Just when you thought “Game of Thrones” couldn’t get rapier … it goes and gets more rapey. It’s really unfortunate how shortsighted Team Throne Games was about the avalanche of outrage that would meet the amazingly poorly executed rape of Cersei (Lena Headey) last week (sorry, nope, Alex Graves, you can’t just switch from nonconsensual to consensual sex in the middle of the act, and if that’s what you were going for, it’s not what you pulled off). This week’s episode featured a gruesome scene in Craster’s Keep with a ridiculously gratuitous portrayal of the rape and abuse of women. To make matters worse, my book-reading 'GOT' watch party pals informed me that this entire section wasn’t even in the book at all (much like the notable difference between the icky, but consensual sex scene between Jaime and Cersei in the books and what we saw on screen last week). Therefore the only ones we have to thank for this are HBO, the showrunners, and unfortunately, director Michelle McLaren. And yeah, bad guys, characterization, what’s coming to them, and all that, but it seemed as though that could have been attained without all that fleshy thrusting in the background. I want to like this show (and I do) and they make it very hard sometimes.
As I mentioned, my book-reading pals mentioned that much of this episode diverted from the text, most notably, what’s happening in the North. I don’t know what it is in the book, but this ain’t it. Of course, it doesn’t have to be entirely faithful to the book, as per the vision of Benioff and Weiss, but it’s interesting to note when and where it does divert and why that might be. I just take the slightest bit of umbrage with that being even more onscreen rape, but you know HBO’s got a boob quota and they sure as hell aren’t filling it with “Silicon Valley.”
Grey Worm (Jacob Alexander) is learning English with Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel), and the easiest topic of conversation is their horrible oppression and enslavement. Poor kids. Their chat has to end because Grey Worm and pals have a date for sneaking into the Meereen underground slave debate to persuade them to kill their masters and join the army of Daenerys (Emilia Clarke). Oh, and look at all these swords they brought! Blood is going to flow in Meereen tonight!
Flow it does, onto the walls of Meereen, where the slaves have graffiti’d “Kill The Masters,” INEXPLICABLY in English. Come on, 'GOT,' both the slaves and slave-owners in Meereen speak Valyrian, why the heck is this in English? Putting that aside … the slaves quickly descend upon the unfortunate discoverer of said graffiti and then pierce him to death with their very sharp swords.
Daenerys has her own tricks up her sleeve, after being greeted as Mhysa by her new people. She's got 163 masters rounded up, and in the name of “justice,” she orders them crucified in the style of the little girls who marked her passage to Meereen. To the sound of their wretched screams, she surveys her newly conquered land from the top of the highest temple, underneath her nifty new dragon sigil. The girl’s got style, that’s for damn sure.
Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is almost back in fighting shape thanks to his workouts with Bronn (Jerome Flynn), but that doesn’t mean that Bronn won’t keep him on his toes fighting dirty—in this case by taking off that gold hand and back handing Jaime with it. That’s cold, man. During a water break, Bronn prods him to visit Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), and reminds Jaime of the brotherly bond they share.
Of course, Jaime’s visit turns into brotherly competition, as he makes note of the fact that his conditions were MUCH worse as a prisoner of the Starks. The two are surprisingly honest with each other, and both know that Tyrion didn’t do it and Jaime won’t kill him (despite Cersei’s request). Jaime wants to go through with the trial, and mentions that there’s also a bounty on the head of Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner).
Here's hoping those bounty hunters have boats, cause Sansa’s trapped aboard the rickety ghost ship of Littlefinger (Aiden Gillen) en route to Eyrie, so he can marry creepy, creepy aunt Lysa Arryn (Kate Dickie). And guess what, that necklace was NOT a red herring, it was filled with the poison that killed Joffrey, and Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg) was the one who did it. She basically admits it to Margaery (Natalie Dormer), while also telling her to seduce the small child that is Tommen (Dean Charles-Chapman), heir to the throne. Why did Olenna do it? Because Joffrey’s a monster. Why Did Littlefinger do it? Because he wants EVERYTHING—cue the mustache twirl, evil laugh, etc.
Margaery does as she’s told and creeps into Tommen’s room late at night (side note: what on EARTH did Olenna do to Luther that she hinted at? I mean, I know what she did, but the described effect sounded … extreme, no?). The two talk about secrets and play with kittens because that’s what children do, and Margaery leaves knowing she’s made a friend because she’s literally the only person who has ever been nice to Tommen.
Speaking of Tommen’s mom, Cersei is getting sloshed on wine, which could maybe explain why she casually summons Jaime to yell at him about the amount of guards at Tommen’s door (not enough, apparently…) like that horrid rape never happened. Sure, she’s cold and mean, but it's an average amount of cold and mean, though they call each other "your grace" and "Lord Commander." She quizzes Jaime on why Catelyn Stark let him go, accuses him of pitying killer Tyrion, and commands him to find Sansa.
So what does Jaime do? He passes off this task to Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie). Sure, he gives her his neat-o Valyrian steel sword and a new suit of armor, and he even finds a good use for PODRICK (Daniel Portman) (!!!) as her squire, but this seems like a verryyy convenient workaround for him. It even seems like a semi dig at Jaime when Brienne names her sword “Oathkeeper,” cause that is definitely not a word to describe what he does. But really, I’m just totally stoked for the Brienne n’ Pod show.
Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is training his Night’s Watch budz about fighting Wildlings, cause he’s sooo cool now that he’s been hanging with the Wildlings. And what’s this? Locke (Noah Taylor), the sadistic helper of Roose Bolton and noted hand severer, has joined their ranks as a volunteer. What a wily fucker. He pals up to Jon Snow after his mean old bossman Alliser Thorne (Owen Teale) tells him to go empty a chamber pot. But mean old bossman has trouble of his own because he’s mean and everyone hates him and he has terrible hair, and Jon Snow is great and everyone loves him and he has fantastic hair, for which reasons he might be named Lord Commander. Mean old bossman’s friend tells him to send Jon Snow to Craster’s Keep, where the rogue Night’s Watch, aka The Mutineers, are partaking in some light cannibalism and torture of women. Maybe they’ll eat Jon Snow!
Jon Snow’s actually eager to get to the hellhole that is Craster’s because it’s the only inhabited Wildling outpost that his little bro Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) might have stumbled upon in woodsy adventures. He soon gets his marching orders, and manages to collect quite a few volunteers with his speech about Wildlings and justice for Jeor Mormont, including Locke, whom we all know has ulterior motives with regard to Bran Stark.
What’s left of Jeor Mormont is half a skull, currently used as a wine goblet by Karl (Burn Gorman), the steward who led the cannibal rebellion at Craster’s, and comes across like a cross between a particularly unhinged Cillian Murphy and Crispin Glover. And yes, this is the scene to which I referred in my introduction, with at least two graphic rapes, one ongoing in the background throughout, and various other sexual and other assaults. Not to mention the state the girls are in, battered and bruised and catatonic. Yes, we’re supposed to understand that Karl is is a psychopathic sadist, but you know what, I got it and then some. I got it enough to not only be repulsed by Karl, but repulsed by the way the “Game of Thrones” writers and directors decided to portray this scene in all of its graphic and gratuitous gore. Not only does Craster’s Keep feel unsafe for women, but watching this damn scene feels unsafe for women. Not. Cool. #triggerwarning
Anyway, Karl is terrible and we hate him. The one moment of agency the women have is when they start to recite “gift for the gods” when Craster’s last newborn boy makes his appearance. In Craster’s tradition, he has Rast (Luke Barnes) drop off the babe for the White Walkers outside while he goes to feed Jon Snow’s captive dire wolf, Ghost. Rast actually seems torn about abandoning the baby in the snow, but has no problem tormenting poor, caged Ghost. We hate him too.
As the babe cries, we cut to Bran, Hodor (Kristian Nairn), Meera (Ellie Kendrick) and Jojen Reed (Thomas Brody-Sangster) who are within earshot. Bran wargs into Summer and discovers the caged Ghost at Craster’s before Summer is caught in a trap. In the morning, the tween trio (and Hodor) creep up on Craster’s to do some recon and find Summer, and are promptly captured by the Mutineers, and brought before Karl’s judgment. He knows they are highborn, and starts to torment them. Of course, Bran cracks instantly, as Jojen thrashes in seizure and Meera is threatened with a throat slitting, giving up his name right away.
Back to that baby left in the woods: a White Walker cradles him on horseback, bringing him to some far off crystal Stonehenge, where he leaves the baby for another, more senior White Walker. This one cradles the baby and presses his long pointy nail into his cheek, turning his eyes a very distinctive shade of White Walker blue! That's how they make White Walkers!
Well, thoughts, everyone? This season is darker in a way that’s uneasy—from Daenerys to Jaime to every one of those Mutineers. It’s ambitious of the show creators to delve this deeply into the complicated nature of humanity wrestling with power and greed, but I can’t help but think that they’re whiffing the execution at times. Discussion is always welcome, and let’s keep it respectful and spoiler free, though it’d be interesting to hear how this differs specifically from the books. Do we hate Jaime? Is there more mystery to Joffrey's death? What do you think those White Walker babies are like? Are they just little cold blue-eyed zombies crawling around?