It starts with, and is, in my view, dominated by Cersei, who wonderfully interrupts the framed moment between Tommen and Margaery in order to have a friendly chat with the widow of the dearly departed King Joffrey. She’s not going to let anybody forget that she still holds some power, and the person she identifies as having diminishing power over is Margaery. This is one of those scenes that would play just perfectly with no dialogue at all—all you have to do is watch their eyes. Both women are lying to one another, saying the things they are duty-bound to say, and at the same time fully recognizing the falseness in the other’s words.
Lena Headey, in particular, does some amazing work in this exchange, subtly capturing Cersei’s multiple reactions to Margaery’s calculated reluctance to be queen again, from surprise to slightly impressed at her rival’s shrewdness. There’s a feminine passive-aggression that dictates the nature of exchanges like this in the show, with the women relegated to having to exercise their power behind the scenes and only hint at what they’re capable of through humility and humor, but Cersei seems to find Margaery a formidable adversary because where she resents this plight, this hurdle, Margaery almost seems like she’s relishing it. And that’s a little terrifying.
It’s terrifying because the only other person who seems to relish exercising power in this behind-the-scenes way is Littlefinger, who we learn even more about. Not only did he orchestrate the poisoning of King Joffrey, but in her breaks from trying to get in his pants, Lysa reveals that he was also responsible for the murder of her husband Jon, whose poisoning Littlefinger commissioned and Lysa implemented. While the other men in Westeros are spreading their influence through hypermasculine means of warmongering and moneystacking and general dick-measuring, Littlefinger operates in the shadows, facilitating, as it turns out, all the chaos that has transpired since the first season of Game of Thrones. And yet no one knows he’s behind any of it; they’re all swinging at ghosts, flailing around while he is on the road to achieving his dream of having everything. This includes his manipulation of Lysa at the Eyrie, where they’re completely secluded. The dynamic between these two is every bit as repulsive as it ought to be.
Our other three favorite female characters have their own share of moments as well. Brienne and Podrick begin to iron out their differences, in a brief but nicely captured scene. As a character she has earned the role of strong leader with a noble sidekick—this episode solidified this relationship as she learns that Pod is as trustworthy as they come, with no shortage of surprises up his sleeve (or in his trousers).
This week, we also get a glimpse of Daenerys’ Benjamin Braddock moment, after the rush of capturing yet another city and freeing its slaves, the harsh reality sets in as Ser Jorah informs her of the complications springing out of her “free the slaves and move on happily ever after” policy. It turns out, it’s not that simple, and her days standing at the top of the mountain of Meereen may be short-lived. But she’s also becoming wise enough to know that she needs to learn how to rule as a just and capable leader before she can be a worthy ruler—call it paying her monarchical dues. Even Jorah was surprised that she listened to his advice for once.
The scenes that I find true delight in, which are understandably few and far between, are like this week’s moment where we see Arya practicing her water-dance/sword fighting moves that she learned from her old dancing master Syrio. The show doesn’t have time to linger too long on images that aren’t essential to the plot, given that it’s juggling more than it has time to feature in an individual episode anyway, but I was overjoyed that MacLaren lingered on Arya’s shadow fighting for as long as she did. It’s a simple but tremendously strong visual reminder, in addition to the verbal reminder she gives while repeating her kill list at night, that despite how different she has become, how much she has grown since leaving Winterfell, like Bran, she remains focused on staying true to who she is and carrying out what she determines is her singular mission. Except maybe she can compromise on killing the Hound. For now.
- Cersei gets lots of screen time this week, and kills it. Her mourning for Joffrey makes us forget that he was barely human to begin with. I know others don’t necessarily share this perspective, but this is the point in her story where I feel she becomes incredibly sympathetic. She is maneuvering to make sure Tyrion pays the price for his presumed crimes, but it’s unclear whether she’s driven by her desire for revenge, her concern for keeping the realm in order, protecting her other children, or whether she even knows exactly. The dialogue with Oberyn is certainly intriguing, and her assumption that all girls are treated badly is incredibly revealing. It may cast greater light on the assault by Jaime: was that incident something that’s happened before?
- This episode was a side-eye extravaganza. Cersei towards Margaery. Brienne towards Pod (they’re so cute, come on!). Petyr any time Lysa annoys him with her affection.
- Robin Arryn is back to fill the Joffrey-shaped hole in our collective heart. Thanks guys.
- Pod’s face was featured in a great close-up last week as if to say “Why haven’t there been more close-ups of this amazing face!” This week, he gets another moment to shine. The way his face lights up at Brienne’s request is life-affirming. It’s going to have to hold me over until next episode.
For more on tonight’s episode, check out our Game of Thrones podcast below: