Game of Thrones: Season 3, Episode 2
Dark Wings, Dark Words
Adam O'Brien
Disclaimer: I am writing these reviews as someone who has read the books. Knowing at least the broad strokes of the story beforehand, it's not possible to feign complete ignorance. However, while my commentary may be colored by the books, I will make every effort to avoid spoilers. Any information I give that is not given in the show is tangential background to clarify or expound on the action on the screen, and then only when I can be sure it won't be a twist revealed later.

This was a very busy episode. So much going on, and I'll try to do each scene justice. The title of the episode is a reference to a common saying among maesters in Westeros basically meaning, "No news is good news." Aside from ravens being smart creatures in real life, they have a certain aura of gloom that makes them the perfect choice for a series where any time someone gets a letter, you know it's probably about to fuck up their whole day. In Robb's first scene, Roose Bolton brings two letters. One says that Catelyn's father, Lord Hoster Tully of Riverrun, has passed away. The other is a letter from Roose's as-yet-nameless bastard son, saying that they found Winterfell a ruined mess, and no signs of Bran and Rickon, or whether they're still alive.

I have to say that while Catelyn is far from my favorite character, and I've never been particularly blown away by Michelle Fairley's performance, I was very impressed by how she took the news of her sons' possible fate. She's so genuinely distraught in that scene that I bought her as the mother of the Stark family for the first time. I was similarly surprised by her admission about praying for her children. When one caught "the pox" (presumably a fairly dangerous sickness) as a child, she stayed up all night praying for"”TWIST"”Jon Snow. She feels so guilty for hating him because she believes in a way that she caused him to get sick. She later relapses in her utter disgust with him (remember first season's "It should have been you" look she gave Jon?), but it's always nice to see a character move in three dimensions, that a complicated relationship between characters isn't compressed into a drab and straightforward hatred.

Bran's dream was a great scene. Like Eddard's execution, the birth of the dragons, or Tyrion explaining his different plans to marry off the Lannister children, every now and then the directors will pull out this amazingly filmed scene. First Bran is hunting. Then, Jon and Robb are beside him, much as they were in the pilot, giving him advice on archery. Then, he hears Eddard's voice, echoing the same thing he said in the pilot as well, and though Bran looks up into the trees, we don't see Ned's face. It was such an unexpectedly sweet scene and it underscores how tragic it is that such a close family was torn apart, in some cases never to see each other again.

I was looking forward to seeing Bran meet the Reeds. Bran's story has been insular so far, being confined physically and figuratively in Winterfell. While everyone else is off fighting in the Riverlands or playing in the magical funhouses of Qarth, Bran spent one episode climbing castle walls, and then two seasons in bed or riding piggyback on Hodor. If fleeing north is Bran's physical escape, the introduction of Meera and Jojen Reed is the start of a new thematic development. Jojen seems to know exactly what Bran has been dreaming and why (a fact which Bran was strangely unsurprised to learn). I hope we learn a little more about them in the future. One thing I found weird was that in the novels they tell Bran a lot of back story from when Eddard Stark and their father, Howland Reed, were young, but Jojen said here that his father didn't speak much about Robert's rebellion, which was disappointing to me (and sort of made me wonder if they're screwing with the readers again, like when Ned told Jon he'd tell him about his mother next time they met). My favorite part of the series, both book and TV series, has always been the story's tendency to reveal events from the past little by little, giving the effect of the story moving backwards as it moves forwards.

Theon's being tortured and we don't know just why. He's tied up on an old timey cross living the plot of a Saw movie, being asked questions by some nondescript interrogator. A man who is really very ostentatiously pushing a mop comes and tells Theon that his sister Yara sent him to rescue him. Really? It's Theon's second scene of his first episode of the season, and we're supposed to be introduced to both his conflict and its resolution? I wonder if there's something more going on here than we're being told. Even knowing more or less what's going on beforehand, this looks pretty artless on the part of whoever blocked these scenes.

Arya is still traveling with Gendry and Hot Pie after escaping Harrenhal. They're captured by Thoros of Myr and company (for those of you keeping score, Thoros is the one Jaime made mention of in the first season who likes to wield a flaming sword in battle). After some questioning"”and a disappointingly short sword fight that demonstrates how amateur Arya is and/or how expert Thoros is"”it looks like they're going to let the kids go. They almost get away, until a tall prisoner is brought into the inn. There probably aren't too many people who would recognize Arya, but unfortunately Sandor Clegane is one of them.

The Kingslanders are having a grand old time becoming acquainted with the Tyrells over tea in the garden and bizarre sexually charged discussions about how erotic it is to shoot things. ("You squeeze your finger here and something dies there." Also, homosexuality may soon be punishable by death? HBO is really gunning for the Tea Party demographic of viewers.) One detail my inner English major wants to put on the table for later consideration is that what with all of his princely raiment, we've never seen so much as a forearm from Joff, until he took his shirt off in this episode. In keeping with my quasi-theory that the writers may be pushing for a vulnerable side this season, I wonder if trying on all those fancy tunics for Margaery signifies something he cares about beyond pulling the wings off flies, if only a little. It doesn't hurt that Jack Gleeson, even when playing straight cruel, also brings a realism and humanity to the character. A good example of the screen bringing something to life that words on a page just can't.

Tyrion has a relatively small part in this episode, but a memorably funny one. He finds Shae in his bedchamber even after being forbidden to see her by his father, and gives her the old "you've come to a dangerous place full of dangerous people" speech, and she's just having none of it. Conversation shifts to Petyr Baelish's doings, and our favorite show original/character analog wildcard Ros comes up. When Shae asks how Tyrion knows her and he tries to backpedal made me laugh out loud. ("She's a whore." "Yes, well, we shouldn't be judgmental about these things.") After which the conversation moves to Sansa, and now Shae asks if Tyrion thinks she's pretty, and says how he's sick because she's a child, and I just laughed even harder.

Sansa is invited to spend the afternoon with Margaery and the matriarch of House Tyrell, Olenna Tyrell, sometimes called the Queen of Thorns (cause their sigil is a rose, see?). After some prodding by Olenna and Margaery, we finally, cathartically see Sansa's mask break for just a moment. The stoic, knowing faces on Olenna's and Margaery's faces as they hear how Joffrey promised to spare Lord Eddard and didn't is interesting, as though they expected to hear something similar. I, among many others, was pulling hard for Maggie Smith to be cast as Olenna, but I admit that although she's not Maggie Smith, Diana Rigg is hitting it just right. The thing about her husband riding a horse off a cliff was good. Always good to get background story. What she added about her son, Mace, riding a lion now was an awesome line, and makes you wonder just what she's up to. Quick aside about the set: in a series with fantastic set pieces throughout, I was amazed by the garden in which they meet. I really need to get an HD television to watch this show.

Joffrey and Margaery have an interesting little plotline developing, themselves. Margaery, like Renly, is less subtle than in the books, but given the necessity of medium to give her screen time, it's not the worst decision. It's unclear when Natalie Dormer first appears on screen exactly what kind of person she is, but it becomes apparent pretty quickly that can manipulate with the best of them. For example, when Joffrey probes her to find out how much she knows or is willing to share, she plays demure at first, before admitting that Renly may have preferred the company of men. This, of course, is the worst kept secret in King's Landing, but admitting it to Joff convinces him that her loyalties lie with him now.

Speaking of Renly, discussion of him leads into Brienne and Jaime's story, a very dense handful of scenes this episode. The scene was posted to death online weeks before the season premiere, but with good reason, as it probably has the best line in the episode. The exchange ends with, "I don't blame him. I don't blame you either. We don't get to choose who we love," which is an amazing line and I think says a lot about Jaime. On the surface, yes, you see he's referring to himself and Cersei, the person in the world he's closest to and has loved even though it's caused trouble left and right. But he's really describing every relationship in his life. He can't help loving his father, which led not only to him becoming a member of the Kingsguard, but also contributed to slaying King Aerys (more on that in a later episode, hopefully). He can't help loving Tyrion, who is so much like him in so many ways, even though he's been denied most of the privileges that Jaime has always had, even though the lesson Jaime and Tywin taught Tyrion with his wife Tysha was misguided at best. A theme in Jaime's life is that every time he does something out of love, someone gets hurt.

Back to the story. Jaime and Brienne come across a traveling merchant-type fella, and Jaime, forever pushing Brienne, tells her she better kill him in case he recognizes her. A fairly unremarkable scene, given that it's already been established that nobody can see them and live to tell either side, except for the demon on the shoulder effect. It's the same camera trick used in the pilot, where Ned is in the foreground, with and Catelyn and Maester Luwin in the background, appearing on either shoulder like a tiny angel and devil (they did it again in the second season but I'm sorry I can't remember who. Was it Roose and Catelyn on Robb's shoulders?). This time, it's only Jaime on Brienne's shoulder, whispering that she has to kill him or else. Luckily, being the honorable warrior she is, Brienne won't kill someone unless it's absolutely necessary.

Later, the much-anticipated fight between Jaime and Brienne doesn't disappoint. Both actors really bring out their characters: Brienne, strong and brutal but still an amateur, swings wildly but knows when to back off, utilizing her strength as well as tiring Jaime out. Jaime, an expert fighter who is atrophied by captivity and exhausted by travel, is a better technical fighter, but just doesn't have the stamina to win. I was actually laughing towards the end, where Brienne was lazily knocking Jaime's sword away one-handed. (Worth mentioning is that Jaime's fighting stance is similar to his fight with Eddard in season 1. I'm not sure if that's just how Nikolaj holds a sword, or if that was one hell of a good call by the script supervisor or whoever oversees all those little bits of continuity.) They're then captured by men on horses, led by their old merchant friend, who recognizes Jaime from Willem Frey's wedding (the one Jaime doesn't remember going to). The episode closes with the men advancing on Jaime and Brienne as if they're like to trample them.

A very busy episode. At times it seemed to be bordering on unfocused, but I tell myself that they're beginning a big two-season arc, and there's a fair amount of groundwork to lay that is bound to be a little dull. Nevertheless, it had a few great scenes.

Grade: B+

Other Thoughts:

-Talisa calls Robb "grim," making him the third Stark to be accused of such, after Robert calls Eddard that in season 1, and Ygritte calls Jon that in last week's episode.

-Not too much Jon today, and no Dany, but given that they're stretching their storylines to fill two seasons, I'm actually relieved that they're being paced evenly. I did like the scene with Orell, our first time seeing a warg from a perspective other than actually being in Bran's head.

-Elsewhere in the Night's Watch, we're reminded again how weak and cowardly Sam is. Without Jon, he's back to being picked on by Rast. Lord Commander Mormont saves the day, telling Rast he's now responsible for Sam, or else. A lot goes on, and it's important to show that he actually is a very good leader, who cares about his men.

-To be honest, though Thoros is never described in great detail, I expected him to be more exotic-looking, or at least exotic-sounding. See the numerous social justice writers on the internet for more on this.

-"It's a hundred feet wide. HOW could we have passed it?" Arya channeling Alice from Workaholics a little bit.

-Gendry parrots many fans who've been complaining since last year, if Arya had three deaths to give, why not kill Tywin or Joffrey? Seems like a snarky jab by the writers at fans who oversimplify things and think they know better.

-I have mixed feelings about the expansion of Shae as a character, but she makes such an adorable big sister to Sansa that I'm really beginning to come around.

-In a world full of cheap television CGI, I love the love that was put into the direwolves (who are actually real wolves digitally enlarged and slowed down for maximum realism).

-Following Cersei's comment last week about how she'd heard Tyrion lost more of his nose (as he did in the book), I think Jaime's quip about Brienne carrying two swords was a joke, since in the novel they're traveling with another person whose sword Jaime grabs.

-I'm beginning to worry about the Harry Potter effect of actors growing faster than their characters. Isaac (Bran) is noticeably larger than when he rolled out of Winterfell last June. Maisie's (Arya) isn't growing as noticeably, but her face looks to be maturing rather fast. Sophie (Sansa) seems to tower over everyone just a little bit more each episode, and by the end of the season she may belong on a can of string beans. I wouldn't trade any member of the cast for the world, but I'm kind of childish and worry when reality ruins TV magic.

Tags: Game of Thrones
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