Now that’ve we’ve gotten the first big death of Season Four out of the way, it’s time to move on and remember that Westeros is a big place, with seemingly every corner stuffed with stories.
‘The sprawl’ is one of the biggest attractions to Game of Thrones’ unconventional style of story-telling, and also what makes it somewhat frustratingly impossible to sum up in an easy fashion. After the longest prolonged scene in the series’ history last week (which concluded with us saying goodbye to one of its most hated characters), Benioff, Weiss & Martin’s proverbial omnipotent camera doesn’t just zoom out in Episode Four, it proceeds to pull a full-blow Don Siegel-style helicopter shot, in which we get a God’s Eye view of many goings-on. Despite resolving the cliffhanger we were left on by ‘The Lion and the Rose’ in its initial scene, ‘Breaker of Chains’ is a (possibly healthy) reminder that the world is what take precedence in Game of Thrones, not a singular, easy-to-circumscribe narrative arc.
We open in media res — a king lying dead with his mother screaming for her brother to be arrested for her son’s murder. As Tyrion is hauled away, Dontos the Drunken Fool hurries Sansa through King’s Landing so that they may escape the city before Tywin Lannister can have it quarantined for investigation. At first, it’s a somewhat baffling storytelling decision, as Danos is an absolute misfit and couldn’t possibly be able to fool one of the greatest strategic thinkers in all of the land. Sure, weird stuff happens in Westeros all the time, but the idea that a stumblebum could thwart the plans of a man whose mere presence tips the scales in the favor of whatever army he’s heading requires a suspension of disbelief too great for even this dragon-filled soap. Sure enough, when Sansa and Dontos arrive via rowboat to a sizable getaway ship (shrouded by a fog so thick it practically looks like the head on a lovely lager), we discover that none other than Littlefinger has been the one mapping out the plays in this book. It’s a joy to see Aidan Gillen finally join the Season Four shindig, as his slimy presence as Petyr Bealish is one that’s been sorely missed.
Meanwhile, in the rest of Westeros, nearly everybody (including folks you might’ve started to love) is engaging in some seriously fucked up behavior. Ygritte, still nursing a heart broken by Jon Snow, shoots a poor villager through the throat in front of his young son before leading a horde of marauders into a village to create and eat numerous corpses. The Hound rips off a widowed farmer in front of his young daughter (sending Arya into a rage). Downtrodden, road-to-redemption-bound Jaime, pisses away all audience goodwill he’s built by forcing rough, ugly sex on his twin sister beside their son’s barely cold corpse (reminding us that this is indeed the same man who threw a child out of an open window when we first met him). Even Samwell Tarly, the show’s until-now unwavering moral compass, abandons the love of his life and her tiny baby in a probably-STD-ridden brothel. It’s a plethora of poor decisions that acts as cold reminder that Game of Thrones is one of the meanest pieces of television ever conceived when it wants to be.
Cersei’s accusations of him being Kingslayer: Part Deux have landed Tyrion in jail and all he can do is sit and wait for trial. Podrick informs him that Bronn is forbidden to visit the prison, and that Prince Oberyn (who just loves his damn orgies) is to serve as the third judge at his trial. The subsequent farewell between Tyrion and Podrick is touching, simply because we learn that the young squire has no intentions of betraying his master, thus leading Tyrion to dismiss him from his service (lest Podrick enjoy torture and death). All the while, Tywin has already annointed his grandson, Tommen, to be Joffrey’s succsessor to the trone via an elaborate Socratic history lession (that stands as one of the best examples of screenwriting the show has ever seen).
Over in Dragonstone, Stannis Baratheon is ecstatic (well, at least his version of ecstatic) that Joffrey is no more and that Melisandre’s love of leeches sems to have worked wonders for his destiny yet again. Yet his excitement is overshadowed by the fact that he’s too cheap to pay for an army in order to stake his rightful claim to the throne. And while we’re on the issue of cheapness, the “Mother of Dragons” closes the episode by yet again rolling into a city and letting its rulers know that she intends integrate all of their slave labor into her own personal army of free men and women. It’s a rousing finish to a fairly insidious hour of television that leaves you breathless and ready for more Khaleesi.
Before I go, let’s talk about this soon-to-be-infamous sex scene for a moment. I’ve already read numerous moments of undercooked outrage on the Internet (is there really any other kind?), claiming that it’s a “poor character decision” and that they “can’t believe they’d deviate from the books”. While yes, the “rapier” aspects of Jamie and Cersei’s forced coupling are definitely a new addition, I don’t think that it’s completely out of line for the show-runners to punish us for indulging our near sociopathic want for Joffrey’s blood last week (this distinctly seems to be a “one for us” moment, in which a character we’ve enjoyed seeing right his own moral journey suddenly goes back to his evil ways). Jamie is a a man who threw a child out of a window when we first met him, after all, and while his trials and tribulations with Brienne seemed to have humbled the Kingslayer into rethinking his path, the misery he’s endured after returning to King’s Landing has basically taught him that it was all for naught. This isn’t excusing what he did in any way (viewers need to figure out that depiction of a terrible act in fiction doesn’t necessarily mean its authors condone the character’s behavior) but could explain his mindset when he finally “took” what he wanted next to his incestuous product’s still-chilling cadaver. As for the show’s perceived misogyny (which, to be fair, can be easily argued), it remains be to be seen if this will be the beginning of an alternate textual journey for both characters, or if it will be a problematic change, a la Daenerys Targaryen’s post-rape romance with Khal Drogo. As it stands, the scene is yet another example of Game of Thrones’ borderline contempt for its audience; nobody gets off clean, including the crowd who just previously called for a boy king’s head.