Game of Thrones Recap: Season 4, Episode 3


Andrew: Good morning, Chris. After last week’s shocker, last night’s episode seemed muted, almost dull. GoT is so well and justly known for its big plot reversals—Ned Stark’s beheading, the battle of Blackwater, the Weddings Red and Purple—it’s easy to forget how adept it is at character work. Even when heads aren’t rolling, GoT is constantly complicating the relationships between characters and the audience’s sympathies with them. This episode in particular seemed to deliberately slow down the machinations of the plot to focus on a number of dramatic pairings: Sam and Gilly, Arya and the Hound, Cersei and Jaime. In each, we see someone struggling to determine their standing in the relationship, and coming to view the other person in a different and darker way than they had previously—sometimes quietly, sometimes violently. I’m sure you and I will both have more to say about these pairings—but first, I’m curious about your first impressions of last night’s episode.

Chris: My legitimate first impression was a Liz Lemon masterpiece eye-roll at the Thenn cannibal showing the child his dead parents and saying “I will eat your mother,” “I will eat your father.” Oh, brother. How do they make cannibalizing so dreary?

But my overall first impression was similar to yours. Joffrey’s death was a shock, and now we’re slowing down. This episode was all about reestablishing relationships, and the setting up the post-Joffrey phase of the show. The problem with slowing down Game of Thrones is that I start to think more about the non-political aspects of the show. Suddenly I realized: I don’t actually know why most of the plot is unfolding. Why is Daenerys Targaryen sacking cities and freeing slaves? I think it’s great that she is, but I’ve completely lost any sense of direction in her story, other than: She’s a total bamf. Same with the Wildlings. They hate the people south of the wall for whatever reason and they’re running from the White Walkers maybe? I don’t feel like I have any grasp on why they are literally killing everyone. Because they’re barbarians from beyond the wall? Is that really it? There’s so much plot in Game of Thrones that when everything slows down, it can get a little aimless. All that said, a really strong episode overall.  They can’t all be shockers, and they shouldn’t all be shockers.

Andrew: I’m not exactly clear on the motivation of the Wildlings, either—but I’ve got some theories. The thing that characterizes the Free Folk is that they’re free, right?—they’ve got no king and no lords, which in this world means no central authority to protect them, which means no agriculture, no business, no society. Their freedom is basically anarchy. They live by their wits in the wild, barely subsisting, raiding poor farmers and merchants to stay alive. Multiply that state of affairs by thousands of years, and I get why there would be fear and hatred on both sides. Plus, there’s a huge Wall trapping them in the North. With winter coming and White Walkers stumbling around, I understand why they’d want to head south—and why, given their culture and centuries of mutual hatred on both sides, they’re not willing to just walk up to the Wall, knock on the door, and call a truce.

Daenerys’s lack of motivation seems like a much bigger problem to me. The first time Dany freed a bunch of slaves, it was awesome; the second time, it was familiar; now it’s actually become dull. Worse: it’s become insulting. The slaves Dany’s freed, so far, haven’t emerged as real people—at best, they’re passive vessels for her growing savior complex. “Free,” when Dany says it, is just a word. She frees slaves—to do what? To serve her. The first thing she expects them to do with their freedom is give it over to her. Either GoT needs to start doing something with this irony—needs to start putting Dany in a real world with real people and real consequences—or I’m losing interest.

Chris: Fair enough on Dany. Love her, getting anxious to get into the mix, and little uneasy with the savior. I feel like I say this every week. But I really want it to come true.

Back to your dramatic pairings, it’s interesting to see how quickly Jaime threw away the goodwill he earned in the past season. Just like that, he’s hated again. Cersei and Jaime were terrible together, but at least they were terrible together. Raping Cersei while she mourns the death of their son, on the floor under Joffrey’s dead body? That’s serious horror and will have lasting effects for sure, on all the Lannisters. Less horrific, and more interesting for the season, was the pairing of Tywin Lannister and the new king, Tommen Baratheon. As long as the Lannister/Baratheon children are on the throne, Tywin Lannister will manage to maintain all the authority of King’s Landing. Tywin’s questioning of Tommen about the qualities of a king, the failed traits of the recent (and dead) kings, and the centrality of trusted advisors was brilliant political drama. I’m really starting to think that when Game of Thrones is political, it’s some of the best political television on television.

Andrew: The entire scene by Joffrey’s dead body in the sept was well-done. Once again, though Joffrey’s corpse was the literal center of the scene, Cersei was its emotional center—both in Tywin’s Socratic questioning of Tommen, which emotionally was just as much about the casting aside of Cersei and letting her know that she’s the only one who is mourning her son, to the truly horrific scene with Jaime. At Vulture, Nina Shen Rastogi has said that she doesn’t understand this scene from Jaime’s perspective—raping his sister seems out of character for him. I don’t entirely agree—let’s not forget that in Season 1 he was pushing kids out of windows and going after Ned Stark in the streets of King’s Landing. We’ve come to like Jaime, but he’s ultimately not a good guy. The director of last night’s episode has gone on record as saying, unthinkably, that the scene wasn’t rape—but he’s wrong. Whether Jaime ultimately attacked Cersei out of sexual frustration or to punish her for asking him to kill Tyrion (I happen to think it’s a bit of both), Jaime’s actions are completely unjustifiable, and obviously rape. It’s a betrayal that serves to wrest our sympathy from Jaime, who’s emerging as something of a monster: an occasionally charming monster, but a monster nonetheless.

Chris: There’s no debating that Jaime is not a good guy. There’s only been one or two people in the entirety of Game of Thrones who I would describe as “good,” and Ned Stark lost his head for it right at the start. But it’s important to think about why the writers change our perception of characters, and to what end we are given these emotional gut-checks. Everyone hated Jaime Lannister in season 1. Over the course of two seasons his character was given depth and complexity, especially with Brienne. He was drawn out to make us feel for him in ways we hadn’t before, and even, to some extent, care for him. To throw that out the window so swiftly–and repugnantly–is concerning to me. It risks turning depth into manipulation. As for the director saying the scene wasn’t rape, that’s appalling. And it risks pushing Game of Thrones all the way back to where it started: with viewers asking about what value this show finds in portrayals of sex and sexual violence. I have started to think that Martin and Benioff had more up their sleeve when it comes to sex and violence than its early detractors–myself included–gave it credit for. But if the creators of the show think they can evade or circumnavigate the always complicated measure that is portraying rape by saying it isn’t really rape, then all those questions have to come to the fore again. The show will carry these questions forever, frankly; a burden of their own making. They need to do right by them.

Andrew: It’s troubling, for sure. But we’re running out of time, and we still have more ground to cover. Another of last night’s interesting dramatic pairings was Arya and the Hound. The Hound is another character we’ve perhaps grown to like—but we discovered last night, with Arya, that he’s willing to use his strength against the weak. It doesn’t quite make him the “worst shit in the seven kingdoms” (surely Ramsay Snow is still worse, or even Jaime, at this point), but it certainly makes us look at him in a different light. Then there were Sam and Gilly, each trying to figure out where they stood with each other—Sam trying to keep her safe, Gilly worrying that he was putting her in a corner where he could forget about her.

The one thing we didn’t get last night was an answer to the question that was on our minds at the end of last week’s episode: who killed Joffrey? It seems pretty obvious that Petyr Baelish had something to do with it—he whisked Sansa away at just the right time—but he needed someone at the feast to deliver the poison. Rewatching last week’s episode, my money is on Olenna: there was a point when she had access to Joffrey’s cup, and the camera made a point of lingering on her face when the young king took it up.

Chris: I admit I was surprised by The Hound’s action when he robbed the silver from the farmer who had offered him work. The Hound is a great example of how to complicate a character and alter our emotional response to him. That act–incomparable to rape–left me confused about the Hound in a satisfying storytelling manner.

As for the who-dunnit? The only thing I’m comfortable saying about Joffrey’s murder is that is wasn’t Tyrion. Tyrion made his own case well last night: If he’d done it, he wouldn’t have been standing there gawking like a dummy when it all went down. Other than that, I still think it’s the Tyrells. That makes the most sense to me. I really liked Margaery and Olenna’s conversation in the garden following Joffrey’s murder. And it leads me still  to think their family is likely responsible. Even more so now that Oberyn appears to be won over by Tywin Lannister’s offer of truce by trade. For all my griping about the plodding plot that Game of Thrones sometimes maintains, the murder mystery provided by Joffrey’s assassination looks like it might be quite intriguing. The idea of a truly engaging mystery has the potential to add a great deal to season 4–something we haven’t seen before. Who doesn’t love a good murder mystery?

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  1. jdm says

    Thoughts on Jezebel’s harsh call out of the rape scene? While it makes sense to me that the scene plays in context of Jamie’s motivations, what do you make of the claim that it is gratuitous, despicable, and should be called out as such?

    • Christopher ZF says

      I said in this the post, but I think Jezebel, et al’s criticisms are fair because GoT has created a burden of it’s own making when it comes to rape and sexual violence. The show has engaged in both, at times, pointlessly, at others spuriously. Depictions of rape and sexual violence come with responsibilities in the narratives that house them.

      GoT–the HBO series–began with plenty of gratuitous nudity and sex. But I’ve appreciated the willingness of the show to demystify sex as a central piece of the human experience. There’s a fine line between exploiting bodies and portraying sexuality freely. What could have been a throwaway scene of orgiastic nonsense with Oberyn and Ellaria was actually insightful and playful and interesting.

      Gratuitous nudity is one thing, with its own set of problems, gratuitous rape, however, is another category entirely. The Jaime and Cersei scene in the sept is not participating in that line. It isn’t pointless sexposition, or boobies!! har har or the like. It’s rape. The scene between Jaime and Cersei is obviously disturbing and despicable and monstrous. To claim it otherwise is ignoring what’s on screen. And the director’s comments that it wasn’t rape are preposterous.

      The question isn’t is this rape scene despicable but is it gratuitous? I don’t know yet. We’ll only know that when we see how the story between Jaime and Cersei progresses. At the very least, the shift we saw in Jaime from horrible man to sympathetic-horrible man (the writers spent two years on that!) to rapist presents the show’s writers with a serious challenge. They need to make good on such a huge risk, because failing on this could be disastrous.

      Andrew, any more thoughts?

      • says

        Short answer: when I first saw the episode on Sunday, I thought that the scene, though it portrayed a despicable act, was not itself despicable, and that the showrunners had listened to their critics and handled sexual violence much better than they had in the past. Then Graves’s comments about the scene came out, and the news that the scene had been changed from the book, and now I’m not so sure.

        Setting aside Graves’s troubling comments for a moment and judging the scene on its own merits, I actually think it functioned responsibly in the episode—and particularly in comparison to some of GoT’s past portrayals of sex and sexual violence. When GoT portrays sex, it’s usually used to titillate. But that wasn’t true in this case. The scene was thoroughly unsexy in every frame. The encounter was clearly identified as rape—Cersei struggles, she says “No” and “Don’t” and “It’s not right.” And Jaime’s motives, his “hateful woman” comment, the timing of the attack right after Cersei asked him to kill Tyrion, frame the rape as the ugly and violent grab for dominance that it is. Jaime’s asking the priests to leave at the beginning, moreover, open up the possibility that the whole thing was premeditated. None of this makes the scene particularly pleasant to watch or even necessary, but it’s at least potentially perceptive about the kinds of poisonous male attitudes that lead to rape, and about our own preconceptions about the kinds of men who are capable of rape.

        However, so much depends on how this storyline is handled in future episodes. Jaime raped Cersei—that’s something that should have major consequences in the story, for their relationship, for Cersei’s emotional state as a victim of sexual violence.

        But if future episodes pretend that this never happened, if there are no real consequences to Jaime and Cersei’s relationship, or even worse, if Jaime is somehow rewarded for raping his sister or if it’s suggested that Cersei has fallen in love with her rapist—then the show is trading in a dangerous myth, propping up rape culture, and the scene is really what Jezebel suggested: despicable and gratuitous.


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