‘Game of Thrones’ 4.03 Episode Review and Recap: Breaker of Chains

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In the wake of King Joffrey’s (or simply the hilariously pleasant “Joff,” if we’re to follow Cersei’s lead) grisly death last week, King’s Landing has morphed into a jumbo CSI episode, and things have gone a bit sour for everyone involved. Understandably, Cersei is a finger-pointing wreck. Throughout the episode, she vacillates between playing either the tearful picture of maternal grief or the ferocious ringleader of the execute-Tyrion campaign, and our sympathies rise and fall accordingly.

Now, in the closing scene of last week’s episode, Joffrey’s purple face is still warm in his mother’s lap – she looks up, catches Tyrion holding the poisoned wine cup, and jumps at the enticing chance to simultaneously designate a culprit and potentially ruin and/or end her brother’s life, all wrapped up in a neat little package. It made sense at the time and gave us a supremely theatrical end-scene that might even put a few soap operas to shame. But after a moderate cooling period (it’s unclear how long this is, Tyrion’s scruff suggests a few days at most), wouldn’t you think that Cersei, as incredibly shrewd as she is presently grief-ridden, would come to her senses just a bit? That she’d remember to weigh Tyrion’s relatively modest track record of violence against his fighting words? That Joff’s enemies extend far beyond the Red Keep and the real murderer is probably not quite dumb enough to remain at the scene of the crime, holding the cup that killed the king of Westeros? Maybe she’s genuinely blinded by despair, or maybe she knows her theory is a little whacked and is aggressively ignoring the truth so that Tyrion, whose ill will towards her has been made quite clear, will get the axe – I don’t know, it just seems pretty uncharacteristic of Cersei to stumble around King’s Landing with such a butterfingered who-dunnit hypothesis and refuse to explore other possible routes. Smells a little funky.

Before Joffrey has even gasped his last breath, Sansa is promptly whisked away from the murder scene, forced to climb onto an unfamiliar ship, and pulled right into the waiting arms of none other than Petyr Baelish. Ah, Littlefinger, how we’ve missed your nasally chatter and ambiguously sinister tendencies. I have to admit, I’d been holding onto the fantasy that news of childhood sweetheart Catelyn’s death had pushed Petyr into a downward spiral of heartache – that he’s been curled up in a brothel somewhere, drinking around the clock and tearfully devouring Westeros’ equivalent of Ben & Jerry’s, never to be seen again. But alas, he’s back in all his slimy, selfish glory, insisting to Sansa that she’s safe with him and reminding her of his bumper sticker-ready mantra: “We’re all liars here.”

After shooting Sansa’s escort, Dontos – the drunken fool who stalked her and begged that she wear his family heirloom necklace as a last hurrah – Littlefinger reveals that the fool had been a hired hand all along, not an indebted subject with a favor to repay. Silly Sansa, you actually thought you might’ve had a straightforward, heartfelt connection with someone? This is King’s Landing! So, what are we meant to take from this? That Littlefinger is the primary suspect behind Operation Kill Joff? Poisoning the king is an act of unprecedented boldness, and that’s just not Littlefinger’s style. He skulks around in dark corridors and whispers in the ears of higher-ups, he manipulates and double-crosses and deceives to achieve an ultimate goal – he doesn’t just poison the freakin’ king! Even though the whole thing reeks of Petyr’s cunning, this is likely a deeper and more extensive affair in which he has played some part.

Freshly widowed with neither a king nor a royal pregnancy to cement her claim as Queen, Lady Margaery is left somewhat in the lurch. But this is all very old hat for her – when your king dies, you find a new one! Third time’s the charm, right? It’s impossible not to give a morbid chuckle at Lady Olenna’s utter nonchalance about Joffrey’s death – another day, another dead king – what a snooze! “You did wonderful work on Joffrey,” she tells Margaery, as if the engagement was a particularly trying school project. “The next one should be easier.” Olenna  is a seasoned veteran of Westeros drama and it’s apparently impossible to ruffle her gilded feathers. Forget dragons and armies, she’s the one I’d follow into battle.

At dead Joffrey’s side, the Lannisters continue to stir the pot. During the most sensitive and painful of times, Tywin seizes the opportunity to wiggle his way into the beginnings of the new reign – that of Tommen Lannister. Although he shares his older brother’s looks, the new king is softer, more naive, and likely less sadistic than Joffrey, so Grandpa Tywin wastes no time in beginning the twisted process of molding Tommen for the throne. After a brief history lesson in which past kings are belittled and brushed aside for their flaws, Tywin takes his impressionable grandson for a stroll, lecturing about necessary kingly qualities, the birds and the bees, and most crucially, the dire importance of listening to royal advisors. Pretty convenient advice, seeing as Tywin remains Hand of the King.  In just a few minutes, he captures Tommen’s undivided attention and effectively carves out a place for himself right beside the Iron Throne – a slick and chilling precursor to what may well be the reign of Tywin Lannister’s very own talking head. Who knows, maybe pseudo-King Tywin could be great for the kingdom – he’s a terrible person, yes, but he thinks seven steps ahead of everyone else. Or, maybe he’s a sociopath who’ll ruin Tommen and all under his reign with his thirst for power. We’ll see.

Later in the episode, Tywin continues to strike while the political iron is hot and the throne empty, inviting Oberyn Martel to serve as a judge during Tyrion’s trial as well as the more permanent position of an advisor on the small council. The idea is to patch up existing animosities (in this case, Dornish ones) so as to gather the defenses as tightly as possible before outside forces take action against the Seven Kingdoms. As Tyrion says later in the episode, “[My father] never fails to take advantage of family tragedy.”

After Tywin and Tommen depart, Jaime enters the sept and dismisses the guards and various onlookers so he can grab some alone time with his sister. Staring at Joffrey’s illuminated corpse, Cersei demands of Jaime one of the only things he’s likely to refuse – “Avenge our son,” she says. “Kill Tyrion.” Understandably disgruntled by such a request, Jaime gently reminds her to wait for the trial – “Tyrion is my brother,” he tells her. She doesn’t seem to have forgotten. The scene escalates with a kiss and an embrace until Cersei, clearly turned off by the realization that Joffrey’s wake is hardly an ideal setting for a make-out session, pulls away. Frustrated, hurt, and repressed, Jaime proceeds to rape her. It’s a highly disturbing scene on so many levels, not the least of which involves the image of Joffrey’s body jostling as his father wrestles Cersei to the ground. “It’s not right,” she cries repeatedly, presumably referring to the unsavory circumstances but also highlighting the horrendously crooked nature of their relationship as a whole. “I don’t care,” Jaime growls each time she protests. What with last season’s exposition of what really happened with the Mad King, his budding friendship with Brienne, and general nicreased kindliness, Jaime’s likability as a character has soared in recent episodes. Not since he pushed Bran out the window has Jaime done something so despicable and unforgivable. The Lannister incest is one of the most convoluted and fascinating relationships in the show, and if this rape doesn’t completely derail that, it’ll surely have severe repercussions. So much for a positive character arc.

News of civilian massacre by the wildlings and their cannibalistic allies, the Thenns, reaches Castle Black and a conflicted bunch of Crows. On one hand, keeping watch on the Wall is paramount. On the other, how can honorable men of the Night’s Watch stand by idly while their enemies continue to attack innocents?

In the meantime, big Sam is still dragging Gilly and little Sam around as he struggles to keep his romantic feelings at bay. Gilly is the lone female in the midst of a hundred men who have sworn oaths of abstinence, and Sam is not oblivious to the danger in which this puts her. She’s gotta get out of there before she goes the way of Cersei. Despite Gilly’s shortsighted protests and not-so-subtle attempts to rub away at his celibate vows, Sam drops her off at a nearby brothel-pub where she can live safely and take care of the whores’ babies while they work. And Gilly is not pleased. No, it’s not an ideal situation, and yes, there may have been a sweeter alternative – but let’s not forget that Sam rescued Gilly in the first place and then proceeded to protect and care for her over the course of a long, dangerous journey. It’s a lot like the Shae/Tyrion situation which was thankfully resolved last week, and it’s almost as irritating to deal with. I like Gilly. But, like Shae, she has a very inflated sense of entitlement when it comes to her male counterpart, and it engenders petty drama where the plot didn’t require any. Sam is fiercely protective of Gilly and has really put himself on the line to keep her safe. Even if there is a moderate level of self-interest in Sam’s decision to send her off, it’s a pretty reasonable and well-deserved step to take.

After last week’s display of bloodlust, Arya and the Hound continue on their merry way to the Eyrie, where Lysa Arryn and her breastfeeding little monster will ideally pay a pretty penny for Arya’s ransom. The pair stop to water the horses and observe the Hound’s mucous-tossing abilities when they’re confronted by a frail-looking widower and his frailer-looking daughter. After Arya concocts a quick fib which involves the Hound, apparently her father, fighting for House Tully, she accepts the man’s courteous invitation for supper. The morning after the uncomfortable meal, Arya wakes and is outraged to find that the Hound has beaten and robbed their host and is preparing to depart once again. “They’ll both be dead by winter,” he tells her. In one of his searing retorts (these are quickly becoming his hilarious and unexpected trademark), the Hound says “There are plenty [men] worse than me. I just understand the way things are. How many Starks they got to behead before you figure it out?”

After last week’s hiatus, we return to Daenerys & Co. just outside the gates of Meereen, the largest of the slave cities. Meereen apparently demands a small fight to the death as a prerequisite for chats with outsiders, so Daario Naharis bravely volunteers to battle the enemy’s lone horseman. Of course, he shreds the competition with little more than a flick of the wrist. The dangerous, cocksure image of Naharis put forth by the writers and previously handled by the first actor stands in stark contrast to the remarkably unremarkable performance of this bland new guy. Huisman doesn’t strike me as an enigmatic badass warrior, he strikes me as a flat, meek college dude who might pull out an acoustic guitar and play “Wonderwall” at any moment. The guy bores me. But back to the Khaleesi. Dany has really refined her prowess as a leader and an orator, and even though her plot line has remained relatively uniform for many episodes now and teeters towards staleness, it’s always a pleasure to watch the Mother of Dragons wrap thousands of slaves around her finger with a short-but-masterful schtick about freedom. The girl has multiple cities worth of fervently devoted troops, not to mention three dragons – Westeros has no idea what’s coming. After she’s made her point to her audience at Meereen, Dany watches as her army launches chests of broken chains at the slaves – a wordless symbol of the freedom that awaits on the other side of a rebellion.

Game of Thrones episodes are typically pretty similar in that they race to touch on as many storylines in as many locations as possible – last week was an anomaly because the Purple Wedding was such a groundshaking event that it required most of the episode’s attention. Of course, there’s a massive abundance of points that the writers have to touch on in each episode and it can’t be easy to make them all flow, but this one did feel stretched a little bit thin. I wish we could’ve spent some more time on King’s Landing and let the drier wildling story wait for a bit, but it was a great episode all the same.

Pictured: Peter Dinklage
Photo Credit: Neil Davidson/HBO


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  1. I agree about Daario Naharis – I find it extremely distracting and keep thinking “who is this guys?” Seems like they could have at least gotten somebody that remotely resembled the previous actor. Aside from that, it’s been a good season, lots of action real fast. I think more people than Littlefinger were involved though I have no idea who or how man, he just took advantage of it as is his way.