Last night's Game of Thrones successfully combined scheming and plotting with action- wheels were being wound up, but we also got to see plots unfold. The vast majority of it was in one-on-one scenes with characters who opposed each other in some way. Each bit of it had tension, conflict, and usually a satisfying payoff. Also, there was lots of blood and nudity.
Hound VS Beric Dondarrion You know what’s a great way to start an hour of television? Fighting. The duel between Beric Dondarrion and the Hound was like the chart-topping single that kicks off the album and primes the audience for what’s to come. Dondarrion used a flaming sword against the Hound which seemed kind of cheap given that Sandor Clegane is specifically afraid of fire. That made the Hound's victory all the more impressive, though, when he chopped right through Dondarrion's shoulder.
When the Brotherhood let the Hound go, it was clear that they don't just give their adherence to the Red God lip service- they actually believe in the sanctity of trial by combat. Westeros isn't just our world with more swords and less electricity- the characters there really do have different (and sometimes alien) ideas about what constitutes justice and law.
Another theme that the episode reinforced: Magic is messed up. You can do amazing things with it, but Beric and Thoros made it clear that every time Dondarrion came back from the dead he was a little bit more faded, bedraggled, and used up. There are no phoenix downs or D&D resurrection spells in Westeros.
Jon Snow VS Ygritte Ygritte is a manic pixie dream girl. Jon Snow is dour and grumpy and then suddenly, without him having to do much of anything, there are boobs in his face. Can we all agree this arc is filled with Garden State levels of mopey male sex fantasy? I like enthusiastic naked redheads as much as the next lady fancier, but come the fuck on. The Shins might as well have been playing while they cavorted in that hot tub.
Olenna VS Tyrion Having these two titans of wit meet for an exchange of barb felt like borderline fan service, but it was service that I was happy to receive. There was nothing to their conversation, really, other than Tyrion getting the Tyrells to put up some cash for the impeding royal wedding, but it was great just seeing the two in the same room together. Diana Rigg has pretty much stolen this season as the leader of they Tyrells, and it's clear that the Lannisters have a worthy adversary on their hands when it comes to scheming and game playing.
Stark VS Karstark As stern and noble as the Starks seem, it’s easy to forget that the North is Westeros’ most potentially lawless region. The climate is harsh, it’s not at all densely populated, and it does not share much of a border with the rest of the Seven Kingdoms. It’s a big, wind-swept nothing of a place, and the ideal breeding ground for a man like Rickard Karstark. Karstark doesn’t seem to care about systems of government or laws- he’s more primal. When he and his men murder the young Lannister prisoners, they’re acting out a system that has everything to do with kin and feelings of vengeance, and little to do with anything that we’d recognize as jurisprudence. They are, in other words, bearded, sword-toting hillbillies who treat nebulous feelings of being aggrieved over and above the rule of law.
Robb Stark, though, is rule of law personified. He’s his father’s son, and he knows that simply acting out feelings of vengeance does not make for good diplomacy or war. Karstark tries to appeal to him by saying that they’re kin, but Robb doesn’t think like that- meting out justice is more important than abiding by the kin-based code of his hillbilly allies. Granted, that justice takes the form of slicing a dude’s head off, but it’s something.
Now if only Robb could have been so rational and principled before he betrayed the Freys and got himself hitched.
But he should be able to talk himself out of that mess, right?
Stannis VS Mrs. Stannis Oh, what wondrous tidbits we learned of Stannis’ household! His wife likes to keep her miscarriages in jars, like they’re her tonsils or her wisdom teeth or something, she’s a giant cuckquean who gets off on Stannis boning Melissandre, and Stannis keeps his disfigured daughter in a tower where he practically never sees her. How delightfully functional, Mr. Baratheon.
The scene between Davos and Shireen in the dungeon was touching, and underscored once again that Davos is a good man working for an awful king.
Jaime VS Brienne I feel sorry for Jaime Lannister. The Mad King was bad news for everybody, and he took care that little problem, doing Westeros a giant favor. In return, everyone talks about his dishonorable he is and gives him an obnoxious high school nickname. He outlined his side of the story to Brienne while naked in a hot tub, and I'm pretty sure that scene has already inspired a few thousand words of hideously awful erotic fan fiction.
Brienne, to her credit, is not so stiff and unyielding that she doesn’t sympathize and it’s clear that they two do have a friendship developing. I’m a pretty solid anti-fan of Book Brienne, but this iteration of the character seems an order of magnitude better than her literary basis. More and more, I’m starting to think of the books as the rough draft of the show, rather than the show as an adaptation of the books.
Tywin Lannister VS His Children Of all the casting in Game of Thrones, Charles Dance as Tywin Lannister might be the most inspired. TV Tywin looks nothing like his book counterpart, but that doesn’t matter. Dance has the character down. The stony, calculating stare, the cutting line delivery, the piercing eyes: The man is all cold fire and teeth. Last night he ordered both Tyrion and Cersei to wed Sansa Stark and Loras Tyrell for the sake of House Lannister. If Rickard Karstark is the embodiment of rural, kin-based, hillbilly semi-anarchy, then Tywin Lannister is realpolitik in ren faire gear. Damn.
Also, in case you haven't heard already, commenter Graham informed me that Strong Belwas has been cut. That is some bullshit right there. Never will we see his tiny vest brought to life by HBO.