Monday, April 21, 2014

(TV) Game of Thrones: Season 4 Episode 3 "Breaker of Chains" Review

Game of Thrones can be a brutal but brillaint watch at the best of time and "Breaker of Chains" was no exception to the rule.

In this week's installment of the show we start were we left off last week with Cersei besotted with grief cradling the late boy king before swiftly turning her grief to motherly rage as she accuses Tyrion of poisoning her first born son. While we know the list of suspects could be the whole of king's landing as the boy king managed to rack up a number of enemies in a relatively short space of time. A master at insulting, goading and humiliating everybody he came across save his formidable grandfather, the boy king's death was not a tragedy but an inevitable fate. 

However, the list of suspects shrunk a considerable deal as upon the death of the boy king, Sansa is spirited from the scene of the crime by Dontos and out of the city to a rowboat all to conviently tied to the harbor. So far Sansa's escape had been rather too easy and we instantly got the foul stench of a rat flaring in our nostrils.

Someone must have been behind her all too obstacle free escape from king's landing and we soon find out as Dontos rows in to fog that soon passes to reveal a ship. Joffrey's fool then rows up to the ship's hull and instructs Sansa to climb up a wooden ladder unto the ships deck. she reaches the top and gets a soon be to be known hand over the deck by no other than Lord Baelish. It's was obvious that the boy king had fell victim to a plot and with lord Baelish orchestrating Sansa's escape, it's safe to say we know at least one of the conspirators against the realm.

Lord Baelish isn't exactly someone anyone with sense would trustworthy thanks to track record of serving when serving suited his self interest and double crossing anybody who didn't. Dontos was to find out the hard way as Baelish ordered his swift death then reminds Sansa that trusting anybody in king's landing is a fools errand indeed as he pokes holes through Dontos BS story behind the necklace he gave to the last known remnant of house stark. 

We've learned many things about the Lannisters over the seasons and in this episode we learned another: the Lannisters do not do formal occasions well. We got a whiff of this last week at the royal wedding and a full blown sniff this week with that poor excuse of a wake we witnessed in "Breaker of Chains". 

While Joffrey laid still in the sept of Baelor, only Cersei and Tommen seemed in any mood to mourn the late boy king as Tywin, ever the cold and heartless pragmatist, was already working his remaining grandson as he buried another instructing his last grandson to be a wise king that listens to his council, a council he just happens to head. While I don't think Tywin would have his own grandson poisoned, Tommen would be a much more pliable king than Joffrey was and that gives the old lion plenty of motive.

On top of giving kingly advice to one of his grandson while another laid dead in front of him, he couldn't resist  throwing a jab at the late boy king citing his lack of wisdom and the lack of it being one of the causes of his death. While it's true that if the the late boy king had been a trifle bit wiser he still might be breathing, it's rather cruel to take a dump on a deadman at his wake.

However the worst disrespect at the boy king's wake was saved for last as Jamie came to pay his respects to his king and son. Over the seasons we've seen Jamie do a number of reprehensible things from throwing a child out of a window to beating his cousin to death as part of his plan to escape the Starks but raping his sister at the wake of his son born from incest is a new low leaving last year plausible attempt to rehabilitate him in tatters. While there is no tasteful way to portray sexual violence never mind incestuous sexual violence for obvious reasons, this scene was truly despicable.

Many have scolded the show for its depiction of sexual violence and they're sure to line up in criticizing the show but really how do you handle with any grace an disgraceful act? While I thought the scene was despicable on a moral and human level and well out of sync of the character, it is rather unfair to criticize the show for depicting sexual violence in a setting where it's rife and unless you are of "lowbirth", goes unpunished.

The scene also revealed a truth that for the strong female character that populate the show, they are still subject to all kinds of predatory from all quarters. 

In a short but brilliant scene we spend with the oddest couple in Westeros, we learn another truth of the GOT universe; honor and/or kindness gets you nowhere but under the ground or if you're lucky, a bang on the head. Stopping for toilet break, we find Arya and the Hound under a small bridge until they meet a man and his small daughter on the way home. After a short chat where Arya sells the man an epic BS story about the hound being her shell-shocked father loyal to the Tullys (the house of her real mother) and her "mother" dying, the man was kind enough (or stupid enough depending on who you ask) to invite the two killers to his humble abode for rabbit stew.    

In the next scene, we find Arya and the Hound at a table with the kind man and his daughter adorned with bread and rabbit stew in the middle of a prayer that irritates the hound to no end as he interrupts the kind man as he runs through the gods of the seven for blessings and cuts him off with a thinly veiled threat using "the stranger", a god of the seven representing danger. 

The religious nature of Westeros is intimated in previous seasons but not fully explained in any detail but then again considering the array of cold, lecherous and just plain old psychopathic characters we've come across watching this show, is there any surprise we get little chatter about the gods unless characters are telling us how useless, cruel, or real (or in the read woman's case, terrifyingly real) their gods are.

War has left no room to teach The Hound table manners as he gruffly snatches the pot of rabbit stew and nearly pours the whole pot into his bowl and proceeds to gulp his fill. Arya apologizes to the kind man but notably takes her fill of the rabbit stew pretty much in the manner like her rude road companion and even pours down her face like him.  

Then after reminiscing about good and bad old days under the rule of the Tullys and complaining about raiders running wild on his lands, the kind man offers The Hound "fair wages for fair work" in helping him farm his lands and fighting off raiders. However, we've seen in "Two Swords" how The Hound reacts to job offers and this one was no different as Arya wakes up to the sight of the kind man's daughter nursing he fathers'  head after The Hound knocked him down and stole his silver.

After Arya calls the The Hound "The worst shit in the seven kingdoms " (she must have forgotten about the late boy king. However, with him gone, it's still a strong field), The hound coldly pours her coke onto an hard truth that has proved fatal for characters who have failed to heed it; war is where honor and kindness goes to die a gruesome death. The Hound brings his point coldly home by pointing out the cruel deaths of her father, mother and older brother and how many more need to join them in afterlife "before she figures it out" 

The hard truths kept on coming in "Breaker of Chains" as we hear a brother of the nightswatch cynically label the new prospects by crime and circumstance educating us of the fact there are a lot of "rapers" about in the brotherhood. Some may even be among his superiors as Janos Slynt makes an offhand remark about the Gilly's virtue and then threaten to test it, or more likely, take it. While Slynt did mean it as a distasteful joke, it's not beyond the bounds of reason to think that someone who more than comfortable killing babies wouldn't be just as at ease raping a teenage girl.  

Realizing that many of his "brothers" are criminals of the sexual predator type and his superiors are even referring to their new guest as a "whore", Sam's advising Gilly to leave castle Black appears to be smart and sensible thing to do. This is the most painful thing for Sam to do as he clearly loves Gilly but is unselfish enough to get her and baby Sam out of harms way. 

Dragonstone looks and feels a right miserable place to be and matter are not helped when it is helmed by Mr Miserable his himself, Stannis Baratheon. If he's not burning people alive or having super awkward dinners with his wife and mistress, he's busy tearing Davos, the only adviser in his stead worth the title, a new asshole.

This week, we find one of the few Baratheons still standing brutally pointing out to Davos his lack of progress in rallying lords to his side made worse by the news that his estranged and late nephew had kicked the bucket. Davos, doing his best to get around his king's legendary stubborness, calls his king out on his hypocrisy as he's more than willing to use black magic against his enemies but balks at his hand's reasonable suggestion that he invests in an mercenary army in the east.  Davos follows his reasonable suggestion with a reasonable argument that resembles Bron's short but powerful argument that "men win wars, not magic tricks".

However Stannis has some harsh truths of his own realizing that while his claim to the throne is strong, he claim is only strong for so long and time of the essence. After another bruising encounter with Stannis, we find The Onion Knight with Shireen brushing up on his much improved reading skills and while explaining to her difference between a pirate and a smuggler and the lack of interest by most people to make the distinction, Davos falls upon an idea that may save him and his king being a page someone else's history books as he gets the princess to write a letter.

The Iron Bank of Braavos has been mentioned fleetingly throughout the season and in the few times we've heard them mentioned in season three and four we've realized that the bank plays a real role in the politics and economics of both Westeros and Essos as they as are as renowned as the Lannisters in making sure their due is paid in full. through the seasons we have learned that the kingdom is in debt to the bank and should it go unpaid, they'll back their enemies, which in the Lannisters case, is gone beyond counting. 

Granted, Tywin is not the greatest parent or humanitarian by a long shot but he is a brilliant politician as we got short but telling scene between him and Oberyn Martell and a good lesson in how to make a friend out of potentially deadly enemy.

After accusing the Red Viper of conspiring with his youngest son in killing his eldest grandson, Tywin realizing that the Dornish prince wants a one on one meeting with mountain, the old lion makes a deal to arrange that meeting along with offering him a seat as judge in Tyrion's trial and the small council. Tywin also reveals his wish to bring Dorne, and by extension, the Martells to the fold as he sees threats to the realm from the north and east that the realm can only combat united or at least as united as the seven kingdoms can get.

In this short scene, we saw a political masterclass as the old lion managed to neutralize real threat to his family and make an grudging ally that he knows the realm is going to need real soon.

In the first three episodes of this season, we've seen a girl hunted and savaged by blood hounds, a man stabbed in the face and a boy king poisoned at his own wedding yet somehow Tyrion appears to be the most cursed of the lot. 

Having been threatened by a known warrior, humiliated by his uncle, sending his true love across the narrow sea to Pentos in fear that his father may hang her if he gets to her first, and his wife leaving him out to dry at the scene of his arrest, Tyrion cannot buy himself a break. In a short but pathos filled scene, we find Tyrion still has an ally in king's Landing as Podrick pays him a visit sneaking in some food for him to eat as it's hard to imagine prisons in King's Landing having a chow line.

In their exchange we learn that Tyrion suspects his father may have a hand in his death and the plot may have more than one conspirator. Tyrion's awful luck of late has yet to improve as while he can call his witnesses, he can't call the ones he would like as the queen already called Varys, Bron is under "investigation", and his wife, wisely, got the hell out of town. His only hope is that his brother will come to his aid which is no guarantee giving his brother well known tendency to blow cold more often than hot when it comes to helping members his family out of tough times. 

What we also learned in this scene was the special relationship between a squire and his lord as Pod reveals he turned down an opportunity to be knighted in exchange for selling his lord down the river, a refusal that  may cost him his head. Upon hearing this, Tyrion wisely instructs his squire to get out of town and not to die because of his loyalty to him which leads to one of the most sorrowful goodbyes in the series so far as Tyrions praises his squire for his loyalty in war and peace.

The men of the nightswatch have a number of problems from lacking sufficient numbers to man the wall to a number of their ranks being known criminals but it look like their problems will only get worse as we watch the Wildlings, notably led by the vicious Thenns, slice and dice their way through small village just to send a message to Castle Black. Through a survivor of the massacre, the Nightswatch find out about their savagery and rally to return the favour until, Maester Eaemon and Jon Snow Remind their fellow brothers of their duty to defend the wall and their limitations as a military force.

Then a horn for a ranger rings out and brothers find two survivors of the Mutiny of Crater's Keep who fill the their brothers in on the whereabouts of the mutineers and the fate of the late commander Mormont to which Jon Snow has a moment before making the point that mutineers must be killed before the Wildlings still beyond the wall get to them first or the Nightswatch is finished. Jon Snow had his following orders but he laready look like someone who may end up leading the Nightswatch as has the ear of his superiors even if they don't trust him as far as they can throw him.

"Breaker of Chains" ends with another epic set piece involving the Mother of Dragons (is she involved in anything else?) bearing down on another city on the far side of world stupid and arrogant enough to stand in her way.  I mean, if you find out a girl with a badass mercenary army with three growing dragons just conquered two cites just as stupid and arrogant as yours the only thing you should put in her path is the red carpet. 

Instead, Mereen sends out a one rider as its champion who isn't shy of taking a leak with thousands watching while insulting the Unsullied and the mother of dragons herself. Grey Worm, Jorah and Ser Barristan offer themselves up for the honour of killing Mereen's champion and resident arsehole, all of which she refuses due to their worth to her and her cause and instead selects Daario Naharis as her champion.  While it's quite clear Daario doesn't mind being put in dangerous situations, it must bum you out when your boss puts you in a dangerous with little confidence in you actually winning.

The Battle commences as the riders charges towards Daarios direction who at this point hasn't even drawn his sword. When the rider gets within range of Daario, the Braavosi swordsman draws a long dagger from his sheath and gives a kiss before chucking it right between the eyes of the rider's advancing horse. The horse buckles to the ground throwing its rider forward on the ground and injured. 

Before the rider can get up and fight him in open combat Daario, draws for his broken sword and beheads the rider ending a rather short contest and proving horses are indeed dumber than men. However the rulers of Mereen prove the gap in intelligence between men and horses isn't as wide as we would like think it is as they  foolishly tried to make it rain arrows on the Mother of Dragons and her men prompting Daario to relieve himself in front of the whole city as their foolish rider did seconds before his quick and easy death.

The rulers of Mereen, now out of champions and arrows, sit in uneasy silence as the Mother of Dragons gives one of her epic speeches which appeals to their slaves and common people of Mereen but puts the fear of the red god into their masters. It isn't long before the Mother of Dragons brings out a new toy to play with in the form of large slingshots flinging barrels full of slave collars with an obvious message;  inflict on your masters what they have done to you.

While the this set piece was well shot, acted and written, it did feel like we've seen this movie before as we have watched  the Mother of Dragons takeover two cites with relative ease, he only difference between the takeover of Astapor and Yunkai is that the production team seem to have a larger budget than the last time round.

All in all, "Breaker of Chains" was, save an incestuous rape, was a great episode and we simply can't wait for next week.

Episode Rating:


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