Last week I posited that only Dany was beginning to emerge as a character with arc, propulsive plot development, and any kind sympathy or interest for me. This week made a go at trying to give me some other character to hold on to, and the effects were fair to middling, with yet more weight added to Dany’s side of the scales. We had some very good moments to hold onto with Game of Thrones this week, and I can say with a fair degree of certainty that my enthusiasm for this season has been kindled a bit more.
Maybe some of that had to do with the deadweight being cut from this episode. Plots that are usually a pretty good indication of how this show does certain things wrong are jettisoned to give some more depth to characters and relationships that really could use more meat than they have been given previously. Theon gets no love from the camera today, and for one sweet week I get to imagine that Sam was torn apart by direwolves, as he too is left twisting in the wind by the narrative.
Meanwhile, lovable but recently underserved characters are given a bit more agency. I think three of my favorite moments this episode belong to Maisie Williams as Arya Stark, who gets to emote and assert herself more in this episode than in any we have seen since the middle of season two. The first such moment is anchored in a scene of mortal combat, as The Hound enters a trial by combat with the one-eyed leader of the Brotherhood Without Banners. This results in a fairly entertaining fight scene, involving a flaming sword, a lot of broken shields, and the sudden death of a character who we only just got to know and who had seemed like he would become an important new fixture. But wait! The man who first took Arya hostage (though really, he wouldn’t call it that) falls upon his fallen leader and prays to the God of Light to save him from death. And it works. It works really well.
The more that magic and the unknown enter Westeros, the more Game of Thrones threatens to lose me, but luckily this scene is followed later on by showing the scars – both physical and emotional/spiritual – that he must carry every time he comes back. This scene also shows Arya taking a moment to mourn her father, wishing that he could have been saved in much the same way. It’s a complex scene, one that ameliorates a concern I had immediately following the trial by combat. If this guy can be saved, what power does death still hold? Quite a bit still, and I honestly don’t see many of our host of characters benefitting from this treatment.
The other Arya scene that really brought the emotional connection surging back to the forefront was the one in which she tries to convince Gendry not to stay with the Brotherhood. Gendry, being a servant bought and sold and battered with all his life, is embracing the communal lifestyle of the brotherhood, appreciating their democracy and egalitarian nature. Arya is heartbroken to lose him (remember when it was kind of assumed that they would be a couple when she grew up?) and tearfully asserts that they could be a family unto themselves. Gendry sets her straight though, when he points out that she could never be his family, only “m’lady.” It’s a stark reminder of the classist system at work here, and the ways by which young Arya will always be held back from the people she finds much more in common with than her high-born kin.
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