It’s a far fall from the top.
Tywin Lannister began this season as a winner. He devastated Stannis Baratheon’s forces during the Battle of the Blackwater. He crushed the Northern army by orchestrating Robb Stark’s assassination at the so-called “Red Wedding.” He even brought two new Valyrian swords into his family: Jaime Lannister’s Oathkeeper and King Joffrey’s Widow’s Wail, forged from the remains of Ice, the late Eddard Stark’s “absurdly large” great sword.
Fire and steel glimmered in Tywin’s eyes as he lorded over the creation of these two new weapons of war, glorified trophies honoring his efforts to keep the Iron Throne. It was a Lannister world, and everyone else was just living in it.
But that was before Joffrey choked to death at his own wedding feast, before Jaime showed his heart to be just as gold as his new hand, before his impish son Tyrion Lannister stood trial for Joffrey’s murder, before the Viper took on the Mountain, before Cersei told him about her children’s true parenthood — and certainly well before his final, fatal trip to the bathroom.
Game of Thrones deals in death. It always has, and it always will. Major characters die with the same ease as a Star Trek “red shirt.” The death of Ned Stark in season one made it clear that no one would ever be safe — and the subsequent deaths of Khal Drogo, Robb Stark, and more only punctuated the point.
But moreso than many other seasons, the show’s fourth year expanded the carnage to all-new heights. Joffrey Baratheon’s wicked flame fizzled out as early as episode two. Lysa Arryn “fell” out of the moon door some weeks later. One week after that, the Red Viper’s head painted King’s Landing a certain shade of brain. And then there was the battle at the Wall: Ygritte, kissed by fire, killed by an arrow, then kissed by fire again. Poor Pyp was likewise felled by an arrow, and gigantic Grenn crushed by a gigantic giant.
And there’s the finale. The Children claimed the lives of heroes and villains we’ve come to love and loathe. Tywin, who began season four with an iron grasp over the Seven Kingdoms, met his maker while sitting on an iron throne of a different color. Shae, Tyrion’s longtime paramour, lost her life, too, choked to death by the very same imp she helped sentence to death. Jojen Reed, traveling with Bran’s party beyond the Wall, turned into Jojen paste. And it certainly doesn’t look so good for The Hound following his meet-up with Brienne of Tarth.
There’s little doubt that Game of Thrones offered up its bloodiest season yet, in the form of season four. And yet, hope remains alive. It’s so easy to think of Westeros as the place where only bad things happen to good people. But that conclusion only works if you gloss over Jon Snow and the Night’s Watch’s unexpected victory at the Wall, thanks to the arrival of Stannis and his companions. It only works if you ignore that Bran finally met the Children of the Forest, and the fabled Three-Eyed Raven. It only works if you ignore that Arya has finally, finally, left Westeros behind. And it only works if you ignore that Tyrion Lannister is still alive — embittered and broken, but alive all the same.
Make no mistake: Tyrion’s continued survival was far from a guarantee. Everyone in King’s Landing wanted the imp’s head on a spike next to Ned Stark’s. Even for the viewers at home who couldn’t imagine Game of Thrones without Peter Dinklage on a weekly basis, there was at least a tinge of fear that the GRRM reaper would strike again at a fan-favorite character, as he’s done so many times before. And while circumstances are far from great for Tyrion, at least he still has his head — and while he still has his head, he has a chance to make a difference, if not a chance to find happiness.
But “happiness” and “Game of Thrones” are not words that go hand in hand. The HBO fantasy series evokes a wide range of responses from its watchers: dread, anticipation, excitement, pain — but rarely happiness. That’s not the end game for this bittersweet tale, and it never has been. But even though it doesn’t always look like it, Game of Thrones dances at the edge of balance; it stands with one shaky foot on the line that separates possibility from futility. Tyrion’s rise, and Tywin’s fall, is a testament to that balance.
Following the conclusion of its best season yet, Game of Thrones leans toward the realm of possibility, a hopeful place where differences can be made. We’ll just have to wait until season five returns to see how long it can stay there.
Next page: Sn. 4 Ep. 8: War comes to ‘The Watchers on the Wall’
While watching the latest hour of Game of Thrones, it’s hard not to think of another HBO series: Band of Brothers.
The 2001 World War II drama, an adaptation of Stephen E. Ambrose’s biography of the same name, tells the true story of Easy Company, and the various men from all walks of life who abandoned their old worlds and met in a new one: A dark, chaotic universe where safety is a higher commodity than gold. It’s one of the most riveting rounds of television that HBO has ever offered, and likely ever will offer, thanks to its roots in one of the most profound periods of human history.
Still, something about The Watchers on the Wall brought Band of Brothers to mind — specifically, the episode The Breaking Point, which features the men of Easy Company converging upon the village of Foy in Belgium, under the misguided leadership of a cowardly officer Lieutenant Dike. As men die all around him on the battlefield, thanks to his indecision, Dike freezes with panic, exposed for the gutless man everyone under his command already know him to be. Dike is relieved of his duty by Captain Ronald Speirs, already a legend within Easy Company; Speirs takes the reins and leads his men to victory against improbable odds, preventing a horrific situation from sinking deeper into the pit of despair.
In many ways, The Watchers on the Wall is The Breaking Point of Game of Thrones. We watched Jon Snow and his fellow new recruits of the Night’s Watch undergo boot camp during season one. We saw them on the field north of the Wall during their first mission in season two. We saw them on the run from White Walkers, wildlings and even themselves in season three. Now, with season four’s penultimate episode, these boys have become men, as war has finally arrived at their doorstep. As with The Breaking Point, The Watchers on the Wall demonstrates just how far Jon and his brothers have come along.
Samwell Tarly, a self-professed craven who can offer little more than the wisdom he gleans from reading, finds his inner-courage and protects defenseless Gilly from danger, inspires his comrades in arms to action, and even shoots a massive Thenn between the eyes with a crossbow. With one well-deployed arrow, an even better deployed F-bomb, and a better still deployed kiss, Sam becomes Sam the Slayer once more and forever.
Alliser Thorne, the hardnosed drill master who gave Snow so much grief during season one, now acting as Lord Commander of the Wall, owns up to his errors but refuses to dwell on them; there’s no time for regrets when the lives of every man on the Wall, and potentially every man, women and child south of it, are in his hands.
Janos Slynt, the former commander of King’s Landing’s City Watch, now serving out a life sentence on the Wall thanks to Tyrion Lannister’s clever season two manipulation, shows his true colors and pulls a Lieutenant Dike, frozen and incompetent when he’s put in charge of the Wall. When he’s finally relieved of duty by his subordinates, Slynt remains true to cowardly form, taking a page out of Paul Reiser’s Aliens playbook and ditching the action — except instead of meeting an acid-blooded alien just around the corner from the bloodshed, Slynt finds safe haven in the form of the meat locker Gilly is hiding in.
Gren and Pyp, two of the recruits who came with Jon Snow to the Wall almost 40 episodes ago, make their final Game of Thrones appearances during The Watchers on the Wall — Pyp skewered by an arrow, Gren skewering (and flattened by) a giant. These two characters entered Game of Thrones as boys, but they leave as men, sacrificing their lives in the service of a higher purpose.
And then there’s Jon Snow, who knows nothing and everything at once, proving his worth as a commander on the Wall, barking orders and guiding his brothers to victory against Mance Rayder’s massive army, if only for one night. He proves his worth as a fighter, too, as he wields the Valyrian sword Longclaw against the Magnar of Thenn’s mighty axe, ultimately ending the battle with a swift hammer to his enemy’s brain. He proves his worth as a man who is able to compartmentalize, deeply wounded when his one true love, the wildling archer Ygritte, dies in his arms — but he’s able to push past the pain long enough to know that there’s still work to be done if the Watch is to survive the continued wildling assault.
As the episode closes with Jon Snow marching out into the great white winter beyond the Wall, leaving his brothers behind for perhaps the last time, Game of Thrones likewise closes the book on a certain era. The boys of the Night’s Watch have officially become men — the ones who survived, and many of the ones who didn’t. Their numbers are few, especially stacked against Rayder’s forces. But what they lack in size, they compensate in courage. It’s that very precise notion of honor and duty that cements The Watchers on the Wall‘s status as the one of the most courageous, and certainly grandest, episodes of Game of Thrones to date.
Next page: Sn. 4 Ep. 8: Consider the Beetle
Consider the beetle.
In the darkest, most frightened parts of Tyrion Lannister’s soul, the imprisoned imp can’t do anything but consider the beetle. The “half man” thinks back on half-witted cousin Orson Lannister and his childhood activities of finding bugs and stomping their lives out, for no discernable reason. Tyrion studied Orson from afar, and even confronted the boy directly, to get an answer: How could anyone kill a creature so brutally, so suddenly, so needlessly?
On what could very well be one of the final days of his life, Tyrion still has no answer. In fact, the question has only intensified, as Tyrion and audience members alike watch the tale of the boy and the beetle play out in the form of the Mountain and the Red Viper. Just as Orson smashed those little bugs to bits, so too does Gregor Clegane squash Oberyn Martell’s head like a juicy zit that’s ready to pop — and squashing Tyrion’s last chance to survive his trial in the process.
With one grotesque pop of a head, Game of Thrones sacrificed one of its sexiest pawns to date, and put the life of the show’s de facto leading man in greater danger than ever before, as if that was even possible. And for what? So that the so-called Mountain That Rides, who has been played by three different actors in four seasons, could have his rock star moment? So we, the viewers, could be reminded of how dark and twisted a world Westeros is? So we can sweat it out another two weeks, waiting to see how Tyrion digs himself out of this deep pit of despair?
Maybe it’s all of those things, but maybe it’s something simpler. Maybe it’s the mere fact that on Game of Thrones, you can win, you can die, and there is a middle-ground, despite what some have said — and that middle-ground is life, and its often meaningless, meandering nature, embodied by the randomness of the beetle.
Consider the beetle, and consider Jorah Mormont. Consider that the bug sometimes lives if the bigger boot allows it. But even then, for Jorah, life is a lonely ride out into the desert marked by exile and dishonor for crimes committed a lifetime ago.
Consider Sansa Stark. Consider that the Disney princess façade of seasons past has cracked wide open, producing a politically savvy self-preservationist in its wake — a beautiful butterfly with all the cunning of the conniving Littlefinger.
Consider Arya Stark. Consider that even an insect, twisted and prodded by the various cruelties of life, can laugh in the face of the final straw — because the alternative, to break down and cry, is far too much to consider.
Consider Theon Greyjoy, who barely even considers himself anymore, and can only obey. Consider him little more than a domesticated, flea-ridden dog under the thumb of his master, newly legitimized Ramsay Bolton. Consider all of Theon’s awful atrocities over the years, and consider whether or not the sentence he now serves fits those crimes.
Two weeks ago, near the end of Mockingbird, Sansa sat and played in the snow, a child for the first time in ages, molding the falling white winter into something familiar: Winterfell, her old home in the great white north of Westeros. A shadow of its former self in reality, Winterfell thrives in Sansa’s memory, rendered into the physical realm in nearly note-for-note, all but perfect detail.
In seconds, Sansa’s dreams and dream world come crashing down, thanks to snotty Robin Arryn decimating the treasured snow castle for no real reason beyond “just because.”
Sansa’s annihilated snow castle and Tyrion’s tale of Orson’s beetles symbolize life at large, and the way Game of Thrones continues to unfold. George R.R. Martin, David Benioff, and D.B. Weiss are all Sansa, building beautiful castles in the snow. They are all Sweet Robin, smashing the castle with all of the horrific unpredictability of a temper tantrum. They are Orson Lannister, crushing bugs without discrimination — bugs like the Starks, and bugs like Oberyn Martell — because that’s what bigger creatures do to smaller ones.
Tyrion, like everyone else on Game of Thrones, is nothing more than a beetle under the shadow of a falling boot. Can he find safe harbor before the shoe drops, or will he end up on the business end of Orson’s boot, like so many other great beetles before him?
Next page: Sn. 4 Ep. 7 A dead ‘Mockingbird’ won’t sing
Game of Thrones Recap for Sn. 4 Ep. 7 ‘Mockingbird’
One week after Tyrion’s Jack Nicholson-inspired demand for trial by combat, “Mockingbird” immerses the greater Game of Thrones landscape in more truth, lies, and shattered expectations — in other words, just another day in the Seven Kingdoms.
For Melisandre, the phrase “the naked truth” takes on literal meaning, as the red priestess emerges from a bubble bath to instruct her student, Stannis Baratheon’s wife Selyse, on the art of deception. Admitting that most of her powers and potions are “lies and deception” at her disposal, Melisandre shines her much touted light on an otherwise dark part of her arsenal: “Tricks lead you to the truth.”
“Tricks lead you to the truth.”
Of course, Littlefinger’s continued reign of power assumes that Sansa’s lips will remain sealed. As the only witness to Lysa’s murder, Sansa could feasibly untangle Littlefinger’s tightly tailored web with one pull of a loose thread. But by now, Sansa knows all about the harsh realities of Westeros. Her Disney princess dreams died along with her father; these days, an ill-mannered kiss from a father figure, and the sudden execution of a family member, are nothing too new.
While Lysa dies from misguided love (and a well-placed shove), elsewhere in the world, someone else nurses a broken heart: Jorah Mormont, the knight and second-in-command to Daenerys Targaryen, sufficiently friend-zoned after his Khaleesi beds the mercenary Daario Noharis. The personal pride injury aside, Jorah feels the sting of truth as he watches Dany make military and policy decisions completely of her own accord, without Jorah’s input whatsoever. The Mother of Dragons is growing up, and fast. Soon, Jorah will have to decide whether he wants to live in her new world, or retreat to his old one.
As with Jorah, the bastard Jon Snow’s wisdom falls on deaf ears. In the far north of Westeros, the wildlings continue their march on the Wall, with a mind to sack it and invade the Seven Kingdoms. But aside from Jon’s craven comrade Sam, the rest of the Night’s Watch refuses to take Jon’s warnings seriously. He calls for extreme measures in defending the Wall, and the way in which he’s openly mocked suggests that the so-called “crows” are no where near prepared for Mance Rayder’s coming assault. Winter is coming, but Jon’s brothers-in-arms have no interest in studying the forecast.
Speaking of open mockery, we return to Tyrion, a man who knows a thing or two about the subject. After boldly calling for trial by combat, Tyrion finds himself without a champion. His brother, Jaime, can’t and won’t defend him, thanks to his crippled sword hand (or lack thereof) and assorted conflicts of interest. Bronn, Tyrion’s longtime sellsword companion, has lived up to his mercenary reputation and taken up Queen Cersei on a bribe, effectively ending his relationship with Tyrion. With his old reliables unwilling or unable to take up his cause, Tyrion confronts the certain-doom possibility of taking on his competitor, the gargantuan Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane, all by himself.
“Won’t that make for a great song,” he huffs.
Hours after Jaime and Bronn’s rejections, Tyrion receives a caller in the dark of night: Oberyn Martell, the Red Viper of Dorne, one of the judges on Tyrion’s trial, and a man whose outspoken hatred of the Lannister family is matched only by his reputation as a free-spirited lover and fighter. Oberyn knows all about Tyrion’s lifelong struggles with mockery — and he knows a kindred spirit when he sees one.
“It’s rare to meet a Lannister who shares my enthusiasm for dead Lannisters,” he says, half-jokingly, before making his true intentions known: He wants justice, for his sister and her children, and he intends to start with the Mountain. Standing in the torch-lit cavern, Oberyn stares deep into Tyrion’s teary-eyed soul and declares, “I will be your champion.”
It’s the first glimmer of hope that Tyrion has seen in weeks. Perhaps he has a chance after all. Even in the thick of the treacherous truth, Tyrion, like everyone, stands a chance. As a wise man once said: “Don’t ever give up on the gravy.”
Next page: Sn. 4 Ep. 6 ‘The Laws of Gods and Men’ can’t handle Tyrion’s truth
Game of Thrones Recap for Sn. 4 Ep. 6 ‘The Laws of Gods and Men’
It does not matter that Tyrion Lannister saved King’s Landing from Stannis Baratheon; it does not matter that he singlehandedly led the way through the Battle of Blackwater Bay; it does not matter that when Tyrion called the late Joffrey Baratheon “an idiot,” “a fool,” and “a half-wit,” he did so only because the wicked boy king was aiming a loaded crossbow at a half-naked, fully-traumatized Sansa Stark.
All of those things are the truth. But in the world of Game of Thrones, the truth does not matter — all that matters is “the truth.”
With the sixth episode of Game of Thrones’ fourth season, titled “The Laws of Gods and Men,” HBO’s record-setting fantasy series delivered one of its finest hours yet, and certainly one of its finest performances.
Peter Dinklage, already an Emmy winner, makes a strong case for a second statuette.
After a weeklong absence, Dinklage plunged back into Thrones and discovered all-new depths deep inside of King’s Landing’s true scar-faced savior. With just the subtlest twitches of his brow and mouth, Dinklage exhibited emotions ranging from rage to befuddlement to amusement to heartbreak, all within mere instants. He fully revealed Tyrion as the brokenhearted cripple, bastard and broken thing that he is. It was a master-class performance, and one of the single best episodes for any actor in the history of the series.
But it wasn’t just a monumental episode for Dinklage as a performer; it was a monumental episode for Tyrion as a character, for Westeros at large, and for the truth’s triumph over the lie, however fleeting.
As Tyrion’s trial unfolds, uncomfortable truths spilled out through the seams of the lies. Tyrion was not on trial for murder. He was on trial for being a dwarf — and, more universally, on trial for being on the fringe of society, for being a freethinking genius with abilities that confound and frighten the mundane man. And when he says as much to the general public, the reaction is … not good, to put it mildly.
“I did not kill Joffrey, but I wish that I had,” he barks at the gasping court, before turning to his “sweet sister” Cersei. “Watching your vicious bastard die gave me more relief than a thousand lying whores.”
Tyrion’s words continue to seethe out of his mouth, like tar-thick venom sneaking between the cracks of his teeth. “I wish I was the monster you think I am,” he sneers at the crowd. “I wish I had enough poison for the whole pack of you. I would gladly give my life to watch all of you swallow it.”
This is not “the truth” that the Westerosi public is accustomed to. It is, instead, the truth — the genuine article, serious-as-regicide, you-can’t-handle-it truth.
Tyrion forfeits an all-but-guaranteed existence living his life out on the Wall, in exchange for a trial-by-combat — his second time leaning on that formidable form of justice. Rather than admitting guilt for a crime he hasn’t committed, Tyrion cuts through the crap and flips the coin, taking his own life into his own hands, not for the first time, but potentially for the last.
And yet, it doesn’t matter. The truth sets Tyrion free, just as it potentially damns him. It’s a damning prospect for other parties throughout the world of Thrones, too. In the Dreadfort, Yara Greyjoy faces the harsh truth that her brother, Theon, is potentially damaged beyond repair. In Braavos, the Iron Bank accepts the truth that Tywin’s grasp on the Iron Throne is fading, and alternate arrangements must be made — arrangements that greatly benefit Stannis Baratheon and Davos Seaworth. Further east, in Essos, Daenerys Targaryen learns what it truly means to be queen, meeting with more than 212 supplicants about their varying grievances.
But just as the truth threatens to strangle the weak, it emboldens the strong, even as it poisons them. Even if Westeros can’t handle the truth, there are men and women — people like Tyrion — who sure as “seven hells” can.
Next page: Sn. 4 Ep. 5 ‘First of His Name’ is a night of firsts
Game of Thrones Recap for Sn. 4 Ep. 5 ‘First of His Name’
There’s a first time for everything — and episode five of Game of Thrones’ fourth season, titled “First of His Name,” is an hour of firsts.
In King’s Landing, a new king is crowned. He is Tommen Baratheon, First of his Name, King of the Andals and the First Men, and Lord of the Seven Kingdoms. He is also the first king to sit the Iron Throne in 50 years and actually deserve his position, according to his own mother. For the first time in decades, Westeros has a decent king. A boy king, yes, and a king from an indecent family; but a king with a kind heart all the same.
For the first time in decades, Westeros has a decent king.
Tommen’s mother, Cersei Baratheon, Queen Regent of Westeros, swallows her pride and offers her son’s hand in marriage to her sworn enemy, Margaery Tyrell, widow of the last king, the wicked Joffrey Baratheon. For the first time ever, Cersei forges true peace with the Tyrells, lowering her guard and pride enough to accept that “family comes first.”
Cersei’s father, Tywin Lannister, Hand of the King and widely regarded as the richest man in the Seven Kingdoms, finally admits that his family’s wealth is no longer as it appears. The Lannisters’ gold-producing mines have run dry. They owe countless amounts to the Iron Throne of Braavos, a bank known for backing its debtors’ enemies in order to recoup its funds. Tywin, a man who regularly deals from a seat of power, is now forced for the first time to confront financial ruin.
Just northeast of King’s Landing, Sansa Stark arrives at the Eyrie and meets her aunt, Lysa Arryn, for the first time. For the first time since her father’s beheading, Sansa is in a safe place — or so she initially believes. Now, Sansa must operate under a new identity: Alayne Stone, Petyr Baelish’s “niece.” She must live under false pretenses in order to survive; not a first for Sansa.
Nearby, Sansa’s sister, Arya, travels with the Hound toward the Eyrie. There, the Hound hopes to reap a handsome reward for the safe return of Lysa Arryn’s other niece. But Arya’s priorities seemingly lie elsewhere. She still wants revenge against every name on her bloody list — including the Hound. But for the first time, Arya sticks her opponent with “the pointy end,” to no avail; the armored Hound proves mightier than the sword.
Far north, beyond the great Wall of Westeros, Sansa and Arya’s surviving siblings, Jon Snow and Bran Stark, come within inches of reunion, though not for the first time. They unknowingly crossed paths and fought side-by-side weeks ago, in the Gift, Bran in Summer’s skin, Jon in the midst of betraying his lover, Ygritte.
Here, they fight separately. Jon slaughters the rogue members of the Night’s Watch who raped and pillaged Craster’s Keep. It’s not Jon’s first time killing a fellow brother of the Watch, but it is his first time feeling good about it.
Likewise, it is not Bran’s first time warging into a human being. It is not even his first time warging into Hodor. But it is his first time choking the life out of a man. Using Hodor’s giant strength, Bran relieves the lecherous Locke of his last remaining breaths, before moving onward with his mission to find the fabled Three-Eyed Raven. Bran marches on with his first true kill under his belt.
Far to the east of Westeros, deep in the heart of Essos, Daenerys Targaryen rules over a legitimate kingdom for the first time in her life. She is no longer in command of a mere “khalarsar”; Daenerys is now the Queen of Meereen, personally responsible for all those she liberated in her march on Slaver’s Bay. For the first time, the so-called Mother of Dragons and Breaker of Chains has abandoned the notion of reclaiming Westeros, in favor of ruling over the cities she has freed, caring for the people directly and currently under her charge.
“First of His Name” is the first episode of Game of Thrones’ fourth season, and only the third episode overall, in which Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion Lannister does not appear. It is also the first time that Tyrion’s former squire, Podrick Payne, cooks a rabbit; and the first time that Tyrion’s former tormenter, little lordling “Sweet” Robyn Arryn, appears on the show without his mother’s breast in his mouth.
Indeed, “First of His Name” was a night of firsts — and yet, given the relentless nature of Westeros and its surrounding lands, it surely won’t be the last night of firsts before Game of Thrones draws to a close.
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