Recap and review of Game of Thrones – Season 3 Episode 2, Dark Wings, Dark Words:
Game of Thrones delivers what feels like a much more focused episode than last week’s premiere, in such a way that the episode pretty much flies by, despite the presence of several exposition-heavy scenes. While it’s occasionally been true that the show has a tendency to be fleet in introducing new characters or storylines, “Dark Wings, Dark Words” is a tremendously well-structured, well-paced episode that keeps things moving by only giving us the bare essentials of each story. This is not to say that the episode isn’t concerned with the big picture, but simply that it instead maintains a smaller focus, to its credit.
Case-in-point, the continued journey of Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie). Their trek brings them across a bumbling stranger who Jaime insists they should kill. Brienne, however, doesn’t believe in killing the innocent, and so the duo journeys on, with Jaime poking fun at her along the way by slandering the name of her late liege, Renly Baratheon (there was a lot of that this week, actually). As they come to a narrow bridge, Jaime is able to pull one of Brienne’s two swords from its sheath and cut himself free from the tether binding him to her (though his hands remain bound). The resulting sword fight is the kind of wonderful scene that Game of Thrones does well, blending action with character. The fight is as exhilarating as it is enlightening about who these characters are, from Jaime’s stubborn refusal to allow a woman to best him, to Brienne’s quiet, dignified tenacity. Brienne handily wins the duel without having to kill Jaime, though it turns out that her energy might have been better spent for what is to come, as the stranger she refused to kill at the start of the episode leads Roose Bolton’s men right to them. And like that, Brienne is every bit the prisoner Jaime had been. And she won’t be the last, before this episode is through. But more on that in a bit…
Robb (Richard Madden) and Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) are besieged by miseries. Not only has Catelyn’s father passed away (leading to a mass migration of Robb’s entire company to Riverrun for the memorial), but news has come of the disappearance of Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) and Rickon (Art Parkinson) following the sacking of Winterfell. Catelyn weaves a dreamcatcher-like talisman for Robb, to keep him safe, while Talisa (Oona Chaplin) attempts to endear herself to her mother-in-law by offering to help. She is rebuffed and, instead, treated to a story of how her bitterness against her husband for fathering a bastard was transferred onto Jon Snow himself. She resented him to such a degree that she prayed for his death. When Jon become inflicted with the pox, she feared she would never overcome her guilt at damning an innocent child. She prayed for him to live, and though he did, we know that Catelyn isn’t entirely free of her issues with Jon. It’s a wonderful moment for Fairley, and is one of her best scenes in the series, though Talisa still doesn’t feel like much of a character, perhaps owing to her status as a loose translation of a similar character in the book.
Meanwhile, Robb is beginning to see cracks form in his alliance, as Lord Karstark remains convinced that Robb’s marriage to Talisa will damn them all, among other grievances. Essentially, Robb’s authority is being questioned, as his men lose faith in his rightness to lead, detoured as they’ve been by this unnecessary funeral procession. It’s an interesting embodiment of the politics of war, as Robb struggles to control his army in the wake of several questionable decisions.
From this point, the episode takes off at a relatively breakneck pace. Arya (Maisie Williams), Gendry (Joe Dempsie) and Hot Pie (Ben Hawkey) are on the run after having escaped from Harrenhal, and it’s not long before they run into trouble. The trio is captured by Thoros of Myr (Paul Kaye), of the Brotherhood Without Banners, an ambiguous organization of people who may or may not actually mean them harm. One of the episode’s best choices is in the presentation of the Brotherhood as sort of an opaque threat — not overtly menacing, but not benign either. Thoros teases Arya and the others, but we never get a sense that he actually means to hurt her. Of course, he doesn’t actually know who she really is, or what her importance is to the North — that is, until the Brotherhood reveals its latest capture: Sandor Clegane, The Hound (Rory McCann). The Hound recognizes Arya immediately, a development that throws another wrench in her carefully-laid plans to get to Riverrun to seek protection under the roof of a grandfather she doesn’t know is dead.
Yet the complications don’t stop with Arya. Bran and Rickon are on the road with Osha (Natalia Tena) and Hodor (Kristian Nairn) when they’re confronted by two mysterious strangers: Jojen (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and Meera Reed (Ellie Kendrick), a brother and sister who are the offspring of Howland Reed, one of Ned Stark’s oldest friends. Jojen claims to have sought Bran out as a result of having seen him in a dream. He and Bran share the gift of greensight, the power of prophetic dreams. The storyline is relatively lean this week, but we learn a bit about wargs, or humans who can enter the mind of an animal and control its actions. Not unlike the Brotherhood, their ambiguity is what makes them compelling. The Reeds don’t present themselves as a threat, nor do they ever come across as such, but their mysterious nature makes them one of the more intriguing new additions to the cast.
Another awesome addition? Lady Olenna Tyrell, the Queen of Thorns (Diana Rigg), so named for her acerbic, biting wit. Rigg is fantastic in the role as she questions a timid Sansa (Sophie Turner) about Joffrey’s true nature. This entire luncheon scene is a splendid bit of business, as Lady Olena takes swipes at the late Renly while also mouthing off about the war for the Iron Throne, and the banal practice of taking house sigils so literally. Sansa briefly tells the truth about Joffrey and his cruelty, and it’s a great scene for Sophie Turner, who presents Sansa as someone who, at all times, is only just barely concealing her contempt and rage, and who has insufficient outlet for those emotions. It’s an effective portrayal of the character, and it’s also a storyline that briefly dovetails with the subplot featuring Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Shae (Sibel Kekilli). It’s exceedingly brief (almost too brief to be worth notice), but hey, if having Tyrion warn Shae away from him gets Peter Dinklage on the screen each week, it’s worth it.
That said, Sansa’s story offers much more than just Lady Olenna’s caustic witticisms, as we get to see a bit more of how keenly-attuned Margaery (Natalie Dormer) is to the political aspects of court living. Her scene with Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) is like a duel between two self-absorbed people with ambitions of their own, and while Joffrey makes grand spectacle of his spiffy new crossbow (as though this makes him a warrior), Margaery is the one who plays him like a fiddle. She locks into his self-satisfaction and plays on his need to feel superior to other men. She talks about Renly’s sexuality (resulting in an interesting look of worry for her brother, Loras, when Joffrey implies that he’d make homosexuality punishable by death), and adopting the role of clueless damsel, so that Joffrey can again feel superior by playing the grizzled, battle-hardened warrior when he teaches her how to properly fire the crossbow. The scene says a lot about the characters without directly addressing the subtext at the scene’s center.
Lastly, we get a pair of storylines that help keep two characters fresh in our minds. The storyline with Sam (John Bradley) amounts to little more than the doughy Night’s Watchman resigning himself to death, only for Lord Commander Mormont (James Cosmo) not only forbidding him to die, but forbidding his brothers to allow it. We then check in with Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen), of all people, who is being brutally, stomach-churningly tortured by Roose Bolton’s men (or rather, the men under the charge of Bolton’s sinister bastard son). Theon confesses that he sacked Winterfell to win glory for his father and for his House, before recognizing that his words essentially damn the Iron Islands to a Northern invasion. He tries to then backtrack by putting the rebellion on his own shoulders, saying that he did it because he hated the Starks, but it’s too little, too late. However, as Theon writhes in pain, a mysterious benefactor comes to his aid, claiming to have come on behalf of Theon’s sister, Yara. He tells Theon that he will return for him soon, yet Theon is already fairly broken at this point, and it’s hard to imagine he’ll hold out much longer. Both storylines contribute to the worldbuilding aspects of the series, as we get a sense that everybody has something significant going on, even if the relevance of a certain story isn’t immediately apparent. This is one of the best aspects of Game of Thrones, as it’s able to nest stories within stories to create a wonderfully dense narrative tapestry that’s equal parts complex and engaging.
Ultimately, “Dark Wings, Dark Words” is as focused an episode as the series has put together since “Blackwater”, and it portends more carefully-crafted episodes in the weeks to come.