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Game of Thrones 4.03 "Breaker of Chains" Review: The Ties That Bind Us

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    This week’s episode of Game of Thrones, “Breaker of Chains,” was written by the creative team of David Benioff and D.B. Weiss and directed by Alex Graves. The episode covers a lot of ground and moves the story ahead on a number of fronts: King’s Landing, Castle Black, Dragonstone, and Meereen. One of the things that makes Game of Thrones so successful is the consistency of direction – Graves directed last week and has several more coming this season - and the consistency of the writing, with showrunners Benioff and Weiss writing most of the episodes themselves. It’s for these reasons that any inconsistencies also become significant.

    This episode picks up exactly where the last one left off, with the dead Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) lying in Cersei’s (Lena Headey) arms. We see Sansa (Sophie Turner) being whisked away by Ser Dontos (Tony Way). Sansa only hesitates once and looks back before getting in the waiting rowboat. Was she considering that she was abandoning her husband to his fate or was she simply giving a final thought to her own lost glory?

    Dontos, of course, turns out not to be acting on his own, but following the orders of Lord Baelish (Aidan Gillen), into whose arms – literally – he delivers Sansa. Baelish, of course, has creepily transferred his unrequited love of Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) to her daughter. Remember too that Baelish is now married to Catelyn’s sister, Lysa Tully (Kate Dickie), Mistress of the Eyrie. If Baelish takes Sansa there, it is likely that she may finally be reunited with Arya (Maisie Williams) who the Hound (Rory McCann) is bringing to the Eyrie for what he expects to be a large reward.

    I thought Gillen’s accent was different from the last time we’d heard from him. At first, I attributed this to a continuity error, but this show is much too careful for that, so how to account for it. It may be one thing or a combination of several. Has Baelish modified his accent to fit in better in the Eyrie, his new home? Or perhaps we are actually hearing his “real” voice as he actually reveals more of his true self to the object of his desire? Either way, it is always a delight to see Gillen back as Littlefinger.

    Baelish reveals that he’s been giving Dontos orders all along to keep Sansa safe. He kills Dontos, because Dontos is a fool and a drunkard, and “a bolt in the heart buys his silence forever.” Clearly, he wants Sansa’s trust and gratitude going forward. Dontos may have been a fool – to trust Baelish – but I wonder if he really felt that Sansa had “saved” him by letting him live as a fool rather than die as a knight. Was he ever as grateful as he seemed?

    Diana Rigg is always a delight to watch as Lady Olenna. She is a formidable opponent for Tywin (Charles Dance). Margaery (Natalie Dormer) is concerned that she is cursed – now that she’s had not one but two seriously flawed husbands murdered. Lady Olenna assures her that it’s nonsense and that, in fact, her circumstances have improved markedly. Marriage is not about love – it’s about allegiances. Lady Olenna tells Margaery, “You may not have enjoyed watching him die, but you enjoyed it more than you would have enjoyed being married to him.” Lady Olenna has to go to the head of the list as a suspect in the murders of both husbands.

    When Margaery laments that she would at least have been Queen, Lady Olenna is quick to point out that the Lannisters still need the Tyrells as allies. She compliments Margaery on the “wonderful work” she did with Joffrey – managing his madness and making him popular with the people. She then says the next one should be easier – and if we have any doubt as to who that might be, the scene cuts immediately to Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman).

    Charles Dance is always a joy to watch, and he has not one but two masterful scenes in this episode. The first is the scene with Tommen as he teases out the answers he wants from asking Tommen what makes a good king. Tywin, as always, knows exactly how to appeal to and manipulate Tommen’s temperament, and Tommen’s answers are a good indication of that temperament. Tywin says he has the right temperament to be King, implying that Joffrey didn’t. The quality that Tywin is really referring to is that Tommen can be more easily manipulated.

    Once again, the writing subtly fills in what we don’t know about Tommen. His first response is that a good king is holy, then just, then strong, and then, finally wise. Tywin agrees with each but shoots down the first three with examples: Baylor the Blessed starved himself to death, Horace the Great was killed by his brother (ironic given the context here!), and Tommen’s father Robert equated winning with ruling. Of course, Robert reigned for 17 years. Tywin gets whole-heartedly behind wisdom, pointing out that a good King knows both what he knows and what he doesn’t, and he relies upon his counsel to help him make decisions – both before and after he comes of age.

    This conversation takes place over Joffrey’s dead body with Cersei listening in. She doesn’t react throughout, except to protest at the beginning. She barely reacts when Tywin insults Joffrey. As the scene progresses, Tywin gradually leads Tommen away from his mother both literally and figuratively. As they leave the hall, Tywin brings up the subject of needing to marry, segueing into what will no doubt be a conversation about the birds and the bees as Tommen apparently has no practical knowledge of marriage – which given his age is understandable, distracting Tommen from the realities of marrying his brother’s wife with the physical pleasures. This scene dovetails nicely with the  next scene of Tywin in the brothel and the scene immediately following with Cersei and Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau).

    Jaime arrives as Tommen and Tywin leave. He asks Tommen how he is and vows to keep him safe before sending everyone else out of the hall so he can be alone with Cersei. She demands that he avenge his son’s death by killing Tyrion (Peter Dinklage). Jaime protests that he can’t kill Tyrion because he’s their brother. Cersei is insane with hatred and concerned that he will weasel his way out of a trial. Jaime tells her that she is a hateful woman even as he laments that he loves her. He then forces himself on her, raping her at the foot of their son’s dead body. The stones on Joffrey's dead eyes being a symbol for the blind eye all have turned on this continuing incest.

     Cersei protests that it’s not right. Cersei has resisted Jaime’s advances since his return, yet we saw them in the throes of passion and conspiracy in season one, so her new reluctance is new. I felt that she could have screamed or fought harder, yet the fact that she did say no has to make this rape – not merely reluctant sex. Is this an indication of what being back in the corruption of King’s Landing is doing to Jaime? Is it a sign of how distorted this entire relationship is? It was not what I was expecting from Jaime at this point.

    Arya and the Hound are slowly making their way to the Eyrie. He confides in her that he’s going to head to Bravos and become a sell sword (mercenary). Ironically, this may very well land him in Stannis Baratheon’s (Stephen Dillane) army against the Lannisters. We see Arya taking a greater lead in their relationship and it’s her ruse that gets them a hot meal and a place to stay. She cleverly picks the correct house to ally them with to win the farmer’s trust and builds them a good cover to also win them his sympathy – and explain the Hound’s abysmal behavior! I loved that she pretended he was her father who was hurt in the war and hadn’t been the same since. Of course, like every good lie, this one is also grounded in truth.

    Arya is clearly being influenced by proximity to the Hound. I can only imagine Sansa’s reaction to her sister’s new table manners! I loved how she both reprimanded and excused the Hound’s behavior before essentially mirroring it herself. She is still outraged, however, when he simply steals the silver from the farmer. The Hound’s nihilism is foremost as he tells her that the farmer and his daughter are weak and will be dead before winter – he’s given up on any hope for the common people. He then cruelly demands of her how many more Stark’s have to lose their heads before she understands. As with Jaime, I’m hoping for a redemption arc with the Hound. I’m hoping at some point he will come to believe in the rightness of the Starks to rule and will rally with them.

    At Castle Black, we first see Sam (John Bradley) is worried about Gilly’s (Hannah Murray) safety because she is one woman among 100 men, many of whom are rapists. Perhaps Jaime will be sent to the wall... In order to keep her safe, he takes her away from Castle Black to a brothel in the town. She clearly has feelings for him and is angry with him for leaving her there, thinking he is simply tired of her. Ironically, with the news that the Wildings are on their way, Gilly is less safe where she is – though as everyone thinks of her as a Wilding, she may still be safe from them.

    At Dragonstone, Stannis has Davos (Liam Cunningham) read the news of Joffrey’s death. I thought at the time that it was very child-like of Davos to see his lips moving as he reads. Shireen (Kerry Ingram) later berates him for doing just that, which was hilarious. She really is wise beyond her years and realizes that this will make him look weak in front of others. Stannis blames Davos for not having secured him an army to take advantage of Joffrey’s death. He also reminds us that Davos released Gendry (Joe Dempsie) so they no longer have access to King’s blood. This also reminds us that another heir is alive and loose in the world. I suspect we will catch up with Gendry shortly. Anybody else hoping that he and Podrick (Daniel Portman) end up as a team?

    Stannis is resistant to hiring sell-swords, but Davos sees it as their best option. It’s while he is having a reading lesson with Shireen that he suddenly has an idea. Shireen knows how to motivate Davos to read and gives him the tale of a First Sword of Bravos. In drawing a distinction between pirates (which he never was) and smugglers, Davos says, “If you’re a famous smuggler, you’re not doing it right.” Subterfuge is Davos’ strongest asset, and this gives him an idea. He asks Shireen to write a letter for him to the Iron Bank – we knew from last week that the Iron Bank was going to play a big role this season. He writes as Stannis in order to get their attention – but we will have to wait to learn what he has done.

    Back at King’s Landing, Oberyn (Pedro Pascal) and Ellaria (Indira Varma) are enjoying some free time with a bed full of prostitutes. When asked whether he has a preference between men and women, Oberyn denies any, saying “When it comes to war, I fight for Doorn. When it comes to love, I don’t choose sides.” Tywin enters and no one seems particularly discomfited by his presence.

    Dance and Pascal are simply superb in this scene. Tywin shows little to no reaction to anything that passes between them. Dance is simply wonderful at playing this consummate politician. Pascal brings both the playfulness of the brothel scene and the passion and cunning of the Prince to his part. I thought it hilarious when Oberyn sees through Tywin’s stoic and prudish facade to taunt him by offering him a seat on the bed just vacated by the prostitutes. He then offers his condolences over Joffrey’s death and wine! Tywin declines and then reveals that he knows Oberyn is an authority on poison. Oberyn asks why he hasn’t been thrown in jail yet. Tywin asks about Tyrion visiting him – clearly indicating that he thinks the poison or knowledge of it may have come from Oberyn, but that he thinks – or wants – Tyrion to be guilty.

    Oberyn tells Tywin that they spoke of his sister’s death. Tywin knows Oberyn blames him for the Mountain raping and murdering his sister but points out that during war, men do much that their commanders are unaware of. I doubt very much that Tywin was unaware of it – and this is based on Dance’s very subtle performance. Tywin does offer to arrange a meeting between the Mountain and Oberyn for Oberyn’s cooperation as a judge in Tyrion’s trial. He sweetens the pot be also offering a seat on the Small Council to advise the new King. Tywin is clearly looking ahead to challenges from the Wildings, Greyjoys, and Daenerys (Emilia Clarke). The Doorn’s greatest asset is that they were the only ones to resist the dragons before. The scene ends with Tywin offering his hand to shake and seal the deal, but we cut to Tyrion in his cell before we see whether Oberyn has accepted.

    Peter Dinklage has created one of the most beloved characters on the show, and the scene with Podrick demonstrates why. We see his banter in the face of overwhelming odds, we see his clearly superior intellect at work, and we see the heart that he tries so hard to hide from most. Tyrion does a good job in running down many of the possible candidates for the murder. He rules out Sansa and Cersei but has Tywin at the head of his list. He asks Podrick whether he thinks he did it and before he can even finish the question, Podrick exclaims no, proving his loyalty. Of course, as most don’t realize, Tyrion is a good master to his men and is worthy of their loyalty. Tyrion, of course, points out that he wouldn’t have been stupid enough to kill the King and then stand there gawking like a fool while he died. True enough.

    Podrick tells Tyrion who his judges will be. He’s not surprised by Tywin or Lord Mace (Roger Ashton-Griffiths), who will vote however Tywin does, but he is surprised by the choice of Oberyn. Though he’s quick to realize that his father “never fails to take advantage of a family tragedy.” He knows that Tywin will use the death of Oberyn’s sister for leverage. Podrick also tells Tyrion that he can call a list of witnesses. Tyrion is a little stunned that Sansa – who is his first choice for witness – has disappeared. He clearly didn’t think she had any friends in the city. I’m wondering how long it will take him to realize it’s Littlefinger – and that Littlefinger is almost assuredly behind the whole thing!

    Tyrion asks to see Bronn (Jerome Flynn) only to be told that Bronn is also under investigation and as a known cutthroat is not allowed to see Tyrion anyway. Tyrion then asks to see Jaime. I’m hoping that Jaime will come to Tyrion’s aide, but I think the best that can be hoped for is that Jaime remains neutral. Finally, Tyrion learns that they’ve offered Podrick a title and position to testify against him. Tyrion doesn’t expect Podrick to remain loyal – Tyrion has never recognized his own worth and that loyalty should be rewarded by loyalty, so he’s both touched and surprised that Podrick turned them down. However, he also realizes that Podrick has signed his own death warrant and sends him away – saying that this is farewell. His final words to Podrick, after telling him that he can’t have his death on his conscience, is that “There has never lived a more loyal squire.” It’s a lovely moment between Dinklage and Portman, and Portman does a wonderful job of conveying both Podrick’s pride at the praise and devastation at having to leave his master.

    The next scene cuts to the countryside and the Wildlings attacking a village, slaughtering the villagers. The first Wildling we see is Ygritte (Rose Leslie) as she kills the father of a young boy, proving her own loyalty to her people. The boy is ultimately spared to send a message of what he’s seen to Castle Black. Ser Alliser (Owen Teale) counsels that they not be drawn out to be picked off by the Wildings, essentially abandoning all the people in the countryside to be slaughtered. Maester Aemon (Peter Vaughan) concurs, stating that there are only 100 of them left and they must stick to their first purpose of defending the wall. When pressed for his opinion, Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) has to concur, though his face clearly conveys that it pains him to say so.

     However, when Edd Tollett (Ben Crompton) and Grenn (Mark Stanley) return with news of Craster’s Keep, Jon is forced to reveal that he lied about their numbers and if Mance (Ciaran Hinds) learns the truth he will surely come for them. Jon urges them to attack Craster’s Keep to silence Karl (Burn Gorman). The thing that excites me the most about this storyline is the possibility of getting more Gorman and Hinds in the near future! Certainly, there are some interesting storylines from the book that are being set up in this episode...

    The final scene is Daenerys confrontation with Meereen. They send out a champion, and Daenerys looks for one within her own ranks. She tells them that she has “something to say the people of Meereen. First, I need this one to be quiet.” Not surprisingly, they are falling over one another to volunteer. Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) is first, but Daenerys won’t spare the Commander of the Unsullied. Barristan Selmy (Ian McElhinney) volunteers but she is unwilling to lose his protection of herself. Next Ser Jorah (Iain Glen) volunteers, but she tells him he is her most trusted advisor, commander and dearest friend.

    Lastly, Daario (Michiel Huisman) volunteers. For those of you confused by who he is, he was played by Ed Skrein last season, who has reportedly gone on to take the lead role in the Transporter franchise. This scene made me start to accept and like Huisman a bit better in the role, but I still feel Skrein had more latent charisma. Still, watching Daario wait while the horse charged him and then take it down with a dagger to the forehead at just the right moment to land the champion at his feet so that he could take his head off, was pretty spectacular. I also liked Daenerys asking him if he doesn’t want a horse. He tells her that while horses may be faster than men, they are also stupider. This is an interesting statement in light of her marriage to Drogo and the debt she really owes to his people.

    Speaking of spectacular, the sets in this episode, from the hall in which Joffrey’s dead body lies to the city of Meereen, is once again so beyond anything else on television. Daenerys’ transformation from a pawn of marriage to a leader of men is also nothing short of spectacular. She has thrown off her own chains of slavery and the episode culminates in the scene from which it gets its title. She appeals to the slaves within Meereen to break their own chains and join her. It’s interesting to watch as the nobles begin to slink away and smiles begin to be seen among the slaves. The last shot is of a slave picking up a broken collar that has been catapulted into the city as physical evidence that it can be done and how many have broken their collars. The collar frames the face of the slave who picks it up, forming a kind of smile itself. We see a noble in the background and the slave turns to look at his worried face as the scene fades to black – and no doubt to the slaughter of the nobles.

    In fact, this episode really focuses on many characters breaking their bonds – or at least straining at them. Baelish helps Sansa break free – but likely only to chain her himself. Margaery escapes the bond with Joffrey. Arya tells the Hound that she has nowhere to run – she no longer needs to be chained to him, and this new freedom allows her to change her role with him. Jaime is chained to Cersei by his love for her, but his actions may have broken their bond forever. Tywin works on creating a bond with Tommen, though the kingdom is freed of Joffrey. Can Tyrion break his own chains with his wit by untangling the mystery of who killed Joffrey? In politics, everything is linked like a chain, and we see many mechanizations put in play from Tywin, Stannis, and Daenarys. I suspect we will find that breaking links and chains may sometimes make you weaker.   

    What did you think of the episode? Have you formed an opinion on who poisoned Joffrey? Were you surprised to see Baelish? Do you think Arya and Sansa will see each other soon? I’m thinking of adding a section to my review on favorite quotes for the episode. Would you be interested in this? Would you like to see it as a poll? Let me know your thoughts on this and the episode in the comments below!

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