I‘m back from travels in Portugal and have now watched the latest episode of Game of Thrones, so it is time for another, slightly delayed, review.
I‘ll start with the scenes in Mereen, which in this episode were a mixed bag. Varys gave a decent speech, and some of the later dialog between Tyrion and Missandei about how the masters only understand violence was good. But Tyrion’s attempt at comedy while he waited for Varys with Missandei and Grey Worm was an atrocity. Usually Tyrion can be funny. That is, the writers can write fun dialog that Peter Dinklage can act out well, but this was cringe-worthy and grotesque.
Varys speech, furthermore, while passable, gave off a certain hint of the entire Mereen situation being a moral lecture about the American occupation on Iraq. The captured insurgent talked sarcastically about how the foreign queen Daenerys had “liberated” Mereen, and what Varys said about torture had political undertones. There may of course be points to be made here, it lies beyond the scope of this review to discuss American foreign policy, but having a former slaver complaining about Daenerys liberating the slaves isn’t particularly convincing. Preachy or not though, Varys conversation with that woman who’s name currently escapes me was, I have to repeat, much better than Tyrion’s monologue about what games they should play. That monologue reduced the intelligence of everyone watching this episode.
Better by far were the parts of the episode taking place in the second major city of the show, King’s Landing. Cersei is getting more and more convincing with each episode, Jaime is still solid and Quyburn comes of exactly as I imagined him when reading the books. I feared that the revived Gregor would at some point start coming off as a bit childish, in a “Hulk smash!” way, if that makes any sense. But this has so far not happened, and I am starting to think it never will, which makes me happy. Cersei and Olena having a throw-down after which the small council just up and left was a bit bizarre, but I’ll let it slide.
Having Tommen take a more active role in King’s Landing is nothing new, it has been hinted at in the previous two episodes and even foreshadowed in S4E3 in the conversation between Tommen and Tywin. Having Tommen be manipulated by the High Septon opens up for an interesting twist here, depending on how far it goes. Having agreed on leaving the books behind to some extent as we already have, I would like to see, in addition to the fallout between Jaime and Cersei I hope is still coming, a crack in the happy Lannister family caused by Tommen in the end taking the High Septon’s side. Not for the faith militant to win necessarily, but it would be a more convincingly dangerous threat if the king falls under the spell of the sparrows. As things now stand, I am still wondering why Cersei doesn’t root them out with fire and sword. Margery’s possible death from such a course of action would from Cersei’s point of view be killing two birds with one stone. So, this episode gets bonus points from this development.
On then, to the Tower of Joy. This was, in it’s own right, a decent scene with some slightly flawed dialog and acting that at times could have been better. That is all I would have had to say had I only watched the show and not read the books, or if I could separate them completely. That would have been easier. But that’s not how this works, the show could have been much better as a standalone too if certain things from the source material had been kept intact. Instead now I have three questions, all which I am inclined to ask while cursing.
Where, first, in the flying fuck is the last kingsguard knight and the last of Eddard’s companions? It may seem like a trivial point that it should be three against seven rather than two against six, but any reason I can imagine for it not being so is also trivial. Had it been the first season and the producers of this show were financially challenged I’d get it, that for example why they didn’t show us the battle on the green fork (Tyrion got knocked out immediately instead). But this is the most successful television show currently being produced, so it is not money, they could probably afford two more nameless nobodies who died immediately. It feels almost like the writers asked themselves if they should stick to the source material, and then decided that ‘nah, let’s mix it up a little’.
Secondly, why has Arthur Dayne ditched Dawn in favor of dual-wielding two lesser swords? Dawn, the greatsword that Dayne is supposed to be wielding is perhaps the most iconic weapon in this entire story. This is the A Song of Ice and Fire version of the Master Sword from the Legend of Zelda, to give my gamer fans a reference to go by. It’s supposed to be recognizable and a part of the story of the Sword of the Morning, anyone of average intelligence could predict that readers would notice its absence. It would have cost them next to nothing in the grand scheme of things to produce a flash toy sword a meter and a half in length and zoom in on it for a couple of seconds to run the point home.
Once again, I cannot imagine that they were forced to do this for economic reasons, that perhaps stuntmen with skills in two small swords were much cheaper than stuntmen that can wield a big one. This episode cost over ten million dollars to produce, but there was no room in the budget to accurately depict a sword that is spoken highly of by many characters in several of the books? Like I wrote above, it feels like someone is actively deciding to make these changes for some obscure reason.This keeps being the case when considering my third question. Wasn’t it possible to keep the original dialog? It would have increased the episode length by at most a minute.
TL,DR: They fucked up the Tower of Joy in a way they didn’t have to, shame on them for doing so. This was only partially remedied by the scenes at the Wall, one of the saving graces of every episode in this season so far. I didn’t like the way they handled the mass hanging, that contraption felt bizarre but I recognize that having Jon walk from person to person lopping off heads would have been a bit much. This necessary ill was pretty much the only downside to this arc.
Alliser Thorne went out in a decent manner, which is not particularly surprising, almost everything in the entire series involving Thorne has been good. The actor playing him was among the best, in particular when considering minor characters, and he will be missed. I liked that Jon’s last words were from the Nightswatch oath, I like when they manage to inject parts of the oath into the dialog, like they did during Grenn’s final stand against the giant. As for where Jon goes now, that is anyone’s guess, but I suspect that he will decide to go somewhere and then be interrupted in whatever he is doing by the Bolton’s deciding to pull some bullshit on him, and perhaps on the watch in general.
I will hold off with comments about the return of Rickon until I see, in an episode or two, how the whole thing plays out. The scene itself felt poorly written and/or acted compared to many other ones in this show, and in the greater scheme of things there are only two ways in which this will play out. Either the Umbers have really betrayed the Starks. In this case then fuck all of this, every imaginable development is now apparently on the table and there is no more rational analysis to be made. Or this is a ruse by the Smalljon, in which case he is infirm in the head, since Ramsey might just as well have ordered Rickon to be flayed then and there.