The King is dead. Long live the King.
That single line can be heard countless times in ancient history and the stories we’ve developed regarding that history. The old king dies and the new king takes his place. It’s a moment that can be met with anticipation or dread. In the case of Westeros, anticipation and relief would seem to be the emotions of the day, at least for some. Joffrey Baratheon, the first of his name, lies in state, Widow’s Wail clutched to his prostrate frame. The only one mourning his death is Cersei, who despite her numerous flaws, did love her son.
The same cannot be said of Tywin. Charles Dance acted his ass off in this episode, showing the cold, calculating mind of Tywin. Over the protestations of his daughter, Tywin schools Tommen (who has been aged up since the last time we saw him in the 2nd season) on how to be a proper king. He even goes so far as to highlight the (true) fact that Joffrey was not a good king. Tywin does not possess sentimentality but instead a ruthless pragmatism. In the scene with Tommen and later with Oberyn, we as an audience see Tywin putting everything in order to keep the family in power and to keep the kingdom moving forward. The subtle reminder of marriage appears as an off-handed remark as Tommen is led away by his grandfather. Expect to see that topic revisited in the coming weeks.
The scene with Tywin and Oberyn is a dance of gestures and words. Oberyn’s connection with poison is laid out for the audience, which is something I was hoping would be mentioned soon. As much as Oberyn would love to slice open Tywin and watch him die, he’s a pragmatic viper. The position of judge for Tyrion puts someone in the trial who Tywin believes can be manipulated. Oberyn does not strike me as a character that can be easily bought but the coming weeks will detail his allegiances. Pedro Pascal and Charles Dance work marvelously together, each actor portraying their character as being the smartest, most cunning man in the room.
Which brings me to the most uncomfortable scene in the episode, in Cersei is raped by Jaime beside the corpse of their first child. I couldn’t help but feel squeamish watching that scene. The good will that Jaime has engendered with the audience probably made more than a few people forget that this is the man capable of pushing a child out a window. We see two years’ worth of frustration (sexual and otherwise) being released in this scene. Lena Headey played Cersei’s grief well, as she did the disgust with Jaime’s actions. Jaime remains a character with more black than gray in his moral compass. There was anger in their scene together, possibly anger at himself for loving such a loathsome woman as Cersei. I feel that Jaime is just now beginning to realize who it is that he’s been devoted to for all these years. A disturbing scene on multiple levels, it certainly qualifies as the standout scene in the episode.
Another great scene involved the beginnings of the siege of Meereen. Daario is placed on the field as Dany’s champion. The interplay with the other major fighters was excellent as Dany rejected all but Daario out of hand. She knew who was going to champion her but she played through the charade to get Daario to present himself. With the actor change this season, it was important to demonstrate that Daario remains a deadly fighter. There are parallels to Bronn, who also fights with an eye toward minimal effort for maximum results. Daario is flashy but in an efficient manner. Two movements and the Champion of Meereen lays headless on the sand.
Dany also demonstrates her growing understanding of warfare. Rather than storm the gates and massive walls, she draws the slaves of the city into her rhetoric. Casting the barrels filled with broken slave collars over the wall as artillery shots is a masterful stroke. She simultaneously disheartens the slave masters while sowing the seeds of rebellion in the slaves. This is not the same doe-eyed innocent under her brother’s thumb that was introduced in 1st season. This is cunning strategist who knows how to achieve her goals.
Overall, this was a set-up episode. From the scenes with Arya, the Hound, and the farmer we see the way Westeros works as winter draws near. There will be little room for coddling and in this world those that can’t defend themselves will be prey. The Wildlings continue to be established as a threat to the Night’s Watch. It was nice to see Grenn and Edd return to Castle Black. We might even have some closure regarding the mutineers at Craster’s Keep. The pieces are being set on the board for the remaining 7 episodes this season. More of the pieces will be removed from the board in due time.