SPOILER WARNING! It’s best not to read this review unless you have already seen Game of Thrones Season 3, Episode 4
For those craving some real action in Westeros, this is your week. Intricate plot and character development is all very well, but it just can’t hold a candle to knives in the back and dragonfire in the face, now can it? The title of episode four is a poignant reference to the Night’s Watch – but it may as well have been No Mercy. And, of course, we’re loving every cruel and unusual second of it.
There are some really quite harrowing scenes this week in which we see a dejected Jaime (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau) humbled after losing his hand. He’s slumping on his horse, falling off it into a pile of mud, managing to gain a sword but clumsily wielding it with his left hand until he’s put back in his place. All that, and his severed appendage has been hung around his neck to rot under his nose. Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) just about manages to convince him not to starve himself to death, but things are looking pretty black for the Kingslayer.
Scenes involving Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) are few and far between lately, and when he goes to visit Varys (Conleth Hill) for once it is the Spider, not the dwarf, who takes centre stage. Tyrion desires revenge on whoever tried to have him killed at the Blackwater. Varys proceeds to tell Tyrion the story of how he became a eunuch, and managed to slime his way almost to the pinnacle of the Red Keep. As a child, Varys was mutilated by a sorcerer who burned his severed parts in order to converse with a mysterious disembodied voice (possibly the same fire god that Stannis (Stephen Dillane) and Melisandre (Carice van Houten) are obsessed with). It makes for very interesting watching, especially when the contents of the large crate Varys has been opening during his soliloquy are eventually revealed; the entire scene is a captivating exploration of vengeance.
Things are getting even more political in King’s Landing (if that’s at all possible) and Varys continues to steal the show. In conversation with Ros (Esme Bianco), he learns that when Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) leaves for the Eyrie he is probably planning on taking Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) with him. As we know, Peter ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish is in love with Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley), and so strangely obsessed with her daughter – and planning a sham marriage to her sister, Lysa (Kate Dickie).
Varys also meets his linguistic match in Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg). He clues her in to Sansa’s importance – if Robb (Richard Madden) snuffs it any time soon, Sansa will be ‘the key to the North’, and important people are starting to realise it. Varys is not working for any particular House, but for the good of the realm, as he told Ned Stark (Sean Bean) in that black cell in the first season. Varys seems to think that Littlefinger is far more dangerous than he appears (“He would see this country burn if he could be King of the ashes”), and he’s probably right. A plan to marry Sansa to Ser Loras (Finn Jones) is set in motion.
Meanwhile, Theon (Alfie Allen) is spilling his guts to his mysterious benefactor (Iwan Rheon), and revealing himself as one of the most conflicted characters in the series in the process. Many GOT fans despise Theon for betraying the Starks, but he certainly doesn’t deserve the psychological punishment he is currently receiving. We’re treated to a classic Game of Thrones blindside; Theon is guided into a chamber where he believes his sister is waiting for him, only to discover he’s been stitched up like a kipper. His ‘benefactor’ has led him right back to the torture chamber – although the real reasons for this bizarre charade are yet to become completely clear…
Things are starting to turn nasty for the Night’s Watch – very nasty. A random Crow (Burn Gorman again) accuses Craster (Robert Pugh) of feeding his pigs better than them, saying that he must have hidden stores of food. The final straw comes when he calls Craster a bastard, which the old man takes special exception to (the gentleman doth protest too much, methinks). Craster lunges for him with an axe, takes a knife to the chest for his trouble, and is dead before he hits the floor. The Lord Commander (James Cosmo) tries to calm things down, but Rast (Luke McEwan) takes the opportunity to knife him in the back. Sam (John Bradley) promptly legs it with Gilly (Hannah Murray) and the baby, while all hell breaks loose.
In what is probably the best scene of the season so far, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) finally puts the screws on the slavers in Astapor. She shows up, dragon in tow, to make the exchange for 8000 Unsullied soldiers. Our first clue that something isn’t quite kosher comes when Dany reveals that she does in fact speak the language of the slave master, and has been rocking a pretty solid poker face every time he has called her a whore up to now. Rather than going ahead with the deal, she elects to burn the slavers and their compound to a crisp, and keep both dragon and soldiers. One of the best things about this scene (leaving aside the sweet fiery justice) is the look of combined pride and awe on Ser Jorah’s (Iain Glen) face as he watches his Khaleesi lay waste to all and sundry.
Heavy on CGI, betrayal, stabbings, dragons, political machinations and various other twists and turns, episode four has once more reminded us viewers that Game of Thrones is as fickle as it is clever, and as merciless as it is addicting.
Best Kill: Craster – we’ve been waiting for that one for a while.
Best Scene: Daenerys sets the dragons on the slavers.