I don’t think it would come as a bit of a surprise to anyone who read my review of last week’s episode to hear that my opinion on Game of Thrones has taken a recent downward trajectory. Because when you don’t care about any characters in a show, and when their actions cease to have any impact because of your newfound ambivalence, what reasons do you have to really keep watching anymore? It’s a question I struggled with in the run-up to this newest episode, “And Now His Watch Is Ended,” and one which I hoped would be answered by the end.
So, the big question first – am I still dreading the ungainly beast that my formerly beloved show has become? Yes, yes I am. In spite of some steps forward this week, there was enough water-treading and empty speechifying to make me feel especially galvanized in some of my complaints, even as the episode ended on the trademark “keep watching!” moment that we have all come to expect. Luckily, this week’s moment, unlike last weeks, was something that gave me hope – if only a glimmer.
Let’s start with the high points, work our way down to the low, and then end on final note which should, hopefully, set the tone for the rest of the season to come.
First of all, we have some very interesting and thematically rich scenes involving Varys, everyone’s favorite eunuch. His first scene finds him finally telling Tyrion about the circumstances that led him to lose his genitalia, an aspect of his character that has been his second-most defining characteristic. It turns out that he was abused by a Red Priest – who belongs to the same monotheistic sect that the Red Lady does – who used his genitals in order to commune with some sort of god. Varys says all of this, and then explains his rise to power while slowly unpacking a crate which holds the same Priest who harmed him as a child.
This is an effective scene for a number of reasons. One, it shows the growing rapport between Varys and Tyrion, who were a fun odd couple in their defense of the city last season. Two, it is well acted and involves not a single moment of gratuitous nudity in spite of the fact that it is a story of great character importance. Three, it serves as the first step on Tyrion’s road to revenge, proving to him that sometimes patience really does pay off.
This could be a problem though. Tyrion looking for revenge against Cersei for his attempted assassination could be another of those long, dragging plot lines that just refuses to go anywhere, like anything involving Arya, or Jon Snow’s continued trek through the frozen wastes of the north.
But that is empty prognosticating for now. Elsewhere, Lady Tyrell continues to use her inside knowledge of Joffrey’s perversions to insinuate herself into his good graces. Natalie Dormer is still uniformly spectacular in this role, positively cooing as Joffrey explains to her the grisly details of all of the slain former royalty housed in the Sept, which will be the site of their wedding. Not only that, but this scene delivers on her good public relations work earlier in the season, and she and Joffrey are met with a jubilant praise when they step out onto the steps of the temple to meet the throng of common people gathered around them.
Again, good movement forward. This is the kind of scope that we as an audience need in order to understand where all these royals stand in the court of public opinion. Joffrey is easy to hate on a personal level, but he becomes really frightening when the specter of popular support is added to his repertoire.
Lady Tyrell also has an important scene with Sansa, when she offers the poor eldest Stark daughter the chance to marry Loras Tyrell, Margaery’s effeminate and very gay brother. This is mainly politicking and empty plot progression, but it does set up some possibly comical nonsense to happen later on once they two are wed and his predilections bump up against her naivety.
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