[This is a review of Game of Thrones season 4, episode 3. There will be SPOILERS]
The world in which Game of Thrones is set is remarkable for a great many reasons. For one, there are dragons, which is a rather noteworthy addition to any fictional realm. Moreover, there is a horde of undead frozen people with a penchant for arranging the bodies of their enemies in frighteningly ornate patterns. But perhaps one of the more remarkable aspects of where the series is set is not a thing or even a group of things. Perhaps it is the world's unrelenting desire to demonstrate just how wretched a place it truly is. Time and again, the world of Westeros and beyond has proven itself to be the kind of place where if someone's not trying to undermine, steal from, or simply kill you, it's because they likely just don't know you exist yet.
Of course, it is that kind of thinking and the continuously audacious presentation that makes up the majority of the show's pulpy appeal. No one, regardless his or her position, is beyond the reach of the dreadful or the appalling, as was seen last week during the famed Purple Wedding, which managed to claim the life of the yet another unfit king in Joffrey Baratheon. While 'The Lion and the Rose' demonstrated that every celebratory event in Westeros must be met with an equally dreadful outcome (or vice versa, as Joffrey's wedding and subsequent death will likely remembered), 'Breaker of Chains' looks to establish the idea of an inevitable and dreadful outcome as part of the throughline for not only each and every arc currently running, but also for the series as a whole.
The episode is another chapter told in chunks of character and plot that the audience has long grown accustomed to, and while David Benioff and D.B. Weiss don’t always need to align the disparate threads with an overarching thematic element, they've more or less managed to do so here.
Things are looking rather bleak for just about everyone involved, and if their situation isn't looking terrible at the moment, that's probably because they're engaged in making it terrible for someone else. On that note, Lord Baelish makes his unnervingly sinister presence known as Sansa's would-be benefactor, hiring Dontos Hollard to whisk the young Stark away from Joffrey's death, only to reward the fool for a job well done with a bolt in his neck. Meanwhile, the unending soap opera that is the inner workings of the Lannister clan goes to even darker places, as Tywin begins the process of ushering Tommen into his older brother's lofty position, by discussing with him the attributes of a great king. This conversation not only demonstrates why it's not good to be the king in Westeros, but also why, in order to evoke a sense of wisdom, Tommen must listen very closely to those who know more than him – you know, people like his grandfather.
But the episode's most disturbing moment comes with Jaime's decision to rape his sister, mere inches away from where their reprehensible child lay in state. This comes after Cersei demands Jaime kill their younger brother for what she perceives to be his involvement in Joffrey's death. While the scene is proof Game of Thrones has a nihilistic bent like no other, one wonders whether this depiction was intended to simply be in keeping with the darkness and dangers of George R.R. Martin's world, or a way to set up a change in Jaime that returned him to where he once had been.
In that regard, Jaime's arc over the course of the series had turned him from the incestuous swordsman who pushed a child from a tower window, to something of a sympathetic figure – one who may have even garnered a weird form of pity from the audience, after his sister rebuffed his romantic advances upon returning to King's Landing minus his right hand. This latest act, however, seems to have changed all that, making it harder – if not impossible – for the character to redeem himself once more.
As per usual, the wicked goings-on with the Lannisters are enough to fuel an entire series on their own. But 'Breaker of Chains' still finds room to point out the coming terror of Mance Rayder and his wildlings, through the depiction of a raid that's headed up by Tormund Giantsbane, Ygritte, and the always-hungry Thenn who apparently think of the cause as an all-you-can-eat buffet before much else. Meanwhile, Arya and the Hound briefly befriend a poor farmer and his daughter, agreeing to a "fair wage for fair work," before the Hound robs them of their silver.
It's all part of how Game of Thrones continues to establish its worldview as one of the bleakest on television. There may be hope in Daenery's quest to build an army by preaching freedom, but then again it may be, as the Hound said, "the way things are."
Game of Thrones continues next Sunday with 'Oathkeeper' @9pm on HBO. Check out a preview below:
Photos: Helen Sloan & Macall B. Polay/HBO