Our heads are spinning this week, as we found ourselves empathizing with the Kingslayer, of all people, and, in a pummeling trial-by-combat sequence, rooting against Arya Stark.
One's sense of who the good and bad guys are on "Game of Thrones" can shift from to week to week -- one of the key differences between the complexity of a work like "Game" and standard pulp/genre fiction, in which characters tend to get locked into the roles they are initially assigned.
The bigger plot shockers in this installment--Tywin Lannister's betrothal announcements--are offered to us in a great scene with triangulated killer glances, but they are actually upstaged by the gratifying spectacle of characters going beyond what we expect of them, for better and for worse...
A touching relationship of dawning mutual respect has developed between the freshly dismembered Jaimie Lannister and his bodyguard Brienne, and 3.5 builds on it. Watching and listening to him as she does, we are getting his side of the king-slaying story for the first time, and it turns out to be a heartbreaker.
Gwendoline Christie is so good, just sitting listening and reacting, that an even more disturbing possibility crosses our minds; that Brienne may be going sweet on this viper, and wouldn't it be just like him to break her heart without even realizing he was doing it. We like you a little better than we used to, Kingslayer, but that we could not forgive.
Forgiveness isn't an issue in the trial by combat sequence, which occurs in the stronghold of the Brotherhood Without banners. It pits "The Hound," scar-faced Sandor Clagane, accused of murder by Arya for a killing he considers an act of war, against fearsome Brotherhood co-founder Beric Dondarion.
A follower of R'hllor, the Lord of Light, Dondarion wields either a flaming sword or a sword covered with his own blood, which has burst into flames. And also he has the power to regenerate when certain arcane prayers are uttered. This has already happened several times and Beric has the scars to prove it. "Every time I come back I am a little less." Very creepy, boy and girls.
It may seem strange to say that anything in a fantasy story can seen "unnatural" in a meaningful way, but source-novelist George R.R. Martin and his faithful adapters, show-runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, have worked hard to make everything having to do with R'hilor feel soulless and anti-human, force of scalp-crawling evil. The horrors of war in Westeros are quite carefully rooted in real life historical horrors that resonate with human viewers. The brutality of Sandor Clagane is at least the failing of a human being. His nastiness falls in a range we're familiar with. In this encounter, at least, we know who to root for.