Welcome back to "Game of Thrones," or as I alternately call it, "Who Are We Burning Today?" I thought this week's episode rocked, including all of the best elements of the show (minus sex, boo). A lot happened so we're just going to jump right into it.
We'll start at the end, as we got a lengthy uninterrupted segment set in Slavers Bay, with Daenerys experiencing one of the most pivotal moments of her life as she traded one of her dragons for thousands of highly skilled slave warriors. We learned a few things here. First, that the budget for this season must have been significantly upped, because that whole sequence looked like something out of a big-budget film, not a show on HBO. From the soldiers to the special effects to Dany's wig, everything looked amazing. Second, the viewers and the slave masters discovered that Daenerys can speak fluent Valyrian, which means she understood every word - and insult - thrown at her the previous three episodes, and didn't so much as flinch. And third, the masters discovered that dragons are no man's slave. Dany did indeed trade her dragon for the Unsullied warriors, but a dragon does what it likes. After a quiet "Dracarys" from Dany, her biggest scaly baby torched the slave master head to heel and Dany led a revolt against all the slave masters of Astapor. After the bloody business Dany then freed all of her slave warriors, and asked which of these now-free men would willingly fight for her cause. They all agreed. So basically, Daenerys Taragryen just became fully awesome, and I suspect we'll all be seeing a lot of queen bitch Dany costumes come Halloween this year.
To underline how kickass the Astapor segment was, Dany and her army marching out the Astapor gates with dragons flying overhead provided the cliffhanger ending to the episode -- not the full-scale rebellion of the Night's Watch that went down at Craster's Keep. I was wondering how long they were going to drag out that arc, but they just got right down to it. The Watch, starving and freezing and shoveling pig shit in Craster's pens, finally had enough of their "host," and several members lost it. One killed Craster. Another killed poor Lord Commander Mormont. And that bullying asshole seems poised to go after Sam, who took the confusion as an opportunity to spirit away Gilly and her newborn son.
Several interesting developments occurred in King's Landing this episode, many of them unique to the show. First, we got a great conversation between Tyrion and Varys. The former wanted proof that his sister was trying to have him killed during the Battle of the Blackwater. The latter used the opportunity to explain to Tyrion how he became a eunuch, and also make a point about the importance of influence. I loved that entire scene -- Conleth Hill as Varys is one of this show's unsung acting heroes -- except the part where Varys opened the crate and revealed what was inside. That was a totally unnecessary and frankly goofy way to make his point. It suggested to me that the show thought it was being clever (it wasn't), or that the writers don't trust the audience (and they should).
Varys was a busy spider, next checking in with Roz about Littlefinger's plans for Sansa (and again bringing up Podrick's baffling success with the whores - is this becoming an actual plot point instead of a humorous side gag?), and then had an outstanding scene with Lady Olenna. Diana Rigg is so fantastic in that role; I desperately hope they find a way to keep her around longer than she appears in the books. And I also want to watch an hour-long crossover with "Downton Abbey" in which the Queen of Thorns and the Dowager Countess just sit in armchairs volleying droll insults. I'd pay-per-view that shit!
Lady Olenna's granddaughter is no slouch in the manipulation department, as Margaery Tyrell cemented her relationship with King Joffrey and the people of King's Landing in a well-written scene in the Great Sept of Baelor (again: looked stunning). Joffrey and Margaery have yet to be POV characters in the books, so this was entirely for the show, and I found it quite effective. Margaery is a fascinating character, full of ambition and teeming with guile, but also smart enough to not be obvious about it (*cough*Cersei*cough*). She's already got Joffrey eating out of her hand, and they're not even married. We never really got that sense in the books. Her follow-up scene with Sansa was also lovely, and showcased Natalie Dormer's sweeter side. They could not have cast a better actress for that role.
Wrapping up the King's Landing subplots, Cersei had an uncomfortable father/daughter sequence with Tywin in which she expressed her concerns about the Tyrells' manipulations, and challenged her father on what she perceived to be his de facto sexism against her. Tywin summed up Cersei's personal failings thusly: his problem with her is not that she's a woman, it's that she's not nearly as smart as she thinks she is. That is precisely how I think we're supposed to view Cersei. After she becomes a narrator in Book 4 we get to better understand her, and her overconfidence in her intelligence is absolutely her fatal flaw as a character. (And boy, does it ever get her in trouble from here on out...)
Speaking of the Lannisters, Jaime wasn't faring too well after getting his hand chopped off at the end of last episode. I think the show has done a poor job explaining to viewers how big a deal this is for Jaime from an identity perspective. He does mention this episode that it was his sword hand, but frankly he didn't fare too poorly in his brief escape attempt. He was simply way outnumbered, and also, you know, dying. The quiet scenes between Jaime and Brienne nicely fortified their growing mutual respect, and I find myself wishing there were more scenes for this particular storyline.
The episode also featured brief snippets of Bran dreaming about climbing a tree to talk to the Three-Eyed Crow, but failing due to an imaginary fight with his mother; Theon Greyjoy once again showing us what a total idiot he is by nattering along mindlessly as his "savior" (this has to be the Bastard of Bolton, right?) returned him to captivity; and Arya getting a tour of the Brotherhood Without Banners' cave hideout, and an introduction to their leader, Beric Dondarrion. Next episode he'll fight the Hound in a trial by combat, and we'll all probably learn a little bit more about Thoros of Myr and his fire god. We'll also check in with Jon Snow and the wildlings north of the Wall, and continue to watch Robb Stark's war campaign crumble like the charred remains of his homestead. Good times!