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Game of Thrones – Review: Burn Notice

Review of Game of Thrones – Season 3 Episode 4 – And Now His Watch Has Ended:

Game of Thrones is doing some remarkable things, in terms of how it finds interesting ways of adapting what’s there in the books. Granted, there are certain elements that leave a lot to be desired (namely, the entire business with Sam and the Night’s Watch, as I’m not sure the changes they’ve made make any sense to me), but, for the most part, the show is not only doing an effective job adapting what’s there, but in embellishing on the existing framework. “And Now His Watch Has Ended” brings the story to life beyond my wildest expectations as a reader of A Song of Ice and Fire, moving around story points from earlier in the books (such as Varys speech about how he was cut), or fleshing out existing stories (for instance, everything having to do with Theon). It also helps that the episode doesn’t try to do as much as last week’s episode. We still do check-in with several characters, such as Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), who has a nightmare in which he climbs atop a tree to follow the three-eyed raven, only to be sent crashing back to earth by Catelyn (Michelle Fairley). However, much of the episode is filled with purposeful, momentum-building story, making this the most eventful episode of the season so far.

Credit: HBO

Credit: HBO

The biggest development this week is the follow through on last week’s cliffhanger of Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) selling off Drogon to procure the Unsullied army. Given what we know about Daenerys, it should have been clear that she was never going to give up one of her dragons, and it’s a gambit that plays out to exhilarating effect here. Not only does Dany reveal that she was always capable of understanding Kraznys’ speech (Dany proclaims to the dumbfounded slaver that Valyrian is her “mother tongue”), she exposes the long con she played on the slave master: she hands over Drogon in exchange for the whip that will officially mark her as the master to whom the Unsullied must remain unquestioningly loyal. Once the transaction is completed, she orders her new army to murder slave-driver holding a whip, while also ordering them to free any slave they encounter. And then, the coup de grace, as Dany tells Kraznys that a dragon is no slave. She speaks the word “Dracarys,” and like that, Drogon burns the slaver alive. Dany proclaims the freedom of the slaves in an address to her army and the freed people of Astapor, while also declaring her power as the master of the Unsullied. It’s a beautifully filmed scene that borders on unsettling, as Dany is equal parts benevolent ruler and potential dictator. There’s a darkness to the way Emilia Clarke plays the scene, a joy in how she orders the slavers burned and then pronounces her sovereignty, that presents a fascinating dichotomy.

Meanwhile, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is inconsolable over the loss of his sword hand, to such an extent that he hardly seems at all like the Kingslayer of old. Here, Locke (Noah Taylor) berates him relentlessly, tying the severed hand around Jaime’s neck, teasing him once he falls off his horse, and then tricking him into drinking horse urine. Jaime tries to put up a fight against his captors, but he’s not much of a fighter as a southpaw, and he’s easily subdued. Locke shoves him into the mud and threatens to sever his other hand. That Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) questions Jaime about why he saved her, since Tarth is not called “The Sapphire Isle” due to riches, but because of the crystal blue of its water. Jaime knew he was lying to Locke when he promised the man wealth beyond his wildest dreams for preventing his men from raping Brienne, yet he told the lie anyway. Jaime doesn’t answer, yet Brienne is grateful nonetheless. She even takes it a bit farther, insulting Jaime in an attempt to get him to snap out of his miserable funk. “You have one taste of the real world, where people have important things taken from them, and you whine and cry and quit,” says Brienne. “You sound like a bloody woman!” It’s a wonderful dynamic that’s being established between Jaime and Brienne, as they’re united, in many respects, by their situation, and also by an inherent sense of knightly, warrior’s honor — which is strange, given that Jaime once murdered his own king. But this gradual redemption of Jaime Lannister is one of season three’s more interesting character-based arcs.

Credit: HBO

Credit: HBO

We also check in with King’s Landing, as Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) and Margaery (Natalie Dormer) bond over death and other grim business. The King shows his future Queen the royal crypt, who is utterly fascinated by the gruesome demise of such luminaries as Prince Aerion Targaryen, who drank wildfire, thinking it would make him into a dragon. They also visit the remains of the Mad King Aerys Targaryen, whose demise led to the rise of the Baratheons and Lannisters as the source of power in the Seven Kingdoms. “Sometimes severity is the price we pay for greatness,” Margaery says, regarding the Targaryens, and her words seize on Joffrey’s desire to be seen as better than his forbears. Also appealing, Margaery’s insistence that the people love him, culminating in the royal couple waving to the plebeians outside the royal crypt. I wouldn’t say it’s an adoring reception, but the people do seem to want to believe their king is good and brave (then again, the people might have just been waving to Margaery, who actually is loved by the people, at large). If nothing else, this is an interesting look into how Joffrey is perceived by his subjects.

As is the exploration into how Cersei (Lena Headey) is perceived by others. Turns out that Olenna Redwyne (Diana Rigg) doesn’t think much of Joffrey, or of Cersei’s questionable parenting skills. To make matters worse, nor does Tywin (Charles Dance). When Cersei complains that she deserves to be let into her father’s inner circle instead of Jaime or Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), Tywin declares that he doesn’t deny her because she’s a woman. He denies her because she’s nowhere near as smart as she thinks she is, saying that at least Margaery knows how to manipulate and control Joffrey, which is more than Cersei has ever been able to do.

Credit: HBO

Credit: HBO

Yet this potential schism between father and daughter isn’t even the most interesting thing going on in King’s Landing, as Varys (Conleth Hill) meets with Olenna to discuss marrying off Sansa (Sophie Turner) as a means of preventing Littlefinger from using her to secure the North. It’s the kind of political double-dealing that proves eminently compelling, as Margaery takes the idea to Sansa herself, who seems over-the-moon at the prospect of marrying Ser Loras Tyrell, which would make her sisters with the future Queen. All the pieces are in place for a strategic marriage, which is a shame, since people really ought to want to marry Sansa for more than just what she can provide for them politically. That said, everything in King’s Landing was terrific this week, from Olenna’s constant one-liners (her best were about the lame words of House Tyrell, “Growing Strong”) to Varys’ horrifying tale of revenge to Tyrion. He reveals that he was cut by a sorcerer in Myr, who fed his privates to the fire, creating a blue flame from which a voice answered the sorcerer’s call — a voice that has haunted Varys ever since. Just as Tyrion is about to wonder just what this has to do with his own quest for revenge against whoever tried to have him killed during the Battle of the Blackwater, Varys opens up a crate to reveal the sorcerer who’d cut him all those many years ago. The moral? Revenge requires patience — in a literal sense, revenge is a dish best served cold.

Credit: HBO

Credit: HBO

Other big developments see Theon (Alfie Allen) on the run with his mysterious benefactor (Iwan Rheon), who leads him on a long, labyrinthine journey…right back to the torture chamber at which they started, in a complete double-cross. It’s all the more stinging a betrayal after Theon bared his soul to his “rescuer,” revealing that the bodies he burned back at Winterfell were not Bran and Rickon, but two innocent orphan boys from a nearby farm. Most poignantly, however, he reveals that while he knew he would never be considered a true Stark, even now he considers Ned Stark to be his true father. “My true father lost his head in King’s Landing,” Theon tells the stranger, moments before the betrayal, which sees him returned to the torture rack in an utterly heartbreaking moment for a character who, just last season, seemed beyond all possible redemption or sympathy.

However, there’s still more to cover in the North, as Arya (Maisie Williams) and Gendry witness the trial of The Hound (Rory McCann), who stands before the leader of the Brotherhood Without Banners, Beric Dondarrion (David Michael Scott). The Brotherhood is what remains of the scouting expedition sent out by Ned Stark in season one to bring Gregor Clegane, The Hound’s brother, to justice for his raping, pillaging ways. With their former Hand now dead, along with their former King, Robert Baratheon, the Brotherhood is essentially a vigilante organization focused towards the ends of justice. When The Hound feigns that he’s not responsible for the crimes with which he’s charged, Arya brings up his murder of her friend Micah, the butcher’s boy The Hound cut down in season one, on the orders of Joffrey. The Hound doesn’t deny his involvement, and so Beric announces a trial by combat, in which the “one true god” will The Hound’s guilt or innocence. I’m all for the show indulging in more action-oriented scenes, and a one-on-one swordfight is as good as anything the show could do right now, in lieu of a big, over-the-top battle scene like last season’s Battle of the Blackwater.

Lastly, we come to one of the biggest developments of the episode, as the Night’s Watch crumbles under the weight of hunger and paranoia. However, it starts out innocently enough, with Sam (John Bradley) trying to flirt with Gilly (Hannah Murray), stupidly failing to realize that now isn’t really the time to be inquiring about names for a baby boy when Craster has a long-standing history of putting out his newborn sons to die in the wilderness. So Sam does the only thing he can do…he runs off with Gilly. But only after things go to hell in a hurry, as a rogue contingent of the Night’s Watch rebels against Craster’s perceived selfishness and inhospitable nature. Craster is murder, and Lord Commander Mormont is cut down in the rebellion, and like that, the Night’s Watch has completely fallen to pieces. It’s a huge moment for the series, with the potential for lasting implications for the season as a whole, since the Night’s Watch are the guardians of the North. It should be interesting to watch the fallout, and to see how the decisions of a few hungry “crows” affects the plot, going forward.

Credit: HBO

Credit: HBO

“And Now His Watch Has Ended” is tremendous television, and the best episode of Game of Thrones so far this season, even despite the lack of Jon Snow or Robb Stark and their storylines. There’s still a lot of meat on the bone here, and the episode does a wonderful job of exploring not only the straightforward plot points of the story, but hinting at the implications of these decisions as the season moves forward. It’s a uniformly excellent episode of Game of Thrones.

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