***WARNING CONTAINS SPOILERS OF GAME OF THRONES SEASON 3 EPISODE 4 “AND NOW HIS WATCH HAS ENDED”***
However I’ll start off with where it all finished and the first blockbuster set piece of this series. While it may not quite beat the Battle of the Blackwater in sheer epic scale, or Ned Stark’s beheading for shock value, Daenerys’ sacking of Astapor has to rank as one of the best moments the show has delivered to date.
While I have a few minor qualms with some technical issues and the hint of melodrama swirling around, when you see that final shot of 8,000 Unsullied marching with three dragons flying overhead you realize that this is why you watch Game of Thrones.
And after two and a half seasons we also see Daenerys live up to her words of ‘fire and blood’ and emerge as a truly powerful political force. A few people also seem to question how the slave owner Kraznys could have been so blind to the potential of this happening. Firstly he’s blinded by greed. Dragons are the rarest commodity in the world and the possession of one is a ticket to immense power. He also cannot recognize Daenerys’ repulsion of slavery and the conditions enforced in Astapor. And finally, he doesn’t countenance the particularities of dragons; they’re not trained, or owned or beholden to a master but vicious, wild animals that are kept somewhat in check by their ‘mother’. And for his failure to understand the nature of dragons, like Pyat Pree last season, he dies in burning, screaming agony.
This episode also gave us another intriguing insight into the inner mechanisms of Jaime Lannister. After being deprived of his main asset, his formidable sword hand, he is down in the dumps. Luckily, Brienne is around though to remind him of his relevant fortune in life, the golden child one might say, and chide him for his willingness to admit defeat at the first significant backset he faces.
I’ve always viewed Jaime’s actions as motivated by a sense of existential fatalism, as a man disillusioned by concepts like honor, truth and justice. He’s not driven by a desire for power, or a desire to improve the world and his legacy but by a general malaise. His actions of throwing Bran out the window, attacking Ned in King’s Landing and murdering his cousin in a futile attempt to escape are actions driven by a short term nihilism devoid from a understanding or admission of the proper consequences or sense of morality.
A poignant scene from the first season for me encapsulates the paradigm of Jaime, when Tywin implores him to “become the man you were born to be”. His entire life has been part of someone else’s plan and the fulfillment of expectations. Part of why I believe he gains a grudging respect for Brienne is her ability to fight, not only in a physical sense, but in sense of personal agency her role in the world and are guided by her own version of morality and honor.
The interactions of the Lannister children throughout this season have raised significant doubt as to how they would fare without the presence of their father Tywin. Cersie is facing the rising influence of the Tyrells and in particular Margaery’s, while also contending with the both real and perceived injustice of gender roles; Jaime loses the aura of invincibility he carries with a sword in his hand; while Tyrion, always the most attuned due to his physical capabilities, contends with the alteration of power dynamism working under his father in a role he claims to know nothing about.
I feel as though too many of the story arcs in this episode lacked proper development. For example, Arya’s meeting with Beric Dondarrion, leader of the Brotherhood Without Banners, failed to have a significant impact because there was not enough precursor to who any of these guys are. The Brotherhood are one of the most affectionately remembered groups within the Song of Ice and Fire series yet we see little evidence of what may make them so endearing to both the reader and the common folk of Westeros. I feel it’s a necessary step to develop both the credentials of the Brotherhood and the mystique of Dondarrion by showing their popular appeal and this episode should have provided some semblance of this. Instead the sole scene with Arya shows Dondarrian agreeing to fight Sandor Clegane though rather ominously before the eyes of the Red God.
This episode also provided the chilling backstory of one of the series most mysterious power-brokers. Varys recounts his upbringing, gelding the magical outcome of his manhood while opening a box containing the sorcerer responsible. The political maneuvering of King’s Landing also broke into full swing with poor old Sansa at the middle of it. Varys and Olenna begin scheming to take her out of the clutches of Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish, with Varys remarking of him:
He would see the city burn if he could be king of the ashes
Varys and Littlefinger are two of the most intriguing, devious and influential figures behind the scenes at King’s Landing and we are beginning to get a sense of their motivations.
Overall, while this episode featured some brilliant moments it also featured some uninspiring ones and most importantly fell short of developing some storylines in a consistent and complete manner. This is one of the primarily criticisms many people have of Game of Thrones, yet in this episode and like pretty much every other the good far outweighs the bad.