|Courtesy of HBO|
Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that know how to do other things with their mouths.
This week was all about decisions. And how, no matter good or bad, you have to live with those decisions. Many of these decisions also resulted in fundamental changes to the characters, or at least will given the chance. And everyone was getting in on the game.
The episode began where last week's left off, with The Hound and Beric taking part in the Trial by Combat. While this might seem like a hold over from last week's rough and tumble, it fit more naturally here, for two clear reasons. By offering the Hound a trial rather then just executing him, the Brotherhood wash their hands of making any sort of actual judgement. By leaving it up to the God of Fire, all they have to do is stand back and watch (and, die, in Bedric's case. Good thing he got better). There is a certain hypocrisy at work in their logic, where they claim to be serving Robert's justice, purging the land of those that do the most harm, yet put the Hound, arguably one of the most deserving of fiends, in a situation he is sure to escape from.
It's for the best, as the double punch of the Hound escaping and Gendry remaining with the Brotherhood, push Arya further over the edge towards completely emotional breakdown. Up until now, she's had someone to rely on: Ned, Yoren, Jaqen, Gendry. They provided support, both physical and emotional. And one by one they've either been taken away, or walked away. Losing people if tough, but having them leave you willingly if worse. Now, essentially, she is alone and without anyone who actually cares about her. To drive the point home, Thoros makes certain to tell her she's being ransomed off. Arya in the show has been slipping down this emotional slope for a while, and I expect her to crack any time now.
North of the Wall, John made two decisions, one to risk lying to his new Wildling cohorts (a decision he grapples with for far longer in the books, weighing the possibility of being found out and killed over risk to his Brothers back at the Wall), and giving into his desire for Ygritte. John, like Arya, hasn't been in many situations where he wasn't protected by someone, even if his life was always rather crap. But out in the wilds, without his Brothers to back him up, he's reevaluating what he believed to be his priorities. This episode has brought him the closest to Mance Rayder, in understanding what there might be for a person North of the Wall, and just how easy it is to take off his cloak.
The Karstarks made their decision straight away, and it backfired on them. By killing the Lannister children, it forced Robb into his difficult decision, and once again it is shown that Robb isn't that great of a King. His pride got the better of him here, and I think Cat and Edmure made the more reasonable argument. Better to keep the army, and lock the man away, rather then loose the army for the sake of his image. But Robb is his father's son and insisted on taking the noble, but ill advised route. Robb's story also reiterated that, as lousy as he may be as a King, as a General he's better then most, as his plan to take the unguarded Casterly Rock is an effective plan. Except, now he doesn't have the man power to do so, forcing him to the turn to the man he wronged. Which should end well.
I've never been partial to Stannis, as a character in either medium, but I warmed to him significantly this episode. His scenes, one with his crazy wife, and one with his daughter, were wonderfully done, and Stephen Dillane did a great job. He flinched, and grimaced, and showed a whole range of human emotions, which is important because usually on this show the characters only get to have one at a time. But Stannis came in all desperate and lonely and guilty, and was overcome by acceptance and more then a gravity boat of crazy. Keeping still born children in jars? Is that a sign of a balanced mind? And naming them? The night might be cold, and full of terrors, but inside is a crazy woman talking to formaldehyde sons. And then he pops over to his daughter's cage and acts both loving and distant and a little weirded out. It forced humanity out of Stannis, and it was refreshing to see.
Davos got a touching scene, a marked improvement over the sterile and mathematical way the same elements were used in the books. His relationship with Shireen, considering he's lost his sons, was warm and honest and like Tywin and Arya last season, something I hope we see more of moving forward. That Davos chose to trust her with his secret, which admittedly wouldn't be that uncommon a thing amongst common folk, shows exactly who in Dragonstone he's willing to invest himself in. And an excellent introduction to the Greyscale.
But the night's honour is shared between two scenes. Jamie's confession, the pivotal character moment in the novels, was executed brilliantly, and should be run over to the Emmy offices straight away. The way Jamie sat, stagnate in the tub, none of his filth washing off of him, while he explained why be became the Kingslayer was a wonder to watch. And that the pain in his hand is little more then the physical manifestation of all the grief and hate that has built up in him over the years, attempted to be quelled with sex and bravado and forced out of him while exposed and at his wits end, I say the scene might have managed to surpass Martin's writing. It is for scenes like this that the show exists, and does itself proud.
Charles Dance is another reason the show should be proud of itself, and if I'm not too much mistaken, this episode featured the first standing of Tywin we've seen all season. Each of his other scenes have been him sitting, writing, plotting behind a desk. Here, his anger forces him to action, literally, to his feet. What an amazing scene that last one was, with three dynamic actors all feeding off each other. Lena Headey smirking the entire time until it got wiped off her face, Tyrion foregoing his usual banter in exchange for cold honesty, and Tywin, frustrated and having had enough with people not meeting his expectations. It was a hell of a punch, as the machinations of various characters over the last few episodes all came crashing down, and a great way to bring the episode to a close.
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