This week’s episode of Game of Thrones is brought to you by royal sex in the north, royal idiocy in King’s Landing, psychosexual torture, arranged marriages and HOLY SHIT A BEAR FIGHT.
This season of Thrones hasn’t been quite as sex-heavy as its predecessors, but this latest episode certainly was in both the best and worst ways. Sex gave us one of the episode’s early scenes – a somewhat cheesy one between Robb Stark and his queen-to-be Talissa Westerling. It was also oddly tense due to Talissa’s post-coital letter writing, especially because it was in the language of Volantis, which Robb can’t read. Suspicious, maybe? However, the talk of baby-making was kind of sweet, I suppose. The other “sex scene?” Well, we’ll get to that in a minute.
Actually, no. Fuck it. We’ll get to it now. Thrones took some heat in its first two seasons for its “sexposition” scenes – moments in which some character or another fucked or got fucked while another (often but not necessarily one of the fuckers/fuckees) unpacked some information that might’ve been a bit boring to listen to otherwise.
So, to see Theon Greyjoy have two prostitutes come in and tease him AS PRELUDE TO HIS OWN CASTRATION – FOR FUCK’S SAKE THEY CHOPPED HIM ROOT AND STEM WITH SOME CRAZY CURVED KNIFE GAAAAAAHHHHHHH – it was almost a slap in the face to the “sexposition” scenes. It was also a brutally effective scene of psychodrama. Unfortunately, it also continued the trend of the Theon scenes not working effectively anymore. Only readers of the books know who Theon’s torturer is, and why it’s happening. That cancels out a sizable portion of the show’s audience.
More prominent than the theme of sex in this episode, however, was femininity, which has been a particularly pervasive element of this season. The women on this show, from Sansa to Daenerys, spoke frankly of their wants, fears, desires and regrets with astonishing honesty and frankness. George R.R. Martin, author of the Song of Ice and Fire book series that serves as Thrones’s foundation, scripted this episode, and added intriguing depths to his female characters – including some he gave somewhat short shrift to in his own books.
Consider Margaery Tyrell. If you were to make power rankings of the women on this show, Margaery would be at 2 or 3 (because they’re all behind Daenerys, let’s be real). In the books, her strength and political games are suggested, but not often seen directly. Television has given Martin and show-runners, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the freedom to expand the world and its characters even further. This is evidenced by Margaery’s monologue about what women like – sexually speaking – and how they learn about it. Most importantly, while it isn’t coming from a bonafide female writer’s voice, it also doesn’t sound like a man awkwardly taking on a woman’s words and perspective.
Also, look at the reformed wildling woman, Osha, charged with protecting Bran and Rickon Stark deep in the north. For the lone Bran scene in the episode, our attention is focused not on the plotted events (Osha arguing with the Reed twins and Bran over whether they should go to Castle Black or north of the Wall), but on Osha’s monologue. Her tale of how her husband one day vanished only to return as an undead wight, whom she had to kill, is heartbreaking and delivered by actress Natalia Tena in an understated but impassioned voice.
Her words of devotion toward her husband – “I was his and he was mine” – are echoed by Ygritte in one of her scenes with Jon Snow. Now, he and the wildlings have made it south of the Wall and are presumably primed to begin attacking cities in Westeros. (Not that that would do much good, given the current war-torn state of the nation, but they don’t know that.)
Last episode, Ygritte revealed that she essentially knew Jon was a double agent still allied with the Night’s Watch, and made it clear that she didn’t much care. Jon used this as an opportunity to convince her that her people’s desire to fight the folk of Westeros was a pointless, doomed effort. While she didn’t ignore his logic, she certainly is not one to view a long game as one worth playing. Like her hair, her personality is kissed by fire and recklessness. She confirms this in her final line, which I’ll paraphrase – “We may die. But first, we’ll live.”
And of course, there’s Daenerys. She is even more self-assured and more of a powerful presence in this episode than she has ever been. That’s saying a lot considering three episodes ago, she SACKED A CITY AND SET IT ON FUCKING FIRE BECAUSE… DRAGONS. That’s saying a lot. That was her merely flexing her muscles. This episode, where she confronted the Wise Masters of another slave city, Yunkai, with words rather than dragonflame, she showed she’s truly taking ownership of the titles she’s worn so long – khaleesi, Mother of Dragons, Queen of the Andals and the First Men – rather than simply having them affixed to her. She made it clear that shaping this world according to her ideals of righteousness, particularly with regard to slavery, is her chief priority. This is rooted in her femininity. Daenerys doesn’t hope to exceed in a man’s game. She aims to burn the game down and remake it in her image.
The men on this show didn’t end up looking all that great this episode, with one exception that we’ll get to at the end. Tyrion, now roped into marrying Sansa Stark, did a shit job of trying to convince his true woman, Shae, that he can carry on a relationship with her outside of his marriage. And while it was nice to see Tywin Lannister talk down to King Joffrey, his hideous grandson, in the end it really does nothing but highlight the fact that most of the ills currently afflicting Westeros stem, directly or indirectly, from Tywin.
We close on the episode with a scene that further deepens Jaime Lannister as a character, tapping once again into the labyrinthine web of complications and contradictions that he contains. He has everything going for him, finally, at least as much as would be possible under the circumstances. The wound of his severed hand is healed, he’s being sent back to his father under the protection of men loyal to Roose Bolton, he’s got his confident swagger back.
However, none of those things will fill the empty patches in his heart, or give him back a mind not burdened with visions of hundreds of thousands dying in the sack of King’s Landing so many years ago. And Brienne is the only woman – or person, period – to whom he’s revealed his legitimate reason for killing King Aerys II Targaryen so long ago. So, he manipulates his situation to go back for her.
He does so by getting himself INTO A BEAR FIGHT. Let’s try and calculate the swag points here. He’s safe and sound and rides back to Harrenhal, where Brienne is being kept, and jumps into a pit where she’s been forced to fight a bear with a wooden sword. Do I need to stress that he’s unarmed and one-handed when he does this? And honestly, Brienne did pretty well herself, before Jaime showed up, in terms of staying alive. It’s more the bravery and the honor involved in doing so that matters. After all, it’s a few well-placed crossbow bolts fired by a Bolton soldier, who Jaime has managed to convert, that keep the bear at bay for long enough for Brienne and then Jaime can escape. The point being, it’s a moment that combines a strong character moment with ridiculously thrilling action, humor, drama and just a subtle hint of romance. These moments are what no show on television currently does better, and that’s all there is to it.
Liam Green can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.