After somehow managing to wait a whole week, we were finally able to return to Westeros and experience more of what the third season of Game of Thrones has to offer. After multiple viewings, I can safely say that Dark Wings, Dark Words improves on the stellar premiere, and the languid pace quickens somewhat. All in all, I really enjoyed this episode, and was delighted to see a whole host of highly anticipated new characters come alive on screen.
First things first; I had been eagerly anticipating Catelyn’s monologue ever since reading that the scene in question was akin to character assassination. In my opinion, Catelyn is one of the most interesting and complex characters in A Song of Ice and Fire, and Michelle Fairley’s portrayal of Catelyn as penned by Benioff and Weiss, while differing significantly from George Martin’s character, is one of the best displays of acting in the entire series. I cannot give Michelle Fairley enough praise; she has performed magnificently in every scene she has been in, this scene being one of the highlights. I honestly don’t fully buy into the character assassination claims. Quite simply, Catelyn prayed for Jon to die, then regretted her coldness, prayed for him to live, and then resumed hating him. That is basically what the scene informs, and it’s also a subtle nod to the omitted “It should have been you” line from the book. However, the concept and essence of this scene has been contaminated by the modern perception of raising children. In George Martin’s Westeros, Catelyn would have been under no obligation whatsoever to involve herself with, not to mention care for, her husband’s bastard son. Ned was the one who challenged the norms by bringing his bastard into his household, and raising him with equal status as his trueborn children. Also, the idea that Catelyn once toyed with the idea of legitimizing Jon is preposterous, as such an action would put the inheritance of her own children at risk. All that said, I thought it was a very touching, well acted scene, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Naturally, the scene transitions from Catelyn to Jon, who is now garbed in wildling gear and marching south towards the Wall with Mance Rayder’s forces. This is a brief scene, but emphasizes a few important plot points. Firstly, the wildlings are a warring people, which is only natural given their equal status and contempt for “kneelers” and servants. Mance is becoming yet another father figure for Jon, giving him personal advice and counsel, which seems strange due to the fact that Jon has only recently convinced him of his wish to “fight for the side that fights for the living”. We are also introduced to one of Jon’s antagonistic figures this season. Orell, a skinchanger/warg, has the ability to enter the minds of animals, in this case, an eagle. As such, he acts as a scout for Mance, and reports of the carnage at the Fist of the First Men (which has been left horribly ambiguous). Jon’s utter shock at realizing Orell’s gift is strange, given that at this stage in the book, Jon, like Bran, shares this talent.
Slightly further south, the disheartened Night’s Watch makes the march back towards the Wall and safety. I had hoped that the ambiguity of the horrifying slaughter of the Night’s Watch at the Fist of the First Men would be rectified in this episode. Alas, it was not to be. While this scene portrays a broken Sam, played wonderfully by John Bradley, the sheer sense of terror and disorder from the book is noticeably missing. Upon further inspection, it is clear that this scene, which places Rast in charge of the survival of “Ser Piggy”, is purely to set in motion a sequence of future events.
I was very interested in Bran’s dream. In a show claiming to be averse to flashbacks (a decision I approve of), the dream came very close, as we saw a recreation of Bran’s archery training from the series premiere. Both Jon and Robb provided support from the sideline, and we even heard a repeated line from Ned’s disembodied voice. The introduction of the Reeds brings a much needed element of progression to Bran’s arc, and with it more than a hint of mystery. It will be very interesting to see the relationship between Bran and Jojen develop, as well as a possible friendly rivalry between Osha and Meera.
A small moment I greatly appreciated was the emphasis put on the fact that Roose Bolton was left to garrison Harrenhal in Robb’s absence. In conjunction with the Harrenhal scene in last week’s episode (without delving too deeply into spoiler territory), it is clear that these scenes exist mainly as a plot device to get Roose exactly where he needs to be. This will facilitate a very important conversation with a certain someone later on in the season. It is worth noting that the show has not failed to portray the fact that not all of the Northmen are convinced of Robb’s competence as a king. The growing discontent is explicitly stated by Rickard Karstark, in that the march to Riverrun for the funeral of Lord Hoster Tully is nothing more than a distraction from their justified revenge. It is in situations like this that Clive Mantle’s Greatjon Umber is sorely missed, as his exaggerated devotion to Robb would serve as an interesting counterpoint to Karstark’s pessimism. I can only hope that with the introduction of Edmure and the Blackfish, some optimism will be restored to Robb’s arc.
Theon is introduced screaming for his life as he is tortured by his captors. Not much can be said here without giving away spoilers, but his mental and physical trauma seems to be only beginning. However, he finds a glimmer of hope in a “boy”, played by Iwan Rheon of Misfits fame, who claims to be sent by his sister to rescue him.
Building upon Margaery’s scenes in the premiere, where she displayed political cunning, we discover the source of her wit. Enter the much anticipated Lady Olenna Redwyne, grandmother to Margaery and Loras. I don’t think it was ever doubted that Dame Diana Rigg would deliver, and deliver she did. We were offered quite a meaty introduction to her character, as she attempts to goad the truth about Joffrey from Sansa. It is clear that the Tyrells are a force to be reckoned with, and this is seen most frequently in Cersei’s obsession with Margaery, stemming from jealousy. Cersei’s days as Queen Regent are growing ever shorter, and as such, so is her power and influence over Joffrey. After being visibly shaken by Joffrey’s unpredictability, Margaery finds her point of control in his sadism. We can already see how Margaery will take advantage of Joffrey’s violent fantasies to exert Tyrell influence over him; “I imagine it must be so exciting to squeeze your finger here and watch something die over there.”
We finally get to meet the Brotherhood without Banners. Paul Kaye shines as Thoros of Myr, warrior priest and drinking buddy of the late King Robert Baratheon. From my point of view as a book reader, it is obvious that Thoros has more or less been injected with a dash of Tom o’ Sevens, producing very amusing results. Of course, it is inevitable that comparisons will be made between Thoros and Jack Sparrow, but that is in no way a detriment to Game of Thrones. It was slightly disconcerting to hear Thoros singing The Rains of Castamere, although given the commendable alterations to his character, his bawdy singing fits quite well. The Brotherhood of the books always reminded me of the Merry Men, and I think it really shows here. The chemistry between Thoros and Anguy is great; it is instantly clear that the Brotherhood is an outlawed band of fun-loving, albeit deadly, ragamuffins. I will be the first to admit that Anguy’s arrow trick was very over the top. However, this keeps in the vein of the exaggerated, carefree and optimistic nature of the Brotherhood as depicted in the book, in their early dealings with Arya. The “Brotherhood” theme deserves a worthy mention here; adding so much to the half comedic, half threatening confrontation between the Brotherhood and Arya, Gendry and Hot Pie. Ramin Djawadi’s score continues to impress episode after episode.
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau was at his comedic best as Jaime this week. The real-life chemistry between him and Gwendoline Christie translates magnificently onto the screen, as Jaime constantly picks away at Brienne’s mental armor with his scathing, hilarious remarks. Coster-Waldau’s line delivery is spot on every time; “It’s wonderful to watch you wrestle with these dilemmas. Which will she choose?” While Jaime himself isn’t technically at the mental stage where he should be hinting towards his relationship with Cersei, his line “We don’t get to choose who we love” resounds with emotional impact at just the right time in the scene, and teases that in his heart, Jaime has simply been consumed and tormented by love.
Daniel Minahan has come under fire from numerous reviewers with regard to his sloppy direction in filming action or battle scenes, the most notable being Arya’s murder of the stable boy in the first season’s finale, Fire and Blood. Such claims proved to be unfounded here. Initially I thought that the long-awaited duel between Jaime and Brienne seemed very slow and lazy, although afterwards I realized that this was the intention. The languid pace of the fight accurately demonstrated just how weak Jaime had become during his captivity, and the inability of Brienne to defy her oath to Catelyn (despite losing her temper and lashing out numerous times). One very minor gripe I had with this scene was that there was no mention of how weak Jaime had really become, which is important. I just hope viewers understand that the only reason he was bested by Brienne was due to his malnourishment. If not, hopefully the issue is cleared up in future episodes. Brienne is nowhere near as accomplished and deadly a swordsman (swordswoman…swordswench?) as Jaime, and there should be absolutely no confusion over this matter. However, if one pays attention, it is obvious that Jaime is in disbelief at his own weakness, and that he has to resort to a different sword grip, hacking and hammering as his strength fails him. All in all, the choreography was top notch, the cinematography succeeded in providing the appropriate amount of tension, and once again the soundtrack set the right tone, from the ominous and eerie low bass when Jaime freed himself to the pounding drums during the fight itself. Overall, it was a very solid scene.
The cliffhanger moment of the episode was part of the same scene, and involved Jaime and Brienne being apprehended by a contingent of Northerners led by Locke, Roose Bolton’s “best hunter” as established in the previous episode. Again, I appreciate the Bolton name-dropping, as well as the mention of the Flayed Man. While it certainly is a shocking moment, Jaime and Brienne’s capture seems slightly lacking in gravity or impact. Perhaps this is because as a book reader, I am anticipating what naturally comes next, although I expect that the event in question has been moved back to be the shock moment at the end of the next episode. Noah Taylor looks to be very well cast in the role of Locke, and I approve of the necessitated change of Vargo Hoat’s character. Vargo Hoat is Locke’s counterpart in the book, but since the Bloody Mummers had not been established yet, and given what’s to come, it made sense from a narrative point of view to establish that Locke and his men are sworn to House Bolton. Indeed, Noah Taylor’s Locke seems set to retain some of Hoat’s habits and mannerisms, including the lisp. As an aside, I couldn’t have been the only person who expected the farmer’s “silver” would consist of him being swiftly executed, could I?
Overall, this episode successfully built upon the foundations set in the season premiere, and the plot decidedly began to move forward. Although lacking Daenerys and any element of the Dragonstone arc, it was full to the brim with everything else. Hopefully this pattern continues, and the showrunners have no qualms about omitting characters from certain episodes; it serves only to improve the plot cohesion and flow of the narrative.
- The Brotherhood without Banners. Unexpectedly, I thought that their scenes were among the best in the episode. I am a fan of the change in Thoros’ character, from the melancholic, prophetic warrior of the books to the bawdy, carefree outlaw we saw in this episode. I would assume that the prophetic side of his character has been retained and will come into play in the future, but these added dimensions bring a lot more life to both him and the Brotherhood. We can expect some great scenes with them very soon.
- The Queen of Thorns. Despite never being named as such in this episode, Lady Olenna Redwyne was perfectly portrayed by Dame Diana Rigg. There was a lot of hype built up in the months before the premiere about the strength and character she would bring to the role. It is a delight to finally see that these expectations were exceeded with gusto. My personal favorite quote of hers is her naming of Mace Tyrell as the “Lord Oaf of Highgarden”. The lunch scene between her, Margaery and Sansa was delivered very well, allowing a lot of exposition, as stated above. It will be interesting to see just how prominently Lady Olenna features in future episodes, given her status and skill as an actress.
- The Reeds. After much delay, we were finally introduced to Jojen and Meera Reed. Thomas Brodie-Sangster embodies “Little Grandfather”, as he both looks younger and years older than Bran. While I was slightly disappointed by the rushed pace of their introduction, it was definitely a highlight, topped off by the reference of Howland Reed saving Ned’s life at the Tower of Joy, the first (although indirect) reference to that iconic event.
- Shae. I don’t think the episode suffered from a lack of Daenerys, and I equally don’t think it would have suffered from omitting Tyrion, who unfortunately (from a narrative point of view) seems to have become the keystone of the series. Peter Dinklage is one of the top tier actors in the show, and has dominated every scene he has been in. It’s a damn pity then, that in every scene involving Shae, his talents are completely unrequited. Sibel Kekilli has been very wooden throughout the series. It seems that to rectify the situation here, instead of altering or removing the scene, the port of call was to have Tyrion receive a blowjob. Cool.
With all of that in mind, what did you think of Dark Wings, Dark Words? Do you agree/disagree with any of the opinions stated? Let us know in the comments below, we look forward to discussing this episode.
Here’s a preview for episode 3, Walk of Punishment, to whet your appetite: