"Goodbye, Ser Jaime."
I didn't expect to be moved to tears by Game of Thrones last night any more than Jaime Lannister himself did, I don't think. But all it took was a simple goodbye from Brienne of Tarth, addressing the so-called Kingslayer with a name and a title he had spent years sullying, and blam: tearduct game Riverrun.
Why? The circumstances, in part. Jaime had just sworn, with evident sincerity, to do right by his bitter enemies the Starks, because he'd made a promise and this woman he'd come to respect was holding him to it. Brienne, in turn, was obviously willing to take him at his word, the first time he'd been afforded that level of trust in years. (Catelyn acted out of desperation when she freed him in exchange for his efforts to return Sansa and Arya to her, not out of any great belief that he was a man of his word.)
More importantly, and more powerfully, as far as either of them knew this was their last goodbye. Both of them were well aware that Brienne's fate in the hands of Lord Bolton's man Locke would be gruesome at best – Jaime has the stump to prove it – or fatal at worst. That Brienne could put this aside and still do a kindness for someone else speaks highly of her character. Jaime, his eyes wide and wet the moment he hears the words from her, clearly thinks so too. In a way, Jaime's intercession in the bear pit at the end of the episode – titled "The Bear and the Maiden Fair" and written by George R.R. Martin, author of the novels on which the show is based – was simply payment in kind, saving Brienne's life as surely as she saved his soul.
It's a remarkable turnaround for a character we first really got to know when he took a break from fucking his sister to toss a little boy out a window. By that time in his life Jaime had spent 17 years wearing his last great crime, the murder of the king he was sworn to protect, like a crown. He'd made a decision in the heat of the moment and adamantly refused to submit himself to anyone's judgment, even if it meant hiding the fact that he'd saved, by his estimation in this episode, half a million lives. Squint at it long enough and it's easy to see his defenestration of Bran Stark in a similar light: Kill this boy to cover up the crime, or watch as an enraged King Robert kills the sister he loves, the children they secretly had together and Jaime himself – and probably his father and brother for good measure. Prolonged exposure to Brienne, his first close contact with someone outside the closed systems of his family and the Kingsguard in years, forced him to think outside his snap-judgment comfort zone. With any luck, she'll be the first of many people to benefit from his growth.
If I'm focusing on Jaime and Brienne, it's because their lives and relationship made a giant leap this week, while most everyone else was playing a game of inches. Well, OK, maybe not Theon. Not anymore, at any rate. His disturbing sexual and psychological torture at the hands of his mysterious captor was the show's way of weaponizing its reputation for gratuitous nudity – titillating both Theon and us in the audience, then pulling the knife out. (To the extent that the involvement of Martin in this episode can be used to close the case, it also settles a long-standing debate among book readers as to the status of Theon's genitals – yes, that's the kind of thing we have debates about.) That horn blast was like a bucket of icewater dumped right on the soul, and if it weren't for the remarkable work of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Gwendoline Christie as Jaime and Brienne, Alfie Allen and Iwan Rheon's interplay as the fallen noble and his gleefully cruel tormentor would have been the episode's most gutwrenching acting.
Theon's double seduction may have been a ruse, but fortunately, not all the eye candy in this episode was poisoned. When Richard Madden got up off his conjugal bed and sauntered over to his planning table in the buff, the voices of a million fangirls (and boys) cried out in unison: THE ASS IN THE NORTH! How satisfying is it to see the show embrace this particular demographic at long last (even if Oona Chaplin's admittedly marvelous derriere wound up getting more screentime)? All the highfalutin stuff about power and honor aside, it's fun to make and to watch a sexy show, and Robb and Talisa's royal rear ends are perfectly formed expressions of that element of the series. Ask True Blood, which Game of Thrones is poised to replace as HBO's most-watched show, if baring Bill and Eric's asses at least as often as Sookie's has hurt it.
It was a visually striking episode in more ways than just the naked ones. Emilia Clarke looked every bit the goddess in Daenerys's new white outfit, sure, but all those lingering shots on her three dragons demonstrated the visual effects department's increasing skill, and the creature designers' inventive yet "realistic" take on the myth. The sunken ships that Melisandre and Gendry pass over outside King's Landing were another case of FX money well spent. Simpler techniques paid dividends as well: the use of hand-held cameras as Tywin approaches Joffrey and as Yunkai's spokesman approaches Daenerys, for example, or of the way Tywin was shot to tower over the Iron Throne itself, while the slaver and his servants and guards were framed like a painting Daenerys was looking at with a critical eye.
A great deal of danger was brewed up in this episode, even if it was only in that pretty damn amazing-looking bear-baiting scene that it came to a full boil. Talisa's pregnancy, Orell's love for Jon Snow's girlfriend Ygritte, Shae's sadness and anger at her situation with Tyrion, Jon's dire warning that the wildlings stand no chance against the forces of the North, the defrocked maester Qyburn's admission that he performed vivisections, Gendry's true parentage – all of these plotlines could go very, very poorly for those involved.
But given the main thrust of the episode, I'm most curious to watch the Hound's kidnapping of Arya Stark unfold. Like Jaime Lannister, Sandor Clegane carries with him a fearsome nickname and a talent for killing; unlike Jaime, that's pretty much all he has, and he's burdened with carrying his scars on the outside. And like Brienne of Tarth, Arya Stark is a warrior in a woman's body, navigating a hostile and honorless world; unlike Brienne, she's on her own in that world as a child, with no father to ransom her, no King Renly to honor her and no Catelyn Stark to serve. If these two lost souls are headed for redemption and respect of the sort Jaime and Brienne found, the payoff will be even bigger. But if they fall short, that fall will be brutal.
Last episode: The View From Up Here