HBO’s headline fantasy series is gathering pace and our reviewer, Kieran Mathers, is enjoying the ride… As always, some mild spoilers lie ahead. If you’re new to the world of Westeros, be sure to check out our primer.
Gosh. When you don’t think it can get any better, this show manages to up the bar once more. There is so much good to talk about in this episode that I’m going to get the bad out of the way first so we can enjoy what was yet another spectacular episode.
I probably should have mentioned this last week, but I hate what they’ve done with the Eyrie. It is the first major visual misstep (barring plaster) that the show has made. In the books, the Eyrie sits atop a mountain spur, higher almost than the clouds, an impregnable fortress with an incredibly treacherous path leading up to it. It could have looked absolutely amazing, with stunning views from the top – a smaller Minas Tirith of the mountains.
What we get instead is something that looks more like the Dome of the Rock – a temple rather than a castle. For some reason it also appeared to have taken over a small hilltop instead of a high mountain crag.
I think I can understand why the show’s designers decided to do it that way, thinking perhaps that each area has to be visually distinct. But to fall into the trap of thinking that the Eyrie should not have stone walls and battlements because the other castles we have seen also possess those is akin to saying a dog is a cat as both have fur.
I don’t even like the enormous great hall inside. The internal dimensions don’t appear to work, with the moon door dropping people straight into the void while we already know there are levels beneath this. Either that, or the dome of the great hall is a lot lower than it appears. It’s also got too many people inside. Lysa Arryn (Kate Dickie) is meant to be deeply paranoid – would she really trust all these people in there? It’s good to see that they’ve kept little Lord Robin (Lino Facioli) as mad as anything, but the loss of his epilepsy is a shame. I wonder how, later on in the story, they are going to keep to the source material.
So, what was good? Well, the scenes with Daenerys (Emilia Clark) slowly building the respect of the Dothraki horde she now leads were wonderful. The realisation in her brother’s eyes when he sees she has the charisma to lead these people is great, and the ever expressive Iain Glen brings Jorah Mormont’s grasp at nobility to the fore. His confrontation with Viserys, when he shows his loyalty for the true Targaryen rather than the pretender, was an excellent demonstration of how weak Viserys has become or perhaps always was. He very much brings on his own fate. And what a fate that is.
This episode, despite many decapitations and injuries, also has the most stomach churning moment of the show so far. I can cope with violence, but the eating of a raw horse heart just totally threw me. I never even realised how big they were! The end of Bronn’s (Jerome Flynn) duel with Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) was a cinch to watch by comparison. What a duel that was, well executed and with an understanding of tactics involved.
And mentioning the Imp brings us to the highlight of the show: Tyrion making a mockery of the King’s Justice. I will continue to heap praise upon Peter Dinklage as he has made this role his own: scheming, manipulating and also taking major risks to survive, Tyrion is as well written as I believe he could be. That said, he does come across as more fearful than I expected, but this more humane, expressive Tyrion does build an emotional connection with the audience. In the books, you empathise with Tyrion because you can see inside his head, his fears and his plans. The show makes us feel the same way because of the humanity that Dinklage brings to the role.
The writing did fail at the episode’s start, and especially during the mid-section. The denouncement scene just didn’t work, but that’s easy to accept because it doesn’t really work in the book either. For the wounded Ned Stark (Sean Bean) to make such an evidential leap and a suicidal political move at the same time just comes across as forced, especially when his knowledge is so slim and the King is away. I don’t agree with the ‘Eddard Stark is stupid’ meme, but this one scene does seem to skate upon that razor’s edge. Having been warned, attacked, stabbed and his men butchered, Ned then decides to further raise the stakes as the Lannister’s raise their army and the King, the root of his authority, is absent. It’s really jumping dangerously to conclusions and just comes across as crushingly naïve.
There is another lovely exchange of dialogue between Eddard and his children. Maisie Williams as Arya continues to impress, especially with a particular line which left me in snorts of giggles. As the series progresses, it seems a shame for those who know what will happen to them, for they are one of the best realised families on TV today. What particularly adds pathos to the carnage is the reaction of the younger Starks to the deaths. Adults have to hide their feelings but the kids still have the freedom to react, and Arya’s response to the previous episode’s deaths succeeded in bringing home the reality of murder to the audience.
And now my habitual shout-out to the lesser known characters. Barristan Selmy (Ian McElhinney), or Barristan the Bold as he is known, is brilliantly acted. It’s a credit to the writers that they do not feel so bound to the plot that the smaller characters have fallen by the wayside. Barristan only has one, very quiet scene in this episode, but still manages to demonstrate perseverance, duty and knightly honour while saying very little.
And that final scene was a brilliant rendition of one of the most shocking moments of the book. If you haven’t read or watched it STOP READING HERE …
It was a stunning visualisation of the scene I’d always seen in my head and so true to the source I’ll merely quote it here so we can enjoy it once more:
‘When the gold was half melted and starting to run, Drogo reached into the flames, snatched out the pot; “Crown!” he roared “Here. Crown for the Cart King!” And upended the pot over the head of the man who had been her [Daenerys’s] brother.
The sound Viserys Targaryen made when the hideous iron helmet covered his face was like nothing human. His feet hammered a frantic beat against the dirt floor, slowed, stopped. Thick globs of molten gold dipped down onto his chest, setting the scarlet silk to smouldering … yet not one drop of blood was spilled.’