Monday, April 8, 2013

Review: Game of Thrones "Dark Wings, Dark Words"

Non Spoiler Review:
Dark Wings, Dark Words finds Robb and his mother receiving terrible news. Arya and her friends attempt to make their way to Riverrun, but she learns she's not as accomplished a swordswoman as she thinks. Not so for Brienne, who struggles with Jaime as they head to King's Landing. Sansa is brought into the confidence of Margaery and her rebellious grandmother. Osha and Hodor take the Stark children north, but find they aren't alone.

This week catches us up with the remaining characters absent in the premiere. There's a host of new faces introduced that had me googling name spellings. There are a few (very) old faces popping up, too, for those with razor sharp memories of season one. Add in new plot developments to make for a very enjoyable episode to further the momentum of last week's.

The season is moving along briskly and manages to balance the enormous weight of its characters and plots pretty well so far. A lot of focus is on the Starks and a growing sense of foreboding about the war and their future as a family. Much like last week's Tyrion/Tywin exchange, Catelyn gets one much-needed and fantastic scene that really helps to humanize her character.

Spoilers Now!
Bran dreams he is in the woods about to fire off an arrow at the ubiquitous three-eyed raven. Robb counsels him not to think too much, but he misses, and Jon and Robb share a laugh. Another boy appears, informing him he can't kill it. The raven is you, he says.

Bran wakes in their camp. He explains the dream to Osha but she doesn't want to hear about it. She doesn't want to add black magic dreams on top of her current worries.

In Harrenhal, Talisa tries to console her brooding husband. Bolton arrives with news from Riverrun and Winterfell. The King of the North advises his mother that her father is dead, and he promises to travel with her to the funeral. Robb has more news for her—by the time Bolton's bastard arrived at Winterfell, Theon and his men were gone and Winterfell was torched. He doesn't know if Theon took the boys or not. 

Theon, meanwhile, remains alive and a prisoner. He's being interrogated and tortured for information on why he took Winterfell. Theon at last confesses he did it on his own to bring glory to his father. The men put a sack over his head and continue to apply the screws to his feet. After they leave another man enters and explains Yara sent him. He loosens the screws, promising to come for him in the night while the castle sleeps

Brienne continues on her trek to King's Landing with Jaime, who has not let up with his barrage of questions. He finally concludes she was serving Renly and adds that she was not Renly's type. She won't hear him impugn his name. A passing farmer finds them, explaining he's on his way to Riverrun. He bids them good day but Jaime suspects he might have recognized him, and warns Brienne she should have killed him

Joffrey is being outfitted with new garb, but he's dissatisfied. Cersei wants to know what he thinks of Margaery. He finds it a good match and their united houses will put down the rebellions. She warns him Margaery is manipulative and does everything for a reason. Joffrey counters that intelligent women do as they're told, as Margaery does, and he doesn't need his mother's counsel.

Shae is dubious about Baelish's proposal, but Sansa realizes he loved his mother and may not want anything in return. She's not been asked to do anything for him yet. Shae wants her to tell her if he does and she will make him stop. They receive a visit from Loras Tyrell who invites Sansa to visit with Margaery and their grandmother.

Margaery greets Sansa and brings her to meet her grandmother, the Lady Olenna. The old woman is very gracious but feels Renly's claim to the throne was treason and they should all have stayed out of it. Her son, the Lord of Highgarden, is a fool just like her husband. She wants Sansa to tell the truth about Joffrey as they've heard some troubling tales. Sansa explains he is very handsome and fair and brave. Unconvinced, Margaery simply wants to know what it will mean to be his wife.

Olenna tells Sansa not to be frightened. No harm will come to her. Sansa admits her father only told the truth and that Joffrey promised to be merciful but still killed him. Margaery sees she's terrified and promises never to betray her confidence. He's a monster, she warns them. Olenna thanks her for the truth. The wedding will proceed, given the Lord of Highgarden is determined it will go ahead.

On the march to Riverrun Lord Karstark feels the funeral for Robb's grandfather is a distraction, then confesses he thinks they lost the war the day he married Talisa. Meanwhile, Talisa has a chat with Catelyn who is cold to her at first. She's busy working on some weaving and Catelyn recounts stories of when her children were in jeopardy and she prayed for their recovery. She even prayed for Jon. At first she had begged the gods for him to die, and then he got the pox, and she knew she was the worst woman who ever lived. She condemned him to death on the cause of his mother, so she had a change of heart and promised the gods that if he lived she would love him, be a mother to him, and have Ned make him a Stark and be done with it. Jon lived, but she never kept her promise and continued to hate him. She feels everything that's happened since then is because she broke her oath and couldn't love a motherless child.

North of the Wall Jon and Mance join Ygritte who are waiting on a warg—a man who can enter the minds of animals—to scourge for them. Jon admits it was hard to kill the Halfhand. Mance recounts how difficult it was to unite ninety clans of Wildlings. He got them to march together by telling them they would all die if they don't get south, because that's the truth. The warg wakens and explains he was at the Fist of the First Men where he saw plenty of dead crows.

The Night's Watch continues its march south and Sam endures the taunts for having survived while many of them died. Sam is exhausted and kneels on the ground, and the men march on, except for Grenn and Edd who come back for him. He accuses them of leaving him when the White Walkers came and they admit they did because he's fat and slow. Another crow tells them to leave him, until Mormont walks back and orders him to get up. He forbids Sam to die. Mormont tells the other man if Sam doesn't make it back, he won't either.

While Rickon and Hodor search for food, Osha and Bran hear something in the woods. As Osha runs off to look the boy from his dream appears. Osha comes up behind him. The boy says he's unarmed as his sister carries the weapons, who is behind Osha and forces her to drop her spear. The boy makes Summer stand down and walk off. He introduces himself as Jojen Reed, and he and his sister Meera have come a long way to find Bran.

They continue on their way north. Jojen realizes Bran can get inside his wolf's head. Bran confesses his dreams after his father's death, but Jojen points out he's a warg and has the sight. Ravens tell the future. Jojen had told his father Howland about Ned's death, and he cried. The man had saved Ned's life in the rebellion. Osha watches and asks the girl why Meera needs to protect her brother as it won't serve him well in the future.

On their own trek, Arya, Gendry and Hot Pie opt to head to Riverrun to gain the protection of her grandfather. Gendry questions the three names Arya gave Jaqen, and how she could have ended the war had she just chosen the Lannisters. Their discussion is cut short when they overhear a party of men approaching, who have already spotted them. Arya steps out to talk to them and orders them to go on down the road and leave them be.

Her ruse doesn't work and their leader introduces himself as Thoros of Myr, and they fight for the Brotherhood Without Banners. They're trying to save the countryside while the lords of Westeros try to burn it. He assumes they escaped Harrenhal and would love to hear how they did it. They opt to go along with them.

Back at a tavern Arya explains Gendry is a smith in the armory and gave them weapons. She knows how to use a sword and offers a demonstration. Thoros takes her up on it and disarms her immediately. He lets them finish their meals before they go on their way.  His other men return with a tall man in a hood who they reveal to be the Hound. Thoros knows him from King's Landing and Sandor is surprised to see him there, as well. Knowing she'll be recognized, Arya tries to sneak out unobserved but the Hound notices and asks Thoros what he's doing with the Stark bitch.

Tyrion finds Shae in his new quarters and is worries someone saw her. She's concerned for Sansa and her dealings with Baelish, having learned it from his assistant. That leads to a discussion about Ros and Tyrion's past relationship with her. Ros said Sansa shouldn't trust Littlefinger and she wants to protect her. But Tyrion can't. Now that she's been released from Joffrey, Sansa will have many suitors now.

Joffrey informs Margaery he's leaving on a hunting trip. She admits she's enjoying the capital after spending her time in Renly's camp. The bedside of a traitor, Joffrey adds. He asks why she failed to provide him with children. She refuses to speak ill of the dead but explains she doesn't believe Renly was interested in the company of women. Joffrey admits he was a known degenerate and might make his perversion punishable by death. She tells him he should do what he thinks best as he's the king. Margaery is delighted to see a demonstration of his new crossbow and asks to be taken hunting with him sometime. He is impressed with her and thinks he would like to watch her kill something.

Brienne and Jaime come to a bridge, risking exposure if they cross. He opts to sit down on the bridge, forcing her to drag him up and providing him opportunity to take her sword and free himself. But she has another sword and the two face off as he taunts her for her great size. If she kills him she fails Lady Stark, but if she doesn't, he'll kill her. Brienne proves too good and knocks him down just as riders reach the bridge. They're from House Bolton and Jaime was indeed recognized by the farmer they encountered earlier. The man refuses Jaime's attempts at bribery given they're tasked with returning him to the King in the North.

The Verdict:
A very enjoyable episode, Dark Wings, Dark Words brought the Stark situation up to speed on events in Winterfell, with the added drama of Catelyn losing her father. Her scene with Talisa was my favorite this week, starting out with yet another bitchy Catelyn moment, only to evolve into a very deep look at her personal demons. While I don't love the character at all, I feel she's gotten some sympathy (much like insight into Cersei's life gave her). 

Sansa's chat with the Tyrell's was pretty incredible given how tight-lipped she's kept herself, and I was cringing wondering if they were being genuine with her. Margaery seems to have used that information to her own personal gain in her scene with Joffrey by repainting herself as the obedient woman who just happens to share her betrothed's passion for killing things. I'm still enjoying her, but hope Sansa hasn't left herself vulnerable.

The new supernatural element—wargs—are introduced twice, with the Wildlings and Bran's apparent ability. The Reed children are a curious addition as I have no idea what their influence on the plot will be, but it seems that particular group of characters has their own mission evolving.

The Brotherhood Without Banners looks to be a fun bunch too, and just goes to prove that no minor character that pops up and disappears can be disregarded—Salladhor Saan, Selmy...I hope Arya and Gendry stick with them, but I don't know how well the Hound will mix in with that band, or if his experience at Blackwater has genuinely changed him. But he does hold important information of interest to Arya.

Given Brienne and Jaime's scant plotline so far, I'm pleased to see them changing direction (and having Brienne defeat Jaime). I have a sense that her fate is not a good one.

On the list of characters I thought doomed but now appear to have a new plotline is Theon, whom I assume is at the Dreadfort. His potential saviour must be Ramsay Snow. But are we to assume that Theon's men sacked Winterfell and handed him off to the northerners or is Ramsay responsible?

Robb's war looks like it could be on its last legs unless he pulls out a major offensive. It's very evident that his army is simply marching around Westeros, and now on to Riverrun with no direction or plan for the future. With his bannermen now openly questioning him, his home base in ruins, what's left for him?

My only real critique is the extraordinary level of coincidence of characters running into one another—the farmer manages to run right into Bolton's party after spying (and recognizing) Jaime Lannister, after having seen him at some point in the past? It gives the impression Westeros is about the size of a small county rather than a vast continent. Then again, one of the major conceits of the story is that family lineages can be traced via hair colour, so I guess I'll let that one slide.

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