“Breaker of Chains”
April 20th, 2014
“I will not become a page in someone else’s history book.”
As is often the case with watching Game of Thrones as a book reader, I left “Breaker of Chains” with questions about how non-readers would receive the episode.
These are not simple evaluative questions like whether readers would enjoy this scene or that scene in the episode. Like most, it’s a compelling episode, with some fantastic scenes in the fallout of last week’s major events. Rather, they are questions of whether or not reveals that are obvious to readers—we know what’s about to happen—are anticipated by non-readers in the way the series would seem to be hoping for.
Game of Thrones functions in this strange space of clear structures mixed with completely vague ones. While the storyline at King’s Landing tends to function around major events—particularly this season, where Joffrey’s wedding is traded for Tyrion’s trial—other stories tend to meander. When the story is literally about the characters meandering, as in the case of Arya and the Hound, that’s fine—it becomes a way for the show to explore realities like those that await farmers struggling to survive even before winter descends onto the Riverlands. But when you’re on Dragonstone, and we drop in every now and again for another vague scene toward a vague goal, it’s contributing to something that may or may not be important as far as non-readers are concerned.
Readers know the answer (or at least as much of an answer as one can have when the books remain incomplete). But I often wonder if audiences are sitting around wondering “Hey, what’s going on at Dragonstone?” Liam Cunningham has done some really nice work as Davos, and Melisandre is one of the series’ most striking characters, but without a clear sense of Dragonstone’s importance does anyone find their minds wandering off to the island fortress unless the series forcibly takes them there? The show hasn’t necessarily done anything wrong with the Dragonstone storyline, but it’s never felt essential—I don’t know if it needs to, to be honest, but it stuck out nonetheless in an episode where the events in King’s Landing felt particularly resonant in light of Joffrey’s death.
Even within that storyline, however, how would non-readers react to Littlefinger being the one who was responsible for rescuing Sansa from Joffrey’s wedding? Have viewers been wondering where Littlefinger was this season? Was his reveal an answer to a question audiences had, or a reminder that Littlefinger existed? It’s completely normal for a character to be missing for multiple episodes on this show, so I don’t know if people had really been asking that question. It’s true that it didn’t really make much sense for anyone else to be behind Sansa’s rescue (although one could have presumed it was the Tyrells, I suppose), but I wonder often—writing this before the episode airs—whether something like that registers as a surprise when it comes out of the blue like that.
By comparison, the concluding Meereen scene doesn’t come out of the blue. It’s been in the opening credits since the season began, and it’s been Daenerys’ destination since the season began. The last time we saw Daenerys, she was heading down the road to Meereen, and here she arrives at the gates, exactly as the credits foretold. It’s another evocative scene, as Dany gives a speech that is—more than before—the speech of a ruler. She was a conquerer at Astapor, but here she isn’t threatening Meereen so much as she is empowering them. But it’s also a fairly logical progression from last season—Dany’s storyline is by far the most linear, untroubled as she is by anything happening across the narrow sea. It works, though, because the punctuation marks like this sequence have became a trademark for the character, such that I’ll be interested to see whether the storyline goes from here when she has to shift gears from the triumphant statement to whatever comes next.
This season lives or dies in King’s Landing, though. Yes, Jon Snow is still struggling to prepare the Night’s Watch for the impending arrival of Mance Rayder while the Wildlings wreak havoc in the Reach, and there’s still things afoot in Dragonstone, the Dreadfort, and wherever it is that Sansa and Littlefinger are heading (and yes, I know the answer, but let me play dumb for a moment). But the aftermath of Joffrey’s death is messy: for as much as Tywin—in a stirring monologue with Tommen—has comfortably moved onto planning his next moves, it has left characters like Tyrion, Cersei, and Jaime in complicated positions. The episode’s most disturbing moment is Jaime raping Cersei as their son’s corpse lays above them, a scene where Jaime seems overcome by conflicting feelings of grief, guilt, anger,and lust, and where Cersei experiences much the same. And yet scenes like this are only natural in King’s Landing, where everyone must contort themselves in such a way that they’re left in search of their own self (and, like Cersei, finding themselves in situations where the line between right and wrong is broken either by choice or, as in this case, through force).
There’s no clear way to read those scenes, which remains the series’ greatest strength: even in the space of King’s Landing where there is structure compared to other storylines, and where you can clearly map out where the season is heading based on the foundation established here, there is always that chance of things changing based on the complexity of the characters involved. Although I went into “Breaker of Chains” knowing that Joffrey’s death was far from a stopping point for the storylines at play (which is why they delivered such a climactic moment so early in the season), the episode itself did some nice work that I imagine would communicate much the same to non-readers.
- I will say that Tyrion’s conversation with Podrick at times sounded like a detective in a crime procedural recounting the details of the case to remind the audience of the various suspects—I kind of liked it, but it’s a fine line they’ll have to walk. I was suitably verklempt when the two said goodbye, either way.
- How nice of the ADR to remind us that the Knight’s Watch is full of rapers before Sam makes the same argument to Gilly—it makes sense (as we’ve spent too much time with them as heroes to necessarily think of them as a threat), but it was also kind of hilariously on-the-nose.
- Although it’s not quite outright parity, I would argue that Oberyn and Ellaria’s harem of prostitutes were fairly equally treated in the wake of Tywin’s entrance, with what I believe could be best described as “Shadowwang”—not to be confused with Numberwang—similar to how the “full frontal” was handled with the women involved.