So, normally I take a week’s break between seasons just to let it marinate and sink in but I realized that at my current pace, I would finish Season 4 halfway through season 5 and I really wanted to run through season 5 one episode at a time, as it aired. Season 5 will air on April 12th and unless I’ve messed up my math (entirely possible) that leaves us with five weeks. So, from last week (see, told you my math was terrible) until April 12th, I will be doing two episodes a week. It might be a little too much of Martin’s universe, honestly, especially along with the re-read that I’m doing as well but I’m really looking forward to finally watching the show as it airs. As always, feedback and comments are welcome and to anyone who’s read this right from the beginning, you have my heartfelt gratitude. A note on spoilers: as we get closer to the most recently aired material, I will leave the section of the write-up above the ‘more’ tag (the thingy that you click below to see the whole post) free of spoilers of the current episode. That means, for example, if I was talking about episode 10 of season 4, everything here would have no S4E10 spoilers, but everything before is fair game. I would love to remove all spoilers, but that would leave me with very little to say in the way of introducing the episode and in any case, why are you reading the most recent episode’s discussion if you haven’t caught up yet? You silly.
With that out of the way, let’s see where we ended season 3, shall we? Jon has returned to Castle Black after defecting from the Wildlings though he didn’t exactly make it out unscathed. The Wildlings are heading right for the Wall, with Tormund’s advance force heading ahead and Mance’s massive army coming behind him. In King’s Landing, Joffrey’s wedding is approaching. Sansa has been married to Tyrion and neither is finding the arrangement too comfortable while Cersei has just been reunited with Jaime after eons. Robb and Catelyn Stark are dead and the North has seemingly made peace with King’s Landing with Roose Bolton holding the Starks’ former title of Warden of the North. His son, Ramsay, has Theon in his clutches and is doing some psychological remodelling of the latter’s brain while Theon’s sister is on a really random rescue mission to save her idiotic, now disfigured, baby brother. Across the sea, Dany has captured two slaver cities and liberated their people, winning the hearts of the thousands of slaves. There are a lot of great events to look forward to in this season and I’m fully expecting Peter Dinklage and Charles Dance to rise up to the occasion and deliver their best performances.
This week’s episode is a strong one, introducing a fan favourite character in Oberyn Martell, played by Pedro Pascal. Now we’ll get to Pascal and his take on the roguish Prince of Dorne but before that I really want to talk about the season’s opening scene. These days I don’t stop and talk about the individual scenes and their composition all that much but there was something about the opening scene that really caught my eye and attention. Watching Ice being melted down really brought home the message that the Starks are done for and that their legacy is crumbling right in front of their eyes as the sword they’ve held for generations is being broken down and repurposed for Lannister use. The scene ends with Tywin smiling ever so slightly as he disdainfully tosses a wolf pelt on top of the molten swords as the Rains of Castamere play in the background. It is a perfect cinematic summary of the utter and complete defeat of the King in the North.
The introduction of Oberyn Martell was easily the highlight of the episode, not only because of Pascal’s performance but also because unlike the majority the characters introduced in the previous seasons, this one has the air of someone who gets shit done, no matter whose toes he steps on. I have some issues with the over-sexualisation of Oberyn though. While the books do describe his open-mindedness in the bedroom, his reputation is one of a rogue and warrior first and a deviant (their words, not mine) second. Sure, we get to see him put the hurt on some Lannister guards but the bulk of his introduction was just him pimping around. It’s early yet but it does look like Pascal has great chemistry with Tyrion as well. It’s not perfect but it definitely shows signs of potential.
As much as I’d like to pretend that the events across the Narrow Sea aren’t happening, they are. We get some really solid, movie-level CGI this week and see all three dragons grown (though not fully, of course) and looking a lot more dangerous than the doggy sized creatures they were last season. Now, I don’t want to let my preconceived notions about this particular set of arcs in Meeren and beyond colour my perception of the adaptation version of these arcs too much but even in this episode itself, I can’t help myself from groaning as we see Dany’s crush on Daario play out. Michiel Huisman, who plays this new Daario replaces Ed Skrein, is much more personable and honestly, given time he might grow on me but for now the whole lovey-dovey nonsense between Dany and Daario is just annoying to watch. I’ve been rather critical of Emilia Clarke in the past but I don’t know if it’s just that I’ve gotten used to her mediocrity or if it’s something else, but her acting no longer bothers me as much as it used to. I won’t go so far as to call it good, because that would be an insult to the likes of Dinklage and Dance but it’s not the eyesore it was at the end of season 2 at least, so there’s that.
Speaking of serially poor performers, we also get a look at the increasingly painful and unnecessary soap opera that is Tyrion’s love life. I have made no secret of my dislike for Sibel Kekilli but it’s really not her fault this time, at least not entirely. This angst is just as uncomfortable to read as it is to watch though the dramatic inclusion of the gems, which Tyrion seemingly didn’t send, certainly doesn’t help matters. It wasn’t stated explicitly in the books, but it looks like Varys wants Shae out of the picture sooner rather than later. Whether that is out of genuine concern for Tyrion and his emotional health – there’s no arguing that with Shae out of the picture, Tyrion will not have the threat of her execution hanging over his own head – or whether it’s because he knows that Shae’s absence will throw Tyrion on a bit of a bender, something he can’t really afford at this point in time.
Meanwhile, Ygritte (Rose Leslie) is sad because Jon Snuh has left her but luckily, Tormund found her some new play-mates. My memory isn’t too clear on when in the books the Thenns join in the fun but I remember them being the less savage of the Wildlings not flesh-eating versions of the God-King from 300. Regardless, it’s nice that that particular storyline is getting some room to grow and breathe – I suspect the final confrontation between the Wildlings and the Night’s Watch will be the big ‘wham’ episode of this season and if HBO can afford to chuck many at a few seconds of random dragons footage, I can’t wait to see what they’ll throw at the season’s highlight. On the other side of the Wall, Jon (Kit Harrington) is also experiencing some heartache as well as other aches due to a case of being shot at by angry ex-girlfriend. We see the unfortunate return of Janos Slynt, the cocky and greasy former leader of the Night’s Watch who wastes no time in reminding the audience of just how detestable he can be. There was a pretty funny moment in this scene when Slynt tries to laugh off Jon’s claims of giants coming at the Wall only to realize that everyone else is taking this statement very seriously. There’s a ‘oh shit, are you guys for real’ look on Dominic Carter’s face that’s an instant classic.
I have, however, saved the best scene for last, just like director (and showrunner) D.B. Weiss. The adventures of Arya and the Hound got an unexpected renewal last season as a result of the Red Wedding and despite the very real animosity between the two (or perhaps because of it), we get some great scenes. The closing scene of this episode in particular stands out as the moment that Team Fuck-The-King was born; I’m not quite what spirit possessed Rory McCann but the last 10 minutes of the episode were a lesson in absurdly dramatic humour. Watching McCann demand chickens, with increasing aggressiveness, while a bewildered Poliver (or whatever his name is) tries to reason with him (before giving up entirely), is something special. It’s one of those scenes where the delivery and the tone are absolutely tense and electric but the words involved are ridiculous. The scene somehow works, I would say almost despite itself, though its final minutes lose their humour gradually as the violence breaks out. Maisie Williams’ has really gotten a good idea of just how broken Arya is and the icy look on her face as she slowly, deliberately kills Poliver (or whoever) is actually rather troubling. We’ll see how far down her storyline we get this season though for now, I’m just enjoying watching this particular duo and what questionable, violent antics they get into next.