“Breaker Of Chains” may have been better titled “Cutter Of Losses”. All over Westeros (and Essos), people are forced to decide what must be protected at all costs, and what can be discarded in service of that end. The Stark girls get harsh lessons on pragmatism from The Hound and a returning Littlefinger. The latter slimeball was apparently the primary mover behind Joffrey’s assassination (though the kid’s all-encompassing shittiness means that he could still plausibly be revealed to have anywhere from 0 to 28 distinct accomplices), and hardly gives a second thought to treating the Fool as a mere loose end to be crossed off to cover his tracks. Sansa is the piece of this puzzle that matters to him, and the rest can burn for all he cares. Arya meanwhile is “taught” that survival of the fittest means that the weak’s only use is to feed those that have a chance at making their own way. It may not be the most mind-blowing revelation to either her or us, given what we’ve already witnessed, but the Hound’s particularly brutal explication of it – “How many Starks do they have to behead before you figure that out?” – allows a minor diversion of a subplot to at least end on a strong note.
On the Wall, Sam has to decide whether Gilly’s virtue is worth sacrificing their relationship to protect. Being a generally good and overwhelmingly timid guy, he of course decides that it is. At the same time, Jon Snow and the new Lord Commander have to decide whether their oath to shield the Wall is entirely literal, or if it requires they abandon their post to protect those living behind it. And whereas the Jon Snow of the first season would dash off to save the peasants, today’s bastard takes a longer view, one which requires he ride out in the opposite direction of the innocents being slaughtered in order to murder his own wayward “brothers”. I’ve been critical of Kit Harrington’s performance from the beginning of the series; I think he miscalculated the greener version of the character, such that he came off as simply dim instead of naïve. But he’s carrying himself differently after his adventure with the Wildlings, and he seems to have grown into the more lordly incarnation. He’s still not among the better performers in the ludicrously-stacked cast, but it’s a noticeable improvement.
In the other isolated stretch of the show, Dany is taking another slave-state, although in more stylish and inventive fashion than she did in Yunkai or Astapor. There is also some improved acting over here, as I can easily picture last year’s Daario model smirking his way through the whole sequence at the gates, whereas new guy appears to recognize that a credible approximation of humility is what is currently needed to secure the khaleesi’s good graces (this after she explains why she considers her other warriors too valuable to risk on a publicity stunt). The outcome is of course never really in question; Daario slaughters the mounted champion without breaking a sweat and then literally waggles his dick around a bit. But it’s just a prelude to the main event, as Dany launches barrels of broken chains over the walls to incite the slaves of Mereen to risk their lives to gain their freedom. Which is pretty cool, even if it doesn’t get the dragons any closer to Westeros.
Meanwhile, back in King’s Landing, Tyrion decides that Pod’s life is an unacceptable price to pay to help his chances of avoiding execution. It’s a sweet scene that Dinklage unsurprisingly sells the shit out of, turning on a dime from some nicely understated comedy work when he gives a Perry-Mason style rundown of the plentiful suspects (which does omit Littlefinger, but no imp is perfect). His only potential ally at this point is his brother, but Jaime…
Oof, Jaime. The most controversial part of the episode is obviously his forcing himself on his sister while their son’s body cools mere feet away. This is a collection of circumstances that those in the realm of cultural anthropology call “rather uncool”. The internet’s already worked itself into a froth over this, of course, and to be honest I don’t feel like I have too much more to add. My feelings are basically: One, rape is not cool. Two, rape is really not cool. Also, any quasi-consensual “grey area” scenario is not cool. But Cersei and Jaime’s relationship is completely fucked up from the ground up, and there seems to have been a combative aspect to it from their first appearance, so that this doesn’t feel like such an enormous stretch for the characters. It is also important to note that depiction of an act does not equate to condoning it.
Anyway, the best scenes of the episode belong, as is customary, to Tywin. Charles Dance has never been less than great in any scene, but he is absolutely phenomenal in his big ones tonight. First he brings young King Tommen completely under his sway in the course of a single conversation, having decided that his goal of securing a hold over the new monarch is worth the price of permanently alienating Cersei. It’s a miniature tour-de-force combined with a little history lesson for those of us that haven’t read the books with their hundreds of pages of exposition, and Dance makes an absolute meal out of every rhetorical question and condescending look.
And it’s not even his best scene, which comes when he visits Oberyn in the brothel, having decided that the Mountain is as expendable as his relationship with his daughter, if it stops a blood feud from boiling over. I’m far from convinced that Oberyn will be satiated with this offering, but Tywin’s no fool. He probably figures that whoever kills whoever in the upcoming encounter, it will buy him some time to restabilize things before the Martells come at the Lannisters directly. And given that the old man is finally acknowledging the severity of the threats the Kingdoms are facing from Wildlings and dragons in the north and east, it makes sense that he can’t abide a further threat from the south, even if we’ve only been recently introduced to its details. And if it gives us an Oberyn vs Mountain fight sequence? I can live with that.
Is it next week yet? Oh, come on!