Jon Snow may finally know nothing (I was mildly disappointed that said iconic line didn't get used in the first appearance of Ygritte) but you'll know more than you want below if you haven't read the books.
For those who have read the books, you can see the more complex elements of the story and the origins of future events beginning to seep through in all kinds of little lines and moments. Shae's line about trust; Roose Bolton's comment about how his boy would be happy to retake Winterfell from the Greyjoys; and Xaro Xhoan Daxos' admonition about the things you have to do to achieve wealth and power. The early episodes of the season felt rushed, as they scrambled to lay all of the groundwork they needed. But the last two have begun to feel like the story is proceeding at a reasonable pace, which is odd considering the aforementioned increasing complexity. I am beginning to get nervous about how they'll be able to succinctly close everything in the Battle of the Blackwater and its aftermath, but there's nothing to do but wait and watch in that respect.
As we say goodbye to Rodrik Cassel in particularly savage fashion, one wonders at the temperament of Theon in that scene. Is it all about his internal turmoil at the betrayal of the Starks and the death of someone he at least grudgingly called friend? Or was there something to Bran's question: "Did you hate us the whole time?" (nicely delivered by Isaac Wright-Hempstead) The series Theon is significantly different from the book Theon. The latter was still a weaselly little shit who gave no indication that his loyalties lay with anyone but himself. This one has gone through a more traumatic (and, honestly, more interesting) transformation and is still experiencing it whenever he makes a command decision. But one wonders if they did decide to use that execution moment as a way for Theon to exorcise the frustration of his existence to that point. It is, of course, nicely paralleled by the experience of the other only-partial member of the Stark clan
and his new best friend. We see two scenes of potential execution: one carried through because the executioner wasn't strong enough to say "no" and another avoided because he was. In both instances, Theon and Jon are confronted with the reality of their isolation: Jon in a wasteland without friends and now reliant on an enemy and Theon in enemy territory and only vaguely supported by those that are supposed to be his kinsmen. That theme permeates the whole episode, as the royal court flees the people, Arya navigates the maze of Harrenhal, and Daenerys attempts to maintain her independence in a place where she can do little more than put her hand out. In all of these situations, the lesson is clear: in this game, you need people that you don't like, don't trust, and don't know. Welcome to life.
Personally, I was thrilled to see the Hound finally get into some real action. Sandor Clegane is, by far, my favorite character of the entire story. His blunt cynicism and distaste for everyone around him is something that I find hilarious, but the depth of his character in the books is remarkable, especially in Storm of Swords, when he teams up with another member of our cast who tends to reject the expectations of society. His everpresent aphorisms: "I didn't do it for you." and "I'm no ser." are the constant reminders that most of the people in the story are living in an artificial world of their own creation. They need to believe that the motivations of that world are honorable at their root, even if they know otherwise, and the Hound is there to remind them of their own dishonesty.
More things I was glad to see:
- Another casting coup by the directors of the series in Rose Leslie, as Ygritte. She fits the character perfectly, even if she is somewhat more attractive than it seems Martin presented her in the books. The wriggling moments between her and Jon (literally) were brilliant. She's another female character (like Arya, like Cersei) whose grasp of the world is way beyond what is expected or often permitted of her.
- The continued expansion of Osha's role. It's not that I'm particularly entranced by the character. I just find this deviation from the books particularly interesting, especially given Martin's assertion that Natalia Tena's performance has inspired him to do more with her in the next book. Speaking of doing more, I had to wonder what the Harry Potter fans thought of (ahem) Nymphadora Tonks giving us her all this episode...
- Qhorin Halfhand giving Jon the inspiring speech, followed by his immediate dispelling of any heroic notions: "They're just words. They help keep us warm at night and make us think we have a purpose." Nothing will help keep you alive in that environment more than confronting the reality of what it is you're doing there. That said, there was pragmatism in the spiel about purpose, as well: "I don't want you to be glad about it!"
- The appearance of no less than three(!) dire wolves in one episode. Crazy.
- The rather resigned response of Jaqen H'ghar to Arya's demand that he kill Amory Lorch. As implacable as he is, you can see him do the neck bob thing when she fully explains why it has to happen NOW: "Excuse me? I've already promised to kill three people by your say so. Now you're telling me how to do my job?"
A few things I was perturbed to see:
- Tywin Lannister does not say "I'm cold." Tywin Lannister doesn't get cold, no matter how much you try to humanize him by having him give his life story to his cup-bearer. "It's cold in here." "Bring more wood for the fire." "Do your job before I box your ears." That's Tywin Lannister.
- In that same vein, I'm not sure I understand the point of making Petyr the traveling idiot. One would think that someone as canny as Littlefinger would know that sitting down with Tywin Lannister to tell him that a moment of crisis presents opportunity is bound to get excoriated (which is exactly what happens.) And if they're doing so to present the idea that Littlefinger is playing dumb so people won't suspect him...? Yeah, no. He's the Master of Coin for the Seven Kingdoms, having risen from a tiny spit of land in Nowheresville. People already suspect him. He's been flitting around for the past two episodes telling people things they already know. Is this for the benefit of new viewers?
- The first scene limitation I can clearly recall. The whole exchange with the Spice King happens on a staircase that was obviously the same set from a scene earlier in the series but shot from a different angle. While the dramatic movement is appropriate (he is above her, as she is the supplicant), the scene felt constrained, as if they cut costs here.
- And now Irri is dead? There's going to be no one left of Daenerys' khalassar by the time they get to Dance of Dragons.