A review of tonight's "Game of Thrones" coming up just as soon as I meet a literate stonemason...
"It's a good thing I am who I am. I'd have been useless at anything else." -Jaime
Jaime Lannister the man without honor who provides this episode with its title, makes his first appearance since the season 2 premiere, and is reintroduced in what seems at first to be a surprisingly leisurely, plotless scene in a season that's had to bounce quickly from character to character, subplot to subplot, continent to continent. As the Kingslayer indulges in nostalgia with his distant cousin Alton, it becomes clear well before Alton's face is caved in that Jaime is playing to the poor guy's vanity in order to effect his escape. Yet even if he doesn't remember that joust quite as well as Alton does — it was another day at the office for him, compared to the greatest day in this forgotten man's life — you can tell that he's sincere in appreciating the value of a good squire, and of a man getting a chance to do what he was meant to do best. Jaime Lannister wasn't put into this world to be a squire, or a prisoner, or a politician. He's a stone killer, and no other role suits him quite so well.
And in noting how terrible he is at anything else, Jaime sets up the theme for this episode — and, really, for this entire season — in which one person after another is placed into a position for which they are ill-equipped.
Jon Snow's misadventures north of The Wall continue, as Ygritte zeroes in on one of our man's many emotional weak spots and puts on a ruthless (and very entertaining) full frontal flirting assault, throwing him off his game long enough to make a break for it — conveniently right at a moment when their wandering has taken them into the path of a bunch of her wildling comrades in arms. And all of her teasing and taunting and cajoling — and Jon's shaky response to same — suggests once again that, deep down, Jon Snow fears that being in the Night's Watch (and all the restrictions that come with that oath) isn't what he was meant to do.
Theon Greyjoy, meanwhile, is in over his head and is unfortunately at the point where the only direction he can travel is deeper and deeper into his own mess. He could have sided with the Starks over the Greyjoys, and while I understand why he made the call he did, this is a disaster. Bran and Rickon are on the run, it's unclear whether his sister's forces will make it to Winterfell before the force Robb sent to reclaim the stronghold arrives, and Theon's men are already beginning to question his leadership. So he beats one half to death (with Finchy's silent approval) and then burns to death the poor farm kids(*) who had the bad luck to have Rickon leave one of his walnut shells behind. And what makes all of this extra painful is that, unlike the mad king Joffrey or some of our other characters to whom cruelty comes as second nature, you can tell that Theon has to think before he acts, and that this isn't easy for him. He's set himself on a course where he's damned, and he can't get off it, but it still troubles him.
(*) At least, I'm assuming it's the poor farm kids. Though the charred condition of the bodies creates the illusion of it being Bran and Rickon dead — not only for us, but for the people of Winterfell he needs to keep under his sway.
Over in Qarth, we get an answer to the Case of the Missing Dragons, who unsurprisingly were taken by Warlock Dean Pelton(**), who has now collaborated with Xaro Xhoan Ducksauce(***) to bump off the rest of the Thirteen and seize control of the greatest city that ever was. Earlier in the episode, Dany gets high-handed with Jorah, objecting to his familiar manner even as she's lamenting that she has almost no one to trust, and few who trust her. Now her dragons are in the hands of another, her latest benefactor has apparently been working against her, and she's down to Jorah and one bodyguard. Dany may be meant to rule Westeros, but the seven kingdoms seem further and further away all the time.
(**) Hat-tip to Dan Fienberg.
(***) Hat-tip to Andy Greenwald and Jenifer Braun.
At Harrenhal, Arya is again realizing she's not so good at being an undercover operative, as Tywin easily sees through each layer of her assumed identity. (He'd be easier to hate if he wasn't so damn smart, you know?) And at King's Landing, big sister Sansa gets her first period, putting her one step closer to her one-time dream of being queen and producing little princes and princesses. Of course, her dream didn't involve being wed to the sadistic monster who murdered her father — a monster who's becoming so horrible that even Cersei is finding it hard to apologize for him.(****) She tries to get Sansa to recalibrate her expectations and priorities, and to focus on protecting the children she and Joffrey will produce.
(****) Leading to a fantastic, unexpectedly tender brother/sister scene with Tyrion. These two hate each other too much for any real affection, but you could tell that Tyrion felt his sister's pain for once by the end of their conversation.
Right before Xaro takes care of all Family business with the Thirteen, he tells the Spice King that, "Those in the margins often come to control the center, and those in the center make room for them, willingly or otherwise."
That sounds like a philosophy not only for empire-building, but for "Game of Thrones." Characters who were once at the center (Ned, Jaime) have been moved aside, while other characters who were once on the margins (Theon, Stannis) are now driving much of the action. (Even Tyrion, who was prominent through much of last season, is in a far more powerful position this year.) Power and import change rapidly in this world, and on this show, and while that can be exciting to watch — or even to live through, if you're one of those seizing the power — it also means that more and more people will wind up in a position other than the one they're best-suited to fill.
Some other thoughts:
* Loved Theon's disgust at the idea that Hodor (Hodor!) had been the mastermind behind getting the Stark boys out of Winterfell.
* Interesting how much magic there seems to be in Qarth. Warlock Pelton's illusions prove to be more potent while he's wiping out the rest of the Thirteen, and the woman in the metal mask somehow knows all about Jorah's near-betrayal of Dany with the assassination attempt last season.
* The more Xaro talks about all the awesome treasure hidden behind his vault door, the more I wonder if anyone who opens it up will find what Geraldo found in Al Capone's vault, you know?
Finally, we're going to keep the book/spoiler issue as simple as possible. We are here to discuss "Game of Thrones" AS A TV SHOW, NOT AS AN ENDLESS SERIES OF COMPARISONS TO THE BOOKS. Therefore, here's the only rule you should remember: if your comment contains the phrase "the books" without it being immediately preceded by "I haven't read," then you should probably delete what you've written and start over. Anything even vaguely questionable will be deleted, and if you see something that I haven't already removed, please feel free to email me. As usual, I've set up a message board discussion thread where you can do as much TV vs. books discussion as you want. In these comments, everything book-related that has yet to come up on the TV show (plot, characters we haven't met, motivation, etc.) is verboten.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org