Following last week’s gamechanger -- the death of King Joffrey -- this episode was a quieter affair that focused on many of the characters scrambling for position. That said, it still built to several harrowing scenes in some of the far-flung plotlines, and a good old-fashioned orgy back home in King’s Landing.
Let’s start in the capitol, where things picked up immediately after Joffrey’s gruesome demise. Ser Dontos, the disgraced former knight turned fool, spirited Sansa away just in time, before Cersei -- now crazier than ever! -- ordered the guards to shut down the city and bring Sansa before her. Dontos dragged Sansa to a remote shoreline and rowed her out to a waiting ship owned by Lord Baelish, a.k.a. Littlefinger -- or just Petyr, as he prefers Sansa to call him. Littlefinger quickly explained that the necklace Ser Dontos gave her was in fact the hidden receptacle for the poison that killed Joffrey, and that Dontos had been working for Littlefinger. Sansa was confused by all of this, and then horrified when Littlefinger gave Dontos his “payment” in the form of a half dozen crossbow bolts that turned him into a human pincushion.
In the books, the Dontos/Sansa relationship was much better established. She had started to trust him, and look at him as her only real shot of getting out of King’s Landing alive. She thought of them as a modern reincarnation of an old bard’s tale, Florian the Fool and the maiden Jonquil. So it was arguably more of a shock to her when she discovered that Dontos had been working for Littlefinger all along, for Littlefinger’s specific purposes. We’ll get more into that next episode, I’m sure. In the meantime, the good news for Sansa is that she’s out of King’s Landing for the first time since literally early Season 1. The bad news is that everyone thinks she had a hand in regicide, and the only person who knows otherwise is a master gameplayer. Good luck, Sansa!
Actually, at least one other person knows that Sansa was an unwilling accomplice in Joffrey’s death: Lady Olenna, the Queen of Thorns. That’s because it was Olenna who actually poisoned the little shit. The show did not make this explicit, but most viewers put it together after scrutinizing the shots from last week’s episode. Olenna grabbed the purple “jewel” from Sansa’s necklace while fidgeting with her hair and, at some point when everyone’s attention was on Joffrey and Tyrion, slipped it in his cup, or possibly the wine decanter. She has yet to reveal this to her granddaughter Margaery, who is freaked out by watching her second husband die in such a brutal manner, and is pissed that she keeps marrying duds and has yet to become queen. Olenna assured her that her position is better now than it would have been had she had to live with a creep like Joffrey, and pointed out that the Lannisters still need Highgarden’s money and food as much as ever.
So cue Bachelor No. 3, because Joffrey’s death means there’s a new king: Joffrey’s kid brother Tommen, who has been recast and rapidly aged to, I’m guessing, around 12. I believe Tommen in the books is still very much a boy, not even a tween. (Did they have tweens in medieval times? I guess 15 would have been middle-aged then…) But in both portrayals he is sweet, considerate, and timid -- basically the opposite of his older brother. Lord Tywin wasted no time explaining to Tommen that though he is now king, the best thing he can do is shut up and basically let Tywin run the show. And Tywin did all of that while literally standing over Joffrey’s corpse and saying explicitly what a shitty king he was. Tommen seemed to get the message, and by the way, Tywin wants him to understand why he needs a wife, and what he will need to do with her. Imagine having The Talk with your grandfather -- your totally scary, emotionally dead grandfather -- and you can see how screwed poor Tommen is.
Speaking of screwed, Jaime and Cersei had a horrifying scene where Cersei instructed Jaime to murder Tyrion (she is absolutely convinced that Tyrion killed Joffrey), and then recoiled in horror when Jaime tried to comfort her and touched her with his fake hand. Jaime responded in the worst possible way by raping his sister in the middle of a church, right next to the corpse of their dead child. This was uncomfortable to watch and I suspect all of the audience’s sympathy for Jaime was wiped out in an instant.
On the other side of the sex coin, we got an intimate moment with the Red Viper (Oberyn Martell), his paramour Ellaria Sand, and at least three prostitutes, a mix of male and female. They are really driving home the Dornish Indiscriminate Sexy Time Hour, with Oberyn literally telling the male whore that the point of life is to have as much sex as you can before you’re too old for people to want to sleep with you. It is a lovely worldview, and I am going to embrace it. Unfortunately, TywinLannister crashed the party, and he is the definition of “boner killer” (again: poor Tommen). Tywin gave Oberyn a half-court press about any role he could have had in killing Joffrey, but mostly wanted to ask Oberyn to sit as one of the three judges in Tyrion’s trial, and also to serve on Tommen’s Small Council. Oberyn questioned why Tywin would trust a man who obviously hates his guts -- they discussed The Mountain’s role in Oberyn’s sister’s death -- and Tywin impressed us all by being the first person to have a grasp on all of the various threats that are poised to destroy Westeros at any given second (wildlings at the Wall, Iron Islanders plundering the coast, Stannis pursuing the throne, and oh yeah, Dany and DRAGONS!). I have been suspecting that the show was going to take a very different route with the Red Viper than the books, and this scene offered more evidence to that effect. They’re really building Oberyn up nicely.
Tyrion, meanwhile, sat in his cell, and was visited by his squire, Podrick Payne. Pod gave him an update on the impending trial, and dropped a few nuggets: nobody knows anything about Shay, Sansa bailed (though Tyrion believes her to be innocent), Bronn is not allowed to see Tyrion, and Tyrion knows that this is a frame job perpetrated by someone who wanted him out of the way. The scene also allowed Tyrion to order Pod to leave King’s Landing before someone could kill him for not testifying against Tyrion. I hope that Pod listens, because I would prefer that the adorable sex machine not end up with his head on a pike.
Further afield, The Hound and Arya came upon a kindly farmer who offered them hospitality, and then lived to regret it after The Hound screwed him over and stole his money. On Dragonstone, Stannis learned of Joffrey’s death and Davos had a “Eureka!” moment while enjoying storytime with Shireen. At the Wall, Sam tried to take Gilly and her baby to the whore enclave of Molestown, where he assumed they would be safe should the Wildlings attack. Good luck with that, because Ygritte and her south-of-the-Wall crew slaughtered a town full of farmers and sent a child witness to report about it to Castle Black. The Night’s Watch is, thankfully, not made up entirely of morons, so they knew that the Wildlings were trying to draw them out into open combat. Unfortunately their resolve crumbled when two of their brothers returned from north of the Wall, where they had been held captive by the Watchmen who mutinied at Craster’s Keep. Jon Snow proved that he does know SOMETHING when he realized that as soon as the Wildling army hits Craster’s, the ex-Watchmen are going to tell them how poorly defended the Wall currently is. This is a plot point that I don’t believe ever happened in the books, and I’m curious why they’re complicating a fairly straightforward arc like this.
One place where I think the show is improving on the books is Daenerys’ story arc. Around this point in the novels Dany’s plot starts to get really repetitive and, frankly, boring. But I loved the sequence this episode, with her army finally reaching the gates of Mereen. After a one-one-one battle of champions outside the gate (New Daario did a fine job here, and sincerely I do not think Original Recipe Daario could have pulled off that scene convincingly), Dany gave an impassioned plea to the slaves of Mereen and made her “assault.” That consisted of catapulting barrels filled with broken slave collars over the city walls, where they exploded all around the Mereenese slaves. The episode ended bluntly, with one of the slaves picking up a broken collar and turning to look at his petrified master. Well done, show. And Emilia Clarke is so effing good in that role.
That said, the star of the episode to me was Charles Dance as Tywin Lannister. He’s a great actor, and had some juicy material this episode. As Tyrion put it, Tywin never fails to capitalize on a family tragedy. And that is why we love and recoil from him. But I do not want him to talk to me about sex. Let’s leave that to Oberyn Martell.