Sunday night dropped viewers off smack in the aftermath of the Purple Wedding; Tyrion has been tossed in the dungeon for regicide and Tywin begins to shape the new king’s reign before Joffrey’s corpse has had time to cool. He recognizes the opportunity to turn enemies to allies and offers a seat on the Royal Council to Oberyn Martell. The Queen Regent is still calling for Sansa’s head as a co-conspirator, but Lord Baelish has smuggled her to Blackwater Bay where they depart King's Landing for safer country. The rest of Westeros is as yet unaffected by the death of their crowned king, and merely continue to prepare for winter (which, in case you didn’t know, is coming). Stannis continues to make obstinately stupid decisions at Dragonstone, and in Essos, Dany has reached Mereen and set forth a gesture to increase her company.
Before I get into the meat of my opinions on this episode, I do want to include a couple disclaimers. First, I was an avid Song of Ice and Fire reader, so I’ve not really considered myself a good candidate to review the show as its own entity, but I will do my best to keep that in check for you today. And second , I’m about to spoil the shit out of this episode.
The episode opened on an obscene close-up of Joffrey’s corpse, still cradled in his mother’s arms. This time, instead of watching as Tyrion is arrested, we’re redirected to the flight of the Little Bird. Ser Dontos has whisked Sansa out of King’s Landing, through Flea Bottom, and rowed to a mystery ship. There Littlefinger waits, poised as savior and mentor. He educates Sansa on the cold truth of the world and executes Ser Dontos without so much as a quippy farewell. Petyr Baelish is, to me, the most singularly evil and frightening character in the saga. Tonight he implicated himself as the party responsible for Joffrey's death, and I'm very curious if the show will ever resolve this particular plot point. His actions are motivated by self-advancement only, his lessons teach the merit of death over gold, and his reasons for saving Sansa’s head from the stakes will most certainly serve the same purpose. Sansa has developed greatly since season one (although I often wonder if show-only fans see it as much as readers – it’s very hard to separate my book thoughts on Sansa from my show thoughts). She’s moved from the feudal equivalent of “fangirl” to a quiet survivor, and while her safety seems at first glance to be solely due to the actions of others, Sansa has learned when to speak, when to stay silent, and when to follow. Her survival instincts are strong, but the people from which she takes morality lessons continue to decline in stability. Many were aware of how important a pawn she is in the Game of Thrones, but none can see how she is developing strategy of her own.
There weren’t many Continuing Adventures of Arya and the Hound this week, which is disappointing. But this is a huge-ass saga with about eight hundred and sixty characters so I try not to piss and moan too much when my favorite characters are given a little less screen time. While I do enjoy these scenes largely because of the actors’ chemistry, I also think that the struggles of Westeros that aren’t centered around noblemen’s pride are a welcome break every once in a while. They’re a good measure to determine the make of a man when he is not facing a court full of lords and ladies.
Speaking of lords and ladies (oh my god I am so not even sorry about my segues), Oberyn Martell. Right? Right?!!? The appearance of the Red Viper has been my most eagerly anticipated GoT moment, and Pedro Pascal has far exceeded my expectations, as has the performance of Indira Varma as his concubine and bodyguard Ellaria Sand (yes absolutely his bodyguard Dorne has no time for Westerosi gender and socio-economic standards and a Sand Snake is a Sand Snake and will mess you up if you threaten her charge). The scene in which Tywin Lannister made his version of a “peace offering” to House Martell might have been my favorite of the entire episode. Upon the mention of a surviving Targaryen and her three dragons, Pascal portrayed “I’m sorry did you say dragons hold up old man I gotta write a letter to Dorne right the fuck now” with little more than a miniscule cock of the eyebrow. It was awesome.
Meanwhile, back in the free cities (if you didn’t read that as a Justice League narrator I’m breaking up with you), Dany has approached the gates of Mereen. She’s got one last city to emancipate (yeah, I know, but “free cities” just means they don’t answer to the king), and this time, instead of storming in with her eunuchs and her dragons she’s going to start a riot and let the slaves free themselves. Her speech recounted her power and love to the people of Mereen and exponentially multiplied the love I have for the show’s linguists. I have to say that I enjoy the performance of Second Dario far more than the original. I know that Dario Noharis is supposed to be a douche, but the new guy works the smug angle with a little more subtlety. The last guy just smacked of vinegar. Mereen still stood at the end of the episode, but after the speech Dany shouted one would suspect that that situation will escalate tout de suite.
Well, I suppose it’s time to talk about it. I’m going to go ahead and throw out a trigger warning for those who might be sensitive to it, because I am going to use the word and refer to the act an awful lot in the coming sentences. I’m referring, of course, to the rape of Cersei Lannister.
Before I get to my opinion on the direction the show took this scene, I want to make something absolutely clear: this is a rapey show. This drama (and the pages from which it comes) is some of the rapiest shit I have ever seen. The rapes occur in world where infanticide, beheadings, castrations, flayings, and murder for fun and sport are every day incidents. I find none of these atrocities to be greater or lesser than the act of rape in this fictional universe. My disdain is not directed at the decision to show a rape on Game of Thrones.
My disappointment stems completely from the laziness of the persons who made that decision. The scene demonstrated utter contempt for the show’s viewers, for the writings of Martin, and showcased absolute disregard for character development and skillful creativity. Jaime Lannister is the only character on the show that has grown into a better person. In one fell swoop all that growth is erased. Cersei Lannister, while certainly one of the most hated characters on the show, is one of the strongest and smartest women (she might have a questionable endgame but you can’t argue that her strategies have been sound). Is there anyone out there that thinks that Cersei wouldn’t gut a rapist like a fish? Again, all that was wiped null. One could argue that the show is diverging from the source and will vilify Jaime and weaken Cersei, and that’s fine, but I stand by my original assertion that rape is the oldest trope in the screenwriters’ handbook. It’s cheap and lazy. The show already does plenty to shock us – was consensual incest in a church next to the dead result of said incest not alarming enough? “American Horror Story” has pretty well cornered the market on empty calorie smut, and I expect a hell of a lot more from “Game of Thrones.”
Next week promises more developments at Mereen and Castle Black, as well as Sansa’s continuing journey to questionable safety with Petyr Baelish. Despite my major complaint about this episode, “Game of Thrones” remains one of the most compelling dramas I’ve ever watched, and it’s production values and off-the-chart performances keep me eager for Sunday nights.