How many Game of Thrones viewers do you reckon have also read the books? A third? Fewer?
I don’t mean, how many started watching the series, picked up a copy of A Game of Thrones, and are presently marooned midway through A Clash of Kings, whilst the series picks over the bones of A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons.
The truth is that, however good the books are (And they are very good -Ed) the fact that they tend towards the sprawling epic side of fantasy fiction (And they are epically sprawling -Ed) will always make a five-series-and-counting TV series more accessible to 90% of people. That’s a criticism of neither, but a fact of life.
The fact is also that the distance between the books and the show is growing with each season. There are several storylines in the TV series which do not, directly, stem from the books. Others are being truncated, abbreviated, accelerated, to make up for the fact that whilst George R.R. Martin can take as long as he bloody well likes to finish his story, TV execs are a lot less patient.
So if there seems to be a lot going on in Thrones, spare a thought for those still labour through the books (And waiting for the next one to be published, which to be honest takes the bulk of the time -Ed).
After her wedding, Sansa is kept locked in her chamber at Winterfell by Ramsay, with her only a faint hope of salvation flickering away. Stannis and his armies find the road to Winterfell more difficult than they had expected. At Castle Black, as Jon Snow departs for Hardhome, Sam is left with a dwindling supply of friends. In Essos, Jorah hopes to win his way through the fighting pits to an audience with Danaerys. In Dorne, Jaime and Bronn both find themselves in positions they hadn’t planned for. And in the capital, Cersei’s schemes finally start to unravel.
So after the scene which caused all the controversy last week,Sansa is still not being terribly well treated by her new husband. Locked in her room all day, and “hurt” by Ramsay each night, I can definitely see the point of those who complain that Sansa seems just to be a sponge for punishment. That’s not a reason to knock the show necessarily, but one does wonder when the poor girl will catch a break.
Not this episode. She tries to enlist Theon’s help. Which, frankly, is never a good idea, but there you go. She gives him a candle and asks him to light it at the top of the broken tower, to summon her family’s friends to help her. And he takes it straight to Ramsay (Because of course he does -Ed). So Brienne isn’t coming to rescue Sansa, we don’t get to see how she’d even begin to manage that, and the old woman who told her that the North remembers gets flayed alive.
We’re now getting a real sense of winter arriving. Anything north of the Neck seems to be dusted with icing sugar. Stannis’ army doesn’t seem to be having much fun of it, being marooned in a snowstorm with horses dying left right and centre. A group of sellswords have taken the opportunity to bugger off, and Davos clearly thinks that they should go back to Castle Black to wait out the winter. As Stannis points out, though, that could take years — and if he turns back again he’ll be forever known as Colonel Runaway. I mean, the King who Ran.
Melissandre reassures him that his victory is at hand, and reveals that his vision at the end season three was of a great battle in the snow. She herself has apparently seen the flayed man banners being taken down at Winterfell, as she walks along the battlements. She’s so confident, in fact, that she wants to sacrifice Stannis’ daughter to the Lord of Light. “Are you mad?” he asks, of the woman who gave birth to a shadow assassin which looked the spit of him and killed his brother.
At the wall, Jon Snow sets out with Tormund to retrieve the remaining Wildlings and offer them sanctuary south of the Wall. If Jon thought that making Ser Alliser Thorne the new First Ranger had bought him off, he’s mistaken; the grizzled old knight reminds his Lord Commander that he doesn’t think this the best idea.
Sam, meanwhile, is left with an ever-dwindling number of friends at Castle Black, which dwindles yet further with the very sad passing of Maester Aemon, who in his final moments returns to the young Targaryen prince he used to be. Sam eulogises him fittingly, but he is very much an outcast at the Wall. When a pair of watchmen attack Gilly, he bravely stands up for her. And, naturally, gets pummelled. But he gets back up, and that frightens the hell out of them.
And as she cleans the blood off his face, whilst he is still promising to protect her and her baby, Game of Thrones gives us one of its most genuine, realistic sex scenes yet.
And on to in Dorne, where one things winter will never be more than a distant dream. After the failed kidnapping/rescue, Bronn and the Sand Snakes are in a cell. Jaime, meanwhile, is in a palace. Myrcella confronts him, showing her to him that she is unharmed. But she doesn’t want to leave, she wants to stay and marry Trystane — which is what her mother sent her to Dorne in the first place for. The look on Jaime’s face when she says that he doesn’t know her shows exactly why it had to be him to go to rescue her.
In the cells, Bronn regales Oberyn’s bastards with his singing voice, and uncouth songs about Dornishmen and their wives. Typical Bronn. One of the Sand Snakes — Tyene — flirts with him. Remember the cut that he received in the skirmish last episode? Well, true to her father’s style, Tyene poisoned her blade. She offers him the antidote, but only if he names her the most beautiful woman in the world. Which, to be fair, by that point doesn’t seem like much of a hardship to him.
I’m not sure what this scene adds, to be honest. It’s always nice to see Bronn, but in an episode of advancing plots, this felt a little like dead space. If it fleshes out the Sand Snakes a little (Hehe -Ed) then maybe it does some good, but I’m unconvinced.
In Essos, the slavers put Jorah and Tyrion up for sale, where a fighting master buys the both — Tyrion, after he beats one of the attendants to make a point. They are thrown into a preliminary fight to work their way up to the big finale. Except, Danearys shows up unexpectedly, and is disgusted by the slaughter. Jorah gets her attention by subduing the lot without killing a one, before triumphantly removing his helmet Gladiator-style.
The Queen is…not thrilled, seeing him after she banished him. He stops her with talk of his gift, before the halfman walks out and introduces himself, to general shock and awe.
And down in the capital, Cersei is standing victorious. Margaery and Loras Tyrell are in the cells, and her son’s anger is entirely impotent. Lady Olenna is furious, trying unsuccessfully to scorn the High Sparrow into releasing her grandchildren, before turning to Littlefinger, who offers her information and a “young man”.
Cersei’s victory tour takes her with venison stew to Margaery’s cell, to give the imprisoned queen the line of the episode — “Get out you hateful bitch!”. She then goes to the High Sparrow to make sure that the fall of her enemies will be permanent. He gives a long speech about a young man who came to him at his lowest ebb, before producing Lancel Lannister. And the trap which Cersei has been spinning around herself all season snaps shut, and she is hauled off to her own cell.
Well, that was predictable…
So this was a very busy episode. There’s a whole plethora of storylines which the show is marching through with a lot more haste than Stannis’ armies. I am impressed at the way that they’ve managed to cut so neatly through the Gordian knot of George R.R. Martin’s novels.
Winter, too, is well and truly here, sweeping down from the north with the threat of the White Walkers. Still that particular big bad threat goes unnoticed amid the games of thrones down south.
We’re into the endgame of this season, with only three more episodes left to go. If they’re as action packed and exciting — through character-driven tension — as this then this will fulfil my prophecy of being the best season of the show yet.
And if that doesn’t jinx it, nothing will.
- Whilst Tyene wearing the antidote as a necklace is clearly done for the, err, tracking shot, it actually makes a lot of sense. You cover your knife in poison, you want to keep that antidote damn close just in case you slip and cut yourself.
- Jorah’s achievements are a little exaggerated. He wasn’t first through the breach with a flaming sword at the battle of “spike” — that was Thoros of Myr, with Jorah behind him, at Pyke. He didn’t kill Khal Drogo; if anyone gets that honour it’s that witch who Dany enlisted. And he didn’t sell himself into slavery to pay his debts, he sold some poachers — hence his exile.
- Why did Sansa tell Theon what the candle was for? She could have said it was in memory of Bran. For that matter, she could have come up with a thousand excuses to persuade Ramsay to let her do it.
- Littlefinger’s brothel looks very much like it might have seen it’s last orgy.
- Maester Aemon lived to 104. And now his watch is over…