|Exclusive still from the road movie: Pycelle and Tywin do Braavos|
And Now His Watch Is Ended.
Directed by Alex Graves.
Written by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss.
"And now his watch has ended." It's the name of the episode, and also the elegy spoken over a fallen brother's grave. The Lord Commander, Jeor Mormont (James Cosmo), speaks the words at a makeshift funeral North-of-the-Wall. Another member of the Nightswatch has perished, only this time to the more mundane frostbite rather than slain by White Walkers. Burning the body is necessary these days, unless you fancy being awoken by the corpse at midnight for a game of 'I Want To Eat Your Face'.
Fire and death are two motifs that dominate this installment. The Old Bear, Jeor, would eventually succumb to the second after a mutiny erupted on his Watch. The protectors of the Wall are now leaderless, and Jon Snow (Kit Harington) has lost the only man privy to his infiltration mission of the Wildlings...and who knows him not to be a turncloak.
All a bit bleak, really. But also, very, very cool in what was arguably the best episode of the season thus far.
Lord Varys' (Conleth Hill) is not a viewpoint we're offered in the books, but the television series is becoming increasingly fond of imagining scenes that are only alluded to. It's welcome and lets the show become a more organic entity, not simply an adaptation of the books. It's as though Westeros is part of a mythology from long ago, and the television series and book are simply different interpretations of its legends.
Varys tells a tremendously dark tale about how he received his 'cut' (a very enthusiastic circumcision) to a not-very-inquisitive Tyrion (Peter Dinklage). Although the story is engrossing, it comes from nowhere, like some evil villain's monologue. It seems out-of-place, for an otherwise secretive man. Still, Varys' vicious side is wickedly shown when he reveals who he's been keeping captive - the sorcerer who removed his manhood; blooded, boney and wide-eyed. He seems to have been sealed in that stone box for quite some time.
Varys is a master game player like that. The scene is as much a lesson to Tyrion, in how to gather 'influence', as it is a threat - and it exposes the Imp to how relatively new he is to the arts of manipulation. Varys comes up against much tougher fare later on in the episode in the form of Lady Olenna (the marvelous Diana Rigg). In one of the shows best lines, he warns her of Petyr Baelish, "Littlefinger is one of the most dangerous people in Westeros...he'd watch this country burn if he could be King of its ashes." Baelish is slowly being built up as a major player in the Game, and Sansa Stark is a pawn he wishes to snatch from Olenna and Cersei's (Lena Headey) grasp.
Speaking of Cersei, an interesting parallel is drawn between her and Brienne (Gwendoline Christie). While Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) has all but given up on life now being minus one hand, he talks to Brienne over a campfire. She berates him into not behaving like "so much of a bloody woman". The scene ends with Jaime looking downwards, his face half covered by the campfire's flames.
This directly cuts into a visual match of Cersei, with the flames of a candle occupying the same left hand corner. The cut from Lannister to Lannister, twin to twin, lover to lover is important - but a second dynamic is at work. It's as though, to Jaime, Cersei and Brienne are somewhat interchangeable. Both so much more than "a bloody woman".
Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann) has been led to the Brotherhood Without Banners' secret cave, along with their not-a-captive-but-you're-not-allowed-to-leave Arya (Maisie Williams). The Brotherhood and the Hound don't share a common interest in fire - the Brotherhood pretty much worship it; Clegane fled from the Battle of Blackwater Bay as soon as the first emerald bursts of wildfire lit up the night's sky. There's ample fruit for a sitcom there, but this is Westeros, and disagreements like that are settled by fights.
We're offered our first glance here of the eye-patched Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer). In the books, he is spoken of many a time before he first appears. Stories swirl about how he was killed in various, different battles, only to rise again for the next. They say his head was caved in here, or his heart was ripped out his chest there, yet he still appears for work the following day. The Brotherhood Without Banners must elect their leaders on diligence.
What follows between Beric and Sandor is one of the most captivating exchanges of the show's entire run. The Hound is accused of being a murderer. He denies it, landing a jab on the Brotherhood's integrity. The Brotherhood speak of how evil wears many cloaks - Stark, Lannister, Baratheon - and how the common people suffer beneath these warring titans. Sandor rebuts with how being born a Clegane is not a crime. Every response offers a new, understandable point. It's majestic, heartfelt and sincere. And it sets up a main event cage match for next week's show: Beric 'The Lightening Lord' Dondarrion vs. Sandor 'The Hound' Clegane.
Four episodes Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) has taken abuse from the slaver Kraznys (Dan Hildebrand). She's got dragons - bloody dragons! - on her boat, and she's been called every variation of 'whore' and 'bitch' the High Valyrian language contains. The use of a translator all this time is revealed to be a masterpiece of misdirection. Even the old swords Jorah (Iain Glen) and Barristan (Ian McElhinney) are caught off guard when she calls out her orders in the tongue she pretended not to know. "High Valyrian, melon farmer - it's what my Grandad spoke," is a paraphrase of her grand prestige moment, as she orders dragon and Unsullied alike to attack.
The carnage is cathartic. Fire and death (remember those) spread through Astapor, killing Kraznys after Daenerys has purchased his entire army of Unsullied warrior slaves. And then she gives them all freedom...and a request. Will they fight for her? At first there is silence. Perhaps her High Valyrian is a little rusty. Then they start to thud their staffs - 9,000 of them in a cacophony of pledges. Daenerys looks almost Madonna-like in her divinity. They should change House Targaryen's words to read simply "Kick Ass".
But it's the sight of Jorah and Barristan, standing amongst the Unsullied and looking upon the Queen they've vowed to serve, that is most heartwarming. Their eyes glistening in the Astapor sun momentarily forget their exile from Joffrey's land. They might really be onto something here.
Daenerys Stormborn - the Mother of Dragons, the Unburnt, Khakeesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Shackles, Queen of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men...
...Lord of the Seven Kingdoms.
Oliver Davis (@OliDavis)