Not a Good King nor a Wise: A Review of Game of Thrones Season 4, Episode 3 “Breaker of Chains”

Posted: June 22, 2014 in Game of Thrones, Reviews, TV
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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Episode: 33
Airdate: April 20, 2014
Directed by: Alex Graves
Written by: George R.R. Martin (“A Song of Ice and Fire” by), David Benioff (creator), D.B. Weiss (creator), David Benioff (written for television by), D.B. Weiss (written for television by)

With the end of Season Four of Game of Thrones, I finally have the time to catch up on the two episode reviews I missed while on my family vacation earlier this spring. Here’s the first one, for the third episode of the season.

The last episode ended on a truly dramatic event, reminiscent in more ways than one of the end of Episode 0309, “The Rains of Castamere.” There, the final shot, and the final act left viewers with a sick feeling in their stomachs, and the knowledge that we wouldn’t be able to see the full repercussions of the event as it was already the penultimate episode of the season. Here, the event has, arguably, a potentially larger effect on Westeros, but we have eight more episodes to see the fallout, beginning with “Breaker of Chains.” Click through after the break to get my thoughts on this episode.

<<Spoiler Alert: This article is a review and partial recap of Game of Thrones S04E03 – “Breaker of Chains” – it will discuss major plot points and events in detail, and may contain strong language based on dialogue from the episode; read further at your own risk!>>

The episode focuses on nine different storylines in Westeros (five of them in King’s Landing, two in the north, and one each in the Riverlands and Dragonstone), and ends with Daenerys arriving at Meereen in Essos. I’ll begin by taking a look at events in the North.


The North

At the Wall, Sam is going through something of an existential crisis. He’s held true to his vows, unlike his role model Jon Snow, but he’s just as much in love with Gilly as Snow is with Ygritte. Sam’s love is much more innocent, and in some ways more endearing. Gilly, though she is from north of the Wall, is no wildling like Ygritte. Having been abused physically, sexually, and emotionally for years as one of Craster’s Wives, she’s not nearly as aggressive, although she is much more forward than Sam, as seen in the way she looks at him, and tries to elicit confessions of his feelings. It’s obvious that she looks at Sam with something more than admiration, so she is particularly hurt when he decides she and her son need to move to Mole’s Town.

His reasoning is sound – there’s over one hundred men, and Gilly is the only woman, and many of those men are rapists and murderers. However, Mole’s Town doesn’t look a damn bit safer, as he finds a place for her at a local tavern that doubles as a brothel. Sam is insistent that Gilly won’t be doing any of the “extra” work, but he’s really showing his naivete believing this is a safe place for her.

As if to confirm his lack of wisdom, we soon after see Ygritte, Tormund, and Styr (the Magnar of Thenn) attacking a small hamlet. They kill indiscriminately, the first person a father felled by one of Ygritte’s arrows as he speaks with his small son (for people who have finished watching the entire season, this is a moment of heavy-duty foreshadowing here – the young boy is Olly, who ends up with the Night’s Watch). Styr grabs the young boy out of his hiding spot beneath a cart, and holds a knife to his throat as he explains how he and his men are going to cook and eat the boy’s parents. He then sends him off to Castle Black to tell the Night’s Watch what he’s seen, and that Styr and his men are coming for them.

With this bunch getting closer, how much safer is Gilly in Mole’s Town as opposed to being behind the walls of Castle Black?


The Riverlands

We get some more of our favorite dysfunctional pair in this episode, as Arya and the Hound continue their way to the Vale. They’re relaxing beneath a bridge talking about the future, when a farmer and his young daughter espy them. After a bit of quick talking on Arya’s part, naming themselves for supporters of House Tully, they get invited for a meal and bed. The Hound has some pretty horrible table manners, but Arya makes excuses for him, and the farmer offers them silver if they’ll stay on – he sees the Hound as a potential protector. The next day, Arya comes running when she hears the farmer’s daughter scream: the Hound has knocked the farmer down, and taken his silver. He leaves the man alive, although he tells Arya that he and his daughter are really dead – the man’s too soft, and will surely be killed, so the silver is doing him no good. Arya is visibly angered, but follows the Hound as he leaves. Again, this scene has larger repercussions later in the season, as the bag of silver will come into play once again.


Dragonstone

Stannis makes a semi-mocking statement about Ser Davos’s reading lessons, and asks him to read a letter they’ve received by crow – it’s news of Joffrey’s death, and Stannis is full of barely reined in anger that Ser Davos let his pet royal – Rob’s bastard Gendry – go, thus meaning he can’t burn any more royal blood-filled leaches to kill his enemies with. Ser Davos argues back – he actually admits that Melisandre’s magic has worked to help them, but it’s feet on the ground that wins wars, not a few charms and spells. He suggests they look to Essos – mercenaries like the Golden Company could give them the numbers they need. Stannis is offended – he has no interest in hired swords – but Ser Davos points out that they’ve been using blood magic, so why balk at hiring soldiers? Stannis points out their distinct lack of funds, and he leaves a frustrated Stannis, unable to give him any further advice.

He goes to visit Shireen, so they can continue his reading lessons. She gives him a new book, in which Braavos is mentioned. Ser Davos starts to tell Shireen about his trips there when he was a smuggler, and his interactions with the Iron Bank, when he makes a sudden connection of his own. He kisses Shireen on the forehead, and thanks her – he’s realized where he can find coin to fund Stannis’s armies. He hands her his pen and ink and asks her to write a letter – her handwriting is much neater than his own.


King’s Landing

The episode actually begins here, with Cersei still holding Joffrey in her arms, yelling at the King’s Guard to arrest Tyrion. We see Ser Dontos running with Sansa through the city, the sounds of bells from the Red Keep in the background. He takes her down through Flea Bottom, and eventually to a secret entry onto the Blackwater. He delivers her to Littlefinger on a ship hiding in a fogbank, and receives his payment: two crossbow bolts, one in the face and one in the heart. Sansa is shocked; she believes that Dontos helped her because she saved his life. Petyr Baelish, however, is a realist. He tells Sansa that, “Money buys a man’s silence for a time. A bolt in the heart buys it forever.” The only real question here is this: what does Littlefinger hope to gain through his most recent machinations? His removal of Sansa from King’s Landing suggests that she is his primary motivation here, despite being more than old enough to be her father. It doesn’t appear, however, that his intentions are fatherly in the least.

We get to learn a bit more about motivations and conspiracies when we get a brief moment with Lady Olenna and her granddaughter Margaery Tyrell. As they walk through the gardens, the Lady says in reference to Joffrey’s death, that “The next one should be easier.” She states in a matter-of-fact manner that Tommen is kinder, and far more malleable than Joffrey ever would have been, and that she further intends for Margaery to marry the young king. Margaery actually looks a bit uncomfortable at this suggestion – while their age difference isn’t quite as large as Littlefinger and Sansa’s, it’s still enough to cause pause. As I stated in my review of Episode 402, I believe that Lady Olenna is directly responsible for Joffrey’s death, although my belief that Margaery was also involved appears to have been misplaced. Here we see Olenna’s motivation – a more easily manipulable king in the capable hands of her granddaughter.

In the kind of cut Benioff and Weiss like to set up, we go from this discussion immediately to a scene with Tommen. He’s at his brother’s side, where his body lies in the Great Sept of Baelor, the site of his wedding in the previous episode. With are his mother and father – er, sorry, uncle – as well as grandfather Tywin. Much to Cersei’s chagrin, Tywin sees this situation as an opportunity to give Tommen a lesson in kingship. You can see he’s already taken a liking to having the younger grandson as king. He tells Tommen that Joffrey was “Not a good king nor a wise king,” the kind of honesty which might have been better admitted back when the family was raising the future monarch. Together with Tommen, he enumerates various qualities a good king needs, settling on wisdom as being the most important. Of course, he implies, part of having great wisdom is knowing when to listen to your grandfather. Jaime asks everyone to leave the Sept, so that Cersei can have some time alone with her son.

As soon as everyone else has left, Cersei asks Jaime to kill Tyrion. He refuses, reminding her that he`s their brother. It`s clear that she doesn’t care, insisting that Tyrion killed their son. Instead of agreeing to help her, Jaime forces himself on Cersei. He asks why he has been cursed “to love a hateful woman,” and forces her to the floor, ripping off her clothing as she tells him “No” over and over again. Yes, they have been lovers for a very long time, and yes, they have three children together; but what he does is clearly rape – I won`t go into further details here, but you can read my take in my editorial published shortly after the episode aired.

Contrasting this very uncomfortable scene is the next, wherein we see a group of people engaging in consensual – if paid for – sex. Prince Oberyn and his paramour, Ellaria, are in one of Littlefinger’s brothels, when they are joined by Tywin. The room is cleared, and it is clear exactly how Oberyn feels about the House Lannister patriarch. Tywin begins in the role of investigator, casually mentioning Oberyn’s knowledge of poisons – Oberyn takes offense, pointing out that it is this very knowledge that allowed him to recognize that poison was used to murder Joffrey. He turns the conversation to his advantage, accusing Tywin of ordering his men to rape and murder Oberyn’s sister, Elia. Tywin claims to have had no knowledge of the Mountain’s actions prior to the rape and murder, nor of the murder of Elia’s children during the sack of King’s Landing, but you can tell by the set of Oberyn’s jaw that he isn’t buying a word of it. He is, however, interested in Tywin’s offer: join the Small Council, be a judge in Tyrion’s trial, and he’ll get a shot at the Mountain. You can see the cogs and wheels spinning in Oberyn’s eyes.

The last scene we get from King’s Landing in the episode is of Tyrion in his prison cell. He’s visited by Podrick Payne, who has smuggled several small objects in for Tyrion, including candles, pen, ink and paper. Sadly, he couldn’t get the wine past the guards. Pod’s loyalty to Tyrion is admirable, but Tyrion is adamant – Pod must leave King’s Landing, because if he refuses to help Cersei’s cause against him, he’s afraid that his young squire will end up dead. Pod is very resistant, but Tyrion usually finds a way to get what he wants. We’re told, in addition, that the trial is two weeks – a fortnight – away.


Essos – Slaver’s Bay – Meereen

The episode ends on Dany’s arrival at Meereen. She’s visibly angered at having passed the 163 slave children nailed to posts along her route, and is in no mood to negotiate with the Masters of Meereen. As her army of Unsullied lines up, the gates of Meereen open a crack, a lone rider exiting. He rides around a bit, looking impressive, and then urinates in front of Dany while shouting out challenges. Ser Barristan explains that he’s a champion for Meereen, and that she is expected to choose a champion to fight him on her behalf. Gray Worm offers himself first, but she denies him; next, Ser Barristan, and again she refuse; third, Ser Jorah, whom she calls her best adviser and “closest friend” – she refuses to risk him. Finally, Daario offers to be her champion, pointing out that he is both new and expendable. She agrees to let him, and he stands alone to face the man on horse, naught but a short sword for one hand, and a throwing dagger for the other. As the horseman approaches, he kills the horse with his dagger thrown directly into the beast’s eye, and then quickly dispatches the fallen champion. He then urinates on the man’s body.

Dany, her champion victorious, addresses Meereen – but she doesn’t talk to the Masters, focusing instead on the slaves. She talks about her previous battles in Slaver’s Bay, and she has the former slaves at her back to support her words. She then bombards the city, but not with rocks and bombs; instead, she sends barrels full of removed chokers over the walls. The looks on the Masters’ faces as they see their slaves holding up the collars is one of grave concern. Dany’s attempting to take this city in a way she didn’t in the earlier battles she faced; instead of a frontal assault, she is trying to foment rebellion from within. In a sense, this would give the slaves ownership of their freedom, and greater agency in their future decisions.


Summary

Episode 403 provided us with some insights into Joffrey’s death – primarily that it was Olenna aided by Littlefinger, who just happened to have aims that coincided in the moment. Oberyn shows a willingness to sleep with the enemy to get to the truth – but then again, Oberyn shows a willingness to sleep with most everyone. Tyrion is alone, and trying to push away those that would remain close. Arya learned a new lesson from the Hound, one that is about as realpolitik as they come. Ser Davos looks to have found a way to make his king relevant again, despite Stannis’s objections to hiring sellswords. And Sam is trying to make resolute decisions at the Wall, without having much resolve about him whatsoever.

Steve’s Grade: B
It’s hard to follow an episode that includes the graphic death of a much-hated character, and this episode appeared to be a little lost at times, especially with the misguided and off-canon sex scene between Cersei and Jaime. Oberyn continues to absolutely shine as the most interesting character introduced this season.

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