With the death of King Joffrey last week it’s no surprise that Breaker of Chains would take a step back and figure out where all the pieces lay now that the whole board has been upset. What surprised me was how much of a fine entry point this episode was; I watched with a friend who had never seen a moment of the show and she was able to basically keep up and get it, and the characters on screen would often stop and helpfully explain who they were. I mean, Jaime actually stood there and told us Tyrion was his brother!
Speaking of Jaime: oof. After all his good guy character building the past season he ends up having his way with his sister next to the corpse of his son. This is the scene that’s probably going to ignite a thousand think pieces in the week ahead, and it serves as a strong reminder that this is a character who was first introduced throwing a young boy out the window. I think it says a lot about the quality of the story and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s charisma that Jaime’s assault feels like a betrayal to us.
Also sort of a betrayal: the Hound abusing his host and robbing him against Arya’s wishes. This is one of those scenes that makes Game of Thrones Game of Thrones - this world is a grey place, a land where being a good person will get you robbed… or decapitated, as the Hound reminds the young girl. She opts to move on with him, though - despite wanting to be good she understands the reality of life in Westeros.
That life includes devious dealings, like Tywin Lannister recruiting Oberyn Martell for Tyrion’s trial. It includes Tywin taking the young king Tommen under his wing immediately, leaving his grief-stricken daughter crying at the corpse of her shitty son. And it includes Littlefinger killing Ser Dontos as he spirits Sansa out of King’s Landing.
But there’s some good in Westeros. Tyrion has really changed over the course of four seasons, and nothing shows that like him counseling Pod to turn against him at the trial, or to at least get the hell out of King’s Landing. This isn’t the same self-centered hedonist who we met in a brothel in episode one - like the great saints of Catholicism this sinner has found something bigger than himself, and that seems to be honor.
Honor has no role in Ygritte’s life as she leads the cannibal Thenns in an attack on a small village south of the Wall. She’s become a killing machine, ruthlessly cutting down innocent people in an effort to force the Night’s Watch - and by proxy Jon Snow - to come out and deal with them so Mance Rayder’s army can assault from the north. It’s a brutal, ugly moment.
Meanwhile the best stuff happens across the Narrow Sea. Dany has come to Mereen (this season’s FX budget has me so happy - Mereen looks astonishing) and is immediately faced with a battle. But of the one-on-one variety, against the city’s champion, who pisses in her general direction. Daario goes into the fight and proves what kind of a guy he is - as the champion thunders down on him he throws a blade into the beast’s eye and quickly decapitates the now-unseated champion.
And then Dany executes her power move - she brings catapults to Mereen’s walls and fires. But she’s not sending in stones, she’s throwing in barrels filled with slave collars. Broken slave collaars. She’s telling the slaves of Mereen that the time to come to rise up, and that she’ll wait for them to take down their masters for her.
It was an episode filled with expositionary talk but also great moments. I can’t get enough of Oberyn, who has such a unique and interesting philosophy and whose hedonism feels less like sexposition and more like good old fashioned Caligulean excess. He’s just a blast. And Dany continues to be the best character on the show, a character with an arc unlike any in TV history. Remember that girl whose biggest accomplishment was teaching her barbarian husband how to fuck missionary position? She’s come a long way.