Welcome back to our Game of Thrones rewatch project, The Wars to Come. Here, we revisit the masterpiece of David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D) at a time before it…well…
King’s Landing is still reeling from the death of its monarch! Bronn and Jaime practice swords a bit more, with Bronn low-key guilt-tripping Jaime for not having seen Tyrion yet. He decides to do just that, and the two brothers chat. They both seem to recognize that Tyrion is innocent, yet cannot peg the killer. Jaime suggests the now-missing Sansa, but Tyrion is convinced of her innocence.
It turns out he’s partially correct. Sansa and Littlefinger are still on the boat heading towards the Eyrie, when Littlefinger admits that he had poison smuggled into the wedding through Sansa’s necklace. He tells her to always keep her foes confused, but she realizes there is something else motivating him. Littlefinger confirms this with talk of his “new friends.”
As it turns out, those friends are the Tyrells. Olenna comes clean to Margaery that she had a hand in Joffrey’s murder because he wouldn’t have been a good husband at all. Olenna is leaving King’s Landing, but she tells Margaery she must get Tommen on her side before Cersei can get to him, since they need Margaery to wed him now. Margaery sneaks into Tommen’s room at night and subtly flirts with him—as subtle as one can with a 12-year-old—and insists that he keeps her visit a secret. Tommen seems receptive.
Cersei, meanwhile, is being cold to Jaime, especially when he insists Tyrion is innocent. She also wants him to find Sansa and kill her, but Jaime is resistant because of his vow to Cat. They part on bad terms, and Jaime decides he wants to send Brienne after Sansa…to bring her to safety. He provides Brienne with a new suit of armor, as well as the Valyrian sword his father gave to him. Brienne names it “Oathkeeper.” He also sends Pod with her to be her squire, since the capital is no longer a safe place for him.
Across the Narrow Sea, Meereen is hardly a safe place either. The slaves have been talking amongst themselves about Dany’s message, and wonder if they can possibly revolt and be protected by her. After bonding with Missandei while taking a language lessons, Grey Worm infiltrates Meereen and finds the current slaves of the city. He tells them they must see to their own liberation, and leaves them with weapons.
Next day, the slaves revolt, killing many masters. Dany is welcomed into the city by the now-freedmen with open arms. She commands 163 masters get hung up to die—the same number as mile markers bearing a slave child on her road to Meereen. Barristan Selmy protests, but Dany insists that she will “answer injustice with justice.”
Finally, up north, Jon and Grenn train new Nights’ Watch recruits at the Wall, which includes Locke (who had been sent there on the Bolton’s orders). Thorne sees this and yells at Jon that he is a steward, and this is not his place. Slynt observes that Jon is well-liked, and suggests to Thorne that letting him go to the mutineers at Craster’s may be a good idea, since it is a risky endeavor. Thorne agrees, and lets Jon go with volunteers only. A good handful of brothers agree to go with him, including Grenn, Edd, and Locke.
In Craster’s Keep, we are shown how the mutineers have been spending their time: raping Craster’s wives, in-fighting, and drinking. Their titular leader, Karl Tanner, is being particularly understated about it all by drinking wine out of the skull of Jeor Mormont and monologuing about his position in life. He tells Rast to feed “the beast” (Ghost), but before Rast can, Karl is presented with the final Craster son. He is told it is a gift for the gods, and realizes Craster had been leaving them for the White Walkers. Karl has Rast leave the baby in the snow.
Nearby, Bran, Hodor, and the Reeds hear the baby, and Bran wargs into Summer to see what’s happening. He spots Ghost, but then Summer falls into a trap. The four of them approach Craster’s, but are quickly taken captive, with Bran admitting his true identity to Karl.
Finally, we are shown the White Walker taking Craster’s son. He rides with the baby to the far north, where what appears to be a council of White Walkers exists. The leader of them walks over and touches his finger to the baby’s head, turning his eyes White Walker blue.
Initial, quick reaction
Kylie: I watched the first few scenes thinking, “Hey, this is kind of alright.” Then the endless, plodding, unnecessary Craster’s Keep sequence came (without getting resolved, no less), and I forgot the meaning of the word “tolerable.” I remember the first time watching this, Joanna Robinson had commented on her podcast that she was shocked the creative combination of Michelle MacLaren as director and Bryan Cogman as writer could produce such drek. We may disagree about the thematic significance of boxes, but she was on point with this one.
Julia: Yeah, this episode had several nausea inducing sequences with absolutely nothing to redeem it. I guess I’m glad that the slaves freed themselves because slavery=not good, but I can’t say I found it very moving. It was also a weird combination of wheel spinning in almost all plotlines with “god, what is Dany even going to do for the next 6 episodes?”
Not a fan, is my point.
Jana: What is anyone really going to do for the next episodes? Irrelevant fighting and tracking and questing, of course. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the entire season from here until episode 8 basically nothing but filler? And bad filler. Good god, it started out so nice and then just steadily got worse and worse and worse. I’m honestly having trouble processing what I just watched.
And I say that even though I actually like one scene or so. Maybe two. Two and a half.
Kylie: I couldn’t stop laughing through Olenna’s just world-breaking story about banging her sister’s fiance the night before the proposal because she didn’t want to be married to a dumb Targ. I really hope we’re allowed ironic highlights—I enjoyed myself greatly.
I guess if we’re talking non-irony it’d be the MissWorm scene. They’re cute.
My lowlight is everything to do with the Craster’s sequence. It was far too long, absolutely not worthy of being dragged out into a second episode, and completely over-the-top. Casual, background rape worked into literally every shot, but no, let’s also give him Mormont’s f-cking skull to drink out of? What are we supposed to take away from this?
Julia: I want highlights diversity, but I’m afraid my only options are my ironic enjoyment of the fact that Bryan Cogman seems to have no clue how marriage in a feudal context works, and, like I mentioned above, a general sense that less slavery is a good thing.
I guess I’ll go with Olenna. If only because, after our season 7 retrospectives, I suddenly like her. You can try very hard and see some tragedy in the fact that these poor woman can only wield power with sex, and I was actually a little touched by how far she was willing to go to protect her granddaughter. Like, god damn it, am I actually starting to think that the Dowager Sasstress is fundamentally a good person? What is going on!?
The lowlight is clearly Craster’s which was just ridiculous on every single level possible, but I’m going to mention a tie for second between two conversations that felt like they were literally about nothing and were just wasting my time. First there was the conversation with Sansa and Batfinger on the ship. I guess we learned the details about his involvement in Joff’s death but it was 90% just him vomiting bullshit. He’s just like a dude on 8chan who wants to watch the world burn for kicks. I think.
Then there’s Cersei who calls Larry to her room to say… something? Like, the same thing she said last week before he raped her, maybe?
Jana: We’re calling out ironic highlights and neither of you mention the first bromantic Larry & Bronn moment? For shame!
Stanning the diversity would be a lot easier if not for the fact that literally every brown person seems to be allergic to shirts. I get that that’s done to convey that they’re all poor slaves and whatnot, but the more crowd scenes we get, the more egregious that becomes.
Still, I’m pretty sure “rape them ‘till they’re dead” is objectively the worst this show has to offer. There are many factors that make what they do to the narrative and to more relevant characters hurt more, and the layers of despicability that factor into where Sansa is going next season are nothing but astonishing even four years later. But there’s just something about having a completely irrelevant no-name character wax on poetically about how he was the greatest in his back alley, while making out with a (meticulously cleaned and somehow not leaking) skull with some tasteful background rape going on.
I had to write that out just because I still can’t believe what the hell I just saw. How did any of that ever make it out of the writer’s room?
OKAY. Highlights. I have a brand to maintain here.
My highlight were the two scenes with Jaime and Brienne. Bite me. Why was she up in the Lord Commander’s tower? Who knows! Why did they make her read out his page in the book but didn’t include that book!Jaime actually wrote her into it which has, like, symbolism, meaning? No idea! Easy opportunity, but hey, who needs to be immortalized in a tome about the greatest knights that ever lived when there’s fancy swords and armor to be had!
And longing glances. Good god, these actors have the longing glances down.
Julia: My biggest take-away from that entire sequence is: god, NCW and Gwendoline Christie are too good for this crap.
Quality of writing
Julia: Here I was thinking Coggers was supposed to be the competent writer. And also the one who actually paid attention when he read the books. Boy do I feel like I have egg on my face.
Jana: …Maybe it’s like the GRRM episode last season; some parts were written by him, and then you throw in some egregious violence and rape written by someone else because there have been no tits in this episode yet?
I mean, look at the… Okay parts? The banter between Larry and Tyrion worked somehow. The dramatic dinner scene was a little hilarious, but Jon made sort of reasonable points, ish, and for the first and only time on the show ever, I kind of got why other people would want him as their leader? Sansa made a semi-smart observation in the midst of Batfinger’s trailer line dribble.
Kylie: Can we talk about that dribble though? Because while it was definitely great that Sansa was like, “…you don’t just confuse people for kicks, that’s really dumb,” Littlefinger’s speech was nearly incomprehensible. I get that Cogman had to do what he could with D&D’s “chaos is a ladder” as Littlefinger’s new motivation, but him waxing lyrical about keeping your foes confused for the hell of it because then you get…everything (?)—it just wasn’t doing it for me. And that was one of the better-written scenes.
Julia: We do eventually find out that his motivation is to be king and bone Sansa, so maybe we’re supposed to be on Sansa’s side and think he’s incomprehensible on purpose? Though I do think it’s more likely that it took them until season 6 to realize they needed a less dumb motivation for him and at the time he was being sincere. Or maybe I’m just too cynical.
And even more speaking of dribble: what were we to make of what was coming out of Karl Tanner’s mouth? Like, he was an awesome assassin for hire and also, this other guy over here sucks and Karl could totally beat him in a fight because he’s the pride of Gin Alley. Look at all the social mobility he’s achieved. The thing is, they must have thought they were onto something great, given that this is the prototype for both Ramsay and Euron moving forward.
Something I liked… I like that Grey Worm was given a position of prominence in the first part of the Meereen sequence and how Cogman was careful to establish his agency in this whole slave revolt thing. Doesn’t quite make up for the crowd surfing, but hey, he tried.
Jana: Honestly, the stuff with Grey Worm and Missandei was genuinely engaging. I mean, there’s a reason we’re still stanning their relationship three seasons later, and that reason is only partially that everything else just deteriorated around them.
Our 8th grade book report (on themes)
Julia: So the title implies something about keeping promises.
Other than that, the only common theme seems to be, “Ah! There are too many episodes in this season!”
Kylie: Well, let’s see what we can do about those promises. With Jaime, yes certainly. It’s not just his oath to Lady Cat that he puts into motion (three episodes late), but there’s also the promises he has towards his family—Tyrion, Cersei, and Tommen even given his position. I’d say each of his scenes actually explores that.
Dany has her promise to answer injustice with justice, and makes good on it despite Barry’s protests, I suppose. But, I got absolutely nothing for Margaery sexually harassing Tommen, Littlefinger’s word-salad, and the entirety of the Night’s Watch theater. Even Jon’s mission to Craster’s itself was not so much about any duty, but like…Thorne setting him up.
Jana: Maybe we can apply it to Locke? He’s there because…reasons. And plotting because reasons. Does that work?
Julia: It’s the good old phenomenon that, the further away we get from book content, the further we get from being able to squeeze out meaning. The Jaime and Brienne stuff is totally muddled by the decision to have them arrive in King’s Landing early, but enough good work was done with them last season to make the trust and respect Jaime is showing her now to be meaningful. And you can tie Jaime’s rejection of Cersei’s knee-jerk reaction to violence and revenge with everything that’s happened to him so far in the series, and into the future where he finally totally rejects her. (With some loop-de-loops along the way…)
Kylie: I guess Littlefinger’s “always keep your foes confused” is a good thematic catch-all for the territory we’re entering, then. It must be muddled for a reason!
The Butterfly Effect
Kylie: Alrighty, here it is! They loved NatDo’s performance for the past two years and don’t want to “waste” her as a super-fun babysitter, so now we’ve got an aged up Tommen and a 30-year-old looking woman creeping into his bed and telling him to keep it a secret.
Jana: Didn’t she have to fight for that not to go any further this season? Like, all in all, the scene could have been much worse, and the work NatDo does in depicting Marg’s thought process throughout the encounter is excellent and a lot more nuanced than anything happening next season. It’s too bad that the sexual assault overtones are also there.
Julia: I think the scene as a concept could have worked if Tommen were the age he’s supposed to be, (eight, for you non-book readers.) Then there would be little need for the creepy bits where Marg implies about all the sex they’re going to have, but they could have still doubled down on their decision to agree with book!Cersei that Margaery is trying to steal Tommen from under her.
I’m (unfortunately) still thinking about Craster’s and all the implied things that they made explicit there. The stuff with the mutineers is best discussed in the adaptation section, but the other thing they doubled down on (perhaps the theme is doubling down?) is the White Walkers. You can argue that it’s implied to the point that it’s the only thing that makes sense in the books, but we don’t actually know-know what happens to Craster’s sons. Even beyond that, they made a lot of decisions about them this episode. The WW apparently have a hierarchy and they seem to need living human babies to reproduce…that’s kind of major. In general, there’s a lot of butterfly effect whenever D&D and co, take something from the deep mythology that’s supposed to be as much mystical as it is historical and just poo it on the screen.
Kylie: I do think this is vaguely what happens to Craster’s sons in the books, too. But, we’ve also seen the effort they’ve been willing to put in the far-north mythology. We’ve got Bran, about to be sidelined to later fulfill a home-vid watching role, the Children of the Forest—just sooty looking kids that throw fireballs and shove dragon glass into everything, and then the Walkers, with their armor, their very specific resurrections, and one central, javelin-chucking figure to take down.
My point is, whatever this was supposed to demonstrate about the Walkers has fallen incredibly flat. What’s worse is that it comes at the cost of the absolute creepiness in the books. It’s probably inevitable that in a visual adaptation, you have to show a bit more, but any horror that had surrounded these guys was completely killed, and I can only think it was this episode that really did it.
Jana: The only thing the fore-fronting of the Walkers has achieved is fueling a few hours of Preston Jacob’s content on how Craster was actually the one true savior of everyone before they killed him because he kept polluting their ranks with inbred children. Well, and they’re a lot less scary as antagonists in general. Shogun here actually looks kind of cute. And he’s so good with children!
…Sort of speaking of which, isn’t it nice how Tyrion already only has good things to say about Sansa? That’s so nice. What a good guy he is.
Kylie: It was nice and a little patronizing. She’s too innocent to think about murder! Of course, this Sansa kinda is, but I guess that’s in line with the person who didn’t know the word “shit” a season ago.
Kylie: We’ve mentioned the wheel-spinning a few times now, and obviously this is a result of A Storm of Swords being cut in two. The thing is, we’ve mentioned plot lines dragging for basically everyone either last season or this. One season does seem really tight, but to me, I think they had 15 or 16 episodes in Storm. So…do we think this 20-episode decision was made to give Martin time to catch-up, to keep the shocking moments in the penultimate episodes, or for some other reason?
Jana: I don’t think Martin catching up was ever a realistic expectation. And even if that was the goal, why cut basically half of Feast and add in the rape shack and the whole thing with Arya and Sandor? I’ll have words to say about what they do with the Vale storyline this season later on, but that’s also basically just cutting off all the material. I get that they wanted to keep the exciting parts for the later episodes and were going to cut anything resembling Dorne all along, but, you know. That could have been used to pad out for time, setting that up.
Chronologically, this is where you remember the Iron Islands exist and could have started that storyline instead of taping it on in season 6. Lady Stoneheart could have been used for padding. Season 3 already had pacing problems with a lot of the middle episodes feeling like they’re just there to pass the time. Both of those things happened because they made the executive decision to have two major events from the same book happen on episode 9 of their respective seasons. And this season is just where it all really comes apart—which is saying a lot since the last three seasons already were a lot worse than I remembered them being.
Julia: So, I actually had to look this up in the wiki, but Dany’s last chapter in aSoS is actually quite far from the end, and it’s just after she takes Meereen. The major thing she does in it is exile Jorah… which I think she eventually does this season. (Yeah, she must.) So they dipped into her aFfC stuff just by having her hold court and lock up the dragons. So it can’t be that they were totally unwilling to go beyond that volume. And I suppose they really painted themselves into a corner there, since they ended season 3 they way they did with her. The choice was to end with locking up the dragons or have nothing for her at all in terms of development this season.
But yeah, it’s episode 4 and there is nothing for her to do. But it’s not like they could have ended her last season at Astapor or anything…. And I kind of agree they had to end this season with Tywin’s death at least, so they couldn’t really have read ahead in King’s Landing.
Then there’s the Wall where they’re going to have a good quarter of the material from Storm left undone by the end of the season. So they could force their chosen climax. But, while you can argue that Dany’s climax matches a little (she realizes she has much to learn so will stay in Slaver’s Bay) it was super important that Jon’s arc end with him being elected Lord Commander, since the whole book was about him choosing the Watch and developing as a leader. But maybe I should save this for later in this season…
Is it worth talking about Craster’s Rape shack as an adaptational decision? We hear more or less nothing about the mutineers after they, um, mutiny, because they’re clearly doomed and don’t count. Do you suppose they was a reason they chose this fill-in fic over anything else?
Kylie: Yes, I do think there’s a reason! Most of A Storm of Swords at The Wall is dealing with the continual wildling siege, from both sides. There’s not a big moment that they all arrive, but rather they take care of the raiders, then they take care of Mance. Part of the latter act involves Jon treating with them. Then, his resolution is becoming Lord Commander at the very end of the book, as a result of the way he navigated all of this.
D&D, however, wanted a big battle for Episode 9. I don’t know where that motivation stemmed from; maybe they thought it was anticlimactic to have Ygritte go mid-season-ish, or maybe they felt Oberyn’s death and Sansa’s outfit change weren’t really bankable penultimate episode moments. We’ll get to it when we rewatch 4×09. But they didn’t even give us a full battle, likely because they were trying to avoid Stannis sweeping in at the end given what would have been a similarity to “Blackwater.” So Jon’s end-point got shifted and they saved the Lord Commander stuff for Season 5 (rushing through it entirely).
But wait…now he has nothing to do until the big battle! Enter the Craster’s excursion.
To be honest, given the plan to have a big battle at The Wall in 4×09, some kind of filler is needed for him. This was terrible filler, no question, but I get the motivation in writing it. What I don’t get, and didn’t get at the time (and what also got me to really stop defending the show) is why the battle was so damned necessary in their minds.
Probably a question for another day. Is it worth actually discussing the ways that Olenna’s story make NO SENSE and break the universe?
Julia: I think we have. I especially love that this story about a “proposal” is in the same episode as Marg telling Tommen about how people in arranged marriages sometimes never meet until their wedding day.
Carol Watch: who is Cersei this week?
Julia: Carol is a mean drunk sometimes, but the paranoia and the belittling of Larry does suggest Cersei. In fact, I think I remember a very similar scene in A Feast for Crows.
Kylie: Felt 100% Cersei to me. Now, let’s keep in mind she was also raped last episode; I don’t blame her at all for being mean to her rapist. But of course that’s not how it was framed at all—it was all about how sad Larry is.
Also, Larry Watch! He stopped being Jaime when he donned that leather jacket, right?
Jana: Was he wearing the leather jacket while making googly eyes at Brienne? Because that was kind of book-accurate still. Other than that, he got his first moment with Bronn and the conversation with Tyrion was entertaining, sure, but they were both more Larry than anything else, really.
Julia: Yeah, when he’s in his book plot with Brienne he’s still Jaime, but when he’s bro-ing up with Bronn or talking to his siblings he is pure Larry. There was no going back with Larrification after he got back to the city early, in my opinion.
Kylie: For sure. It was mostly the scene with Cersei where I spotted our favorite befuddled knight.
Jana: Special shout-out for subtle editing, by the way. We cut to the scene with Cersei just after Locke complains he didn’t want to “suck up to highborn cunts” anymore. Classy.
Julia: Wow. For the sake of my own sanity I will assume that is a coincidence.
Exposition Imposition: good or clunky?
Jana: Do the sexy adventures of a young Olenna Redwyne count as exposition? Because that was weird but for entirely different reasons. For that matter, does skull dude telling us his sad life story count?
Julia: His name is Karl Fooking Tanner, Jana.
I just want to know, like, was this a Jeyne Westerling scenario, and ol’ Luthor was saving Olenna’s honor, or if this is a unique style of patriarchy that rewards women for this behavior rather than calling them a used piece of chewing gum and marrying their virginal sister anyway. Or maybe the sister was also putting out and Olenna was just better at sex noises? That’s probably what we were supposed to think.
And how was that skull so leak-proof?
Kylie: The only exposition that I felt was well done was Grey Worm asking about Missandei’s backstory, and how they’re clearly forming an emotional connection with one another. Everything else was super awkward. The thing is, Cogman sometimes struggles with his exposition standing out, because it basically all falls to him to include. Yet even with that in mind, it doesn’t get worse than Karl Tanner. I also like the idea that Olenna never bothered to mention how her marriage had been arranged to Margaery before.
Jana: You’d think the whole breaking of betrothals like that would have caused some sort of scandal…
Julia: That’s just how they do it in the Reach, I guess. I love how Marg kind of smiled and nodded like it was all perfectly reasonable behavior, too. “Classic Granny!”
I think the Reach are supposed to be like the Orions in Star Trek: it looks like the women are enslaved by the patriarchy, but really they’re in charge and the men are helpless to their sexy whiles.
How was the pacing?
Jana: Basically fine until we got north of the Wall. That part had me looking at the timestamps in disbelief because how could they possibly make this go on for 15 minutes?
Kylie: Seriously! The whole time I was like, “I know this goes on for two episodes, but there’s no way it doesn’t conclude here!” And yet it just kept dragging on and on.
Julia: And, like I’ve been rambling about, this is the episode where the season long pacing issues are becoming impossible to ignore.
Kylie: Here here! I always considered Season 4 to be where the wagon jumps off the tracks and begins barreling downhill. We might have reached the first slip of the wheel.
Let’s talk about sex, baby
Jana: Or not! Ser Pounce to the rescue!
Julia: This may be an unpopular opinion in this company, but the Ser Pounce scene wasn’t as bad as I remembered. Obviously it was one massive red flag after another, but it didn’t cross the line into overt abuse I could have sworn it did in my memory.
Maybe it’s just season 5 bleeding into it.
Jana: Oh, no, I’m with you on that. Yes, there’s really, ah, off-putting vibes to it, but the line is never crossed. I’m not even sure it would have been off-putting if we hadn’t had the story about how good Olenna was in the sack just before that. Checking whether Tommen is cruel, circumventing any attempts of Cersei to keep him away from her, and just, I dunno, testing the waters is a completely understandable thing for Marg to do.
It’s also not like she didn’t let Ser Pounce distract her. And if you don’t know that Natalie Dormer had to fight to be distracted, well…
…Maybe the rape shack is the way to make up for her refusal to provide this episode’s rape scene?
Julia: I find that so plausible, I kind of hate myself.
Kylie: I don’t know; I found that really understated writing, personally. *barf*
I don’t think the Ser Pounce scene was viewed that badly at the time. It was more the moment where we realized what the nature of Marg’s dynamic with Tommen was going to be, with Season 5 obviously going to the disturbing extreme. I will say though, her continual repeating of “let’s keep this our secret” really wigged me out. That is classic child-sexual-abuser speak, and I don’t really know how anyone can come away from that wanting to even vaguely root for Margaery.
In memoriam… a bunch of slavers
Kylie: Seeing “Kill the Masters” in English is just…it never gets better. Especially knowing it gets scribbled out with “Mhysa is a master” later. I get that it’s a difficult call to make in adapting another language to film, but maybe we didn’t need the words to get the subtle sentiment? Especially since it then pans to one slaver getting chased down by like, 40 revolting slaves.
Jana: It could have been subtitled. He could have read it out loud in astonishment. And even if you try and justify this with the upper crust actually knowing the common tongue of a rather backwater country half a world away, that doesn’t explain the tasteful addition later on. They go through all the trouble of making up languages that then get spoken and subtitled all the time, and yet this is where their attention to detail is gone? Amazing.
Do we list Craster’s last son as dead, or does being poked by a haunted house extra not count?
Julia: No? The Other/White Walkers are clearly not mindless zombies.
Should there be a particular shoutout for the 163 slavers who were executed?
Jana: I mean, they were moaning in pain and writhing around when we saw them so they’re not exactly dead yet. Death by being nailed to things usually takes a little longer than most people assume.
Kylie: We’re going to get a #notallslavers argument about it next week, so probably better to hold off ‘til then.
And hold off we shall! Please let us know your opinions on this episode in the comments below—are we just being dramatic about how cruddy this was? Is Craster’s not that awful? Did Cogman hit his head? We look forward to hearing your thoughts, and we wish you good fortune in The Wars to Come.