Monday, April 8, 2013

Game of Thrones review: "Dark Wings, Dark Words"

"Dark wings, dark words" is a reference to the ravens that deliver messages across the realm, messages that are sometimes ominous. Robb and Catelyn saw this saying bear fruit with the delivery of two letters to their camp, one about the death of Catelyn's father, the other about the sack of Winterfell and the unknown whereabouts of Bran and Rickon.

But at its heart, "dark wings, dark words" is prophetic, and this episode dumped a heap of prophecy on us along with an overall sense of bad things to come.

Bran, it turns out, is a sort of prophet -- a warg, or someone who can jump into the minds of animals and see past, present and future. This gives a name and an explanation for what we've already seen on numerous occasions -- Bran experiencing the world through his direwolf's eyes, or chasing down the three-eyed raven in his dreams. Direwolf-vision always seemed more real than the raven dreams to me, but it's the raven that signals real-world events. And whereas wolf and raven were presented separately before, Bran's story this time combines them, starting in wolf vision and coming up to see Bran running after the raven. The sequence of him aiming an arrow at the bird, with Jon and Robb popping up by his side to talk him through it, was a nice callback to the pilot and a sad reminder of how far away those carefree days are. But the bigger moment of the dream was the appearance of Jojen Reed, whom Bran had never seen before but who shows up later as the guide to his abilities.

(We find out what wargs are before Jojen even shows up, through Jon witnessing the same ability in one of the wildlings, who sees a bunch of dead "crows" -- i.e. the men of the Night's Watch, Jon's old crew. Since we now know that wargs can see into the future, it's not looking good for the Night's Watch.)

Catelyn is dealing with a sort of prophecy of hindsight. With the safety of nearly all her children in doubt -- not only does she have the recent news of Bran and Rickon, she's still dealing with the uncertain fates of Sansa and Arya -- she asks the understandable question: Why this family? She tells Robb's new wife, Talisa, that it's comeuppance for her hatred of Jon Snow. When he was brought to Winterfell as a baby, she wished he would die; he got deathly ill, and she promised the gods that if he lived she would love him and accept him as a Stark, not as a bastard; and she broke the promise. "All this harm that's come to my family, it's all because I couldn't love a motherless child," she says. Though it's a story borne of her reflection, I also read it as a signal to Talisa that she too will never be accepted -- she was not the woman Robb was supposed to marry, and that can mean bad things for his cause going forward. As one of his men told him earlier, Robb lost the war the moment he married for love instead of politics.

Speaking of love and politics, I did a great disservice in forgetting to write last week about Margaery, who began positioning herself as the queen of the people, promising to help the orphans while Joffrey hid like a weak little boy in his carriage. This week she continues her maneuverings to gain the upper hand with Joffrey. First, with the help of her delightfully blunt grandmother, she gets Sansa to admit that Joffrey is a monster, the kind of man who gets pleasure in forcing her to look at her father's severed head. Later, when Margaery is with Joffrey in his chambers, she plays the innocent, convincing him she never slept with Renly (true), that she doesn't know how to play political games (not true) and that she's in awe of his power, or at least his fancy crossbow. Joffrey seems afraid of sex, but he certainly gets off on the suffering of others -- remember what happened when Tyrion sent him two prostitutes for his birthday? -- and Margaery now knows how to play to that. When she asks if he'd like to watch her kill something, he can barely whisper yes.

As for bad tidings, two other characters absent last week -- Arya and Jaime -- have run into trouble. Arya, who's still on the run with Gendry and Hot Pie, is finding out she's not as fierce as she thinks she is. First she gets caught by a group of men who claim no allegiance to anyone (and whose motives with her and her friends are unclear), then she loses a sword fight with their leader faster than it started. Things go from bad to worse when the group brings in another captive -- The Hound, who immediately recognizes her and calls her out as a Stark. It's good to see The Hound back (although apparently not doing well at all since Blackwater), but I'm wary of what it will mean for Arya.

And Jaime and Brienne -- who are so, so fantastic together -- close out the episode as captives of the Boltons, who have a penchant for flaying men. The dynamic duo were ratted out by the man who saw them in the woods, who Brienne refused to kill even though Jaime knew it was necessary to avoid such a situation. It was another reminder that Jaime "The Kingslayer" is not one to kill just to kill -- he has very good reasons for doing so (the king was crazy and driving the kingdom to ruin, the passerby was going to rat them out, etc.).

Other thoughts:
-- Like Arya, Jaime is finding out he's not as strong as he once was. His sword fight with Brienne was slow and heavy, and he tired fairly quickly.
-- The scenes north of the wall were almost throwaways. I didn't really care that Sam was tiring and feeling bad for himself. And we got all the information we needed about wargs from Jojen.
-- Speaking of Jojen, it's crazy to see the little kid from "Love, Actually" all grown up. Isaac Hempstead, who plays Bran, also is no longer a kid anymore.
-- I don't think I've ever said this, but Tyrion's scene was also a bit of a throwaway, although maybe it'll be more significant once he does as Shae bids and keeps an eye on Sansa/Littlefinger.
-- Theon is screwed.

What did everyone else think?

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