TV review: Game of Thrones 4.3 — “Breaker of Chains”

Game of Thrones Breaker of ChainsThe so-called “game of thrones” is, at its most basic, a numbers game, as “Breaker of Chains” reminds us over and over again this week. Gold and men are what matters in Westeros. If you have the first, you can get the second. If you have the second, you’ve got a chance at ruling the seven kingdoms. If you have neither, you’re screwed. Just ask Stannis, who learns of Joffrey’s death this week and realizes his claim on the throne grows weaker all the time. He needs one or the other in a hurry, or he’ll have missed his shot at the crown. The Night’s Watch needs men too. Mance Rayder and his army are coming, and the only thing delaying a probable onslaught is the fact that Mance isn’t aware that the Watch are drastically under-staffed. Even Tywin Lannister, who basically sits atop the standings in the Westeros sweepstakes, knows you can never have enough soldiers ready to die for your cause. He doesn’t take even a moment to mourn Joffrey’s death before finding a way to use it to his political advantage. Appointing Oberyn Martell as one the judges who will decide Tyrion’s fate is step one in forging an alliance between the Lannisters and the kingdom of Dorne.

Yep, everyone seems to know it all comes down to basic accounting. Especially Daenerys, who arrives at the city of Meereen to make its slaves a simple offer: Overthrow your masters, come fight at my side, and you will be free. Once they see all the broken collars and busted chains that Daenerys has catapulted into the city in a rousing final scene, how could they resist? I’m still not used to New Daario, but I never seem to tire of the Queen of Dragons pulling into cities controlled by uppity rich slave owners and royally fucking up their shit.

If Daenerys provided this episode’s feel-good moment, there’s no doubt who was responsible for its opposite. Early on in the hour, Jaime Lannister rapes his sister/ex-lover Cersei next to their son Joffrey’s still-fresh corpse. Yeah, it’s just as awful as it sounds, and I can’t imagine a more uncomfortable scene airing in a televised drama this year. It’s off-putting in so many ways, not the least of which is because it seems like one of the show’s primary missions over the last two seasons was to redeem Jaime. But why bother spending so much time breaking down and rebuilding the character when you’re heading to a point that’s just as despicable as Jaime pushing Bran out of the window back in the series’ first episode? And, yes, I know Cersei’s well-being isn’t at the top of anyone’s list of concerns — moments before the rape she’s practically ordering Jaime to kill Tyrion – but this was still a particularly nasty bit of business and a reminder of just how harsh a show Game of Thrones can be. (See also: Tonight’s brutal assault on a small village by Ygritte’s band of Wildlings.)

Elsewhere on the Lannister front, Tywin is busy readying Tommen to be the new king. Wait … who the heck is Tommen? Well, he’s Joffrey’s brother, and don’t kick yourself if you forget he existed because I forgot too. Part of the problem with adapting a hugely complex, densely populated series of books is that the writers tend to ignore background characters who aren’t central to the main plot. But then problems can arise when a background character is suddenly brought to the foreground, as Tommen will apparently be. (For the record, he appeared intermittently during the first two seasons, sat last year out and has now been recast for the current season.) This issue grows even larger when the books are being adapted into a TV show that has seasons spaced a full year apart. Maybe Tommen’s suddenly reappearance won’t feel as jarring once Game of Thrones has wrapped and we all can quickly binge-rewatch the entire series, but as it stands, his reintroduction felt sloppy tonight.

The rest of the episode hummed along as usual though. Sam doesn’t feel good about Gilly and her baby hanging out at Castle Black, so he shuffles them off to live at a nearby town that seems way, way worse. Arya and The Hound continue their journey but still don’t see eye-to-eye on how to deal with strangers they meet on the road. Tyrion sits in a jail cell, weighing his options and freeing his squire, Pod, from any further obligations, lest it cost Pod his head. (Their scene together is genuinely touching, thanks to more strong work from Game of Thrones MVP Peter Dinklage.) And Sansa gets scooped up by Littlefinger, who apparently played a big part in Joffrey’s murder. Because of course he did. How did I not see that coming?!

A few more thoughts on “Breaker of Chains” …

– Smart move opening this episode with the same image of Joffrey’s lifeless face that closed out the last episode. It’s like they knew I wanted to see it and smile just one more time.

– Last week, I wondered if Joffrey’s death meant Margaery is now the queen. As it turns out, she’s wondering the same thing. Olenna seems to indicate it’s a bit of a grey area since the wedding was never consummated. (I should have known nothing’s official in King’s Landing until somebody gets laid.)

– “Money buys a man’s silence for a time. A bolt in the heart buys it forever.” I believe you can find these words of wisdom on page 46 of Littlefinger’s Guide to Surviving Westeros.

– “Just point out the next map shop that you see, and I’ll buy you one.” Oh, Hound, you’re so funny when you’re not beating and robbing poor innocent farmers.

– I know Daenerys’ dragons are hell on the show’s CGI budget, but now that they’re so large, isn’t it a bit odd when you don’t see them flying around her army? Where are we supposed to think the dragons are hanging out during those scenes in which they do not appear?

– I sort of think “The Ominous ‘They’” would have been a better title for this episode. Don’t you?