After the last two episodes were so strong, it should come as no surprise that this week’s episode was a more measured affair that explored some interesting themes, but got bogged down by a handful of narrative hiccups.
WARNING – SPOILERS AHEAD
Where last week’s episode dealt with family and the fan-acclaimed “Purple Wedding”, this week’s episode was titled ‘Breaker of Chains’ and it primarily focused on… puts on Arts-Degree student’s thinking cap…the theme/motif of protection. There was plenty of evidence for this between Sam spending the episode trying to protect Gilly, Tyrion trying to protect Pod from the fallout of his framing and The Hound taking advantage of those who cannot protect themselves. The episode took a pretty broad approach to exploring this unifying motif and while it wasn’t as elegant as last week’s episode, it was still a fun way of structuring the episode.
The other side of the episode dealt with the fallout of last week’s assassination and with both the Lannister’ and Tyrells picking up the pieces. Olenna Tyrell puts it best when she reminds Margery that “Our alliance with the Lannisters remains every bit as necessary to them as it is unpleasant to us”. Meanwhile, Tommen got some valuable tutoring on what makes a good king from Tywin. It was fun to see the Lannister patriarch take the impetus here to ensure that Tommen doesn’t go down the same path as his brother, even if he was pretty brutal to Cersei in doing so. Given the brilliance of his later scenes with Oberyn Tyrell, it’s hard to not name Charles Dance this week’s MVP.
Given his role centre-stage last week, it’s not all that surprising to see Tyrion get very little screentime this week. That said, he did a lot with his single scene in the episode. His reaction to Sansa’s disappearance and his subsequent break-up with Pod were handled very well with Dinklage reminding us all of just how good he is in his role as The Imp.
If this week’s episode was any indication, the next handful of episodes concerning Tyrion will see him chasing down and hopefully solving Joffrey’s murder from his jail cell and that’ a plotline that I am very keen to follow.
As I said before, this episode was a lot slower than the last two. Although that’s not inherently bad, the episode felt like it stumbled a little bit as a result. If I had to pin this weakness on anything, it would be because the episode spent way too much time with Sam’s subplot for relatively little pay-off.
The other narrative hiccup that the episode faced was – to address the elephant in the room – the sequence where Jaime raped Cersei. While this scene is directly based on a chapter in A Storm of Swords where Cersei and Jaime spend some quality time together to deal with Joffrey’s grief, it’s pretty depicted as a bit more consensual (although still pretty messed-up) in the book. Given the way that the episode’s director steadfastly claims the sexual encounter was consensual, I can’t help but feel like there was a line of dialogue or a couple of extra seconds cut that, if kept, would have made it less ambiguous. Because above all, it’s this ambiguity that hurts the show. Given where both of their characters are at in terms of the greater story, it felt out of character for both Cersei and Jaime to act the way they did in the scene. In the books, I always read this part of the story as Jaime and Cersei’s way of dealing with their grief in the wake of Joffrey’s death. Another theory regarding the scene could be that perhaps the episode’s director felt that the threat of rape had been waved around so frequently over the last few seasons that it had become a bit disconnected from reality and that this scene would act as a shocking reminder of how real that threat is for even some of our favorite characters. Given the show’s reputation for both cruelty to its characters and its gratuitous sexualization, it’s hardly going to bring an end to the show but there are plenty of better critics who have written some interesting pieces about the scene if you want to read into it a bit more.
Stark-side, very little happened this week for everybody’s favorite killer-in-training with Arya and The Hound taking shelter with (and then later taking advantage of) a generous farmer. Meanwhile, the mastermind behind Sansa’s rescue was, rather unsurprisingly, Petyr Baelish. While I am of two minds when it comes to the show’s version of Littlefinger (and his lack of subtlety as the series has gone on), it was fun to see him make a return here. That said, his ruthless elimination of Ser Dontos was ultimately undercut by the diminished role he’s had in the show (compared to the book’s where his attempts to help Sansa escape took up a good chunk of both A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords).
For an episode named after her, it was unfortunate that Daenerys took up very little of Breaker of Chains. It would’ve been a lot more rewarding fun to see the episode anchored around her narrative rather than squeezing her whole story into the last five minutes. While Daenerys is often a little bit too smug for her own good, but her bold warmongering in this final stretch of the episode was fun to watch. Her attack of Mereen looks like it’s going to be a bloody affair and as long as Jorah & Barristan don’t get shafted on screentime in favor of the new Daario Naharis, it should be fun to watch.
The return of Dolorous Edd and Grenn was another welcome part of the episode not to mention the new subplot they bring with them. The mutineers at Craster’s Keep should help keep the Night’s Watch plotline interesting. It’d be very easy to turn any plotline taking place at Castle Black into a series of scenes where the Night’s Watch squabble and worry about the Mance’s impending attack but throwing the mutineers into the mix, should make a for a pretty fun couple of episodes. Additionally, this development helps explain to book readers why Jon’s trial and interrogation plot was cut down to a single episode
Last but not certainly least, Team Stannis fans had a few things to cheer about this week with him genuinely showing some renewed character growth in the wake of Joffrey’s murder (“If I do not press my claim, my claim will be forgotten – I will not become a page in somebody else’s history book!”). Similarly, we got to spend some more time with everybody’s favorite Onion Knight and it was good to see him get to work when it comes to rebuilding Stannis’ forces and chances of taking the throne. His sassy remarks about the fine differences between pirates and smugglers was fun and his discoveries about the Iron Bank of Braavos could end up taking ‘The Dragonstone Crew’ (as I have taken to calling them) some very interesting places as the season goes on.
While I feel like Breaker of Chains was the weakest episode this season – with a number of narrative hiccups – it was still a pretty strong episode thanks to some great performances by Dinklage, Dance and Davos.