“Dracarys.” –Daenerys Targaryen
Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, Queen of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Mother of Dragons, Breaker of Chains, hallowed be thy fucking name.
In an episode that featured a man with a severed hand drinking horse urine, a eunuch keeping a sorcerer in a box and a thousand-years-old military order crumbling apart in a cabin over a drumstick or two, and the impossibly blond girl from windswept Dragonstone by way of Pentos strolls onscreen at the very end that almost makes you forget you just watched one of the best episodes of Game of Thrones yet.
Hell, the first 45 minutes of “And Now His Watch is Ended” make a decent claim to sitting the Iron Throne of Game of Thrones episodes, before the last 10 minutes wrests the crown away from it like Jaime Lannister plunging in sword deep into the Mad King. That’s right, Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, Queen of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Mother of Dragons, Breaker of Chains’ only scene in “And Now His Watch is Ended” is so good that it counts as its own episode.
For all the various ruminations on power, the human condition and other high-minded literary feats Game of Thrones is capable of, the show at a molecular level is just an appreciation of awesome characters doing awesome shit. And in the show’s 24 episode run thus far, no awesomer character has done anything cooler than Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, Queen of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Mother of Dragons, Breaker of Chains does in her righteously vengeful destruction of Astapor.
Sure, the “character understood a foreign language all along” is a fairly well-worn trope, but it has never felt as satisfying as it does when Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, Queen of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Mother of Dragons, Breaker of Chains secures her total victory in Astapor. It seemed reasonable to assume that Daenerys Sto…ok, that’s enough, Dany, wasn’t going to actually trade one of her children/dragons (a psychoanalyst setting up shop in Westeros would make a killing. “So you feel these flying lizards are your children? Tell me more.”) for 8,000 Unsullied warriors, regardless of how effective warriors they are or how sexy they are (sans nipples.) Still, who would have expected that this young girl who only some moons ago was nothing more than a grungy horse-lord’s trophy wife/slave would soon be able to wipe a city off the map. No two characters on Game of Thrones have ever been closer cyphers to its viewers when Jorah Mormont and Barristan Selmy look at each other and smile at their Queen’s utter badassitude.
It’s moments like these that make the time spent in Game of Thrones‘ Qarths* not only bearable but ultimately worth it. If nothing else, this show is content to put in the necessary grunt work so that future plotlines or moments may fluorish. For a story (by the way, we’re on about page 200 of 1000 of “A Storm of Swords” – season three’s source material) that’s not a perfect fit for the television medium, the producers have done a marvelous job at exploiting where the source material’s strengths and medium’s strengths coincide. And that strength this week, kids, is patience. There will be some episodes early in seasons that just plant the seeds, leading certain dipshit “critics” to write lukewarm reviews. But those seeds will eventually flower to roses more glorious than the ones that adorn Olenna Tyrell’s chamber pot.
*I’m referring to both the literal Qarth that effectively benched Dany as a viable character for a full season and the metaphorical Qarth that every storyline on the show will occasionally run into. I’m looking at you, Theon-I-just-spent-four-episodes-going-in-a-literal-circle-Greyjoy.
The rest of the episode was about as on fire as Astapor at the close. One could be forgiven for thinking that Game of Thrones is reaching the critical mass for ultimate greatness, but the newbies for season three just continue to impress. Olenna Tyrell in particular is a gem. Her ability to immediately dominate any conversation she enters is wildly entertaining. This week she adds Cersei and even Varys to her list of conquests. As her father is all too happy to point out, Cersei is probably not the smartest dame in King’s Landing, but Varys seems rightfully shocked to come across someone smarter than he. Varys’ plan to save Sansa Stark (and I do buy his good intentions regarding the daughter of a man he really did respect) is a good one, but the way Olenna takes to it feels like she somehow came up with it herself.
Really the only player in King’s Landing that may be able to match Lady Tyrell’s wits is Tywin. Undoubtedly we are working towards a scene between the two and it should be a doozy. Judging by this week’s events and Tywin’s excellent, withering condemnations of his daughters parenting skills, Tywin’s only weakness may be his perception of his grandson. Sure, Cersei cannot control him but Tywin hasn’t displayed any real aptitude for grandson-rearing either. Joffrey is very much akin to a King on a chessboard. If you capture him, you win the game but he’s largely also largely useless. You can only move him one space at a time so really: why bother? The Lannisters seem intent on moving the boy around to other spaces, turning him into an actual King but the Tyrell’s are already getting much farther in there “just flatter the little shit” strategy. Tywin and his Lannister bannerman are doing an excellent job abroad in the war against the Starks but it all may be a moot point if they lose the battle of King Joffrey’s favor at home to the Tyrells.
It’s to “And Now His Watch is Ended’s” credit that it invests plenty of time with Jaime and Brienne. Many non-King’s Landing plotlines have been relegated to a one scene and done approach in these first four episodes. It would have robbed a lot of the duo’s momentum if we had only been able to check in with them once this episode. More is conveyed about Jaime’s true character in Brienne’s reveal that Tarth is the Sapphire Island because the color of its oceans and not the wealth of its people than almost any other scene with the Kingslayer. Then there’s the haunting image of his right hand, his identity, hanging limply from his neck – like it could reach up at choke him with disappointment at any moment.
Creatively, one of the season’s better decisions so far was to let the introduction to the Brotherhood Without Banners share an episode with The Night Watch’s mutiny. Politically speaking: the Brotherhood is very similar to the Night’s Watch. They bend the knee to no king and their only obligation is to protect the innocent of the Realm. But as we’re introduced to Beric Dondarrion, the leader of one sovereign clan, Jeor Mormont – the leader of the other, is being murdered. Why? Because the Night’s Watch is hungry, and they’re cold and they’re being exploited by a man who rapes his daughters and murders his sons. The organization has been around for hundreds of years and the men of this current iteration are serving unglamorous life sentences in it. The Brotherhood is new and idealistic and praying to this exciting new God of fire from the East. It seems that in Westeros, the only thing that separates a group dedicated to selflessly serving the weak from a group falling apart into entropy is time.
BULLET POINTS FROM HERE ON OUT:
- It’s episodes that like this one that make me upset in advance over award shows bias against fantasy and science fiction acting. There is a lot of good acting on television right now but I defy you to find a better consistent performer than Charles Dance as Tywin or one brilliant a showcase as Emilia Clarke’s work here as Daenerys.
- Theon’s story is still fairly inconsequential but his admission that his real father died in King’s Landing is beautiful and devastating.
- Speaking of devastating, before her scene with Maergary, Sansa is praying to a chopped down weirwood tree.
- If I were a betting man, I’d place money on Beric Dondarrion v. Sandor Clegane as being the best mano a mano showdown the show will do so far.
- “And Now His Watch is Ended” might be the first episode title of the series that is technically a spoiler for the actual plot of the episode. R.I.P. Jeor Mormont. Sorry your son sold slaves.
(photo via Sidequesting)