Last week I said that season premieres are essentially about asking questions and making us excited to hear the answers. So, did the second episode of Game of Thrones’ third season lead us in the right direction?
Note: Once again, this is an advance review, so I won’t be recapping much in the way of plot details here. There will, however, be details from the season premiere, so if you haven’t watched that yet you might want to look away until you’ve caught up.
In the North, Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) meets some new companions, and learns more about those strange dreams he’s been having. In King’s Landing, Sansa (Sophie Turner) grows closer to future Queen Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) and meets Margaery’s formidable grandmother, Lady Olenna (Diana Rigg), while Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) shows off for his future bride, and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) tries to keep Shae (Sibel Kekilli) safe even as Shae takes a greater interest in Sansa’s affairs. Beyond the Wall, Sam (John Bradley) feels the pressure of the long march, while Jon (Kit Harington) tries to get closer to the King Beyond the Wall, Mance Rayder (Ciaran Hinds). In the Westerlands, Arya (Maisie Williams) meets unlikely allies (and an old enemy), Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) get a bit too close to civilization, and Robb (Richard Madden) and Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) receive some unwelcome news. Plus, we finally get to see (some of) what happened to Theon (Alfie Allen).
Last week I said that the key criticism of the season premiere would be that it was slow, and it certainly seems that’s (mostly) been the case. I don’t know if this episode is actually faster, because jumping around between so many characters can create the illusion of speed even when there isn’t any, but I will say that it’s more immediately engaging than the episode that came before. Some of that is simply that we’re beginning to answer those questions I talked about before, setting characters on paths and moving them forward. But a larger part, perhaps, is that the show is embracing one of its great strengths that other shows might simply ignore: its minor characters.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, Game of Thrones fans have their favorites. Daenerys is a big one, as is Tyrion, and Jon and even Jaime, but the show is also blessed to have a massive (and always growing) ensemble to pull interesting scenes from, and one of the great virtues of “Dark Wings, “Dark Words” is its ability to highlight that ensemble. I won’t spoil exactly what it is, but Catelyn has what might be her best scene of the series (so far) in this episode. Fairley digs deep into the character’s pain and regret and fear and reminds us why Arya isn’t the only Stark that matters (Robb and Sansa can be a bit boring, I know). Bran also gets more interesting in this episode, as his storyline finally becomes more than the flailing desperation he’s felt for what feels like forever. There are big things ahead for Bran, and this episode showcases that more than any other.
But if I had to pick one thing about this episode that both highlights the ensemble spirit of the show and heralds intriguing things ahead, it’s the Tyrells. Margaery is ever more interesting, particularly as she works to get her hooks in Joffrey, but Diana Rigg proves an absolute scene stealer in this episode as Lady Olenna. She’s exactly the kind of woman you want in Game of Thrones, and she’s so much fun to watch that I was actually distracted by her memory in later scenes of the episode. I wanted her back. I wanted more of Olenna’s venom and wit and raw attitude. It’s the kind of thing a show like this can pull off, and Rigg fits right in with the rest of the cast.
“Dark Wings, Dark Words” also has the virtue (which, again, I won’t completely spoil for you) of delivering a kind of buildup that some of the best Game of Thrones episodes have given us. It starts on a more cerebral note, then slowly works its way into absolute plot, until by the end you’re seeing developments that completely change the game. It happened quite a bit last season, and though the arrival of Barristan Selmy at the end of last week’s episode certainly counts as a plot-changer, the things that happen near the end of this episode blow that revelation out of the water.
“Dark Wings, Dark Words” is the perfect follow-up to the very question-filled season premiere, and things can only get bigger from here.