the Watch wants to plunder and feast, and the other half is trying to hold to their sense of duty. It would have been nice, of course, to have Mormont’s last words from the novel, but one cannot quibble too much.
It’s in Astapor, however, that we get a final moment to rival last episode’s shocker. Although the show has not had opportunity to really delve into how Daenerys came to her conclusions, nor her worries and doubts leading up to that moment (doubts that Martin cleverly obscured so that readers merely thought she doubted her making the agreement), it manages to get across how momentous this moment is. Everything is helped by Rami Djawadi’s scoring, which really steps up to the plate. Best of all, however? The first hint of High Valyrian, the original and pure Valyrian language, as spoken with apparent aplomb and power by Emilia Clarke. It gives one shivers just thinking of that moment when she turned and informed Kraznys that a dragon is not a slave. The effects for said dragon—why haven’t we gotten Drogon’s name, yet?—are also truly exceptional; it’s hard to believe how far effects have advanced since the days of Jurassic Park. The writers proceed to embellish the scene by showing Daenerys’s speech to the Unsullied after the fighting is said and done, a scene that likely happened off the page, and it’s another showcase for Valyrian. David Peterson’s work (which can now also be seen on SyFy’s new Defiance science fiction-meets-western series) is exceptionally good, and one hopes we’ll have more occasions to hear Valyrian down the road. At the end, the army of the Unsullied departs from the smoking city, and Daenerys throws aside the scourge that was the proof of her ownership. Accompanying them are the three dragons… and Djawadi’s score again, intertwining a more militant, discordant sound with a more aggressive version of the Mother of Dragons theme from the first season’s finale; it works very well.
This is the best episode yet, there’s really no doubt about it. Although some scenes remain puzzling to us—we’re looking at you Theon Greyjoy (and yes, before any says it: yes, we like Alfie, yes, we thought he did a brilliant job in this scene, but no, we still don’t think this material is actually necessary)—and take time from other parts of the story that we think would have been equally good (if not better), on the whole this was certainly a strong episode, and it should leave fans excited for what comes next.
The episode covers the following chapters of A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords: the first half of Jaime IV, part of Tyrion X from ACoK, Tyrion II, Samwell II, the first part of Arya VI, and the second half of Daenerys III.
Changes of note, chapter-by-chapter:
Bran’s Dream: This particular dream is an invention of the show, especially in terms of Catelyn’s appearance in it. Bran does dream of the three-eyed crow on occasion, however.
Varys and Ros: No such scene has ever taken place in the novels, as Ros does not exist. It is worth nothing, however, that the show makes a rather significant change to this part of the story, a change we’ll discuss in more detail in the sections concernign the Tyrells.
Great Sept of Baelor: No scene like this appears in the novels, although it’s true that Margaery was loved by the smallfolk of King’s Landing. It is, however, interesting to get some of the history from the novels in place. Besides the nude statues, we do have one thematic quibble. We know from Martin that the Targaryen custom was in fact cremation, not burial. Robert wanting to burn the remains of the Targaryens was, in fact, no less than what their customs expected. In the novels, Robert had Rhaegar’s remains burned, and if there was one person whose remains Robert might wish to have dishonored, it would have been his.
Theon and the Boy: As previously noted, no such scenes are actually shown or directly hinted at in the novels, but they remain plausible enough. A detail that is changed is the fact that Theon seems to believe that stone structure was Deepwood Motte. We suppose this might mean that it is, in fact, Deepwood… though we doubt it. In the novels, Deepwood Motte is a motte-and-bailey castle made of wood, not stone, a fact that Theon knows quite well as he may well have visited the seat in the past.
Cersei and Tywin: No such scene appears in the novels.
Varys and Olenna: This scene actually entails some fairly significant shifting of plot elements. In the novels, the idea to wed Sansa to a Tyrell scion is one that the the Tyrells come up with on their own. In fact, in the novel they hide this idea from the Lannisters and Varys both, and it’s Littlefinger who scuttles it. Varys never allies himself to the Tyrells in the novels, nor does he go out of his way to help Sansa at any point.
Sansa and Margaery: That Sansa and Margaery are sociable and friendly in the novels is quite true, but the specific details of this scene are invented. The other significant change apparent in this scene is that in the novel, the Tyrells plan to wed Sansa to Willas Tyrell, the eldest son and heir of Mace Tyrell. Here, it is Loras, and there’s as of yet no clear indication whether he has brothers or not on the show. We are guessing not, since there’s no reference to these siblings when you would have expected them. It’s worth noting that in the novel, the scene where the marriage is first proposed to Sansa shows her naivete as she hopes that it’s Ser Loras… but he’s then in the Kingsguard, and cannot wed. When told it’s Willas, who is not a knight because of an injury he sustained, she is in fact somewhat disappointed even if it does mean a chance to get away from King’s Landing. The show largely loses that particular effect.